- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 8, 2005

Even though I home-school my children, I also happen to work often in public schools, presenting health information to classes and working with the schools to train peer educators. Our education team has a mix of home- and institutionally schooled youth, but the teens going into the schools are usually the home-schoolers.

One of the charges often laid at the feet of home-schoolers is that we are isolated and don’t know the social realities or even the “fun” we are missing. There may be some families somewhere who fit this picture, but our group is more involved in schools and more aware of the social systems at work than most traditionally educated teens.

For instance, our group recently did a three-day series of presentations in a local junior high school. On the first day, I usually do a PowerPoint slide lecture. This time, I decided to ask the students if it was permissible for one of our team to give the lecture instead. They readily assented, and I had three home-schoolers, ages 15, 16 and 17, take turns giving the entire 45-minute presentation.

Each teen presented the factual information and each used his or her own imagination to add analogies. They also fielded questions from the classes, referring the ones beyond their expertise to me. The classes responded attentively and applauded for each presenter at the end.

The following day, a larger team reinforced the message with a performance. They not only did the skits, dancing and musical acts, but they also acted as the emcees and shared statistics, explained their own choices and invited students into the performance.

On the third day, a group of eight returned to the school to share more personally with the students. In a more intimate setting, they spoke about their own reasons for choosing to protect themselves and others by making decisions that resist cultural and peer pressure. The students reacted in a variety of ways, some positive and agreeing, others skeptical and doubting.

Again, the teens handled all but the most scientific or statistical questions themselves and with aplomb and warmth. They stated their convictions unapologetically, and they consistently showed respect for each questioner, whether that person was voicing something in favor of or against their viewpoint.

All of this took place within the regular school schedule. However, the team is also helping with an after-school club in a local high school. Each week, they do presentations and then break into smaller groups to train the club members in music, dancing and gymnastics moves.

Yet another teaching opportunity takes place several times a week when the teens teach at a community center for youths of various ages and schools. They run the classes, manage the schedule and present reports to the community organization’s sponsor.

Finally, over the schools’ spring break, the group ran two consecutive four-day training programs for youths from other states who want to learn how to carry out similar efforts in their areas.

The team created the schedule, organized the rooming and food situations, prepared multimedia presentations, and taught specific skills. They taught the trainees how to do public speaking and how to build teams in their own cities. They discussed how to raise funds for their projects and how to work closely with their parents and other adult supporters.

It is said: “Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he eats for his lifetime.” Education is more than a process of preparing lessons, giving instruction and testing retention. Real education is preparing the students to carry out the business of communicating their message in an effective way.

Home-schooled students are not merely winning academic competitions or pursuing intensive training for sports and performing arts. They are also out in the communities — yes, even out in the schools — helping others. In this case, they are helping others learn valuable, lifesaving information.

Now that’s what I call “socialization.”

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

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