Keep 'Em Home

Otter and Idaho's entrenched homeschooling movement

| June 20, 2007
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- Mike Flinn
Homeschooling, that oft-misunderstood anomaly of Idaho education, has a good friend in the governor's office for the first time in a long while.

Late last month, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter found time in his schedule to make some glowing remarks at the "graduation" ceremony of a group of home educated students. The prepared text of the speech, which was provided to the Boise Weekly, shows that Otter was prepared to do more than just wish the assembled children well. Otter was on hand to tell the students that their unregulated, undocumented form of education was just the sort of thing this country needs more of. Although Idaho law decrees that the state must provide some form of public education, he said, he was more than happy to see parents take their kids' learning into their own hands.

The remarks were written as a prepared speech for Otter; he may have diverged from them in actual delivery. "Yes, Idaho's Constitution mandates a thorough system of public education," Otter said. "But ultimately, only the family and the individual citizen can be responsible for their own education."

Otter described homeschooling as a fair extension of what President George Washington meant when he discussed, in his first inaugural address, the "sacred fire of liberty" that was "staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people."

"Think about that," Otter said. "It doesn't say, 'entrusted to the hands of the public schools.' It says, 'entrusted to the hands of the American people.'"

Further, he said, "there can be no firmer foundation for your future than the education you have received at home."

This all comes at a time when Idaho's education system has been identified as one of the worst-funded among the states. In April, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that Idaho was in the bottom five for per-pupil spending, about $6,028 per student. Only Utah, Arizona, Oklahoma and Mississippi spent similar amounts.

The man who runs Idaho's public schools, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, said he would prefer to see Idaho families take advantage of the ever-growing palette of charter schools. "By offering more choices, more options, we'll be able to draw more parents and students into the public schools, and I think that's a good thing," Luna said. In the 2006-2007 fiscal year, the state tallied 28 charter schools, up from just two in 1999.

One reason Luna might want more students in the state's public schools is that Idaho doesn't really have a clue as to what sort of education students are getting in their homes. Luna said the state of Idaho doesn't have any methods for tracking students individually, much less those students who aren't enrolled in public education programs.

Idaho code is very clear on this point: "The parent or guardian of any child resident in this state who has attained the age of 7 years at the time of the commencement of school in his district, but not the age of 16 years, shall cause the child to be instructed in subjects commonly and usually taught in the public schools of the state of Idaho." The generally accepted subjects are: English, math, reading, science, history and civics.

A key phrase in Idaho code is "otherwise comparably instructed." That line gives homeschoolers their strongest defense. Parents or guardians don't have any certification requirements to meet, but they must simply be "competent." As the governing body of their "school," the parents set attendance and regulation policies.

But gaining the freedom that Idaho homeschooling advocates have was a hard-fought battle, one that some advocates say they're probably going to have to fight, in some form, every year.

Bob Forrey has been around for most of the struggle. He was there in 1984, when members of the Shippy family of New Plymouth went to jail in order to defend their right to teach their children at home. He was there when Idaho lawmakers came to him with complaints of kids getting mistreated in homeschooling situations. And for three years, it was his job to hunt down those cases for the state department of education. He was given this job by Anne Fox, a predecessor to Luna in the early 1990s.

"I followed up on every one of those individually," Forrey said. "Not one of them was a legitimate complaint." After a while, he said, the department stopped sending him complaints. He has since retired to his cattle and hay farm near Kuna, but still presides over homeschooler graduation ceremonies like the one Otter attended.

The mystery of homeschooling continues to intrigue researchers and teachers. In 2006, Boise State's Center for School Improvement and Policy Studies released a report stating that of the 215,042 children within the state's compulsory education range in 2003, Idaho was "missing" 13,954 children who exist in the census but were not recorded in any educational institution.

Barry Peters can recite that "missing" figure off the top of his head. The Eagle attorney has been affiliated with the Idaho Coalition of Home Educators and is among those who quickly deride the report as inaccurate. No one from Boise State was available to discuss the report.

"Superintendent Luna believes the current system works well," said Melissa McGrath, a spokeswoman for Luna. "Students who are home-schooled still have the opportunity to take state assessments and enroll in certain courses or extracurricular activities at public schools, when necessary."

But teachers still ponder the state's home-schooled kids.

Sherri Wood of the Idaho Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union, said her organization does not oppose homeschooling per se, but she questions the ability of all parents to take over a child's education. "We have found that homeschool parents are not necessarily taking on the responsibility that they should take on as educators," Wood said.

Also, Wood said, kids who aren't in school are missing out on the socializing effects a public school offers kids.

