By Riley Manning/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – On Wednesday nights, a small group of families meets at the house of Paul and Kathleen Bass for a brief devotion. While waiting for the others, the Basses’ four children play a game of fetch with their smiling dog.
Chickens and goats strut and graze lazily as the sun sets on the hayfields and woods surrounding the Bass family’s hobby farm. Soon, the Beaty family rolls up the gravel drive, followed closely by the Wood family. Their children climb out of the vans and crowd around the cage holding the newborn chicks, laughing and chattering with enthusiasm. The adults stand in the evening breeze, cool and dry finally, and catch up, careful to keep watch over the flock of their combined 16 kids, ranging in age from 1 to 13. They are friends and Christians, brought together by the common experience of home schooling their children.
Like the majority of home school families, the Basses, Beatys, and Woods all agree their religious beliefs played an integral part in their decision to home school. The Beatys hail from Dorsey; the Woods from Plantersville, and they always have called Northeast Mississippi home.
For the Basses, the decision came about gradually and “just felt right.”
“We wanted to raise our children in the Bible, and we realized that elements of the Bible can be carried through other school subjects,” Paul Bass said.
They made the change five years ago, when they relocated to Tupelo from their native Florida and started their own small hobby farm. First they had chickens with the eggs, then they added goats and finally a cow for milk.
“The goal of the farm is to be self-sufficient,” Kathleen Bass said. “But spiritually, it teaches us to rely on God and utilize everything God has given us.”
Through the farm, she said the children learn about the cycle of life and death in a very accessible way. They know where their food comes from, and have a basic understanding of nutrition.
The idea of self-sufficiency also extends to practical skills as well. Paul Bass, a video technician for the American Family Association, teaches his daughters how to operate his equipment. Diane Wood said her husband Tommy took their child with him to help someone lay new flooring in their home, and he has taught his son the skill.
“We want them to be able to provide for themselves and their families and effectively manage their households,” Kathleen Bass said. “The value of work is very important and rewarding.”
They said they try to foster a capable, entrepreneurial spirit in their children, and that many home schoolers grow up to run home-based businesses that range anywhere from sustainable living solutions to contract work.
Home schooling is not just an educational choice, but a lifestyle centered completely around the family. The three families’ schedules are very flexible, so vacations and field trips may be arranged easily and frequently. Parents can cater to different learning styles and speeds easily, and can give more attention to a child struggling to learn the material.
“What does a parent do when their child is having a hard time with a subject?” asked Steve Beaty. “They hire a tutor to work with them one on one, right? We’re doing the same thing.”
His wife Susanna agreed, and said they make educational time synonymous with family time.
“We get to see our kids bloom and blossom right before our eyes. It’s odd to us to pass them off and give those moments to someone else each day,” she said.
Kathleen Bass said in a home school environment, kids who are strong in one area learn to help their siblings and share the work load of teaching. Helping and caring for each other is the most important thing. They also learn how their actions affect others.
Home schooling provides better opportunity for moral instruction as well. Steve Beaty said he noticed between school, extracurriculars and homework, mainstream families may spend time together for little more than an hour each day, if that.
“The Bible teaches us to bring our children up in admonition of the Lord,” he said. “It’s difficult to pass on values when you don’t see your kids a lot.”
Working and learning alongside their parents gives a child a sense of being part of the family as a whole.
“We don’t get stuck in the rut of busy-ness, making sure people get to certain places and certain times, having certain things finished,” said Tommy Wood. “We get to enjoy our kids.”
Critics of home schooling say home schooled kids don’t receive adequate socialization with kids from different backgrounds, and are robbed of extracurricular opportunities and quality academic instruction.
“(New York Jets quarterback) Tim Tebow was home schooled,” Paul Bass said.
In some cases, home school communities field their own teams to compete with high school teams and rec teams. In other cases, such as Tebow’s, home schooled children may be allowed to play on the actual high school team.
In the arena of academics, five of Mississippi’s National Merit Scholarship semifinalists were home schooled. This distinction represents less than 1 percent of the nation’s high school seniors. Each parent agreed that their children are all avid readers.
“We can’t keep them out of a book,” Tommy Wood said.
“The home school community is very diverse,” his wife said, “Our kids have friends in public schools and they participate in church groups and clubs like 4H and Boy Scouts.”
Another aspect of socialization comes from the fact most home school families are large in comparison to mainstream families, said Diane Wood. The Basses, Beatys and Woods are evidence of this, touting four, five and seven children, respectively.
“I don’t think we have to say much about socialization,” Steve Beaty laughed, as children chased and played games with each other through the house.