At Home School, Kids Kept From Bullies And Taught Christian Values
Source: Daily Republic
May 23, 2005
Fairfield, CA -- It's not what other kids think it is.
When other kids find out Teri Speel's two children are homeschooled, they're entranced.
"They think we watch TV all day," the Fairfield resident said.
It's not what other adults think it is.
"There's a whole mythology that kids need to go to school to learn how to deal with bullies and those things," Fairfield resident Betty Raines Azwell said. "Kids go to school to be educated, not to learn socialization. And a lot of socialization is negative. If people acted in the workplace like they do in the school yard, it wouldn't be OK. That's not empowering kids, that's turning them into victims and tyrants."
Advocates of homeschooling - which includes nearly 2,000 Solano County students, if national statistics hold up here - argue their method of education is the best of both worlds. And the reasons for homeschooling are as varied as the people who do it.
"It used to be - about 15 years ago - that it was either hippy types or religious types," Raines Azwell said. "Now those people are on the fringes and most people do it for school reasons."
Margy Haimbaugh, a Suisun City resident who homeschooled her seven kids and is now preparing to do the same with her granddaughter, remembers when she started back in the late 1970s and early '80s.
"It was pretty rare when I started and if someone did it, it was for religious reasons," she said. "Most people were surprised. I had teachers tell me I was abusing my children by keeping them out of school and I had other teachers say they'd like to homeschool their children."
While numbers for Solano County are difficult to find - the state took over statistics for private schools with fewer than five students in 2001 and was unable to provide information - an estimated 1.1 million children were homeschooled in 2003, according to the National Household Education Surveys Program. That was an increase of 250,000 students since 1999 - a jump from 1.7 percent to 2.3 percent of the student population. Other estimates put the number as high as 2 million.
In growing - albeit still small - numbers, people are pulling their children out of public schools and instructing them at home.
"I think the main reasons are faith and frustration with the system," said homeschooler Mindy Evans of Vacaville.
"Generally, (homeschooling) comes down to two or three reasons," Raines Azwell said. "A lot of people's kids had a bad experience and they're going to do homeschooling for a year or two. Another reason is people who always wanted to homeschool - this is their dream. The last is people whose kids are having trouble in school and there are special needs or a bad environment."
The solution? Teach them at home.
Raines Azwell began homeschooling her three children after her oldest son - now 11 - finished preschool. She realized he wasn't mature enough for kindergarten so she worked with him for a year.
"I really enjoyed that and we looked at private schools because we didn't like the (neighborhood) elementary school," she said. "They were doing less than what I was doing and it cost a lot - and (the kids would) be gone seven hours."
Evans - who teaches her son - desired to homeschool because school was an ordeal for her.
"Part of it is my own experience with school - I went into independent study and wasn't happy in school," she said. "I didn't like the social pressure, I didn't feel the teachers were very concerned with me."
That was made worse by the experience of her stepdaughter, who has learning disabilities. Evans is unhappy with the district's handling of her stepdaughter, but she doesn't feel comfortable taking her out of public schools. There is no such hesitation with her son, 4.
"Another reason is that we're Christians - we want him raised with a Christian moral view," she said. "The other option was a private Christian school, but that's expensive. It came down to staying home and raising my son or going to work so I could afford to pay for private school."
Evans calls Christian homeschooling "a big movement. In my Christian circle, it's normal," she said. "Probably half the people with kids in my church do it."
Speel - who studied early childhood development at Santa Rosa Junior College - had an inclination to homeschool from the time her son was born.
"Even when he was a baby, we had friends who were homeschooling and the time they could spend with their kids inspired me," she said.
Her son attended kindergarten in public schools for three weeks, but was "just lumped in with the others," she said. After the winter break that year, she pulled him out of school and began teaching at home. His sister, a year younger, has been homeschooled all along.
Their stories are fairly typical for homeschoolers, according to the 2003 NHES study, which showed that 31 percent of parents said the most important reason for homeschooling was concern about the environment at other schools and 30 percent said it was to provide religious or moral instruction. The next biggest reason was dissatisfaction with academic instruction at other schools, with 16 percent.