"They're pretty isolated," Wood said. "They don't have any of those socialization skills. Employers want students who aren't just skilled in academics. They want them to get along well with other people."

But the school environment is precisely why some parents take their kids out of school, said Linda Patchin, the director of Christian Homeschoolers of Idaho State. All four of her kids were taught at home, she said in an interview; one just graduated from Albertson College, and another is at Boise State. Like many homeschoolers, she took her kids' education into her own hands because she didn't like the values they were exposed to in public schools.

"Most people have a particular faith they want to share with their children," Patchin said. "They have a way they want to integrate it into every subject."

Some kids provide extreme examples of the collision of certain values and education, such as the two home-schooled boys in Post Falls who, determined to make a point about their right to bear arms, began carrying guns everywhere they went. Other popular examples come from the documentary Jesus Camp, which showed a mother dismissing the theory of evolution to her home-schooled children.

For now, homeschoolers in Idaho remain defiant, but perhaps more comforted knowing that Idaho's chief executive is such a fan.

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Comments (7)

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This story looks like it was written 10 years ago, when homeschooling in America was new and frightening to 'the establishment.' I lived in Wyoming for 3 years so I know things tend to trickle into the West a bit after the rest of the country, but come on. There are so many homeschoolers, and so many vast resources for them you can hardly consider us counterculture at this point. Sure, some European countries are still so backward they're jailing homeschoolers, but here in the US I thought we'd moved past that. It looks like your governor has realized the value of parents dedicated to their children's upbringing (something public school teachers are always begging for), but not this paper or this reporter. Check out HSLDA and other homeschool websites to learn a little more about where this movement is at. -A homeschooling Minnesota mom

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Posted by Valerie Kiger on 06/21/2007 at 8:26 AM

Homeschooling families get so tired of the "socialization" argument. Sherri Wood saying that homeschooled kids are isolated is a generalization, and quite untrue. The issue is not whether homeschool kids are being socialized, but how, and comparing it to the type of socialization that public school kids are exposed to. It should be obvious that homeschooling parents feel the socialization their children are experiencing is preferable and superior to that of public school children. But what is she going to say? She represents the IEA; she can't very well appear to support homeschooling.

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Posted by Allison Adkins on 06/24/2007 at 9:42 AM

As a local non-Christian homeschooler for over 10 years here in the Treasure Valley, I was disappointed in this article. I don't homeschool to hide my children but to give them the education my husband and I want them to have and yes give them the values we support. While we don't align ourselves with the "right", that doesn't mean either group isolates their children. Nationally, many studies support the success of homeschoolers educationally but more importantly they now address the argument of "socialization". Homeschoolers succeed in college and the work place because they have, in fact, been socialized. While this is different than current methods, colleges and employers note that homeschoolers are more adaptable and flexible yet friendly. I grant this is not always the case but neither is it 100% with traditionally schooled kids. Please do more research rather than just using your opinion. BTW, there are many other homeschool groups in Idaho than just ICHE and CHOIS. Checking yahoo or the internet would have brought additional input for your story. Thank you, Lee Anne Tanaka

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Posted by Lee Anne Tanaka on 06/25/2007 at 10:14 AM

First, I must identify myself as both a former public educator and as a home scholing mom. I think it's great that your govenor is so positive about Home schooling. Many states are not as blessed. I am not surprised by Ms. Wood's comments,as a union rep. she is REPRESENTING all the public teachers. They feel we are "messing up" their system. I was a public educator for 5 years as were many "retired" teachers I knew in Texas who had chosen to home school their own children. Public education feels that home schoolers are cutting in on their territory on both ends. Good teachers leave and good students are taken or never make it into their system. Every student not in school is money the district doesn't get. How could she say anything else? Her career would be "over" if she spoke out on the side of home schooling. Irregardless of any evidence, she must trumpet the nebulous "socialization" issue. On socializatoin: The school's idea of socialization is to put 22-35 kids into a room with 1 adult. They separate the children by age and provide very little adult interacation. The home schooling family's idea of socialization is to put the child/children of one family together to learn to get along, learn and socialize all day long. They go together to meet and interact with people in the Doctor/Dentist's office, Library, Post Office, Grocery Store, Park, etc. They have a smaller adult to child ratio, more opportunity to work on real life skills and interact with varing ages. My children are corrected when they pick on each other and we take school time to work through arguments. Public schools don't have the time. Children who argue may be called down, separated, sent out of class etc. No conflict resolution. The students don't have the opportunity to see what older students do or help the younger students. I think even without ever stepping out of the house home school families have the opportunity to be 2 steps ahead in the socialization realm. Now then we add, field trips, co-ops, sports, park days, visits with friends etc. Now we are leaps and bounds ahead. I don't want my children "socialized" by a school yard full of elementary students. I don't fault Ms. Woods, her answer is predictable. But I think that the author might consider doing a bit more research and actually meeting a group of home schooled children and checking out the "results". Maybe we can finally put this tired arguement to rest. Thanks for your time Thanks for listening to my 2 cents. Shannon

