Monday, October 6, 2008

Controversies: By Mimi Rothschild

A Growing Rift in Home Schooling

There is a chasm growing in the world of the home school. Home school used to be almost exclusively for religious people who didn't want their children in traditional school so they could focus more and more on bible studies. As home school grows in popularity, more and more non-religious people are starting to utilize home school for their own children. Like in many areas, the fundamental rift between religious home school parents and secular home school parents is starting to cause some problems throughout the country in home school support groups and other home school businesses and associations.

The question is what, if anything, can be done to mend this rift in home school philosophy. The answer to that question is probably not much. Just like in public life, secular and religious people have basic fundamental differences which can make it difficult to work together on many issues. However, the fact that there is growing diversity in views among the home school set indicates that the field is growing in prestige and vitality.

Although conflict might be difficult, it can also pave the way for advancement. Religiously oriented home school parents may balk at the notion, but the growing number of secular parents may help them out substantially. Having lots of non-religious home school parents means that the government is less likely to take action or persecute a religious group of home school families. Religious home school families can use their secular counterparts as a buffer against undue government intrusion. On the flip side, secular home school families have benefited greatly from the ground work religious home school families have laid in the area of home schooling, both in terms of curriculum and the law. The rise in the total number of home school families benefits both groups because it means that there are more resources available to home school families of all stripes.

Perhaps the best that home school families can hope for then is a sort of truce. As home school rises in popularity, it will most likely be the case that there will be religious and secular curriculums, support groups and other resources divided on the basis of religion. The one thing all home school families agree on is that traditional school is not for their children. However, this is not going to be enough to bridge the gap between the secular and religious home school camps.

School Districts Can Help With Your Home School Needs

Many home school parents don't realize the number of resources available to them through their local school districts. More and more, school districts are setting up special programs designed for home schooling parents, with resources available for meeting state standards and help in teaching methods. Home school parents have an increasing number of resources at their disposal, and should utilize many of them in order to increase the chances of being successful at setting up and maintaining a home school situation for their children.

One service that some school districts offer is help in meeting state guidelines. Most states require that home school students, regardless of other factors, meet certain state and federal bench marks. Most commonly, these bench marks involve being able to read at a certain level and having math skills at a certain level by a given age. Apart from this, many states also have standards with regards to other content areas such as history, civics, science, etc. Some school districts can help you by outlining these standards for you and showing you how you can prove to the state that your child is meeting or exceeding these minimum standards.

Another service that many school districts offer teachers is curriculum planning. Oftentimes, school districts hire one or two fully certified teachers to help you iron out the kinks in your curriculum. A certified teacher on the state's payroll can offer suggestions for methods of teaching various subjects. For example, a certified teacher may be very useful in giving you ideas for your home school science curriculum. She can suggest some appropriate science topics and show you how to do a demonstration or experiment as part of your home school science curriculum. She can also give you ideas on working through other content areas and effective methods for teaching your child in a home school setting.

As a student gets older, they can take advantage of even more services offered to home school students through the district. Home school students planning on college are often eligible to use the college resource center at their local high school. They can also talk to school counselors regarding college or career planning. Home school students can also take part in extracurricular activities like math club or band or choir and also participate in sports at their local schools. Having your home school child participate in activities and athletics through the local high school is often a cost effective option for parents. Similarly, classes like foreign language are sometimes open to home school students. Instead of paying for a tutor or a special correspondence course, your student can attend a couple classes at the school.

Check with your local school district to see if it offers support to home schoolers.

Some Unscrupulous People Give Home-school a Black Eye

Although home-school families are by and large upstanding people, several recent cases involving home-school families have given home-school a black eye in the mind of the public. While most parents, whether they home-school or not, wouldn't dream of such behavior, several recent well-publicized cases show some parents using home-school as a cover for the neglect and abuse of their children. In these cases, critics of home-school often point out that if the child had been in school, a teacher, school nurse, or counselor would have been able to report the abuse sometimes years before local authorities caught on. Home-school advocates point out that these people are not indicative of the vast majority of home-school families; however, that declaration does little to repair the image of home-school in the wider community.

So how can your home-school family cope with these new criticisms and suspicious looks from family members, friends, and other members of the community? Unfortunately, there doesn't appear to be a lot that you can do. Living your life well, treating your children well and remaining a committed, involved and upstanding member of your community, however, will help demonstrate how good home-school can be. It will also show that home-school does not breed abusive parents; it is simply another cover for abusive parents' unacceptable behavior. The best way to counter that image, then, is not to withdraw, but to remain a model for positive parenting in your community. Showing by example is perhaps the most powerful tool you can use to convince people that home-school is a positive thing for families.

Another step you can take is to write letters to your newspaper editor extolling the virtues of home-school for kids. An even better step might be to make sure that the press is alerted when a home-school child in the area does something notable. Keeping the local press in the loop with regard to the social and academic achievements of home-school kids increases the chances that home-school will be covered in a positive light in your local newspaper and television stations. If a home-school child wins a national essay contest or science fair or an award for community service, allow the press to cover it and grant them interviews. In this way, you can help the larger community to see all the well-adjusted families who choose home-school.

Striking a Balance between Freedom for Parents & Protecting Children

While most home school kids are in happy, well-adjusted families, there have been some well publicized cases lately of parents who claim that they have set up a home school for their children when the truth is that they are abusing their children, neglecting their children, or worse. This has caused politicians and government workers on both sides of the political spectrum to question how much freedom should be given to home school parents to direct their children's education with minimal government interference. Critics of home school claim that many parents use home school as a cover for abusing and neglecting their children while proponents of home school point out the high rate of home school kids that go to college as evidence that they don't need further government intrusion into their lives. The question becomes, then, how can home school families repair the damage that these cases are doing to the collective reputation of home school and how can we protect children who are being abused when they are not in school?

There are several ways a good home school family can prove to its community that home school is a good thing for children. The primary thing is not to retreat, but to let you and your kids be seen as a happy family together. Become a model home school family and show your community what a happy home school family looks like - don't merely tell them. The second thing that you should do is find a contact in your local press. If a home school child in your area does something noteworthy, such as getting into an Ivy League college or winning an essay contest or science fair, your local press should know about it. Often, they will run at least some kind of public notice of the child's accomplishment. This gives good home school families much needed positive press and portrays home school families in a positive light.

Finally, home school parents are just as concerned about protecting abused and neglected children as anyone else. Instead of shutting down when a politician or government official makes a suggestion, try working with your local school boards and community governments to come up with solutions that protect both your privacy and your right to home school how you see fit. Home school families are praised by college admissions boards for their fostering of creativity. This is the perfect situation to put that creativity you cultivate in home school to good use.

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The Leading PreK-12 Online Christian Home School Program Provider

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