(PHOTO: Elizabeth Banes, an 8-year-old third-grader, works on a drawing in her home-based classroom. The Banes family chose home education rather than public or private schools, an alternative that has grown in popularity around the state, as is evidenced by the recent proclamation of May 13-19 as Home Education Week. – photo by Adam Armour)
By ADAM ARMOUR
Elizabeth Banes and her four siblings worked contentedly in the small classroom … until the dog entered the room.
Then it was kind of chaotic, until their mother, Michelle, scooted the dog away and told her children to calm down. Back to work they went — quietly, whole-heartedly and willingly, as if nothing ever happened.
Although this scene probably would have wreaked havoc in a public school room, the Baneses educational environment is anything but public. It’s nestled just off the entranceway of their Fulton home, a small, comfortable affair where the five children work every weekday.
Home-based classrooms are more common than most probably think. According to a 2003 report from the U.S. Department of Education, 1.1 million students nationwide were educated at home. Additionally, national studies have shown that a high percentage of home-educated students go on to obtain advanced degrees. Area homeschoolers often meet for field trips or just child-to-child interaction, and even have graduation ceremonies. It’s school without the bells and lockers — and for many people, it’s a better way for their children to learn.
The state of Mississippi is getting on board. Gov. Haley Barbour recently proclaimed this week to be Mississippi Home Education Week in an effort to bring some much-needed attention and understanding to this often overlooked method of child instruction.
“It shows that the state is looking at home education as an option — a good option,” Michelle said as her children, who range from first- to eighth-graders, worked. “I’ve heard so many people speak negatively about home education, so maybe this will help.”
Michelle and her husband, Stephen, aren’t overly concerned with the opinions of other people, however. Home education has worked well for them for years, without a single child in their family having attended either a public or private school. As young parents, the Baneses were exposed to the idea of home education by their pastor, and after a lot of thought and prayer, decided to homeschool their oldest child, Justin.
“We can control a lot of the negative influences that may be going on in public schools,” Stephen said.
“I think it makes a closer family,” Michelle added. “We’re together a lot. They’re close because they play together, and when we go out they are very well-behaved and I think that has a lot to do with it.”
The school set up for the Banes children is much like that of a public school. Class starts at 8 a.m., with Michelle stepping up as teacher, and doesn’t come to a close until the children have finished their school work for the day. They learn lessons for each subject and take tests — but the small setting allows for individualized lesson planning and specific focuses for each student. Michelle can target the specific strengths and weaknesses of each of her children, and work with them.
“These are my children. I want them to be exceptionally smart; I want them to do very well, so I’m going to make sure they do their work,” Michelle said.
**A learning process**
Dustin Eades just recently completed his first full year of being educated by his mother, Stephanie, and things have been going pretty well. But Dustin, who’s an 11-year-old fifth-grader, isn’t the only one who’s been learning this past year.
“This year had its challenges,” Stephanie said, citing some difficulties in choosing the right math book for Dustin’s level, and adding with a laugh, “Plus, I guess any mom and child have their good days and bad days.”
Although new to teaching out of her home, Stephanie is no stranger to the world of education. Having worked as a substitute teacher for several years, and currently earning her M.A., and later doctorate, in education, she prides herself in being able to provide the best learning environment for her son. Of course, this means she has to work even harder than he does.
“It takes a lot of organization, and I’m not nearly as organized as I need to be,” Stephanie said. “But, I’m a stickler as far as schoolwork goes. I believe that, if your child is going to get an education, he is going to have to do the work.”
What bothers her is the lax interest the state takes in the jobs home educators are doing. Stephanie is fairly outspoken on the topic of state requirements, and how they aren’t up to par.
“I don’t have to turn in anything to the state that shows what I’m teaching my son,” Stephanie explained dishearteningly. “With the governor promoting this as Home Education Week, it really is a shame that there are no rules or guidelines, [dictating that] you go in … and they test to see if your child is learning what he/she should be learning.”
She explained that this could be, and probably is, an issue with some parents who have pulled their children out of public schools. Although there are achievement tests that allow the parents to know how the students are performing — something that both she and the Baneses require their children to take — these are not mandated by the state. Children can be pulled out of school with little explanation, and no follow up by the state itself, which many responsible homeschoolers find a little frightening.
“Homeschooling is not for everyone,” Stephanie explained. “If you have a child who does not want to learn, and parents who don’t what level their child is on curriculum-wise, it makes things very difficult … If you have parents who are not dedicated to their child’s education, and they don’t teach the child, then that child can’t grow up and function in today’s society. It’s really scary, and there should be rules and guidelines.”
Still, recognizing home education as a viable and important alternative to public or private schools gives both the Baneses and Eadeses a good feeling.
“It means that the state of Mississippi and the United States accept home education, and they accept it on the same level as public or private schooling,” Stephanie said. “That said, there should be certain rules and guidelines that each state sets for parents to go by. Whether it’s standardized testing or whatever, there should be rules and guidelines that each family has to abide by for the sake of the child.”
Change may be slow in coming, but Mississippi Home Education Week is a step in the right direction for families like the Banes and Eadeses and the thousands of others across the state who want to take a more personal role in their children's education.
“For people who want something different for their children, there are resources out there,” she said. “You are not alone.”