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Busted Halo
feature: politics & culture
May 31st, 2006

Home School Confidential

A look inside the home schooling phenomenon and the lives of three of its practitioners

 
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Noah Tucker, a 26-year old from Columbia City, IN, was home schooled until eighth grade. Using a curriculum produced by Bob Jones University, Tucker’s parents chose to home school him and his four siblings because they wanted to focus on religion and not have a secular influence on their children.

“My mom wanted to have more input into our lives and not have us interact with other kids whose parents did not have input,” Tucker said, noting that his rural Indiana community had many dysfunctional families.

There was a Bible lesson incorporated into his daily lesson plan. According to Tucker, the curriculum provided by Bob Jones University was slanted toward the University’s conservative evangelical beliefs and did not conform to the curriculum materials found in public schools.

Tucker chose to attend high school, as did one sibling, while the remaining three underwent their entire educational careers at home. A younger sibling, adopted by Tucker’s parents while he was in college was sent to regular school.

Slant

A self-described independent learner, which he credits to being home schooled, Tucker believes the evangelical based curriculum combined with his growing up in a rural, conservative part of Indiana made his worldview small and led him to follow a more conservative Christian based lifestyle.

Attending Hope College, a small liberal arts school in Michigan, Tucker was exposed to different perspectives and he began to see that his fellow students did not believe the Bible had an answer to every question.

“I came to see that science is science and history is history and not to let worldview skew the whole thing,” Tucker said. “I am a Christian, but came to the point that I don’t think it’s useful to slant the information in a Christian way. It is like Fox News. I believe that academia should not be slanted.”

“I am a Christian, but came to the point that I don’t think it’s useful to slant the information in a Christian way. It is like Fox News. I believe that academia should not be slanted.”

Tucker continues to be religious but the way in which he adapts his faith to his views continues to evolve. He has switched from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party to becoming an independent. He looks to multiple sources for news and viewpoints and has chosen not to send his young son to a Christian school in order to allow him to be exposed to a pluralistic worldview.

Secular Nations

Nations has had a different path than Tucker in her post home-schooling life. After finishing her high school years in Hawaii, she returned to the mainland to attend Biola University, a small Christian college in California. Biola’s policies prohibit drinking, smoking, dancing and premarital sex between students.

While in her first years of college, Nations said she explored her personal faith and decided to make it her own. Those first days at Biola allowed Nations to see viewpoints that she may not have been exposed to earlier and allowed her to reflect on her faith and grow spiritually. But the defining moment for Nations as she chose to make her faith her own came when she went to Italy for a study abroad program in her junior year. For the first time, she was in a secular educational environment and around people with different religious and societal points of view. “It was me and God out there and it tested my faith,” Nations said. “It was good for me.”

She graduated from Biola in May with a degree in photography and plans on attending graduate school at the Brooks Institute of Photography in California.

Catholic Home Schooling

Home schooling has been most prominent among conservative Christians but some Catholics are opting to home school as well. According to Sister Glenn Anne McPhee, education secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops home schooling issues have been discussed by the group’s education committee but no official policy has been issued. It is up to each diocese to decide what position will be taken on the home schooling movement.

Susan Gibbs, the spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., said her archdiocese does not have a formal position on the issue, other than to support parental choice in education. The archdiocese also recommends that religious education be done through materials they provide and that local pastors monitor the children’s progress. Gibbs noted that several archdiocesan staff members have chosen to home school and that there are a number of home schooled children participating in church social and recreational activities.

From Home to Yale

Not all parents home school for political or religious reasons however. Annette Tillemann-Dick, a Jewish mother of 11 from Denver, Colorado, has home schooled her children for other reasons. She started home-schooling her oldest son, Tomicah, because of bureaucratic issues relating to the cut-off date for starting kindergarten. She originally planned on home schooling for a year or two, but then the Yale-educated teacher decided she was doing a good job and the flexibility of home schooling allowed her bring a different approach than her children would have received in public school.

Tillemann-Dick is a self-described independent voter with a Democratic heritage. Her father is U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos, D-California, and her mother-in-law is former Colorado Lt. Gov. Nancy Dick, who ran as a Democrat for the U.S. Senate. Tillemann-Dick is an even more unlikely candidate to be a home school parent, since her father is a former school board president who has championed public education issues in Congress.

“I felt a great sense of personal and familial fulfillment,” Tillemann-Dick said of her now 24 years of experience in home schooling. “It was great and exciting that they could move forward with their independent visions. I feel grateful for the time we had together and they got the tools they needed and I…got to enjoy that time in their life.”

“I think that it is an insane notion that home schoolers don’t have an opportunity to socialize.”

Home schooling allowed her to explore areas of interest to her children and to undertake field trips and experiences that the traditional school experience would not have allowed. Her children worked in their grandfather’s Capital Hill office at times and became independent learners—a concept that many home schoolers and home-schooling experts cite as a benefit of the education method.

Tillemann-Dick home schooled her children during their entire educational careers prior to college. Her children were able to obtain high school diplomas by 14 and some started college in Colorado and then transferred to Yale University, while others commenced their collegiate careers in New Haven at the age of 14.

She and her husband Timber tailored their children’s curriculum around the values of kindness, forgiveness, tolerance, respect and civility. She also noted that she made sure her children were involved with various groups, such as scouts and sports groups in order to socialize with other children and gain a broader perspective.

Insane Notion

“Your kids can learn to do with people young and old, not just those in their same year,” she said, noting that her children were constantly interacting with people of all age and socio-economic groups while growing up. “I think that it is an insane notion that home schoolers don’t have an opportunity to socialize.”

Academic studies on home schooling cite the ability to interact with people of various age and socio-economic levels as a benefit to the children. Ray, from the NHERI, said this has been one of the most common of the benefits he has seen in his research on home-schooled children.

Another aspect that unites home-schooled children together has been their level of civic commitment. A study prepared by the Home School Legal Defense Association showed that home-schooled adults are more likely to contribute to political campaigns and participate in the political process than those who were not home schooled.

While Tillemann-Dick did not home school her children for religious reasons, the process served as a way to teach her children various religious perspectives. As the child of two Holocaust survivors, Tillemann-Dick wanted to be able to allow her children to see the different aspects of world religions and that the home schooling process allowed her to share this aspect of faith with her children.

“When you home school you have a wonderful opportunity to let faith be a part of your kids lives,” she said. “You have the opportunity to give your kids a holistic view of the world. You have the opportunity to not create boundaries, but to incorporate what you see in all backgrounds to your faith.”

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The Author : John Celock
John Celock is a New York based writer. He has written on politics, education, religion, business and public policy for a variety of regional and national publications.
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