Monday, August 20, 2007

A Star Special Report: Home schooling today — The new home school

By Joan Garrett

Daniel studies a periodic table on the computer at the family’s home in Riverside. Photo: Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star

“Science. Leadership. Physical Education. Cooking. Chess. Soccer. Basketball. History. Art. Music. Drama,” Melanie Thompson rattled down the list of her children’s classes and activities as if she were trying to catch up to it herself.

She’s not as busy as she could be, said the Pell City mother. After all, as a home-school mother, she stresses the value of time spent at home.

“It’s the karate class and gymnastics,” the 45-year-old said, frustrated. “When were those?”

And somewhere between shuttling her kids to class, cheering their games and putting dinner on the table, Thompson found time to work as a part-time nurse, run a home-based business and direct a small fine-arts academy.

“It’s a different kind of experience, but it is very rewarding,” she said.

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Video: Tour the 2007 CHEF of Alabama Convention

Thompson, who has been home-schooling her three children for seven years, represents a changing social movement.

Twenty years ago in Alabama and nationwide, home schooling was a bastion for ideologues. It allowed those among the religious right to escape what they viewed as a Godless public education system, and it allowed students of the anti-establishment left to provide education without borders.

The two factions disagreed on politics, but they agreed on one principle: Home schooling was a commitment to raising children free from the influences of teachers and classrooms, said Mitchell Stevens, an education sociologist at New York University.

Today those parents, who were among the small number of Alabama home-schoolers in the early ‘80s, lead organizations of thousands across the state. While they welcome the numbers and credibility to their movement, they also grapple with change, said Chris Christian, president of the Christian Home Education Fellowship of Alabama, an organization with 6,000 member families and connections to more than 300 home-school organizations.


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