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A Mother's Day of Home Schooling

by Isabel Lyman
It is 10 a.m. Wid, my eight-year-old, an I have just reviewed the primary colors in Spanish. Amarillo, I note, is the one that he has trouble pronouncing. After espanol, we prepare microscope slides with gum-media. Sticky fun! After we ooh and ahh over the magnified specimens, I dash out to our little red barn and feed the hens. Sometimes Wid helps me collect the eggs. Before the morning expires, Wid will have taken a spelling test, done multiplication and division worksheets, and listened to a cassette recording of The Hobbit. Daniel, my 10-year-old, is working on his studies as well.

Welcome to my home school -- my private, little rebellion against the enemies of educational excellence and the forces of feminism who say a woman's place is in the paying workplace.

Patricia M. Lines, a researcher with the U.S. Department of Education, currently estimates the home-schooled population at around 300,000 school-age children. The Home School Legal Defense Association believes the number to be as high as 500,000. The statistics are indicative of a new trend: American women who are bypassing the mommy track to teach their children at home.

Make no mistake. I'm no retro June Cleaver armed with a stack of designer textbooks to match my pearls. I'm a modern-day, Hispanic-American version of Laura Ingalls Wilder with a personal computer, mini-van and advanced college degree. Part school-marm, part activist, part pioneer, part entrepreneur, part entertainer and part dedicated wife.

My husband, sons and I reside on five acres in a college town. We supplement my husband Wid's $25,000-a-year paycheck as a math instructor and private high school director by heating with wood, growing a vegetable garden, raising meat, tutoring public school children and writing articles. Our lifestyle guarantees us a vanishing commodity: strong family bonds. Bonds, I hope, that result in young adults who will laud the likes of Nathan Hale, not grunger Kurt Cobain.

Part of the thrill I derive from home schooling on a shoestring, and sans a teaching certificate, is the superior academic and cultural gains that result when I give my boys one-on-one attention. For instance, when Daniel had the assignment of composing a story from a set of sophisticated vocabulary words, he didn't balk. He wrote these opening sentences:

"There was once a man named Jim who went daft, clambered up a hawser, dropped through a bulkhead, and was gravely hurt. He was very nonchalant about the incident and was tantalized to do it again."

Dan is also mastering algebra, knows tiny Andorra is near sunny Portugal, plays an aggressive game of ice hockey, has been interviewed by the local media, has shared his bedroom with an inner-city child, has conversed with the last president of Costa Rica, was the runner-up in a spelling bee of about 20 local home-schooled children, and has scored high-99th percentile-on his Stanford Achievement Tests.

Those test scores are fairly typical of home-taught children. Brian Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute in Oregon, says that in every study done to date, home schoolers have scored equal to or better than conventionally schooled children. Mr. Ray's analysis of 509 home schoolers who took standardized tests in the spring 1992 revealed that they averaged at or above the 82nd percentile in every category, including social studies and science.

Yet home educators, for all their hard-fought academic and legal victories, are often harshly criticized by the "pros." Thomas Shannon of the National School Boards Association gave the Associated Press his two cents' worth on parents who have the gall to be their children's teacher: "We are very concerned that many parents who think they are qualified to teach their youngsters simply are not. Society ultimately has to pay for any mistakes, not to mention the loss of a child who might otherwise have made a maximum contribution."

Well, Mr. Shannon, tell that to the mother of Charlotte Cates, who has empowered her daughter with real skills instead of hollow rhetoric. Former neighbor Charlotte was home schooled through high school. She is now a junior at Mount Holyoke College.

Colorful anecdotes aside, members of acedemia are effectively making the case that home-schooled students have not retreated into the cultural catacombs. Home-school Associates of Maine recently released the findings of Prof. J. Gary Knowles.

Mr. Knowles, of the University of Michigan, studied 53 adults to see the long-term effects of being educated at home. He summarized his findings as follows: "I have found no evidence that these adults were even moderately disadvantaged. . .Two thirds of them were married, the norm for adults their age, and none were unemployed or on any form of welfare assistance. More than 75 percent felt that being home-schooled actually helped them to interact with different people in society."

The contemporary home-schooling movement is a splendid success story because of the sacrifice of societal icons-career advancement and leisure time-on the part of many concerned mothers. They consider the education of their children of the utmost importance.

Isabel Lyman is currently collecting articles from mainstream newspapers and magazines about home education. She is especially interested in articles from regional and local newspapers. Please send such items to Isabel Lyman, 264 Harkness Road, Amherst, MA 01002.

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