Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Rural education- sometimes it is better at home

When one of my best friends did not coming back to my elementary school the next year, we slowly drifted apart. The way our relationship deteriorated would suggest she had moved to another town or switched schools. However, that was not the case. She continued to live a few blocks away in my small hometown, but her parents homeschooled her.

Homeschooling has become increasingly popular. From 2007 to 2010, homeschooling increased by 7% in the United States. As of 2009, families across the nation homeschooled 1.5 million children.

According to an article this past summer from Education Week, the top three reasons why parents homeschool their children are (1) to provide religious or moral instruction, (2) concern about the child's learning environment, and (3) dissatisfaction with local schools. Homeschooling has even become politicized as Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum both proudly state that they homeschooled their children.

Homeschooling in rural areas can be the only educational option to local schools in rural communities, as Legal Ruralism has mentioned here. In my rural hometown, if parents want another educational option, they can send their children to a smaller elementary school the next town over in the same district. If they want to send their child to a different high school, they would have to send him or her to a private school at least half an hour away. If a parent is dissatisfied wrurith the district, however, another school within the district is unlikely to solve the problem. Paying for a private school may not be feasible, never mind the commute.

For some who live in more remote locations, homeschooling may be the only choice. Some parents homeschool for the transportation convenience. Buses may not reach the student's home or, if they do, the ride may be hours long and over bad roads. If a parent is not willing to make the drive to school and back each day, homeschooling becomes the only option.

According to an article here in Parents magazine, homeschooling is associated with rural tradition. The article states that well into the 20th century, many students in rural areas continued to be homeschooled. Even though homeschooling was illegal in as many as 30 states up until 1980, the practice still has roots in our colonial history. I have heard arguments over the years that homeschooling is an exercise of parental autonomy, which is reminiscent of rural autonomy. Homeschooling can be another manifestation of rural independence.

While there can be benefits to homeschooling in rural communities, such as having the independence to impart religious instruction, there are also many disadvantages. For one, the choice of homeschooling is limited to parents who do not need to work, meaning usually well-educated, middle-class parents. As a result, families who have more time and resources are not putting their energies into the local rural public schools, where other children from a variety of circumstances can benefit. As poverty often plagues nonmetropolitan areas, a lack or decrease in support from local, financially-stable families can be a disservice to the entire community.

Homeschooling may also socially ostracize children. Homeschooled children are usually not allowed to participate in the organized school's sports. In rural communities, the number of homeschooled children may not be enough to form their own teams. Homeschooled students may also miss other social activities organized by the local school, such as dances. They may also become isolated from a diverse group of peers from whom they could learn.

While I disagree with removing students from rural public school districts instead of working to improve the school system, I see some benefits to homeschooling in rural areas. It can be beneficial in terms of individualized instruction, something sorely lacking in many public schools, and parental bonding. Two of my high school friends' parents homeschooled them from elementary school until high school. They both went on to and graduated from four year colleges. That is a lot better than most of my high school class. While problems persist with homeschooling in rural areas, my friends' success proves that their parents did something right.


JWHS said...

I remember my mom drove me about 20 minutes to high school everyday. Fact of the matter was that she had to, the school bus for the area picked up from the block on my house about two hours before the school day started.

The other problem for of a lot of rural areas is that bus routes themselves can be complicated. The bus for my area went over a lot of dirty roads and the like. The infrastructure just isn't there.

JT said...

It's interesting that"homeschooled children are usually not allowed to participate in school sports and in rural communities." I agree with you in seeing benefits to homeschooling. At the same time, I think the social activities are another integral part of education, particularly for developing students. I wonder if the homeschooled students are able to start their own "little leagues" or whether the school systems could reach out to invite those students to any social activities. However, if infrastructure and transportation are the main issue, as both you and JWHS point out, perhaps the homeschooling programs can consolidate in certain areas. Instead of having one home for that household's children, maybe the homeschool can include other students from the same area.

Jason said...

When I was in high school I had a friend that had a 45 minute commute each day, longer or not at all if there was heavy snowfall. Being a rural area there were a lot of home schooled students. Lucky for them the district understood the circumstances and the fact that even if many of the kids wanted to attend public school there was no system to actually do so. Home schooled students were able to participate in all extracurricular activities as long as they paid an additional fee.

In ID, you get a tax credit if you home school your kids, basically a refund for paying taxes that will be used by the public school. In order to play sports the home schooled kids provided the compensation for the cost.

The majority of the kids I knew were well adjusted socially. I think it was primarily due to their involvement in sports. Other kids I was aquainted with who didn't participate were behind the curve socially. I think this is possibly the only real negative to home schooling.