- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 14, 2000

Jeremy leans over and pokes Brittany in back of the head with his index finger for the fourth time. Jacob snickers while Heather rolls her eyes in disgust. Darrin, the nerd, stares straight ahead at the teacher, trying to listen to his explanation of polynomials.
Jacob resents Darrin's attentiveness and throws a well-aimed spit wad at the studious one's glasses. A miracle shot, the wad sticks. Ten children suppress laughter as Darrin takes off his glasses in disgust. Darrin secretly vows to refuse to give Jacob a job even as a janitor when he is the chief executive of a major Internet company.
Anyone who has been to school knows such scenes are the norm in American classrooms. This is socialization's finest hour.
The bell has tolled far too often for socialization's worst hour in recent months. The shooting death of 6-year-old Kayla Rolland in Michigan on Feb. 29 is simply the latest in this incredibly sad chain of events.
Two days after that shooting, I got a call from a mom in Bloomingdale, Mich., who had had enough. She didn't mention the shooting, but she wanted to bring her kindergarten daughter home for school immediately.
She had talked to school officials about her desire to home-school. They had argued with her as if they had the ability to say no. Their argument? Her daughter would miss socialization opportunities in school. They tried to convince this mother she could not home-school without their blessing.
I wish it didn't have to be an "us vs. them" mentality. I wish public schools and home schools could coexist peacefully. But it seemsthe law gives one side of this debate and it's not the home-schoolers access to the courts to initiate criminal prosecution against the other side.
It doesn't seem to matter whether the law supports their position or not. Michigan families clearly have the right to home-school. Too many public school officials persist in their twin beliefs that home-schooling is bad for children and that they have some prior right to dictate to parents the best interest of the child.
So what about socialization? Are home-schooled children stunted for life?
I guess public school officials are dependent on wishful amnesia when they make these arguments. They are hoping against hope you won't remember your own experience in school. Increasingly, they have to hope you won't remember recent headlines, either.
The scenario I created at the top of this column was a common experience for all of us. If that is the real-life public school mix of socialization and academics, what is it that home-schooled children are supposed to be missing?
As the father of 10 home-schooled children, I can assure you that you don't need a class of 30 to teach a child how to tease other children. Teasing is a social skill we are trying to diminish in our children. I see no reason 6* hours of practice are necessary each day to hone skills in coolness, aiming spit wads, flirting or surviving the pecking order.
Home schools are built on a couple of remarkable ideas. When it is time to do math, let's do math. When it is time to play, let's play. The mixture of math and goofing off spoils both activities.
Can someone point me to any evidence that group socialization of adolescents has been the cause of any uplift in the human condition? Have diseases been cured? Have marriages been made stronger? Has poverty been eliminated? Have academics been advanced? Is our nation better off in any way? Are individuals better off in any way because we have muddled academics with the worship of socialization? Show me the evidence in scientific studies or in common-sense examples that have been confirmed by time and experience.
Until then, is it too much to ask public school officials just to leave us alone? It would seem they have their hands full just trying to make the schools a bit safer for the children who want to be there.
Michael Farris is the father of 10 home-schooled children and president of the Home School Legal Defense Association.

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