Not since Common Core was introduced has there been a bigger surge of interest in home schooling than when Gov. Gary Herbert recently announced that children attending K-12 public schools would have to wear masks.
Many parents rightly recognize the futility of ensuring that young children remain masked for hours a day — what with runny noses and sneezing, itching, difficulty speaking or reading a teacher’s lips, and the temptation to mess with what is essentially a face diaper. This rigid line in the sand — mandated for all schools, even in rural areas — has now caused many to seek out alternative educational options for their children that don’t suffocate their kids.
Enter home schooling. In Utah, it’s easy to begin. Parents simply submit a notarized affidavit to the local school district, and voila — their children are exempt from the state’s punitive compulsory education laws. There are no requirements for curriculum or testing; parents have the power and freedom to choose the education system and style that best suits their children.
Utah law clearly states that parents possess “a fundamental liberty interest in the care, custody and management of the parent’s children.” The law also recognizes that parents have “the right, obligation, responsibility, and authority to … educate” their children, and that “the state’s role is secondary and supportive to the primary role of a parent.”
While the majority of parents have long solicited the services of this “secondary” support system, COVID-19 has caused many to reconsider whether their children should continue attending public school. In one national poll, 60% of parents said they will likely choose at-home learning rather than send their children back to school. Thirty percent were “very likely” to keep their children home.
This trend has been validated by two additional national polls. In one of them, 52% of parents said their opinion of home schooling has recently become more favorable (28% said “much more favorable”). In the other, over 40% of parents said they were more likely to pursue alternative options other than sending their children to school.
These polls predate the mask mandate, which only exacerbates the concern of sending children to school. And if only a fraction of these percentages follow through in their stated desire to home-school, that means a surge of millions of children across the country embarking on this new educational journey (which also will reduce class size in public schools). This peak in interest even caused North Carolina’s website to crash after so many parents were submitting their notices of intent to home-school.
Fortunately, there are many support systems for parents jumping into this new world. There are an abundance of home schooling Facebook groups with veterans willing to share their ideas on curriculum, scheduling, activities, school/life balance and much more. And throughout the state there are co-ops of families who gather together to provide classes, activities, and support. Utahn parents interested in home-schooling need only spend a few minutes googling or asking for help on social media before they are inundated with friendly families willing to lend a hand.
Some parents might be concerned about academic rigor and whether their children might fall behind. Not to worry — research repeatedly shows that home-schooled children perform as well as, or better than, their public school peers. Giving children time and the freedom to pursue things they are interested in, rather than forcing them to learn topics dictated by a faceless curriculum committee, tends to produce positive results. We all want to be treated as unique individuals — and home-schooling facilitates this essential human desire.
All of the above is not to say that everything is easy or convenient about home-schooling. One particular problem is the financial injustice created by Utah law that taxes parents for others’ education but does not let them keep their money to educate their own children. Home-schooling families should be able to keep their income tax — 100% of which goes to the government education system — to use for their own children’s education expenses.
But despite the challenges of home-schooling, nearly every family who uses this alternative (or, one might say, traditional) education format will sing its praises. More free time, improved mental health for children, better retention of knowledge, personalization and more benefits quickly excite and energize parents who make the decision to ditch school and try something else.
For any parents on the fence, consider home-schooling for a single semester. Sign the affidavit, make some plans, join forces with a few families in your area and give it a try. Returning to public school is always an option, but you might one day regret not taking advantage of this opportunity to give your children a more personal — and mask-free — experience.
Connor Boyack is president of Libertas Institute, author of “Passion-Driven Education” and alongside his wife, a home-schooling parent of two children in Lehi.