- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 19, 2000

Along with the correspondence courses my children are taking this year, we have signed them up for courses in our local community college. Many community colleges are discovering that home-schoolers are seeking supplementary learning opportunities. They are developing courses, in conjunction with the home-schooling parents and students, that provide hands-on opportunities and a higher level of specialization in various subjects.

My eldest daughter just completed a microbiology course. She learned about microscopes, studied such troublesome microbes as E. coli and salmonella, and tested for these microbes in water and other media. The students also did dissections, which are beyond the scope of the typical home-school science study. She dissected a fetal pig, an eye and a sheep's heart.

This experience has spurred a new interest in anatomy for her, and she has decided to sign up for a second course. This next course will include a lot of one-day field trips to various sites, such as the National Aquarium, wildlife preserves, agricultural research centers, space labs and other science centers where students will observe scientific applications firsthand.

Our second daughter completed a drawing course she thoroughly enjoyed. She learned techniques of perspective, tone value and other three-dimensional drawing elements. Next, she wants to try a course in painting.

Some of our children's friends are enrolled in algebra, geometry and higher-math courses at their local community college. The teens' mother is taking a writing composition class to further her own skills. The parents and children believe the college courses help their home study the hours they spend at night and on weekends out of the home have created additional momentum and passion about learning.

What's nice about the community college atmosphere is nearly everyone there has "another life." Most students are employed full time or are occupied with duties that consume most of their attention, such as being a homemaker. It is a very diverse and motivated population, they are there to learn and expand their knowledge and horizons.

My husband also is taking several community college courses this semester, and he reports that the students are very active participants. When they write an essay or make a presentation before the class, they bring their real-life experiences into the mix. Nurses, business people, teachers and technology workers all come together for the purpose of learning which reinforces the idea that learning is not a timed event, but a lifelong process. When teens see retirees trying to stretch their knowledge or learn new skills, they realize there is no finish line for learning.

Community colleges are often thought of as the second tier, the also-rans, of higher education. I've often heard folks say, "Well, even if you can't get into a good school, you can always go to a community college."

That sentiment is a product of the elitist view of education that began many centuries ago, which said only the rich and the privileged could devote themselves to the uninterrupted study that would make them true scholars. In those days, someone who had to work for a living was denied the opportunity of higher education.

The world has changed since the days of black-robed scholars and jealously guarded libraries, however. We live in a world where education is available to all who want to avail themselves of it. We have public libraries, where a penniless person can borrow the greatest works of literature. We have the Internet, where one can research virtually any topic imaginable. And we have all kinds of educational opportunities, from long-distance learning, to international exchange programs, to vocational education, to the community colleges.

Home-schooling requires a lot of inventiveness, because most of us are doing it without a pre-existing infrastructure. We don't have the benefit of laboratories and well-equipped gymnasiums. We don't have free textbooks or transportation. Therefore, we have to search out solutions for educational challenges in many different places.

I know home-schoolers who work in doctors' offices, who study to be professional dancers or who apprentice in animal hospitals. Home-schooling gives them the flexibility to pursue their education while exploring the areas that may become their vocations.

If you are home-schooling older children, contact your local community college and see whether it offers any courses that would supplement your core learning program. Also, look into the local recreational department offerings for courses on everything from sports to dance to nature. Even if we don't receive the benefit of our educational tax dollar, we should take advantage of the other public amenities we contribute toward.

Have a wonderful holiday season, and a fresh and productive new year.

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

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