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Home Schooling: Hard Work, Big Rewards
Parents choose to home school their children for various reasons. Most important—they like the results.

When Randy and Kelly Anchikoski were in music education together at the University of Victoria in the late 1980s, they got a good look at the spiritual values of the province's—and their hypothetical children's—future teachers.

Capturing Summer Fun
The Anchikoskis: Randy and Kelly flanked by (left to right) Sebastien, Doran, Kyle, Evan and Lucja.

"We weren't impressed with what we saw," recalls Randy, now a software designer in Victoria. As their first child, Kyle, grew towards school entrance age, they observed the bullying and general disorder in the neighbouring schoolyard and began to ask, "Why not, if we can, just do it ourselves? Why should we put our children in school without even thinking about it?"

Once they did think about it the Anchikoskis simply kept on teaching their children at home even after they reached school age. "It was a combination of moral and spiritual reasons," says Randy. Adds Kelly: "What they were teaching in the schools was simply contrary to our values." Kelly is schooling five children: four boys from 15 to eight and a girl, four, as unlike in personality as if from different worlds, and undeniably a family.

"Home schooled kids have a more realistic social outlook: they fit in equally well with adults or other children of any age," says Randy. "There are no cliques. Our kids are better behaved and academically focused."

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What Randy and other home schoolers are getting at was identified in a 2004 book, HoldOn to Your Kids, by Vancouver psychologist Gordon Nuefeld and doctor Gabor Mate, as peer orientation. Their alarming but persuasive thesis: children today are largely raised by their peer groups, with teachers and parents having only token influence in establishing attitudes and values.

One of the biggest effects of peer pressure is to kill pursuit of excellence. For Randy's and Kelly's brood, in subjects that don't agree with them, they do average. But in areas that interest them they get the time and encouragement to excel, even if it's electronics, as it is with Kyle, and not on the public school curriculum. Kelly isn't worrying yet about college entrance. She believes that when her children decide what they want to do, they will have learned how to pursue their goals, and with their parents' help will achieve them. Randy agrees: "I'm self taught. If you are good at what you do people will hire you."

While some home schoolers buy a curriculum "wholesale," most, like the Anchikoskis, pick and choose from an ever-widening array of secular and Christian offerings, and readily pass on the information about what works best for different kinds of children.

Brent Boyd is home schooling four boys, ages ten to 17, in the Cobble-Hill Shawnigan Lake area—a hotbed for home schoolers who rent the local arena for family sports nights weekly, and whose fathers play their teenagers in regular basketball at a local gym.

Brent and his late wife drew their curricula together from ten different sources. Their boys score at least as well as their age group in all subjects on Canada-wide tests, and are years ahead of their peers in others.

The Boyds chose home schooling after they were told, at Christmas, their son would likely have to repeat grade one because he was so far behind in reading. They bought a reading program and in six weeks they had brought him up to his grade level. "Public school is just not equipped to provide that kind of attention," says Brent.

Reflecting on the social events staged by the Shawnigan Lake group, Brent observes that the home-schooled children all interact easily with everyone's parents and siblings, whatever their ages. "There's none of this, 'You're cool if you're in grade six but totally uncool if you're in grade three. There's no attitude, even from the teenagers."

Pauline Beskesza, whose husband Lech is pastor of Cobble Hill Baptist Church, likes it that home schooling her three children, Rachel, Abigail and Levi, lets her know instantly, "how well they are getting it." My neighbour's child was three quarters of the way through the year before the school realized he wasn't reading." Home schooling provides more free time for music, soccer and swimming lessons and the freedom to incorporate prayer, Bible reading and character building into the lessons. She also sees the attitudinal difference in home schoolers. "They treat adults and younger kids as if they are normal human beings."

Distance Learning (DL), also known as Distance Electronic Learning, is a category invented by the provincial government in recent years that offers home schoolers supervision by public schools or accredited independent schools, provincial exams, and the needed marks in grades ten, 11, and 12, to get the Dogwood Certificate and easy college admission. The supervising schools got the full student grant for each DLer taken under their wing, and in return approved parental lesson plans, graded student work portfolios and in some cases passed on up to $1,000 of the grant to the parents.

This lured away, according to Grace Jorgensen of the BC Home School Association, 2,000 of 5,000 home school students into the DL category. But it also attracted perhaps 9,000 into distance learning from the public system. There are now around 27,000 distance learners and correspondence school students in the province on top of 3,000 pure home schoolers who get nothing and expect nothing from the province.

Parents school their children at home for a variety of reasons says Mrs. Jorgensen. Leading the list is "more focused learning," with students moving at their own speed and accomplishing much more in less time, thanks to an environment free of distractions, bussing and peer pressure. The time saved can go into the weak subjects or other areas entirely, such as lessons in hockey, ballet or music. As one home school grad put it: "Why would I want to sit in band class with students who didn't do their homework when I need to be studying to perform a symphony with the civic orchestra?"

Many home school parents also like that they can raise their children, as Mrs. Jorgenson put it, "strong and secure in their faith." Mrs. Jorgensen started home schooling her children because her and her husband's work took them on the road. At the time, home schooling was illegal, and when the Education Ministry cracked down, she led a lobby that persuaded the provincial government to legalize it.

Steve Weatherbe is a writer based in Victoria, B.C.

Originally published in Sunday Magazine, March 2006.




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