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If the term homeschool conjures images of identically dressed elementary students filling out workbooks around the kitchen table and later winning the state spelling bee, your ideas about the practice are outdated. Thats not to say there are no kitchen tables or spelling bees involved, but there are as many ways to homeschool as there are families who fill out the Declaration of Intent each fall.
In some families, homeschool literally means school at home. Youll find the walls lined with shelved textbooks and dry-erase boards. Carefully designed curriculums and meticulous schedules guide the students from one grade to the next, following a scope-and-sequence much like that found in public schools. A transcript is steadily assembled which looks very much like a public school transcript, with standard classes listed, a GPA calculated, and extracurricular activities noted to the side.
In other homes, learning is far more organic. The textbooks are still around, but are currently being used for reference guides, booster seats or anatomical models for a budding artist. Students may be found lying on the floor playing with a scientific calculator, hunched over a laptop writing a novel, or out in the driveway on rollerblades. More likely, the students wont be home at all. The parents have become facilitators, relinquishing their teaching roles to spend their time obtaining requested materials or driving their students around town. These kids direct their own education without regard for whether it can be articulated in the common language of transcripts and GPAs.
While some homeschool families are learning outside the box, others are finding innovative ways to recreate the box. The array of classes, co-ops and alternative learning groups continues to grow. Students can take classes ranging from core subjects like algebra to extracurriculars like fencing or writing fantasy literature. They can dress up for the homeschool prom and even participate in a graduation exercise.
Many of the efforts are student initiatives. Consider the Homeschool Shakespeare Troupe, for example.
Originally launched by parents, the eight-month-long endeavor is now led mostly by homeschool graduates. They conduct auditions in February so the actors will have months to learn their lines. During the summer, organizers host a week-long Shakespeare camp where students learn stage terms and participate in drama workshops. The actors sew their own costumes and speak to each other in Elizabethan English, creating their own Shakespearean culture. The week culminates with dress rehearsal and then a very professional performance in a packed theatre. The troupe is growing so rapidly, organizers have decided to schedule two shows this year.
In every sizable town, classes and tutoring are offered by homeschool parents who are especially proficient in a specific area such as foreign language. Sometimes the tutoring becomes a lucrative business or even a small school with multiple teachers offering weekly classes to area students.
Other times it happens the other way around. The parents join together to form a cooperative and bring in a teacher. One of the most successful area co-ops is in Catoosa County.
On Friday mornings, students from all over the tri-state area converge on Poplar Springs Baptist Church in Ringgold. The parking lot is filled with mini-vans. Teenagers mill around the yard with backpacks slung over their shoulders, greeting each other and talking to the younger children who stream past. Some of the students carry musical instruments. Another has a basketball tucked under his arm.
The range of electives offered by the co-op continues to grow, including foreign language and upper math classes at the request of parents, and a journalism class at the request of students. The kids at the co-op form their own coalitions, organizing pickup basketball games and Friday night bowling plans.
One day a girl brought her fiddle to the co-op. The next week, a viola and a harp appeared on campus. Soon the students had formed their own Celtic ensemble called The Revelations.
Todays homeschooling families are less rigid than in the past. Some make occasional use of public and private schools, as well as participating in the aforementioned co-ops and classes. Many families have some children in school and others learning at home.
As the homeschool population has grown, expanded and become more mainstream, colleges have become more accepting of students educated at home. Some colleges actively recruit them. Covenant College, for example, boasts that 17 percent of new admissions are homeschooled students.
Homeschoolers are not so different from other kids. They grow through the same ages and stages, finding their identity and ferreting out their interests like anyone else. Some of them are brilliant, and others struggle with basic math.
Still, these students are growing up in a different paradigm. Their world is structured to meet their needs and help them grow. Public and private schools attempt much the same thing, but with the necessary assumption that most kids need the same things at the same times. The homeschool world is far more individualized.
Homeschooling is not new. Throughout history, families have educated their own children for numerous reasons. Pioneers taught their own children when schools were not available.
Author Louisa May Alcott recounts in the autobiographical Little Women how her mother pulled her little sister out of school in response to a teachers cruelty. Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, Virginia Woolf and other well-known geniuses received their educations at home. Figure skaters, child actors and other prodigies have often been tutored privately.
Ansel Adams, arguably the greatest photographer of the 20th century, was educated at home. In his autobiography, Adams wrote, I often wonder at the strength and courage my father had in taking me out of the traditional school situation and providing me with these extraordinary learning experiences. I am certain he established the positive direction of my life that otherwise, given my native hyperactivity, could have been confused and catastrophic. I trace who I am and the direction of my development to those years of growing up in our house on the dunes, propelled especially by an internal spark tenderly kept alive and glowing by my father.
Nurturing the internal spark inside each student is the true goal of home education. It is a goal shared by quality educators everywhere, whether they teach students in a two-story public school house, around a kitchen table, or in the church gymnasium.
Jeannie Babb Taylor is a local business leader and author. She also teaches Sunday school, educates her children at home, and engages in Georgia politics. Jeannie may be contacted at email@example.com, or you can leave a public comment on her blog at JeannieBabbTaylor.com..
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