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Homeschooling: America's Hidden Breeding Ground for Conservative Ideology

Two million American families have opted out of state and private school systems to teach their children at home, often without qualifications.

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No Child Left Behind

In the city of Athens, homeschoolers meet three or four times a month in the municipal library to give collective classes to their children. The youth services coordinator is Amy King, who removed her own daughter from public school in 2001. That was the year George Bush's No Child Left Behind act (NCLB) was passed with an overwhelming majority by both Democrats and Republicans. The law put schools in competition with each other, made access to private schools easier and instituted an education "market"fed by school vouchers. King believes that the standardised programmes that resulted from this "disastrous" law "made school more rigid and increased inequalities between pupils", establishing speed of learning as "the only educational criterion."

At the back of the library, Scott Grandy, 33, a musician, vegetable farmer and full-time dad, sat doing his accounts, while his daughters Jorah and Sorell did their stint as voluntary librarians. "Schools are cruel to force children to remain seated six hours a day. I want my daughters to live in an environment that leaves them free to learn what they want at the age they want," explained Scott, whose total annual revenue is barely $20,000. "At home there are always books on the table and we try to do either maths or writing, plus reading, music and artistic education every day. We also learn how to make bread and build miniature houses and have lessons in critical thinking."

Sorell, aged seven, explained how free she felt being taught by her parents. "I like being educated at home because I can learn what I want when I want. If I were at school I would have to stick to the curriculum and couldn't learn what I wanted to if it was scheduled two or three years later. And anyway I've got lots of friends who get taught at home like me, so I'm happy." Her parents have joined a group that meets up once a week. Religious believers call these cooperatives, non-believers call them groups. Their purpose is the same, to pool parents' knowledge and organise group lessons. Eight families belong to Scott Grandy's group, and he believes that "age is not a determining factor in social relations. Throughout life we learn as much from the young as from the old. In our group, the pupils are rather free and lack discipline. That recently led to one of the families withdrawing from the group because they found it too loose for their children. That is one of the problems we need to address. There is certainly a middle way between sitting and being silent all day and doing what you want, when you want. But questioning authority is a good thing."

Opponents of homeschooling stress the risks of under-socialisation of the children, and query the value of what is taught, since most homeschooler parents have never been trained in their subjects. Despite that, several studies have shown that the pupils are well prepared for the university system and rank their performance as above average. In 1998 University of Maryland professor Lawrence Rudner carried out a knowledge test on 20,760 home-educated children. He found the scores to be "exceptionally high" but these results should be seen in context. Homeschooling is a true vocation and parents devote all the means necessary to it, even if it means tightening their belts. State schools have been financially sacrificed for decades in the US, especially under Republican administrations.

Administrative procedures for parents wishing to teach their children are simple. In Ohio, they need only to have completed secondary education. Parents must notify the authorities at the beginning of the year, provide their intended curriculum and undertake to give their children at least 900 hours of classes during the school year. In Ohio, mandatory subjects include reading, pronunciation, writing, geography (of the US and the state of Ohio), civics, maths, science, health and fire prevention.

 
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