Even before 20 children and six adults were slaughtered in a Connecticut elementary school in December, interest in home schooling was surging.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, the number of American students taught by parents has doubled to about 2 million in the past decade alone.
But for two parents whose role as teachers of their four children will finally end when daughter Hannah completes high school next year, home schooling's primary attraction was not physical protection but spiritual and academic enrichment.
“We all have a world view, and if you're in a public school it creeps in. We wanted a good education with a biblical world view,” said Jim Snyder, president of the 500-family Fort Wayne Area Home Schools, which proclaims not only its belief in the triune God but also in the inerrancy of the Bible, “the foundation upon which all education should be based.”
“Before we were married I asked, 'Are you OK with downhill skiing and home schooling?' She thought I was nuts,” said Snyder, whose power of persuasion is illustrated by the fact that wife Denise edits the association's monthly newsletter and has served as her children's primary teacher for 19 years. Both say they've never regretted the decision, just as both say they do not feel vindicated by what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“It was a tragedy, but (vindication) never entered my mind,” Jim Snyder said.
The Snyders' religious motivations hardly make them unique among home-schooling parents. The Department of Education reports that a desire to provide religious or moral instruction is the reason most often given for the decision to home school (36 percent of students), followed by a concern for safety and related issues (21 percent) and dissatisfaction with academics (17 percent).
The Snyders are typical in another regard: Two-parent homes account for 89 percent of home schoolers, and for obvious reasons: If one parent is teaching, it helps to have another paying the bills. So Denise calls on her academic background as a registered nurse while Jim operates hospital heart-lung machines. And if they weren't always happy with their teacher, the experience has nevertheless brought the family closer together, the Snyders agreed.
Not that it hasn't been hard work.
“I've learned every day with the kids,” said Denise, who had to learn enough about a variety of subjects to stay one step ahead. The Internet has been a blessing in that regard, with a variety of instruction programs available for home schools.
What's more, the Snyders said, family familiarity helped them instruct each child in the most effective way. “We have to plan (what and how to teach) every year. Some children lean by sight, others hearing, others tactilely,” Jim Snyder said. When possible, home schools work with public schools, each other and others to provide social and extra-curricular opportunities. The Snyders also administer standardized tests – tests advocates say regularly favor home-schooled students over their public-school counterparts.
With its Bible-centered focus, the Fort Wayne Area Home Schools group obviously isn't right for everyone – and the Snyders say many local home schools are not members for a variety of reasons. But for this one family, it seems to have been a good choice.
One son owns a business and the other is working. Oldest daughter Abigail teaches literature at Carroll High School and Hannah hopes to teach in an overseas mission field one day.
Hannahs not sure what she wants to do with her life yet, but she is satisfied she hasn't missed out on anything. “I think (home schooling) has been pretty normal. I'd recommend it,” she said.
Abigail, who said home schooling allowed her to study early and work part time when others her age would have been in school, had praise for Carroll High School, but also appreciates her parents' efforts on her behalf.
I've always been a little skeptical about home schools' ability to prepare students for life in the real world, where they'll be confronted by all sorts of ideas good and bad.
But the Snyders seem well adjusted, well educated and content with their choices. So who am I to quibble?
Still, Jim Snyder was perhaps closer to the truth than he realized when he said that success in school is all about parental involvement. Home-school parents are involved, obviously, but so are many parents of successful public- and parochial-school students.
In other words, the best way to improve education is to get more good parents involved. The perception that involved parents and respect for faith are a rarity in too many public schools may be driving the home-based alternative as much as anything – including guns in the hands of lunatics.