Home schools make learning a way of life

Publication Date: Wednesday Jun 17, 1998

Home schools make learning a way of life

For parents who teach their children at home, education is more than what goes on in class

by Ingrida Berzins

School's out, and most students are looking forward to a long summer break, far from the classroom. For some children, however, the school year never stops--and they live in their classrooms.

"We go year-round," said parent Julie Kong of Palo Alto. "Especially with younger kids, why take a vacation from learning?"

Kong is one of a growing number of Palo Alto parents who home school their children. While exact numbers are impossible to pinpoint, the HomeSchooling Association of California estimates that around 100,000 California students are educated at home.

Nationwide, experts estimate that anywhere from 750,000 to 2.5 million students are schooled at home.

Home schooling, generally defined, is the practice of instructing children outside of school. In the United States, it's legal to educate children alternatively, but laws vary by state and school district.

Each family home schools in a different way--some are affiliated with schools, others purchase their own textbooks and devise their own lessons, still others "unschool," not following a curriculum at all. Some follow the public school year, some don't. Some try to go it alone, others work with other home-schooling families.

For most of these families, the decision to school their children at home is complex. Some families home school for educational reasons, some for religious or philosophical ones. Most often, the decision to educate at home grew out of a combination of factors.

Why do Kong and others in Palo Alto choose not to use its schools?

Deborah Goldeen, a Palo Alto native and Palo Alto High School alumna, said that people are incredulous to learn that she home schools. "People always say, `You went to Palo Alto schools! What are you doing?'"

Deborah Goldeen said that she and her husband became interested in home schooling when their older son was in preschool. Goldeen observed her son and other children at school and didn't like what she saw.

"I was told by a teacher, an experienced parent, that the best thing a kid could do in school was be a bump on a log," she said. "It started me thinking about the point of school, which is to follow orders."

Goldeen was inspired to home school after reading a book on the topic loaned to her by her sister, herself a home schooling parent.

"Most parents want their kids to go to Harvard," she said. "I don't. I want my kids to be human beings first."

For Goldeen, home schooling was the means to align the family's beliefs with the children's education.

Since 1992 Goldeen and sons Simon, 11, and Marty, 8, have been learning year-round at home. They spend time on basic skills every week, devoting the rest of their days to independent projects. At the moment, Simon is into the sciences and construction, while Marty is passionate about the theater.

Julie and George Kong of Palo Alto have a busy household: Their four children, Peter, 11, David, 8, Marybeth, 3, and Priscilla, 18 months, are all being schooled at home.

The Kongs decided to home school before any of their children were of school age, but not primarily because of objections to school.

"It's a family thing. Education is also getting along with your siblings," Julie Kong said. "We are a Christian family and wanted to instill our world view in our children.

"It all boils down to time--time for grandparents and neighbors, time for each other, time to spend a whole day reading and writing. Giving them freedom lets them be more passionate about what they are doing," she said.

The Goldeens have actively pursued a variety of educational resources, including libraries, museums, interpretive programs, classes, kits, volunteering and the Internet. Goldeen is happy with her sons' development.

"Academics are the smallest part of what we do," she said. "It's more about creating a family and community and world of people I want to live with. Living, learning and doing are not separate. Who you are and how you behave are as important as what you know, and, in the end, honesty, integrity and compassion are all that matter."

Like Goldeen, Kong finds great satisfaction in home schooling. "Every minute of my day is meaningful. I'm training them in knowledge and wisdom. The eternal significance of that is right in front of my face."

Julie Kong said that, contrary to popular assumptions about home-schooled children, her offspring are well adjusted socially and have many friends and activities outside the home. For instance, her oldest son, an avid fiction writer, belongs to a writing workshop for home schoolers.

For families like these, home schooling has been successful, but there can be a flip side to it: If children are accustomed to having total control over their educations, they may find the world beyond a frustrating place.

Julia Simon is director of the Palo Alto Home Schooling Choir and formerly taught music in public schools. Simon said that, in comparison with the many public school students she had taught, home schoolers "were amazingly well behaved and learned at an amazing rate. During an entire quarter, I never had a kid ask to go to the bathroom, and they were never late (to rehearsal)."

She said, however, that some home-schooling parents send a confusing message to their children by being overprotective.

"In a choir, you have to sing in tune," Simon said. "For some kids, it's really a struggle, and the parents get very involved. In a public school, we would just take the kid aside to work on it. In home schooling, the parent pulls the kid out. What kind of a message does that send about commitment?"

Jon Reider, an admissions officer at Stanford, has seen a growing number of home-schooled applicants--up to a dozen each year have been schooled at home through high school, and many more were home schooled earlier in life. In response, he has researched the subject and has prepared guidelines for Stanford applicants with nontraditional educational backgrounds.

He said that Stanford encourages home schoolers to apply, but he cautioned that these applicants need to demonstrate that they are mature enough to accept structure. Reider said that home schoolers can "have difficulties with bureaucracy and feel restless, even though Stanford is relatively student-friendly. One problem is turning in papers on time."

On the other hand, Reider said that home-schooled students tended to be "mature, self-motivated and responsible," and said that many had the kind of intellectual vitality that Stanford likes to see.

Parent Julie Kong isn't worried about college admissions.

"I think it will be more of a challenge for us to find an institution that is worthy of them, rather than the other way around."

For more information:

For more information about home schooling, Jill Boone, a board member of the HomeSchool Association of California, recommends the following resources:

The HomeSchool Association of California, www.hsc.org, 1-888-HSC-4440

Christian Home Educators Association of California (CHEA), 1-800-564-2432

"Growing Without Schooling" magazine, national focus, www.holtgws.com

"Home Education Magazine" magazine, national focus, 1-800-236-3278

"Homefires" magazine, Bay Area focus, 365-9425 

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