Brave New Schools
By Paul Chesser
Fear resulting from recent violence in public schools is sparking interest in home schooling across the United States.
While national media figures and government officials pine for more gun control and limiting Internet access, many parents are quietly taking actions on their own. It is too soon after recent school shooting incidents in Littleton, Colo., and Conyers, Ga., to measure statistically whether parents are adopting alternative methods to educate their children, but evidence indicates that many parents are at least considering teaching their children at home next year.
Phone call inquiries to various state home school associations throughout the country have jumped since the Columbine High School shootings April 20, with some parents panic-stricken in their search to find other educational options for their children.
"One father called us and said he couldn't do his job because he was worried about his kids," said Mary Jo Patterson, director of the <http://www.ghea.orgGeorgia Home Education Association. "Parents, after they've put them in school, think their kids are in some kind of jeopardy."
She added that there are many high school students who are calling who don't want to go back to school.
There is some consensus among home schooling advocates that the Columbine incident has caused a greater rise in interest than any other recent school shooting occurrence.
"This thing has got parents in a panic," said Joe Adams, a co-director of the <http://www.chek.orgChristian Home Educators of Kentucky.
"We had a surge (of calls) after Paducah," said Adams, referring to the December 1997 school shooting in West Paducah, Ky. "But not as big as Littleton -- Littleton caused a burst."
Adams said he is receiving four or five e-mails daily from parents who want to remove their children from public school.
The < http://www.hslda.orgHome School Legal Defense Association reports they are also fielding a lot more questions from concerned parents since the Littleton incident. Many are saying it's "the straw that broke the camel's back," according to President Michael Farris.
Some state home school organizations are also seeing large increases in attendance at conventions this year, which are traditionally held in the spring.
Patterson said that about 2,000 people normally attend the Georgia home school convention, but this year over 3,000 came. The event was held on April 23 and 24, only days after the shootings in Littleton.
Likewise, Adams is anticipating a 25 percent increase in attendance over last year for Kentucky's convention in July.
The sense of urgency has also hit ground zero in Denver, where the < http://www.chec.orgChristian Home Educators of Colorado have been swarmed with inquiries. Calls have increased fivefold, from about 60 a month to over 300.
CHEC holds monthly workshops that explain home schooling laws, curriculums and philosophies to curious parents. Participation grew from 15 in February to 45 in May, and registration exploded to 500 for June's session.
"People are looking for solutions -- not just bulletproof vests," said Kevin Swanson, Executive Director of CHEC.
Parents seeking advice about home schooling from advocacy organizations are getting a consistent message: "Go for it." However, the message also contains a caveat: "Be prepared."
Farris wrote in a May 4 commentary for the Washington Times that "people should not choose to home school out of a momentary panic resulting from watching the news about Colorado. You won't have the self-discipline to succeed if that is your sole motivation."
In an interview with WorldNetDaily Farris added that HSLDA is "trying to give parents a realistic assessment of what it takes to home school. You won't have the 'stick-to-itness' that it requires if the sole motivation is fear."
Some organizations are inviting parents to test the home schooling waters in measured ways. Swanson said that he is encouraging those who are unsure to try home schooling for one year. Patterson suggests that students try out a correspondence school, because "it feels more like what they're used to."
Vicki Brady, who co-hosts the syndicated radio call-in show Home Schooling USA with her husband Terry, says parents should home school regardless of their motivation.
"We started home schooling because there was nothing else to do," she said. The Bradys had received several discouraging assessments of their learning-disabled child, so they seized the opportunity to home educate. The child now excels, according to Mrs. Brady.
"(Families) may try it for a year and say, 'Why didn't I do this before?" said Mrs. Brady. "Or, they might feel more comfortable putting them back (in public school) after a year. But taking them out for a year is not going to hurt them."
William Lloyd of the < National Home Education Research Institute said that safety is only cited as fifth in importance by parents as a reason to home school. He did say that if a family has been thinking about home schooling their children, incidents like Columbine could be the deciding factor.
"Once people see that home schooling is viable, (Columbine) might push them," he said.
Sherry Ferguson is one parent who did remove her daughter from public school. Brandy, age 15, attended Bear Creek High School in Lakewood, Colo., only minutes away from Columbine High School. Brandy has been learning at home for the last two weeks of the school year.
Ferguson is still in the decision process about Brandy's education next year, but she is very interested in home schooling and is trying to arrange a curriculum fair for area families to learn more about it. "The more information I get, the better I'll be able to make a decision about it," she said.
But she already sees a change in her daughter since she's been doing her schoolwork at home.
"I've never seen her so excited about book stores."
Ferguson said she had "blind faith" in the school system, and never considered home schooling until Columbine.
"It took something this tragic to make me look at it."