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Borderlands: Home Schools Become Popular Alternative 15 (1997)

A unique resource of faculty edited college student articles on the history and culture of the El Paso, Juárez, and Southern New Mexico regions.

Home Schools Become Popular Alternative

Article first published in Vol. 15, 1997.

By John Minjares

Bells ring, feet stomp, lockers bang, kids yell, teachers shout homework reminders. Another day of school is over. But across the street, students experience none of this chaos. Their school day is spent at home. Their teacher is Mom. 

""Image caption: The Skipper family works hard at home schooling.  From left, Tory, Christy, Shirley and Tommy Skipper. Photo courtesy of John Minjares

The number of families teaching their children at home has risen from fewer than 13,000 in the late 1970s to 1.2. million today, according to a recent USA WEEKEND article. While the major reasons parents give for home schools are religious and moral, they also believe children learn better at home. Many families are dissatisfied with the public school curriculum, teachers and low test scores. 

El Pasoan Shirley Skipper says, "I wanted to home school my children because of the low academic level in the public schools and my desire to do away with negative influences, so that my children will retain their The Skipper family works moral values."

Kathy Minjares, another local home schooling parent, says, "I wanted more control of what my children were learning, and when I encountered children in public school, I found them to be rude." 

Avoiding violence that occurs in schools is another familiar reason for parents to home school. A Louis Harris national survey found that one in eight youths reported carrying a lethal weapon for protection, while ... one in nine students had cut class or stayed away from school because of the fear of crime. New York Times reporter Peter Applebome says all average of three million felony or misdemeanor-level crimes are committed in schools each year. Students, teachers and administrators become innocent victims of angry teens toting guns.

Parents in home schools can better supervise their children's choices in friends, television shows, music and reading materials. J. Richard Fugate, in his book Starting a Home School, says, "Children, as undeveloped little people, need acceptable, mature models to imitate, not their undeveloped, immature, or even distorted peers." Parents of students in public schools do not know on a day-to-day basis what their children watch, hear or read. 

Another concern for parents is drug abuse in schools. A survey conducted by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America in 1996 showed that 4% at home schooling. From of children ages nine to Tommy Skippe7: Photo twelve had tried marijuana, twice the number from a similar survey in 1995. Results showed that children in fourth, fifth and sixth grades were growing more tolerant towards drug use while receiving less education about the dangers of drugs than in the past.

Richard Bonnete, the group's president, says, "We know that children look up to their older peers. So it's no shock that the softening of anti-drug attitudes and the increased use of illicit drugs among teens is now being emulated by younger children." Parents agree that avoiding negative peer pressure is a major reason for home schools. 

Children schooled at home are often better behaved. Parents can teach proper discipline and socialization, and children learn to take their schoolwork seriously. A University of Florida study showed that home schooled children were found to have "consistently fewer behavior problems" than traditionally schooled children.

Academically, home schools have great support. Parents believe that children are able to learn at their own pace in home schools. They can stay with a concept until it is mastered instead of being forced to move on because a lesson plan says it is time. Children are also able to accelerate their learning by quickly reviewing concepts they understand and moving to new material instead of staying on a concept they already know.

Over 75% of home-schooled children have home computers, according to journalist David Sharp in a USA WEEKEND article, and they are cashing in on the Internet, which offers hundreds of appropriate Web sites as well as online teachers and support groups. 

Another advantage to home schooling is that parents have more time to give individual attention when it is just their children they are teaching, compared to a teacher who has 20 to 30 students in a room. Minjares says about her children: "They can get the best education by one-on-one learning. I can see firsthand what areas they need more work in because I'm right there with them. When they were in school, I didn't know what was going on. I didn't know what kind of extra help they needed."

Studies show that home schooled children on the average perform above their public school counter parts on standardized achievement tests and are gaining admission and scholarships to the best ivy league and public colleges and universities.

Yet another goal that is often easier to accomplish through home schools is volunteerism. With fewer distractions and less negative peer pressure, home schoolers are able to spend time in community service and can even receive credit for such activities. In New Mexico, teens can obtain high school credit for volunteer projects through programs at Santa Fe Community School. It is accredited by the state and offers record-keeping services, transcripts, and diplomas to home schoolers.

Parents often form support groups to provide positive social opportunities to students, to encourage them to remain strong in their commitments and to allow them to share their talents. These groups also serve as networks where ideas can become realities. 

One such support group in El Paso is the Southwest Homeschooling Network, or SHN, which publishes its own newsletter.  

The SHN sponsors organized activities such as field trips, holiday programs, spelling bees, yearbook, sports, science fairs and graduation ceremonies. Students compete against each other and public and private schools at the local and state levels in various activities. 

Home schools are legal in all 50 states, and in Texas, home schools have the same legal standing as private schools. Laws typically do not require parents to have certain degrees or children to take standardized tests. In Texas, parents must develop a curriculum that includes reading, spelling, grammar, math and good citizenship. On the other hand, New Mexico has state-mandated requirements for home education.

Just because home schools have become socially acceptable does not mean everyone can succeed. The parent is the primary teacher, and what a child will learn must come from that parent. Creativity and patience are essential for parents who teach at home. Public schools have the children at least seven hours a day; in home schools, the parent is responsible for those hours. Parents and their children must be able to communicate openly in order for home schools to flourish. 

Some questions that should be answered before parents decide to educate their children at home include: Why do we want our children to learn at home? How much preparation are we willing to do? 

What are we willing to sacrifice in order to home school? What are our expectations? How will we finance home schooling, and how much will we be able to spend on each child? What subjects are we required to teach and who will teach subjects we know nothing about? 

Home schools –- fad innovation?  Most people agree it’s too soon to tell.  But home schools do provide an alternative to parents dissatisfied with American public education.

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