There are two extreme styles of homeschooling with shades in between, Raines Azwell said. On one end is "unschooling," which is a child-led experience, where the homeschool instructor will let the child's interest lead the way - a method used for several years by Haimbaugh with her oldest children.
"It meant we had a whole lifestyle of exploring whatever was at hand," she said. "We didn't watch TV - we went to the library, camping, on hikes. We would check out nature, then go to the library to learn. I would get books and read to them above their grade level. I read Shakespeare and Hemingway to them."
On the other end is classical homeschooling, which features what Raines Azwell calls "rigorous, complete education, so when you walk into a college you can excel and have been doing that type of education." That's what she teaches, using literature-based methods from the book "The Well-Trained Mind," which lays down the entire educational experience in four-year increments.
Between those extremes is eclectic teaching, which mixes them. Most people are somewhere in the middle - with faith issues sprinkled in.
"There are so many methods - you can do it through the school district, on your own," Evans said. "I do a mix - I buy some Christian curriculum, some independent math."
Speel does "classical" homeschooling - including a designated room where she does teaching every day. But she also adds plenty of field trips and life experience.
"They say the first year is the scariest," Speel said. "You don't know if you're doing things you should be doing - it takes a whole school year to get into it."
She admits to still worrying about the quality of the educational materials
"The anxiety of finding the right curriculum looms over a good portion of August," she said. "But now we're doing things we've been doing for awhile."
The normal day
While homeschooling gives the family extra options, most people still stick to a schedule.
Raines Azwell, a single mom who works evenings out of her home, runs school from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Thursday.
She covers math and language arts daily. Social studies and science are taught every other day and she spends at least an hour a day reading aloud on the subject being covered in history. On Fridays, they go to the park and meet with other homeschool families.
Speel does schoolwork with the kids daily from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. - and says her ability to cover the curriculum in that time is attributable to the 2-to-1 student-teacher ratio.
"The poor kids in school - they have an hour and a half of homework," she said. "I want my kids outside in the afternoon."
Evans compares her homeschooled son's schedule with that of her public-school educated daughter.
"My daughter spends 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at school and has homework 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.," she said. "One of the bonuses for us is we can get the school work done in four hours - you've got to have a life out of school."
There are two persistent criticisms of homeschooling: That children won't learn how to get along with others and parents are incompetent to teach.
Speel called the socialization issue "preposterous.
"People think kids have to go to school and make friends, but they pick up so many bad habits there, too," she said. "My kids make friends in five minutes. They are very polite."
Azwell echoed those sentiments.
"On my block, the kids experience a microcosm of society," she said. "Kids are bullies, kids are shy and everything in between. Kids learn to socialize with everyone."
She also answered the questions about whether parents are qualified to act as teachers.
"I have a couple of college degrees and one of my best friends is a high school graduate. Both of us are doing well (teaching at home)," she said. "If you're motivated to teach kids, you can do it."
While facing some criticism, most homeschoolers said their methods are becoming much more understood and accepted.
When Haimbaugh started homeschooling a quarter-century ago, it was almost unheard of and most observers were critical.
"Now I tell people and they know 10 other people who are doing it," she said.
Raines Azwell notices a similar change.
"You go to the grocery story - and seven years ago, people asked, 'What about socialization? How can you teach?' " she said. "Now people understand."
And regardless of the criticism and extra work, it's a choice many homeschoolers cherish.
"The biggest advantage is watching my grown-up kids come back and say it was the best thing I ever did - it was the most fun time of my life," Haimbaugh said. "My oldest son says it made him who he is."
For Raines Azwell, the biggest advantage is the time she gets to spend with her kids. People are routinely impressed with how well-behaved her children are in public and how well they get along with others, she added.
Evans and Speel each said they plan on homeschooling their children through high school.
Speel said her children will likely take the state high school proficiency exam at 16 - and begin attending college.
"College is their best bet, as early as they're ready for it," she said. "Right now, I see no problem with going to college at 16, just to brush up on chemistry or things like that."
Raines Azwell recognizes that while she and her kids love the process, it isn't for everyone.
"Homeschooling is a lifestyle choice," she said. "You have to enjoy your family - if it's late August and you can't wait for school to start, it's probably not for you."
"I'm a firm believer that it's not how you get there, but that you get there," she said.