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Last Updated: Friday, 23 March 2007, 17:46 GMT
Faith fuels home education boom
By Tara Gadomski
In New York

August family learning at home
Jack likes the flexibility in being taught at home
Thirteen-year-old Jack August sits on a small sofa in a cozy, carpeted room, reading aloud from a book about knights.

All the while his playful golden retriever, Mighty, tries to sneak up on the sofa when Jack isn't looking.

Jack's mother, Sue, sits alongside, asking him questions about the story.

Earlier in the day, the two performed a science experiment together, using the sofa cushions and a ball fetched from the garage.

This is a just another day for Jack, who is one of the two million students in the US who are homeschooled - taught by their parents at home. And he loves it.

"I like the flexibility. If an opportunity to play tennis or anything else pops up I can do it and just make up the schoolwork later.

"And with the one-on-one instruction, it seems you can move ahead quicker and be at a higher level of learning."

And yes, says Jack, he does socialise with other children.

"I have friends from church, from sports, and I do know other local homeschool kids."

Boom time

Until the 1970s, homeschooling was more of a necessity than a choice for American parents.

Our Christian faith is pretty strong and we thought this might be the best way to be able to pass on those values
Homeschooling mother Sue August
It took place mostly in rural areas, where schools could be long distances away and children were needed to help out with the work at home.

But after the publication of several controversial books that criticised institutional schooling, the modern homeschool movement in the US began, with thousands of suburban families joining in.

Still, it was not until recently that the numbers of homeschoolers really exploded - nearly doubling in the last six years.

The National Home Education Research Institute (a pro-homeschool advocacy group) estimates that that around 1.5 million children were educated at home in 2000, but in 2006, the number was closer to 2.5 million.

This increase is due, in large part, to the rise of Christian homeschooling - parents' choosing to teach children at home from a Biblical point of view.

Now there is a vast and highly organised network of Christian homeschooling advocacy groups, legal advisers and curriculum material.

Faith factor

Sue August says she and her husband decided to homeschool Jack even before he was born.

children in school
Nothing beats schooling, some say
"Our Christian faith is pretty strong and we thought this might be the best way to be able to pass on those values to our son."

Her husband Mark says parents can impart something that teachers can not.

"Character is just as important as academics. And so what we're looking for are character training issues and we would rather do that ourselves."

The Augusts use a Christian-based curriculum for teaching their son.

Legally, they can teach him whatever they want.

I worry about the lack of accountability in homeschooling
Wendy Puriefoy
Public Education Network
Homeschool regulations vary state by state in the US, but New Jersey, where the Augusts live, has some of the most lenient. There are no requirements for attendance, training, testing, or even the use of books.

While that may seem highly unorthodox to many people, Mark August says homeschooling is just a different way of looking at the world.

"I understand why people look at the lack of regulation and are taken aback. But who is ultimately responsible for raising the child - is it the parent or the state?" Mark asked.

"From a Biblical standpoint, it's the parents' responsibility. Parents are going to act in the best interest of their children a majority of the time."

Worries

But Wendy Puriefoy, president of the advocacy group Public Education Network, in Washington DC, questions the ability of parents to provide an adequate environment for maturing as well as learning.

"I worry about the lack of accountability in homeschooling," she said.

"I worry about the lack of socialisation for youngsters outside of their families.

"I worry about the access to other kinds of non-academic resources that youngsters have in public schools that you might not have in a homeschooling situation."

Worlds away from Jack's comfortable sofa, a group of teenagers in a New York City public school history class are gearing up for a debate over the ideal form of government.

The classroom is lively and noisy as students hunch over their institutional-style metal desks to prepare their statements and re-check their facts.

Enlightenment

When the debate finally begins the different voices, accents, opinions and academic aptitudes are apparent. But all the students are participating in their own way.

Homeschool advocates might argue that this way of teaching will slow down the brighter children or prevent the slower learners from catching up.

But the students in this classroom say they would not have it any other way.

"When you're at school, you're pushed. Competition brings out the best in you," said 11th-grade student Frank, adding philosophically: "The most enlightened people are those who are enlightened by others."

Another teenager from the class, Julia, points out what she sees as another benefit of going to school.

"I wouldn't want to be around my Mom all day!

"No offence, I love her, you know - but this is a nice little break away from her!"




SEE ALSO
Home learning numbers uncertain
23 Feb 07 |  Education
Growth market in home education
18 Mar 05 |  Education
Home teaching 'needs more checks'
29 Jul 04 |  Education
Not missing but learning at home
06 Feb 02 |  Education

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