- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 7, 2000

In the past few weeks, I have encountered something new. Several of my teen-age daughter's friends who were in schools have decided to home-school. What was surprising to me was the students' parents were satisfied with the school system the students were making the change on their own initiative.

This isn't the first time I have encountered children who wanted to home-school, even when the parents didn't. But I haven't seen young people so determined that they would organize the entire situation, research their curriculum, decide on a personal schedule and carry it out.

All of these students are girls, and all are in the last two years of high school. Their desire to home-school contradicts popular wisdom, which says children love the social life of high school, especially in the exalted junior and senior years. At that time, they can drive, or have friends who can, and they have tons of sports events, dances and other events to attend.

Why are children deciding they would rather home-school? For each of these girls, it was a combination of dissatisfaction with the artificially slow pace of the classroom, and the low moral standard of school life in general.

Many adults today seem to assume that children love a low moral atmosphere. They are thought to be secretive, experimenting with all kinds of forbidden fruit such as drugs, alcohol, smoking and sexual activity. So prevalent is this viewpoint that many faculty and parents have adopted a philosophy of: "Well, at least tell them to take precautions when they do it."

This is the attitude that creates distribution of free condoms, birth control information, abortion counseling and sterile needles.

Even in the junior high schools, students see fellow students who are pregnant. In the past week, a close acquaintance of my daughter confided in a common friend that she was the victim of a rape attempt.

Bullying is common, for girls as well as guys. One step down from bullying is the mental version picking on someone for being nerdy or poor or unfashionable or a goody-goody, being of a certain race or national origin. Some children are so scared of going to school that they have physical symptoms stomach pain, colitis, asthma.

Recently, my daughter heard about an acquaintance's suicide attempt. Only the courageous intervention of another friend saved the girl's life.

Even among strong families, tragedies are taking place. We know students who are anorexic or bulimic, who are shoplifting and addicted to Internet porn. Where were the behaviors learned? Not in the home. From the students' own explanations, it was a "friend" who introduced the behaviors.

Most adults think children are unaware of, or even attracted to the dangerous behaviors they see practiced by their peers. It's just not true. They don't like going into a bathroom full of smoke any more than we do. They don't like seeing kids picked on or bullied. They don't like seeing girls and boys engaged in premature relationships that wreak havoc on their emotions, mental energy and physical health.

So, evidently, there is a small group of students that is taking the reins of their own education, and saying to their parents "I want to home-school. I want to concentrate on my studies and my goals, without these distractions. I want to finish school faster, because I want to pursue college, or a job or other opportunities."

While the politicians babble about whether to support private school vouchers or public school budgets, home-schooling is being ignored. But the fact is that some children are realizing they are the ones who lose out when the focus is on the institution, not on the education.

I wonder what would happen if, every year, students were allowed to choose from a range of textbooks and resources, and were allowed to choose where and how they would learn those subjects? What if we actually allowed democracy in the educational system?

What if teachers were free agents, and could charge according to their accomplishments, not according to a salary scale that some administrator or union rep decides? What if parents could send their children to this public school for science, the private school for literature, and home-school for music?

What if we created one nationalized test for every subject area, which tested for the skills and key knowledge a pupil should have in that area? There would be the national physics test, the national geometry test, etc. And why couldn't students and parents choose whatever seemed to be the best path to learn that knowledge, then take the test to show the degree of accomplishment they had in each subject?

What if public schools were transformed into public education centers, serving the public regardless of age, geographical area or other barriers? Why couldn't they be like a public library? If teachers were able to focus on teaching instead of record-keeping, test-giving, rule-enforcement and paper-processing, they could be free to create effective and interesting presentations of the material.

Why shouldn't home-schoolers be able to use public school laboratories and music programs? Why shouldn't public school students be able to study at home? Why should private school students pay twice for everything?

If the focus is truly on education, it would be easy to create solutions to the current problems. I don't see why we can't do with education what we've done with the economy, media and politics. If we actually tried to democratize and open the process of education, we might have a far different scenario in 15 years than the nightmare we face today. We teach supply and demand, we teach freedom of assembly, we teach no taxation without representation; why not put those lessons into practice in how we provide children with knowledge?

I hope all parents will begin to make education the primary focus for their children, no matter what the current system, and that children with strong self-identity will begin to take ownership of their own educational choices.

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

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