- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 20, 2001

RICHMOND — The jumpers and the flower-print dresses were everywhere at the 18th annual Home Educators of Virginia convention.
Many of the women there wore this cheap and modest clothing that seems emblematic of the frugal home-schooling lifestyle.
Approximately 14,338 children in Virginia are home-schooled, which is more than 1 percent of the 1.14 million school-age children in the states public schools. Ten years ago, according to the Virginia Department of Education, there were 3,816 home-schooled students in the state.
By comparison, more than 21,000 children are home-schooled in Wisconsin, which is 2 percent of the school-age population in that state. Nationally, there are 1.5 million to 2 million children being taught at home, representing 3 percent to 4 percent of the school-age population, according to the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA).
"Home schooling has been growing in popularity among certain groups of parents around the country," said Education Department spokesman Charles Pyle, "plus some of the more prominent national advocates of home schooling live here in the commonwealth."
This includes Michael P. Farris, a lawyer who founded the HSLDA in Purcellville and the first-ever national college for home-schoolers: Patrick Henry College, also in Purcellville.
Spring is the season for large home-schooling conferences. Virginias ranks among one of the largest annual conferences in the country. Other home-schooling-friendly states in the East include Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida.
Thousands of parents and their children frequent these events, which feature workshops, textbook-buying sprees and the chance to trade war stories. About 5,000 people attended last weeks Home Educators of Virginia convention at the Richmond Center.
Known for large families, home schooling is a culture in itself. Babies, strollers and pregnant women were everywhere at the conference. One large hall was filled with 210 vendors marketing everything imaginable for home schooling, from portable "lap desks" to world maps, markerboard crayons and magic markers.
A group of 14 single mothers met over lunch during the conference to cry on each others shoulders.
"It is a major commitment," said Mindy Michaels of Goochland, Va. "It is easier to dump your kid in day care or public school. But Id rather live in a tent and do home schooling than not do it."
Kathy Eby, a single woman from Richmond who adopted two Russian children, lives off disability benefits while she home-schools them.
"I didnt want to be comfortable; I wanted a family," she said. "Had I known what I do now, Id not have the courage to do this because Ive realized how much you need two people to raise a child."
Why do the mothers at the table scrape together child support payments, work odd jobs and otherwise pay such high personal prices to educate their children in their homes? Why do two-parent families sacrifice an extra salary to keep one parent at home with the kids?
"You get to spend that quality time with your kids when they are young," said Rich Jefferson, a home-schooling father who works with the HSLDA and also writes a column for The Washington Times. "The points of your world view that you want to impart with your children — you stand a much better chance of sharing that with them in a home-schooling environment than if they go out of the house for seven or eight hours. And then they come home and you have to sort through things."
Another reason: smarter kids.
"Home schoolers on the average are producing better reasoners in the nation," said Jay Wile, a former Ball State University professor who lectures on how to teach home-schoolers physics, biology and chemistry. "Todays world is so science- and technology-oriented that children must have a basic grounding in it."
And math is a must, he adds.
"It teaches you the kind of thinking you need in science," he said.
After many years of low-level opposition, home schooling has attained widespread acceptance in the United States. Its students are stars in the nations spelling bees and college entrance exams. Once designed as a means of education for the children of diplomats, foreign correspondents and missionaries, it has blossomed into a huge alternative schooling system.
Although not all home-schoolers have a religious bent, the feel at the Virginia conference was of a biblical cast. The theme, "Dwelling Together in Unity," was from the book of Psalms. A booth set up by Good Steward Books of Mitford, Ohio, boasted "a complete Christian elementary curriculum," including spiritualized math problems starring biblical characters.
Theres a lot of money to be made in such textbooks. One of the lesser-known facts about Bob Jones University in South Carolina is that it is a major producer of home-schooling curriculum. Letz Farmer of Mastery Publications in Arden, N.C., says competition among publishers is brisk. "We have much more educated home-schoolers now who are not settling for just one curriculum," she said, "but a much more eclectic market."
Thus one of the big draws at the conference was the "used curriculum book sale" in a large room with tables stacked high with English, math, history and geography tomes. Brenda Rose, coordinator for the sale room, said the number of books put up for sale (13,000) has tripled in the five years she has overseen it.
One reason for the sales popularity is that parents can sell their childrens used school books at enormous markdowns.
"Its the ultimate in recycling," Mrs. Rose said. "You can spend $500 to $600 and get curriculum for six kids."
Saving money is a chief concern among home-schoolers, said Shelley Hendry, a home-schooling mother of five from Clarksville, Va. Her family burns wood for heat, does its own chimney cleaning and gleans fresh vegetables. She suggests avoiding name-brand cosmetics, planning at least one cold dinner a week, hanging clothes out to air dry instead of using the drier, and not shopping at malls.
"For those of us whove stayed at home, two-income families have raised the level of expectation of what we should have," she said. "Being frugal and thrifty always used to be considered part of homemaking."
The climax of the conference came last Saturday afternoon, when 128 home-schooled graduates from four states marched down the aisle to receive high school diplomas. The schools were named after the student; thus a teen-ager with the last name of Smith was awarded a diploma from "Smith Home School." Parents handed the diplomas to their offspring.
"Its so touching," graduation coordinator Kati Grow said. "Theyve been doing this as a family for 12 years, so their peers are their family members."

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