I sat there looking blankly at my teacher, thinking about my day. She was talking again about something or other. Fragments of her lecture made their way through the blockade my brain had constructed. "Natalie . . . homework . . . you listening . . . before lunch . . . hear me?!" The last words were shouted and I jumped in my seat. I was not a disrespectful or even an inattentive student. However, for the thirteenth year in a row, I had the same teacher.
Earlier, I had walked to lunch, certain that it was going to be either leftover leftovers or chicken noodle soup. No one spoke to me in the hall or even acknowledged me. However, this could be due to the fact that there wasn't anybody in the hall. When I arrived at the kitchen they were serving the former of the two lunch choices, leftover leftovers of chicken casserole. My two brothers sat with me.
At my school I was the popular girl, most likely to succeed, and had the best smile. I was also the nerd, class clown, and teacher's pet. This odd situation occurred because I happened to be the only student in my class. I was in the top one percent of my class, and in the bottom one percent.
My teacher was looking at me expectantly. I snapped out of my reverie and intoned, "I'm sorry, Mom, what did you say?" Yes, my mother was my teacher, the same one that I had had for thirteen years. I had been homeschooled from kindergarten through twelfth grade. I was sitting on the couch in the den, in a sweat suit that had seen better years. My two younger brothers joined us, one on the floor, and the other on a chair. I was contemplating about how people tend to think of homeschoolers as odd. I never had to deal with stereotypes in my school; I had to deal with stereotypes about my school. The problems I had with prejudice were not the conventional type. They did not have to do with race or religion; they had to do with my education, or rather, what people perceived to be my lack of education. In The Nature of Prejudice, Gordon Allport defines prejudice as, "thinking ill of others without sufficient warrant." Because many people are misinformed or ill informed about homeschoolers, they tend to form rash judgements about them.
When I was younger, most people did not even know what "homeschool" was. "You go where?" they would query uncertainly. Those who did know were incredulous, "Your mother teaches you, at home?" they would demand. Inside I could tell they thought, "My goodness, what kind of nonsense is this?" Soon, as they learned more about homeschooling, they realized that it was, indeed, a credible (and legal) way to teach children.
During my high school years, people knew more about homeschool. However, when I answered the question of what school I went to, they would get a knowing look, slowly nod, and intone, "Ohhhhh, homeschool." I could almost see the gears in their head spinning, "She must have flunked out of school," or, "There's no way she can be learning anything." They would imagine lazy children who would wake up at noon, have breakfast for lunch, and then start school after a quick nap. Math would be factored out over a period of time, history passed over, and writing edited from the lesson plan.
Naturally, I did wake up later than if I went to real school, I didn't have to wear a uniform, and could eat any time I wanted (leftovers, yum). Nevertheless, I received an excellent education. I was taught all the regular subjects, algebra and trigonometry, English and classical literature, history and current events. I learned a large amount from books. Nothing was left out of my education, except, maybe, the harmful influences.
Now, while most everybody has heard of homeschooling, many still have misconceptions about it. Questions are raised, "Can they compete with other students from real school?" or "Will they become social misfits?" These uncertainties were put to rest when nearly all homeschoolers either equaled or excelled above students from "real" school. A study by Dr. Brian D. Ray, the president of the National Home Education Research Institute, who has a Ph.D. in science education from Oregon State University, illustrates this. A survey was conducted on 5,402 students out of an estimated 1.23 million who were educated at home at the time of the survey. The data revealed that, on standardized academic achievement tests, homeschoolers scored consistently higher. In grades kindergarten through 12, homeschoolers scored, on average, 30 to 37 percent higher than the national average. On reading tests, the average score of homeschoolers was in the 87th percentile of the national average. On math tests, they scored in the 82nd percentile of the national average. The study also showed that eighth graders who had been homeschooled one year scored in the 59th percentile of the national average. Eighth graders who had been homeschooled two years scored in the 86th percentile of the national average, showing that the longer they were homeschooled the better their average test scores.
A number of people are still skeptical. They have in their minds an image of homeschoolers. The homeschool family has seven kids and several pets, including the favorite, an ancient golden retriever who goes everywhere with them. The plump and harried mother, dressed in a denim jumper, drives a battered Econo-Van with numerous dents. The children look a bit odd and they all live on a farm somewhere in the Midwest.
To be honest, that is how I have envisioned real homeschoolers, so sometimes I stereotype others who are just like me. I never considered myself a homeschooler in the sense of the seven kids and the rest, but as a student who received her education at home, in a big city without a copious amount of pets or siblings.
I believe that homeschooling is the best way to teach children and to make a difference. At home, children are away from harmful influences that are found in public and even private school. The peer pressure that persuades kids to lie, cheat, smoke, and do drugs, is absent in the home. Parents, who have the most influence over their own children, are free to educate them in the values they believe in without being hindered by the rules and regulations of outside forces.
The study shows that upon graduation from high school, homeschoolers closely parallel students from public and private school. Of homeschool graduates, 31 percent went into employment and 69 percent went on to post-secondary education. Of graduates from public school, 29 percent went into employment and 71 percent into post-secondary education. (These percentages do not include military, unemployed, missions, ministry, or volunteer work, since these categories were not available for both groups).
The Home School Legal Defense Association says, "This study demonstrates that home schooling works. It suggests that direct parental involvement and hard work are true keys to educational success. Regardless of race, gender, socioeconomic status, parent education level, teacher certification, or the degree of government regulation, the academic achievement scores of home educated students significantly exceed those of public school students."
That I am one of just a few is something that I am pleased with, no matter what anybody else says. Now that I'm in college and I cannot say that I am homeschooled, I feel disappointed. The fact that I was homeschooled has always been something that I was, and still am, proud of.
The more people learn about homeschooling, the less likely they are to form quick judgments about it. Many will come to appreciate the benefits of home education and will be able to drop their preconceptions. If prejudice is merely ignorance about a person or subject, then all we have to do is pursue knowledge. The more we know, the better off we are.