- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 13, 2001

Well, folks, it's official. Home-schoolers are a phenomenon worthy of People magazine. We're finally mainstream.

In the Feb. 26 issue, People devoted a six-page spread to one home-schooling family in Austin, Texas. The article described the family's evolution into home-schoolers. The parents' federal government jobs required frequent relocations, and after some unhappy experiences with available schools, the children were enrolled in the Calvert School, which People called the "granddaddy of home-schooling programs, launched in Baltimore in 1906 for kids kept home during an epidemic."

The article covers the family's incorporation of classical subjects, such as Latin and Hebrew, in their regular curricula. It depicts their observance of the Jewish Sabbath as a family and their active social life.

While mentioning the standard concerns about parental competence and socialization, the author nevertheless manages to show that home-schooling is a growing and successful alternative to failing schools. She even indicates that home-schooling may be the prototype for the school of the future, where teachers may diagnose and suggest individual study plans for students who work on their own, with the help of computer software and other resources.

People magazine normally focuses on profiles and features about the rich and famous, so I was a bit puzzled why it chose to highlight home-schooling, which is a very homespun type of movement. Evidently, a growing number of stars are choosing home-schooling. The article cites Britney Spears, Frankie Muniz, John Travolta, Kelly Preston and country singer Lee Ann Womack as celebrities who are active home-schoolers, either as students or as parent-teachers. It also points out that the children of many state and federal education officials are home-schooled or enrolled in private schools. One official who has chosen that route for his children, former Secretary of Education William Bennett, is quoted as saying, "Home-schoolers are finally getting the recognition they deserve."

I guess rich people have the same concerns we regular folks do: We want the best for our children. Parents are no longer satisfied to have their children's education dictated by some out-of-control bureaucracy. With the advent of computers, the Internet and videos, we are no longer held hostage to the exigencies of the classroom.

Parents, in short, are refusing to lose their children to the increasing tide of violence, negative peer influence and ineffective instruction. The bottom-line question, for most parents, is, "What's bestfor my child?"

Every time I hear about school violence, drug taking, sexual activity and teen suicide, I can't help but mentally compare that to the situation of home-schooling families. Frankly, these are not even issues for the families I know. If you really think about that, it's a pretty huge contrast. What would you give to protect your children from such serious and life-threatening circumstances? If you're like me, the answer is, "I would give anything."

Of course, that's only half the reason any family home-schools. The other half is to give the child a better education. Not "just as good," but "better." Home-schoolers aim higher than their institutional counterparts, and what's more, they succeed. As the People article points out, home-schoolers outperform their peers by 15 to 30 percentile points on standardized tests.

When you have a business or organization that makes superior products, is growing by 15 percent a year and has 2 million users drawn from every sector of the population, you have a winner.

Because parents love their children more than themselves, they want to give their children a better life than they had. Think about it. One thousand years ago, most people could not read or write. Most people were farmers, fishermen, foresters, shepherds. To be educated, you had to be a member of the clergy or aristocracy. Even a great emperor like Charlemagne could not read or write.

Because each succeeding generation worked hard and sacrificed to give its children a little bit more than it had, we live in a world where literacy is accessible universally. A third-grader today can do more than a king could back then. Today, parents still want the best for their children. We shudder to think that they might get an education that is not as good as our own, because we know how hard it is to live without the right tools. We remember the lessons of history, that great and thriving civilizations such as Rome, Egypt and Greece were destroyed from within.

That's why folks from Alaska to Maine and from Florida to Hawaii are choosing to home-school. With all due respect to the politicians and other well-meaning folks, we don't have time to wait around for new programs to be instituted. A few months is a significant time period in a child's life. A few years may represent a loss that can never be recaptured.

Parental rights predate the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Magna Carta. Parents love their children more than any governmental or educational institution can, so parents naturally have the right to make the educational choices for their children. It's not something the state allows us to do, any more than the government gives us the right to vote. We give the government and the schools the right to act on our behalf, not the other way around.

I hope that in the various new educational initiatives being discussed, some wise heads will realize that no family should be disenfranchised because of educational choices. I cannot see why home-schoolers should not be able to borrow schoolbooks or use public facilities such as laboratories or gyms. We pay taxes, we should not have to pay again for the means to educate our children.

I would like to suggest that home-schoolers write to public officials about our educational priorities and rights. We are not outlaws; we are responsible, law-abiding citizens. Let's let our federal and state legislatures know how we feel about our children's education, and it may help them create better policy for the entire nation.

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

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