responsibility and unique preparation
Missi Parker and Diane Linn have everything and nothing in common.
Parker is black. Linn is white. Parker is a widow. Linn is married. Parker lives in a blue collar neighborhood. Linn lives near the upscale Indian Village, not far from Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.
Both live in the City of Detroit. Both home schooled their children. Both sent children to the University of Michigan. Both talk excitedly and fervently about their experiences in home schooling. Both see problems with the Detroit Public Schools, but also want to see the district succeed.
Parker started home schooling 20 years ago. Her oldest daughter got a full scholarship to the University of Michigan and is now in the final year of medical school, also at Michigan. Another daughter is at Western Michigan University and a son is attending Wayne County Community College.
"I have a major problem with Detroit Public Schools," Parker said. "Safety, class size, behavior problems, drugs. The teachers can be wonderful, but the system needs to be overhauled."
Parker said she and her husband, Rickford, chose home schooling based mainly on their faith.
"We didn’t think our faith stopped just with spiritual training," Parker said. "We tried to carry that over into the academic and social lessons for the kids."
When her husband passed away in 2000, Parker was forced to get a job outside the home, which meant an end to home schooling for her younger children. One high schooler goes to private school while two others attend a charter school.
"Our three younger kids are adopted and have different challenges," Parker said. "The schools they are in now have smaller class sizes, reading specialists, a social worker on staff and they focus on character building."
Parker said she would not feel comfortable sending her kids to a large inner city school.
"With 35 kids in a class, you have to teach a generic approach," she said. "There’s no individual attention."
Linn, on the other hand, had children enrolled in Detroit Public Schools at one time and loved it.
"My husband and I are products of Detroit Public Schools," she said. "We were very happy there, but often times a family crisis can precipitate the need for home schooling. You only think it will last a year, and you end up never getting back on the bus again."
Linn and her husband, Tom, could have afforded any school their children wanted to attend. An adopted daughter did end up graduating from a Catholic high school after moving back and forth between home schooling and conventional schooling.
"We made it very clear each year," Linn said. "If they wanted to go to school, we’d be the first ones out the door to take them around and visit some options."
But Linn also makes it very clear how she feels about the current status of DPS.
"The potential is there to be a great educational system," she said. "But it’s broken down. The enrollment is bottoming out and the tax base is eroding."
Linn, a certified teacher, said she would love to see Detroit Public Schools become "nontraditional."
"It could be so new and exciting," Linn said. "It could attract students on a regional basis and actually become a leader in encouraging home schooling. They could offer drop-in classes for things like high level math and science."
The Linns ended up sending three children to college at Michigan. One daughter earned two degrees from Michigan while the other daughter earned two degrees from Madonna University.
Linn says while the home schooling movement began mostly as a faith-driven issue, it has now become a more mainstream option.
"I’m not some home school evangelist," she said. "It’s not always right for everyone, and it’s not always right for a child’s whole education."
Linn’s youngest son last year wanted to "test his wings," as she says, and took several classes at Macomb County Community College before going off to a four-year university.
The experiences of the Parker and Linn children do not support the notion that students who are home schooled have difficulties being accepted to college. Linn said the Clonlara School in Ann Arbor helped track schoolwork, grades and transcripts, making the college application process easier. Both women also refute the notion that home schoolers have problems with socialization.
"We met every Friday with other families for things like art, music, drama, foreign language," Parker said. "You’re not just stuck in the house."
Parker said her mornings were devoted to more traditional curricula, while the afternoons were for recreation or special projects.
"There are plenty of ways for kids to do research on subjects that interest them," Parker said. "When we went on field trips, the whole family would go. It’s not just the kids who are learning."
The Linn family also was part of a larger group of home schoolers that met on Fridays.
"It was a support group that drew from a variety of backgrounds," Linn said. "We had parents with everything from high school diplomas to doctorates, and everyone would share their specialties with the children."
Chemistry instruction, for example, was held on Friday evenings at the University of Windsor by a father who was a professor at the school.
"We really experienced freedom as a family," Linn said. "We felt like a little group of constitutional revolutionaries who took responsibility for what we were doing."
Linn said the family embarked on a six-year study of the Western world, including trips to Greece, Rome, France and England.
"We walked on the very sites we were reading about," she said. "Life and education merged in the most astonishing ways."
Linn added that dinner table conversations rarely lasted less than three hours during this time.
"I feel my kids were uniquely prepared for college," she said. "They made friends very easily and those friends are a reflection of our family’s values, not peer values."
