They are no longer pioneers embarking on a risky adventure, those men and women who homeschool their children go where many others have tread. While an estimated 15,000 young people were home schooled in the late 1970's, now nearly two million receive their education at home.
In the early 1970's home schooling was a novelty in the United States. Whether they were aware of it or not, people who chose to home school their children started a grassroots movement in America, one that has flourished. According to home schooling authority, Mitchell Stevens, the movement was fostered by two unlikely allies; one - conservative, deeply religious Protestants - the other - liberal educational non- conformists. "I think home schooling does grow directly out of a kind of anti-establishment sensibility of the 1970's and that is parents increasing suspicion that bureaucratic models of schooling don't adequately serve their children's individual needs, that schools are organized to serve the average child but my child is not average, that schools treat children in standardized ways, but my child is an individual," he says.
Mr. Stevens, a sociology professor at New York's Hamilton College, says the primary appeal of home schooling is its flexibility. "One of the biggest advantages of home schooling is that it enables parents to tailor an education program around a student's particular talents," he says. "So if a child is an extraordinary musician or has a big passion for a particular scientific or mathematical endeavor, you can create an academic program that really enables that child to nurture those particular talents. It grants families a degree of flexibility over their instruction that makes the pursuit of an extraordinarily high level of accomplishment a real possibility." That pursuit is made easier now by the many course outlines that have been designed for it, such as history lessons, science units on video and even a program which keeps a record of activities and grade designations for those parents who don't want to be burdened by administrative tasks.
But, some parents like Dawn and Bob Miller still develop their own curriculum. The Maryland couple home schooled both their children from the time they were four right through high school. Both parents have a background in education: she worked as a teacher's aide, and he's taught high school science for 30 years. While Mr. Miller supports public education, he says he wanted his son and daughter to have more freedom and choice than he can provide in his public school classroom. "I wanted to allow both of my kids to have some ownership of their learning. In the public school, pretty much everything is a program designed by someone else for the student," he says. "It was great for me because I could come up with my own classes," says Ms. Miller.
Twenty-year-old Raina Miller is now in her third year at Juniata College in Pennsylvania where she was awarded a full academic scholarship. She says her parents have always given her a lot of freedom to explore her interests and incorporate them into her studies. "I have a great interest in art and I used to draw an awful lot, and I'm also very good in science. So I decided that I would marry those two and I would do a scientific illustration class where I sat down with Gray's Anatomy and I would study different parts of the human body - the bones, the muscles, everything basically, and then I would study Leonardo Da Vinci's work. And I would kind of put the two together, and I would draw skeletons and I would add the muscles on. It got to a point where I actually knew all the bones in the hands and the feet and I could tell you each little muscle," she says.
Raina Miller says her college classmates often ask her if she feels she missed out on any important social experiences by studying at home. She points out that there are places other than school to make friends. "I never had any kind of a problem with it. Girl Scouts was probably the way I got the most quote unquote social interaction. Other than that, I just made friends with people in the neighborhood," she says.
Plus, home school families do a lot of activities with other households. And as the movement grows, American parents are finding more opportunities for collaboration and support, which makes home schooling a realistic option for even more families.