Erik Hartmann, 13, of Toronto, does not go to school.School comes to him.His mother, Rita is his teacher.She and about 20,000 other Canadian families are pioneers in the home-schooling movement.They have asked themselves, “To whom has God given the primary responsibility for educating and raising their children?And in living rooms or basements filled with readers and desks, paints and pencils, musical instruments and toys, they have given their answer.Parents who want to teach their children at home attach the highest value to family life, says educator and author Raymond S. Moore, an articulate spokesman for the burgeoning home school movement in recent years.”They feel the family is under attack and that the environment of the school contributes to that, he notes.”Home schooling provides parents with the opportunity of fully participating in their children’s education, declares Ontario home-schooler Meg Johnson.A few hours spent with tired children at the end of a long day spent away at school is not for such parents, she says.They also find teaching their own children an enjoyable way of getting to know them in greater depth, Moore says.”My kids are out of diapers and are to yet into adolescence; this is the most delightful time of their lives and we want them home so we can enjoy them.We don’t want them off in some institution for seven hours a day.” Many say.The reasons parents give to teach their children at home reflect a wide variety of philosophical, religious, educational and economic outlooks.
Here in their own words are some of them:”I want to teach her respect for God and His teachings.””He was psychologically unready for formal schooling.””At home, there is a better ratio of adults to children than in the school system.””Too much music and creativity in school, at the expense of basics.””The school curriculum virtually ignores music and destroys creativity.””I want to avoid values and ethics as taught in schools.””I want to avoid sex education as taught in schools.””I want my child to be exposed to respect and discipline.””There is too much discipline in school.”This variety aside, however, two motives dominate when some parents decide to teach their children at home, argues Wendy Priesnitz of the Canadian Alliance of Home schoolers: They want to exercise authority in the kind of education their children receive, and to escape from the highly structured world of formal education.The chief concern of such parents is that their children receive a well-rounded education – an education which reflects their own convictions and resulting standards in religious and other fields, assert Ottawa home schoolers Bruce and Joyce Pringle.Wendy and Guy Timperley, home schoolers from London, Ontario, agree.We feel that we have come to know our children very well and we know what influences they have in their lives because they’re with [their mother] all day.We’re not having to combat something in the school environment which is really an unknown entity.State-supported public education is a relatively recent phenomenon in western society, says Priesnitz.In the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution, the context of learning changed radically.Parents working in factories (and later officer) could no longer help their children learn about the world by dealing directly with that world.At first, therefore, compulsory public education existed mainly to occupy the children of working parents, she contends.Today, the education system is an octopus whose tentacles intrude into many areas of life that are properly the domain of the family, say Rita Hartmann, a Toronto mother who teaches her six children at home.In Ontario, remarked Hartmann, as in most other jurisdictions, “the history of public education is the history of government’s encroachment on the right of parents to teach their own.”Compulsory public schooling first came in for grades 1 to 6, then to 8. Grades 9 to 13 followed, then kindergarten was added, and now we have junior kindergarten, plus proposals for government-run daycare for toddlers and infants.And at the other end, state-funded universities and community colleges,” she says.Critics of the power and presumption of public education come from within the system also.Dr. Norman Henchey, a professor at McGill’s Faculty of Education contributed a controversial section to a 1979 study of the future of public education commissioned by the Ontario Ministry of Education.He saw a time when compulsory schooling would come to an end.Instead, families would have voluntary access to the educational services provided by schools, community groups and churches, to name a few.This idea fits in well with the conviction of home schoolers that government’s proper role is to assist parents with the choice of the best education for their children.”Home schooling saves the education system dollars,” says Hartmann, and so the parents should get something back – access to school libraries, physical education facilities, audio-visual materials and so on.Hartmann also recommends the government provide “home schooling consultants” who have raised their own children and taught them at home.Education expert Raymond S. Moore asserted in a 1984 interview with Human Events, a U.S. conservative weekly, that no institution has ever surpassed the home as the basic school of society.When a youngster leaves home for a formal schooling – a kind of rite of passage in western society – he runs a greater risk than an older child of suffering emotional and mental problems.The reason?With too little mothering, or with mothering from a succession of caregivers, Moore points out, some children as old as 8 are vulnerable to a variety of early-childhood problems from timidity or aggressiveness to disrupted patterns of eating or sleeping.”Development at home is far more important for a child than development at school,” observes John Bowlby, an expert on the subject of maternal deprivation.Even the child of poor parents will receive what no institution can provide – the constant human care necessary for the building of trust and security, he states.School can dominate family life.With each new extracurricular activity or service, the schoolday lengthens until the child is out of the home from morning to night.With little or no time left to develop and sustain mutual interests, the ties that bind a family together can deteriorate.Parents and children may eventually become strangers