Parent-directed education

By Rebecca Hagelin

As the lazy, carefree days of summer come to an end and are replaced by seemingly endless activity during every waking moment, our family, once again, regroups.

With three children making the transition from absolutely blissful days of swimming, hanging out with friends and riding their bikes for hours-on-end around the neighborhood – to schedules, classroom bells, new teachers, homework, projects and tests, the tension in our household is so thick that I often find myself fearing that we’re all going to suffer massive coronary arrest. This worries me immensely – with all five of us writhing on the floor, grabbing our chests as we desperately gasp for breath, who will be left to call 911?

There are so many things to be concerned about: Will the myriad teachers include former members of the Gestapo determined to make my children miserable? Are any of their classmates actually miniature convicts cleverly disguised as little kids? How many dioramas (those stupid little scenes glued inside shoe boxes) will they be forced to make under the guise of a “book report”? Are their textbooks going to be politically correct but morally wrong?

At least, that’s how the start of a new school year has, at times, been in the Hagelin household.

We have two boys in ninth grade and a daughter in fifth. Through the years, our children have experienced public school, private school and home school. Each year, my husband and I evaluate the various needs of our various children and determine what type of instruction we feel will best serve them at that particular time in their lives. Although I’m a strong advocate for what is commonly known as “home-schooling,” I prefer to refer to our approach as “parent-directed education.”

Invariably, the aforementioned health problems and concerns (more imagined than real) have coincided with the years our children have attended traditional schools. The years we have chosen to hand-select the various methods and subjects of study – as well as the instructors and time and place of instruction – are the same years which have resulted in greater peace and peace-of-mind for all of us. I don’t think that is a coincidence.

The simple fact is that I relish the freedom I have as a parent to decide what is best for my children. When I have chosen to live in that freedom and apply it to my children’s education, the beat our family marches to is that of our own drummer.

The truth is, most of the people I know that “home school” actually do very little of the instruction themselves once the children are beyond the first couple of years where daily drilling in phonetics and math facts is so critical in establishing firm foundations in reading and arithmetic. I don’t know if there is such a thing as a “typical” home-schooling family but, if there is, rest-assured it is composed of adventurous types whose kids are afforded wonderful opportunities of hands-on learning, individual tutoring, co-op classes, a schedule that suits the needs of the family instead of the masses, and incredible freedom.

In our home of Richmond, Va., there is a heaven-sent place designed to support parents who take-on the responsibility and freedom of designing and overseeing their children’s education. It’s called Westminster Academy, and as far as I’m concerned, it is a model for the future of sound education in America.

The Academy was founded to strengthen families, build character in children, and supports – even requires – parental involvement in an effort to achieve academic excellence. Structured similarly to that of a college, classes are held two or three times per week, with students attending only those classes which have been hand-selected for them by their parents. The bulk of the learning and work takes place at home under parental guidance. Barely four years old, Westminster affords hundreds of families in the Richmond area a new level of educational freedom and support for their efforts to be the primary influence on their children’s lives.

Institutions like Westminster are springing-up across America as more parents realize there are alternatives to failing public education and costly private schools. With the technological advances that offer greater freedom and access to information from around the world, America’s notions about education are beginning to change. The Home School Legal Defense Association and the Home School Information websites are great places to start looking for information on the ideals and many methods of “parent-directed education.”

For the record, not every traditional school setting causes heart failure. But if you and your children are starting to feel a slight squeezing of the chest, maybe it’s time to look for healthier alternatives.