Home Schooling Comes of Age in U.S.

Educational Phenomenon Enters the Mainstream

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WASHINGTON, D.C., MAY 14, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Helen and Mark Helm started home schooling their first child Greg when the practice was rare in the United States.

“We worried that a social worker might show up and take our kids away,” recalled Helen Helm.

That was 11 years ago. Now, with the likes of former U.S. Education Secretary William Bennett, Baltimore Cardinal William Keeler and popular radio talk show host Laura Schlessinger singing the praises of home schooling, “Things are different,” Helen Helm told the National Catholic Register (NCRegister).

She lives on Andrews Air Force Base near Washington. “These days, many kids around here are home schooled and you see them out and around during regular school hours,» she said. «When you mention home schooling, more people admire you instead of shaking their heads as if you were weird.”

She said her son Greg, now 15, and his three younger siblings can take their books outside and study without fear of ridicule.

Statistics confirm the Helms’ experience. In 1980, almost every American child attended institutional schools. Within two decades, the number of home schooled children soared to 1.6 million, by one estimate. Still, as late as 1999 they were a distinct minority compared to the 52.6 million American students enrolled in kindergarten through 12th grades.

“If this trend were to continue at a modest 7% annual growth rate,” said Brian D. Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institution in Salem, Oregon, “about 3 million students would be home educated during the fall of 2010.”

What many believed a passing fad has become an established movement. Ray, who has studied home schooling for 16 years, said he knows why.

“Because home schooling works — plain and simple,» he said. «Year after year, studies have shown that home schooled children perform at a higher academic level than their peers in conventional schools.”

Ray’s largest-ever nationwide study of home education showed home schoolers score, on average, at or above the 80th percentile in all areas on standardized achievement tests. The national average is in the 50th percentile.

But not everyone endorses home schooling. The National Education Association states bluntly on its Web site that “home schooling programs cannot provide the student with a comprehensive education experience.” The Register said the NEA declined to discuss the reasons for its position.

“I’m really not surprised,” said Ray. “What can they say? They’re a teachers union.»

Tim and Miki Hill of Woodstock, Maryland, have home schooled their eight children for 20 years. The co-presidents of the National Association of Catholic Home Educators dispute the prevailing wisdom regarding socialization.

“My argument against the classic school environment is that there is only one period of your life that you’re going to be in groups of people all the same age,” said Tim Hill. “It’s artificial. In the real world, you have to deal with people young and old and people of different abilities. I think home schoolers get a more real-life experience.»

In fact, Ray told the Register, research has shown that 98% of home schoolers are involved in at least two outside activities, such as Scouts, music, ballet or Bible classes.

One product of home schooling is Benjamin Smedberg, 22, of Sterling, Virginia. Home schooled from sixth grade through high school, the graduate of Catholic University of America is now the musical director of St. Patrick’s Church in downtown Washington.

“What about those poor public school kids who don’t know how to be socialized because the only people they ever deal with are kids their own age?” Smedberg asked.

The eldest of seven children, Smedberg is glad that his parents removed him from public school. “I found it boring,” he admitted. “Everything goes so slowly there. Once they teach something, they teach it again and again and again rather than moving on.”

At home, Smedberg and his siblings covered their academic subjects in three to four hours per day. Much reading was accomplished, including the entire Bible, the ancient Greek classics and 500 other books he listed on his college application.

Just about the only thing Smedberg regrets about his home schooling years was that he couldn’t play soccer. Some local boards of education will not allow home schoolers to participate in high-school sports.

Another supporter of home schooling is Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Youngstown, Ohio.

In a recent pastoral letter, “Catholic Schools: A Commitment Renewed,” he stated, “Nor should our strong affirmation of and commitment to Catholic schools be a source of envy or competition for other forms of religious education or other ministries of the Church. Home schooling is a legitimate option for some and it deserves the recognition and support of the Church.”

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