FEATURE — In light of the recent dismissals of Utah schools until May 1, thousands of parents across the state – even nationwide – have been thrust into the role of assistant educators.
While teachers are doing everything they can to work in this new system, the reality is some parents may need a different option. With approximately six weeks left of the school year in Washington County – seven in Iron County – and the possibility that remote instruction may be extended until the end of the year, some are wondering if it’s time to temporarily pull the plug.
For some, the idea of home school is looking more appealing – although the clock is ticking to make it a reality this year, and some people familiar with the alternative instructional method say what’s happening right now is not exactly traditional home schooling.
Whether it’s the remainder of this year or a choice for next, if a parent chooses the home-school option in Utah, their students are exempt from state standards and a rigid curriculum, which could prove advantageous for those who need more flexibility.
While home schooling is not a new idea, the modern home-schooling movement in America gained traction in the 1970s and was prompted by altering philosophies of how best to school children.
According to the Utah Home Education Association, parents who choose to home-school their children are required to submit a notarized affidavit to their school district. Within 30 days of receiving a signed and notarized affidavit, the school district is required by law to issue a certification that the child is excused from attendance.
In order to reinstate a child into public school, a parent would need to need to submit this in writing to the district, and for some charter schools that work off a lottery system, readmission is not guaranteed.
Home schooling vs. ‘crisis schooling’
There are many reasons parents choose to home-school their children. One of the primary reasons for home schooling is for the benefit of flexibility in scheduling and curriculum focus.
Home schooling often utilizes hands-on teaching rather than traditional books and worksheets and incorporates other social activities.
Heather Anne is a single mother who is home-schooling two children, ages 12 and 15. She also has 12 years experience working as a public school teacher in California. She explained the difference between the practice of home schooling and parents’ current status as “assistant educators” as follows:
If there’s a set curriculum, you’re not home-schooling. You’re just doing public school at home. The whole value and philosophy of home schooling is that you have freedom to choose how you teach your child.
She also said there is an important distinction that needs to be made during the current COVID-19 pandemic: Parents of public school children are not experiencing home schooling right now; they are engaged in “crisis schooling.”
Anne told St. George News that people who choose to home-school their children usually spend time preparing for it, as opposed to the parents who have been recently thrust into this position, with many of them also now working from home. And when it comes to social distancing orders and school dismissals, the landscape has not only been altered for public school children but also those who are home-schooled.
“People who are home-schooling are also struggling,” Anne said, adding that home-schooled children are still part of a community. “We don’t school in isolation.”
She said that despite the stereotype of home-school kids being starved of socialization, most home-schoolers have co-ops and groups of which they are a part. Aside from kids growing up in extremely rural areas, socializing is not a concern at all, she said.
In addition to flexibility in curriculum, another benefit of home school can be a quickening of pace. Some kids may be able to get through the same amount of work faster partially due to a decrease in the distractions that come with a classroom full of students.
However, despite the flexibility and perks of home schooling, Anne said it’s definitely not for everybody.
“There are a lot of parents who just aren’t happy home-schooling their children, and there are children who are not happy being schooled at home,” she said. “People go back to public school or private school all the time. Home-schoolers are a minority for a reason.”
For those parents who are struggling right now to find footing in this new situation of crisis schooling, especially those now working from home, she said it’s important to embrace that it’s hard and to not hold too firmly to any set plan.
“You have to expect distractions. You cannot expect to have five hours of uninterrupted time to do your job at home and school your kids,” she said. “It’s better to go back and forth, from helping kids with their school work to doing your job, rather than trying to keep everything in neat separate time frames.”
“Your day is going to be broken up,” she said. “Going into it knowing that, it solves a lot of frustration. You get used to being interrupted.”
And this paints a somewhat accurate picture of home-schooling as well. It’s hard work. However, Anne stressed that even though it’s a lot more work for the parents, for her, as a single working mom, her decision came from a deep desire and dedication.
“I passionately believe in the value of home schooling, so I’m willing to sacrifice,” she said.
The number one thing that all parents – whether home-schooling or crisis-schooling – can do right now is connect up with other parents in the area via social media, she said, mentioning that Facebook offers groups for home-schoolers.
“While we’re locked in, there’s no reason people can’t do virtual playdates,” she said.
‘I wanted to learn about things I wanted to learn about’
Connor Boyack, who formerly served as a board member for Utah Home Education Association, as well as running Libertas Institute, a free-market libertarian think-tank in Utah, echoed many of Anne’s sentiments. For him, a standard education just didn’t work. (See Ed. Note)
“I didn’t enjoy public school apart from the socialization aspect,” he said. “I didn’t like being told to learn things that I didn’t care about – being told that someday I would use the information, when that has largely turned out to be a lie. I wanted to learn about things I wanted to learn about, but I was always so busy with tests and assignments.”
Boyack said it wasn’t until after he completed his formal education, graduating from Brigham Young University, that he finally had the opportunity to pursue interests he really cared about.
His dissatisfaction with his own schooling has largely informed both his career and his family’s decision to choose home schooling for their children.
“I wanted them to be afforded the educational freedom to learn about what they were curious about and really dedicate their time to pursuing their own educational interests,” he said.
In his role on the UHEA board, Boyack has taught many parents home-schooling skills.
“There’s no one-size-fits-all in educating children, and that’s precisely the problem that a lot of people have with the public education system,” he said. “It’s built around a common standard that they all have to go through at the same age without regard for their own individuality.”
“Fundamentally, we believe that parents ought to have lots of options when it comes to educating their children,” he added.
Boyack said the idea behind home schooling is that parents know their children best.
If a certain approach is working for a child, great, but if a child is struggling, doesn’t care about what they’re learning about, having a hard time behaving in class, if they’re just bored with the material, if they come home and when asked what they learned that day and can’t remember anything, maybe that child is not experiencing education the way they could.
Boyack said that he thinks what parents are experiencing right now is exposing them to a different way to do things.
“I think it’s going to cause a lot of parents to rethink education, especially those parents who give their children that flexibility and they see that their kids are enjoying it and eager to learn,” he said.
Not every family will be like that, he added, and there will be many families who crave the rigidity of public school curriculum.
“We’re going to be able to have some very compelling conversations in the years ahead about what we’ve learned from this experience and how we can improve education in the future for all children, not during times of crisis,” he said.
Boyack said the best advice he could give to all parents right now in order to avoid burnout is to not see themselves as the teacher but rather as a mentor and resource for the child.
“The parent is not a teacher. The parent is simply a facilitator to help the child learn things and find the resources that he needs,” he said.
In an email to St. George News, Karianne Lisonbee, a director for the Utah Home Education Association, said that she respected and admired all of the moms, dads and teachers who are schooling at home during this pandemic.
“I am sure it has been incredibly difficult to be thrown into a digital learning environment virtually overnight,” she said.
Lisonbee said that many children thrive in public brick and mortar schools and are struggling with online assignments and distance from familiar teachers and peers. But some children may be enjoying more time in their homes with their parents.
Because children learn in unique ways, it’s important for Utah families to have many educational options, she said.
They are also offering early learning boost emails for any parent nationwide. This boost newsletter will provide meaningful activities to parents with young children who are feeling overwhelmed.
These emails will be sent out in English and Spanish every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and will include a video and an activity. These are simple age-appropriate resources that parents can do with their children.
Ed. Note: An earlier version of this article identified Boyack as a current member of the UHEA board.
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