It is difficult to determine how many children in the city of Detroit are home schooled, since Michigan does not have mandatory reporting for home school families. Voluntary registration shows 1,566 children being home schooled statewide in 943 households, according to the Michigan Department of Education. The Education Policy Center at Michigan State University estimates the total number of home schooled students in Michigan to be about 126,000 students. A home school newsletter in the metro Detroit area has 1,000 subscribers alone. Ian Slatter, director of media relations for the Home School Legal Defense Association, says his group estimates about 40,000 children are home schooled in Michigan.
"It really is difficult to get exact numbers, but through state organizations, support groups and our membership, we can make an informed guess," Slatter said. "Home schooling is very fluid. Families can enter and leave it very rapidly, even in the middle of a school year."
Slatter said home schooling is most predominant in rural areas, followed by suburbs, with its popularity in urban areas lagging behind.
"Rural areas tend to be more conservative," he said. "About two-thirds of home school families are evangelical Christians, and in rural areas they feel isolated from good schools, so home schooling is a default."
Suburban families can turn to home schooling because of faith issues, but also out of concern for a negative peer environment, crime and drugs in public schools.
"The real paradox is in the inner cities," Slatter said. "That’s where home schooling could be of the most benefit, but is used the least."
Parker said she knew of several families in Detroit who home schooled.
"Most of us were blue collar," she said. "Our husbands weren’t doctors or lawyers. We made sacrifices, but it was worth it. We saw the benefits."
Linn said she knows of several "small pockets" of home school families in Detroit, but in her experience, many minority families do not turn to home schooling as a first alternative.
"Most of the African-American families I know have a great respect for the traditional aspects of structure found in private or parochial schools," she said. "They tend to turn to that first if they’re not satisfied with public schools."
"There is a real conflict in the black community about home schooling," Slatter said. "The older generation fought for equal access to public schools and still remembers that fight. When the younger generation sees those public schools not servicing the needs of their children and is tempted to pull out, it creates tension with parents and grandparents."
Home School Resource
Home school families often spend countless hours trying to find just the right curriculum and keep detailed records of what their children study. Families associated with Clonlara School in Ann Arbor, however, can focus their energy more on children and less on paperwork.
Founded in 1967, Clonlara serves more than 1,000 home school families each year, drawing from all 50 states and 32 countries.
“We like to think of it in terms of children getting an education, not schooling,” said Pat Montgomery, Clonlara’s founder.
Clonlara’s home education program began in 1979. Montgomery, who named the school after the Clonlara School that her father, John Clancy, attended in Ireland, said the curriculum is fluid.
“Years ago, when teaching was teaching, you inserted what was current and relevant in the life of the students,” she said. “That was before it went down the tubes with so much focus on testing, testing, testing.”
The school’s Web site details the wide ranging, student-driven paths one can take to graduation. They include more traditional school practices, with textbooks and 50-minute class periods, as well as the “Walkabout,” which gives students one calendar year to thoroughly investigate subjects such as career exploration, creativity, community service and practical skills.
“There are so many things available in the world to us as adults that should be available to young people,” Montgomery said. “Students shouldn’t be subjected to always having to go to a school."
A third approach, the Clonlara School Compuhigh, was introduced in 1994. The program is done entirely over the internet, including communication between teachers and students.
“The possibilities with the Internet are endless,” Montgomery said. “It’s wide open for new enrollments.”
A teacher herself for 14 years in parochial and public schools, Montgomery started Clonlara as an alternative when it came time to educate her daughters. Her philosophy allows students to have a great deal of input in deciding for themselves what and how they will learn.
When a family registers with Clonlara, they are assigned an academic adviser and given an enrollment binder that allows each family to craft a step-by-step home education approach.
“The teachers are well versed in all approaches to the methodology, but it goes way beyond curriculum,” Montgomery said. “It’s really the best of both worlds.”
Communication between adviser and family is done by phone, mail, e-mail and in person both at home and at school.
“We look at the individual talents, abilities and needs of each student, then work with that,” Montgomery says.
Because all home school students are enrolled in Clonlara’s private day school, they are able to receive an official transcript and diploma upon graduation. The transcript contains the same basic information one would find on any transcript, including subjects covered, grade point average and credits earned.
“We have 12 pages, single spaced, of all the colleges our graduates have been accepted to,” Montgomery says. “It’s very helpful no matter what path the student follows after graduation.”
The base family tuition is $595 per year, with additional costs based on the number of children enrolled and their grade levels.