to one another.”Too long hours spent away from home under the tutelage of others than parents encourages alienation and the waning of the natural affection which exists in families,” says the September 1988 issue of the Ontario Homeschooler’s Newsletter.The Association recommends that public schools teach only the basics “thus enabling students to attend classes for half days, or on alternate days of the week.Children would then be able to spend more time with the important people in their lives, their family members.”In 1985, the Hewitt Research Centre – a U.S. foundation specializing in educational research – completed its analysis of 8,000 studies relating to human development. Conclusion?There was “no body of evidence which advises early out-of-home care unless necessary not which counsels formal schooling at home or school before 8 to 10.Parents who teach their own children are turning them into hothouse flowers, say some opponents of home schooling.This is an “extravagant myth” says Dr. Moore.The author of “Better Late Than Early and School Can Wait” distinguishes between positive and negative socialization:Sound values and a sense of self-worth form the basis of a positive sociability, Moore says.The child who is taught at home, needed at home and loved at home is more likely to develop this basis than the child who spends more time with his peers than with his parents he maintains.A child who is peer-dependent is ultimately a loser, says Cornell University’s Urie Bronfenbrenner.He loses his sense of self-worth; he loses his optimism; he loses respect for his parents; and in the end, he even loses respect for his peers.Any parent – in fact, any adult who spends a considerable amount of time with children – will attest to the power of example to teach.Moore states “The example set before the child of loving, mature parents is very different from the example he gets form his peers who teach him obscenities, ridicule, bullying, snobbishness and conformity,” he avers.Anna Halpine, 11, firmly rejects the idea that learning at home deprives her of the company of girls her own age.”I go to the gifted programme once a week and I see all my best friends there,” contends the oldest child of Toronto home schooler, Judy Halpine.”It’s more special because we don’t see each other every day.Most parents believe they have the right and the responsibility to form their child’s character and intellect.Some, however, are so unwilling to entrust their children to the care of strangers and to the constant company of peers, says Moore, that they have pushed this belief to its logical conclusion.They teach their own at home.Home schooling parents find they must confront the misconception that only professional educators are competent to teach their children.”We do fine with our children until they reach ‘school age,'” says Ontario home schooler Meg Johnson.”It is very unfortunate that so many of us are so well conditioned to accept our own lack of ability beyond this point.This attitude certainly serves the interests of educators, but it doesn’t serve the interests or meet the needs of children, parents and the families they should compose,” she observes.Home schooled children score consistently higher on standardized tests than their public school peers, a 1981 U.S. survey reveals.Dr. Moore attributes this success to several factors that depend on the unique relationship of parent and child.- A child thrives on the time and effort his parents expend to systematically teach him.- A child thrives on the partiality his mother and father give him.Partiality in school damages his sense of self.- A child thrives on the multiplicity of adult-to-child responses he receives at home.Such a number is impossible in school.- A child thrives on the flexible schedule of home-based education.He becomes more of a free explorer and thinker than a mere regurgitate of books.- A child thrives on being included in the daily responsibilities of running a household.Like the farm boy or girl of an earlier generation, he becomes independent and self-directed at an early age.”In the families I have met who have kept their children at home, it is not at all unusual to see youngsters of only eight or nine who can do anything around the house,” Moore states.”They can buy food or plan a meal, cook it and clean up afterward.”For those concerned that children kept at home may not learn, home schooler Ellen Blurton-Jones of Puslinch, Ontario, believes that the results of standard achievement tests fulfill another purpose besides providing a record of academic progress.”It is conceivable that there are parents who might fail to provide an education for their children and thus could give home schooling a bad name,” notes the mother of six – four of whom she teaches at home.”In this event, annual testing is an insurance policy for conscientious parents.”Blurton-Jones is like most home schooling parents; they keep their children at home out of disillusionment with conventional school.But home-based education, they find, quickly becomes more than a protest.The kind of education children receive at home attains the ideals only dreamed of in institutional schools – constant, one-on-one tutoring and self-directed learning.No classroom teacher – however efficient, attentive and perceptive – could ever elicit from his students the number or intensity of responses that home-schooling parents typically get from their children.The reason says Mary Kay Clark of Virginia’s Seton Home Study School, is that parents know their children, and teaching their own helps them to know them better still.To keep and teach the children at home has its difficulties, not the least of which is misunderstanding.For now, home schooling is not acceptable to North American culture and community, alleges Washington home schooler Nancy R. Pearcey.And today, she adds, support for placing very young children in formal schooling is on the increase.Why, in the face of this enormous social pressure, do some parents persist in teaching their own children?Once started, asserts Meg Johnson, parents quickly see that “home schooling builds, it doesn’t destroy.It builds up a child and strengthens a family.” Educator and leader in the home-schooling movement the late John Holt said that, parents keep on with home schooling despite the opposition “because they enjoy the company of their kids.”First of two parts.Next month: “The Divine Right of Parents.”