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Home schooling attractive alternative to some Christian families

By Katie Riordan

Whether it’s their first choice for a better education or a last resort when schooling has failed, more and more New Zealand families are keeping their children out of the classroom and teaching them at home. Many are Christian.

Like 75 to 80 percent of home schooling families, the Greenwoods are Christians and bible study is one of their core subjects. With Mum, Janine as their teacher, the Greenwood children – aged 11 (twins), nine and seven – not only learn Christian values, they are required to live by them.

For children to stay out of school, a Ministry of Education exemption certificate is required from age six. The Education Review Office (ERO) can make inspections of home schooling families to assess the children’s education, although these inspections are infrequent.

The Greenwoods purchase their curriculum from the United States, and make adjustments to suit the children. Janine is a former teacher and she focuses on academic learning. Within their structured home-school hours, there is time for lots of extracurricular activities, however.

During my visit I am struck by the maturity of the Greenwood children. Seven-year-old Matthew makes me a perfect cup of tea, and serves it to me with a home made cookie. He’s happy to help, and seems to take pride in serving a guest.

Despite a quite intensive learning programme, Jason, Jeffrey, Shaina and Matthew Greenwood say they love being home schooled, and wouldn’t change it for anything. As well as their schoolwork, they ice-skate, golf and play music. They are learning instruments and play with an orchestra.

Janine Greenwood would like to see changes to how home schooling parents are treated by the government. While she receives the home schooling subsidy she says it is not enough. “We are certainly not paid appropriately”. She would also like to see her job as a home educator officially recognised for ACC purposes, and suggests import levies be waived for home schoolers who import curriculum from overseas have.

Christian home schooling parent Craig Smith has run the Home Education Foundation since 1986. The foundation offers advice and information for home schooling families and publishes a journal and newsletter on home schooling that covers political and legislative issues, plus international and local trends in education.

Craig takes issue with some of Janine’s suggestions. He believes any increase in government funding would inevitably lead to more controls over how parents educate their children at home. “Where government money goes, government controls follow. I strongly object to the ERO coming into my home and sitting in judgement of my family’s lifestyle, sitting in judgement of my interactions with my own child”.

New Zealand’s education system is a major reason Craig decided to home school. He says schools could do nothing to entice him back into mainstream education.

“They need to go back to old fashioned values and discipline”, he says, adding that reading, writing, arithmetic, science, history and geography with a little PE are all schools should teach. “They’ve got to dump all social studies,” he emphasises, “and get rid of all the political correctness. We need zero tolerance, high standards and some sort of recourse for teachers in regards to discipline.”

Home schooling advocates unanimously rate socialisation as the biggest concern other people have for children kept out of school. Taking home-schooled children out and about during normal school hours inevitably draws the curiosity and disapproval of strangers.

Nine-year-old Shaina Greenwood says: “Some people think we’re stupid. We really have to prove ourselves, and then they think we’re really smart.” Her brothers nod in agreement.

Janine is amused by the reaction of some strangers. “The only thing they really seem to worry about is whether they get enough social interaction. Then they go and they tell you how their children mixed with the wrong element at school and fell off the rails. They contradict themselves.”

Contrary to what outsiders fear, home schooled children often show more maturity than their schooled peers. Craig puts this down to the classroom structure. “Putting a kid in with 30 kids the same age is not a great way to teach manners or morals,” he says.

Christian home schooling groups offer group activities and outings for members. The Greenwood children’s social contacts come from their Church. They include peers who are at school and others who are home schooled.