Maine Farmhouse Journal

Back to Maine Farmhouse page

Getting a quality education at home

June 3, 2004

Q - What do George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Thomas Edison and Andrew Carnegie all have in common?

A - They were all home schooled!

Home schooling, either by parents or private tutors, was widespread throughout America until the 1870's. When compulsory school attendance and the training of professional teachers developed, public schools largely replaced home schooling. There was a renewed interest in home schooling in the 1960's and in the past 20 years it has grown very rapidly. Since 1993 home schooling is legal in all 50 states. Today it is estimated that there are more than 2 million home schooled children in grades K-12 in the country, representing about 4% of the total number of students.

I was home schooled briefly in 1947. Being born in February I missed the birth date deadline to begin school with my playmates in the fall. My mother, who was a teacher and chairman of the school board, elected to teach me my first grade at home. She and I spent time each day at the kitchen table with my alphabet and numbers. That fall she presented me to Mrs. Gilman, the teacher for grades 1-2-3 at Hudson Center School, and said, "He's ready for second grade." Mrs. Gilman said, "Well, we'll see," and sat me with the first graders. After a couple of days when I showed that I could color my oranges "orange" and my apples "red", and knew my numbers and letters, she "promoted" me. In her classroom, that meant moving me over one row into the second grade. My mother had prevailed and my home schooling was successful!

In the 57 years that have passed since my own home schooling experience, I have met dozens of parents who home school their children. Their reasons for home schooling are usually different, but they all share a strong desire to get the best education that they can for their children and feel that home schooling for part or all of the time is best for them. They don't necessarily have anything against the public school system, and point out that often home schooled children take courses at the public schools. But they are firm believers that home schooling develops closer and stronger parent-child relationships, and survey results consistently show that home schooled children score higher in all areas than their public school contemporaries.

I spoke with Sandy Swett from North Bridgton, who is home schooling her daughter Erin (16) as she has her other five children. Sandy said that Maine's new home school law (MRSA Title 20-A, Sections 5001-A(3), enacted 2003) has made it easier for parents to home school. Parents must file a notice with the local school board and commissioner of education with information on the students and agree to provide at least 175 days of instruction annually in specified subjects. The progress of each home schooler is reviewed annually.

"Home schooling is also easier for parents now with the many home school support groups that are around," she said. "The Bridgton Area Home School Group, for example, has more than 30 students in it."

Support groups provide assistance to parents to help them select curricula, where to buy textbooks, and share teachers. Support groups that include a certified teacher can also conduct the annual progress review of students.

In Sebago, Daniel Bahr (20) completed his K-12 instruction as a home schooler and is now attending college at Southern Maine Technical College. He complemented his home schooling with courses taken through MSAD 61 and the adult learning center. His younger brother Merlin (17) is home schooled and also is active with the Lakes Region High School field and track team. Under Maine State law, home schooled children can participate in extracurricular activities sponsored by the local school unit. Merlin has recently broken the school records for the 110-meter high hurdles and the pole vault. To complement his home schooling Merlin takes an art course at the high school.

Home-schooler Merlin Bahr, 17, of Sebago
competes in the pole vault with Lake Region High School
Photo courtesy Ken Hoch

When I dropped in to talk with Lynn Knowlton about her four home schooled sons it was Saturday. I expected to see her kids out playing, but all of them were working on their lessons at the kitchen table. Lynn began home schooling their oldest son John (11) when they lived in a remote area in New Hampshire with no school bus service. When the family moved to Standish nine years ago Lynn and her husband Bruce continued home schooling. They share outings with other home schoolers in the Southern Maine Home Education Support Network. Lynn told me that home schooling has "given them a confidence most 18 year olds do not have when they leave home."

Parents who home school pay their share of property taxes to support the public schools, and also have to buy text books and instructional supplies for their children. The cost for each home schooled child is less than 1/10 of the cost per pupil in public schools. As home schooling grows and more students are diverted from public schools there are budget savings projected in the cost of running public schools.

The parents I spoke with were proud that their home schooled children generally were working above grade level and most tested above average when they took the SAT or ACT tests. They felt that this is due to the individual attention and varied education they were able to give their children. Their children take part in a wide variety of extracurricular activities and they felt that the perception that home schooling produces problem behavior was simply untrue.

Home schooling is not for every student, and public schools will continue to play an important role for most children. However, for parents who have the time, home schooling is an option that can pay valuable dividends in nurturing their relationship with their children and producing a quality education for them. The parents who home school attest to that.

This article was edited and published in the Neighbors Section of the Portland Press Herald on June 3, 2004 under the title "Getting a quality education at home".
Copyright © 2004, Portland Press Herald, used here by permission

Allen Crabtree

Last updated June 20, 2004

Copyright © 2004, Allen Crabtree