The Washington Times
February 20, 2006

Washington Times Op-ed—Parent-Teachers Want Safety First

by J. Michael Smith
HSLDA President

Our motivations largely will determine the choices we make in life. Many people are motivated by money and will work long hours without vacations to accumulate dollars. Others prefer to sacrifice standard of living to make more time for family.

Almost all parents, however, say they will do almost anything for their children. They are motivated to raise their children to be capable adults. Since the primary responsibility for raising the next generation falls on parents, we all need to be aware of the choices parents are making. Parents are critical because they are in the best position to directly influence their children, and it's parents who their children, for the most part, will emulate.

When considering education, parents have several choices. They can use the public school, pay for private education or choose homeschooling. The method of education that is the least familiar but also the fastest growing is homeschooling. Many observers who recognize that home-schooling is growing between 7 percent and 15 percent per year are asking the question—what motivates a parent to homeschool?

The federal government, through the Department of Education, has attempted to answer this basic question about homeschooling. This month the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) released Homeschooling in the United States: 2003, a report drawing on interviews with parents of 11,994 students ages 5 through 17, 239 of which were being homeschooled. A section of the survey revealed the motivations governing the parent's choice to homeschool.

The top reason for homeschooling, which was cited by 31.2 percent of parents, was safety concerns in public schools. These included negative peer pressure, drugs, crime and violence. There's no doubt that many children experience problems in public school at the hands of other students. Often school districts are unwilling to reveal the extent of the difficulties because this would undermine confidence in the public system.

For example, in December 2005 the Colorado School Accountability Report showed that the state's largest school district, Jefferson County School District R-1, reported no "assaults/fights," down from 640 incidents in 2004. A much smaller suburban district northwest of Denver, Westminster 50, reported having nearly 700 assaults/fights.

The second most common motivation, which was identified by 29.8 percent of parents, is the ability to teach from a religious perspective. Perhaps the most high-profile example of this conflict is the debate between evolution and creationism. Parents do not want to compete with the public schools over basic values. Removing the religious perspective changes the entire nature of education. For these parents, education is the preparation of a child intellectually, emotionally, spiritually and physically for life.

Rounding out the top three is the desire for a more academically rigorous education, which was identified by 16.5 percent of parents. The individualized nature of homeschooling allows a program to be tailored to the needs of the child rather than a child being confined by a one-size-fits-all program.

Homeschooled children can advance rapidly in areas they find interesting and show ability. Conversely, if the child is experiencing difficulties in other areas, he or she can take time to really learn the basics before moving on.

Homeschooled children are motivated to learn and most homeschool parents are motivated to teach. As homeschooling continues to grow, it is likely that it will change the face of education over the next decade. As more parents choose home education, their graduates will have a positive impact on America.

Michael Smith is the president of the Home School Legal Defense Association. He may be contacted at (540)338-5600; or send email to media@hslda.org.

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