- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 28, 2004

People who want to cast doubt on home-schooling are having a rougher time finding things to criticize. Occasionally, I still get one of those veiled comments, in which the old stereotypes are resurrected in a slightly more sophisticated form.

“Oh, I know home-schooling is great for the academic level,” goes the comment, “but I just worry that the kids won’t be exposed to other cultures and ethnicities.” (Translation: Home-schooling will lead to chauvinism, racism and a return to the segregationism of the past.)

This viewpoint assumes that by putting children of all ethnic backgrounds in an institutional setting and exposing them to a homogenized form of education, they will be able to develop tolerance and understanding of one another’s beliefs.

If this were what actually happens, I would not be averse to it, but it is not what happens. In reality, children of diverse and wonderful cultural backgrounds are more often convinced that their parents’ language, culture and traditional values are old, non-American, restrictive and embarrassing.

Their home language is lost; their customs are jettisoned; and they seek to identify with the peer culture of experimentation, sexualized appearance and contempt for faith and ethics.

Now, home-schooling is being seen by certain ethnic minorities as the way to preserve the history and culture of their people and to build their children’s sense of honor and tradition.

Misty Dawn Thomas, founder of the Native American Home School Association, is a spokeswoman for the rights of American Indians to take back the education of their children and restore the pride and traditions of their families and people.

“There were times when our children were forced from us to government reservation schools, or off reservation religious schools, to learn things that OTHER people thought that they should know,” the group’s Web site states. “Even today, social services sometimes comes to take our children if they are not enrolled in a school the STATE feels is qualified to teach them.”

Not only do public schools cause a loss of the native cultural knowledge, Ms. Thomas says, but they damage students’ personal outlook, as well.

“My self-esteem was knocked down a lot,” she says. “Native people were seen as warlike, mean, below other people. At home, I learned that we should be proud, that the birds, the trees, the animals and everything around us was to be appreciated. It’s confusing for children to have both messages, and the school system influences them so much.”

Her organization seeks to convey Indian languages (Tlawilano and Lakota), as well as English and Spanish, and the songs, dances and stories of their people. More important, it seeks to heal the wounds caused by separating children from their families through state-run education and to reconnect them to the cultural traditions and pride that are their birthright.

Ms. Thomas points out that, bereft of the bonding through family and tribal culture, many Indian children turn to drugs, alcohol and other destructive choices. She has observed that the home-schooled families have higher levels of assurance and academic achievement and, as a result, self-determination.

How wonderful that home-schooling can not only be a better way to study about cultures, but can also actually help preserve and honor them from within. To truly cherish — not merely tolerate — the rich cultural diversity of our society, we need to allow families to pass on the wisdom and traditions that are the natural inheritance of each child.

In the frenetic atmosphere of a typical state school, it is too easy to lose the lore of one’s own culture. Home-schooling is restoring more than just academic excellence — it is reclaiming the buried treasure of our multiethnic origins.

For more info about the Native American Home School Association, go to www.expage.com/page/nahomeschool2.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer living in Maryland.

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