Thomasson family home schooling
The Thomasson family of rural Wellsville has home-schooled for three years. They have four boys, ages 5 months and 7, 11 and 12 years. They home school, in part, for religious reasons.
Vinland Valley home schooling
The daughters of Vinland Valley nursery owners Amy Albright and Doug Davison alternate time spent being home-schooled with time planting, watering and pulling weeds in the greenhouse.
Barbara Ballard realizes it's a bold move.
Her daughter, Katie, is 4. The state says she should start kindergarten in the fall.
But Katie won't be boarding a school bus and making macaroni art projects with 25 other children. Instead, she'll have "school" by herself at her mother's office in southern Lawrence, where Ballard owns a technology company.
Ballard plans to home school her daughter, and in doing so joins a growing number of families who choose not to send their children to public or private schools.
"It's a strong statement: I don't think the professionals can do as good a job educating my child as I can," Ballard says.
More parents are agreeing with that assessment, according to government figures and groups that advocate home education.
A study by the National Center for Education Statistics said 1.1 million students were being home schooled in 2003 - the most recent year data was available - and the U.S. Department of Education estimates the number is increasing by 7 percent to 15 percent each year. Home schoolers make up 1.7 percent of the 50.2 million K-12 students in the United States.
The National Home Education Research Institute, an advocacy group that conducts its own research, estimates the number of home-schoolers to be closer to 1.7 million to 2.1 million.
In Lawrence, one longtime home education advocate estimates there are between 300 and 400 families home schooling in Douglas County. No official tally exists. Lawrence Virtual School enrolls about 590 students; ninety-two live in Douglas County.
With the Internet making it simpler to find home-based curriculum, experts expect those numbers to continue to climb.
Despite the growing figures, Kansas is one of about 25 states that has little or no regulation of home education. There are no specific requirements for curriculum or qualifications of teachers.
Why they do it
In some ways, the home education community represents two camps that are polar opposites.
J. Gary Knowles, a home school researcher and author at the University of Toronto, says while some families have educated at home because of geographical isolation, the modern push for home education in the United States started in the 1970s. At the time, several liberal activists were pushing the idea, so it became more of a "hippie" thing to do.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the movement started picking up steam among conservative Christians.
Lawrence, being a fairly liberal city in a conservative state, certainly has its share of both secular and religious home-schoolers - and home-schoolers along that spectrum.
While their motivations differ, families interviewed by the Journal-World for this series tended to cite a few common driving factors:
â Gaining the benefits of one-on-one instruction.
â Spending more time with family.
â Avoiding bullying and peer pressure at school.
â Focusing more on individual strengths and weaknesses in the curriculum.
â Having a more flexible school schedule.
â Providing, especially for Christians, an opportunity to avoid teachings about topics such as evolution, sex education and homosexuality that disagree with their beliefs.
It's 9 a.m. on a Monday, and Donna Thomasson is getting her children ready for school.
Her three older boys, ages 7, 11 and 12, are ready to make the trip to their classroom, which is just downstairs in their basement to study math, English, music, science, spelling and other subjects. Thomasson is feeding her 5-month-old son, Chip. The Ten Commandments are posted nearby.
Soon, the basement will be filled with the sounds of a classroom - one boy working on grammar, while another does math, while another memorizes Scripture. Thomasson will be bouncing among the three, helping each one. School's often over by noon, though sometimes they finish subjects after lunch.
Thomasson and her husband, Tim, pulled their two older boys - Luke and Nick - out of Wellsville Elementary School three years ago, both to spend more time with their children and over concerns that the school would teach topics in a way that went against their worldview. They started home schooling their son Tyler when he turned 5.
"We knew there would be times they'd come home talking about something and we would say, 'That's not what the Bible said,'" Thomasson says. "We knew the time would come when what they were learning would go against what I believe. We didn't feel comfortable saying, 'Don't put that in your heart, and don't believe that, but still get an A on that test.'"
Specifically, she says, she was concerned about teaching of evolution and homosexuality, which she says is presented in schools as a "normal lifestyle."
This year, Luke and Nick are enrolled in the Lawrence Virtual School, a popular choice among some home schooling families. Tyler still does a book-based curriculum.
Luke would like to go back to public school his freshman year, mainly to play sports. His mother thinks "that would be a shame," considering sports seasons last only a few weeks.
Meanwhile, Donna Thomasson is looking forward to home schooling her infant son from an early age.
"He's my little science experiment," she says. "... I haven't done one through preschool. I'm excited. It's this little empty mind, this little blank slate."
It's a drizzly spring morning at Vinland Valley Nursery, and Emma, Celie and Bess Davison are tending a fire in front of the greenhouse. Unseasonably cold weather has stalled the previous week's surge of customers, but their parents, nursery owners Doug Davison and Amy Albright, still have lots of work to do to get ready for the growing season - which means the intensity of the girls' home schooling has dipped a bit.
"This time of year, they tend to do a lot of work on their own," Albright says of her daughters, who are 11, 10 and 6. "In the summer, they're probably doing schoolwork when most kids are not."
From the fall through February, they stick to a regimented schedule - studying math, science, history, literature, art and other subjects that will prepare them for college.
"It seems to fit naturally because it's warming up, so they want to be outside (in the spring)," Albright says.
The girls started out at Vinland Elementary School, but Albright pulled them after the Baldwin school district made what she considered some questionable budget cuts that, among other things, eliminated the elementary art program.
Like other home educators whose children started in brick-and-mortar schools, Albright says it took about a year for the girls to get used to being self-learners rather than being told what to do every minute of the day.
Aside from the scheduling flexibility, Albright loves the opportunities home schooling provides for imparting practical knowledge.
Emma, Celie and Bess spend time watering, pulling weeds and planting, as well as tending to the family's 13 cats, two dogs, seven fish and nine chickens.
"If Emma's trying to figure out something she can sell in the greenhouse, suddenly she's doing all these multiplication problems," Albright says. "So she's not as frustrated, and she can wrap her brain around it."
Celie says she likes home schooling better than public school.
"I don't have to wait for a whole class to finish their work, too," she says. "I also like being able to come out here when I'm done and run around."
Her sisters agree.
"It started out as a dissatisfaction with what was going on in the school district," Albright says. "But at this point, I'm not sure, if someone came up with an almost perfect district, what we would do because we just sort of like what we're doing."