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Posted by Shannon Hughes on 06/25/2007 at 1:26 PM

Thank you for the article, but I wanted to respond to Sherri Wood's statement regarding socialization. I know Sherri personally, as we shared a common bond through a little guy I provided Psychosocial Rehabilitation Services for. I know Sherri to be a wonderfully caring and empathetic teacher and I am proud of her accomplishments. I worked at three Caldwell schools during my school counseling internship. I also interacted with teachers and student while providing PSR services at schools in Caldwell, Nampa, and Middleton. I have seen a lot of "socialization" in those setttings and want more positive influences for my two young sons. I hope Sherri is right in the sense of my sons not being socialized the same way as traditionally schooled kids are. I suggest Sherri and all those interested in this subject to look through "The Well Trained Mind", (Wise Bauer & Wise, 2004), particularly chapter 36 which addresses negative aspects of school based socialization in detail. My husband and I feel strongly that our family, friends, church family, and homeschooling co-ops, as well as everyday experiences and field trips will more than adequately socialize our sons. Sherri, I have yet to meet a homeschooled child with the negative social skills exhibited by the young boy that we mutually worked with in grade school. He unfortunately learned those skills at home and continues to "act out" at the high school level. Do I want my sons influenced at a young, impressionable age by other boys like him? No. I'd rather they never see that until they are old enough to properly process what they are seeing. Sherri, I have a tremendous respect for the teachers I have been privilaged to work with, but they have to teach within the confines of what I perceive is a faulty educational system. I will "keep 'em home", not to isolate them, but to expand their awareness beyond 30 kids in a room or 200+ kids on a playground. Thanks for allowing me to share my views. Chris (Custer) Wilcox

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Posted by Chris Wilcox on 06/25/2007 at 4:15 PM

I thought this was a good article. I was surprised that Boise Weekly would post such a positive article on homeschooling. The IEA is very liberal in their beliefs. The IEA wants to have control over every child in the state of Idaho as the NEA wants total control over your child and the children in the United States. This is just a synopsis of what to expect out of the public school system. There are many good ps teachers. PS system does produce many intelligent kids. What is most important to the ps system? Money. If a child is taken out of the ps system they lose federal and state dollars. This is thousands of dollars. If a parent doesn't put their child in the ps system the system loses money. The ps system does not want to hold kids back, even if they deserve it, because they 1) look bad and 2) they lose federal and state dollars. Ms. Woods has no idea about socialization that is beneficial for kids. The system she is in has taught her that the way she is to believe is the only way. She is dead wrong in what she said in the article and what she believes. I would challenge her beliefs against any homeschool child. You will find that homeschool children, generally, can relate to all ages, including adults, not just to their own age. The behavior issues that are tolerated by superiors and taught to other kids are nothing to be proud of. I believe Ms. Woods needs to broaden her understanding of homeschooling before she acts as if she knows all about it.

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Posted by bwb on 06/26/2007 at 8:54 AM

Anderson's bias should be considered shameful for a reporter of this supposed caliber. Homeschoolers do what they do for varied reasons. Public school education's failure is just one in a laundry list. To say we try to incorporate our values is one of the obvious advantages. What Anderson does not point out, of course, is that public schools have their own "agenda" of values that, unfortunately, do not align with those of many parents who would perhaps otherwise send their children to those schools. Anderson should have taken some time to do some research on the academic performance of the homeschooled children. Instead of falling prey to the age old and unfounded argument that home schooled children have no "social skills", some work should have been spent on how home schooled children excel in their studies. It is common knowledge that home schooled children will consistently beat out their public school couterparts in test scores. Colleges now recruit home schooled children based on their exceptional academic skills. The difference socially between the two groups is that, placed in a room full of adults, the home schooled child will typically be quite skilled and comfortable in communicating with adults, while the public schooled "herd" will congregate in the corner, isolated from the preferred influence of loving and concerned parents and adults. If that equates to a lack in social skills, Anderson perhaps is the one that needs some socialization. Public schooling is relatively new; a product of the industrial revolution. Only the ignorant place their total faith in such a modern and continually failing monster. Like many things we leave up to our government, public school education leaves much to be desired. Those who home educate their children are not anti-government, rather pro-children. They know they can do it better. And better often simply means placing good and decent values as the centerpiece of education.

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Posted by Dan on 07/18/2007 at 7:04 AM
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