ERIC Identifier: ED459971
Publication Date: 2001-12-00
Author: Jaycox, Rebecca
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Rural Education and Small Schools Charleston WV.
Rural Home Schooling and Place-Based Education. ERIC Digest.
Place-based education, which draws from local culture, history, and geography
to create a meaningful curriculum, can occur in any type of setting, but it
holds particular promise for rural homeschooling. Place-based educators use
local particulars to teach universal concepts, engage students in community
life, and involve people and resources unique to the home community. This Digest
identifies ways that place-based education can counter common concerns about
homeschooling so that homeschooled students--especially those living in rural
areas--receive academic, social, and individual benefits.
HOMESCHOOLING IN THE RURAL UNITED STATES
According to the
National Center for Education Statistics, an estimated 850,000 U.S. students
were being homeschooled in 1999, comprising 1.7 percent of the nation's
school-age population. In rural areas, the percentage of homeschooled students
was 2.2 percent--slightly higher than the national average. About one third
(32.4 percent) of the homeschooling population lives in rural areas as defined
by the U.S. Census classification (Bielick, Chandler, & Broughman, 2001).
Parents who commit to homeschooling do so for a variety of reasons. Nearly
half believe they can give their children a better education at home; others
have religious reasons (38 percent) or consider the learning environments at
their local schools to be of poor quality (Bielick, Chandler, & Broughman,
2001). A small percentage (2.7) of parents indicated "transportation
convenience" as an important reason for homeschooling. A recent study did
document long bus rides for rural students (about a quarter lasting more than an
hour each way), often over poor or mountainous roads (Howley & Howley,
2001). Regardless of the reasons, interest and participation in homeschooling
PLACE-BASED EDUCATION AND RURAL HOMESCHOOLING
who homeschool have an opportunity to instill in their children an appreciation
for local values and places, and to integrate the local ecology and economy into
the students' education. Orr (1992) gives several reasons for integrating
place-based study into education:
to join intellect with experience
to address problems of overspecialization in the world today
to help people learn how to live well where they are
to strengthen understanding of the significance of relationships among different
places, both local and global
such an approach, which can be employed in schools or at home, young people can
learn more about how to live productive and meaningful lives in their home
communities (Haas & Nachtigal, 1998).
Homeschooling offers opportunities to take different, more individualized
approaches to instruction and curriculum in order to capitalize on students'
interests and learning preferences and community learning opportunities. In
other words, the flexibility inherent in homeschooling can be used to students'
advantage in various ways.
Although studying homeschoolers is a difficult task (Hill, 2000), evidence
reveals that homeschoolers do not always grasp the opportunity to vary from
traditional classroom approaches (Webb, 1990). Some stick to traditional
educational practices (such as fixed schedules, structured study environments,
and standardized curricula and tests) whether or not these practices serve
educational goals (Whitehead & Bird, 1984). However, a study of more than
1,600 families (Ray, 1997) showed that 71 percent of homeschooling parents
design their own curricula, compared with nearly 24 percent who purchase and use
a complete curriculum package.
HOMESCHOOLING'S EFFECTS ON SOCIETY
One concern surrounding
the homeschooling movement is that personal independence and self-sufficiency
will take precedence over what is best for society at large. Critical observers
of homeschooling argue that those who practice this form of education are giving
up on solving common problems and that social stratification is a consequence of
their actions (Apple, 2000; Lubienski,2000). Underlying these concerns are
commitments to the common school, including shared goals and strengthening
In response, supporters--also arguing from a critical perspective--contend
that the current public education system is defined more by national economic
interests than by local concerns and commitments (Davidson, 1996). People making
this argument view homeschoolers' exit from the public school system as a
withdrawal from political and business control, rather than as a withdrawal from
society and the common good (Van Galen & Pitman, 1991).
For other supporters of homeschooling, withdrawal from society may indeed be
one of the goals. Van Galen (1991) explains that religious conservatives who
have chosen homeschooling usually want their children to learn a religious way
of life and develop conservative social and political perspectives. These
parents establish homeschools to teach their children that "the family is the
most important institution in society" (p. 35).
Public schools may not be doing any better at creating societal cohesion than
homeschoolers, however. Research has shown that graduates of large, diverse
public high schools are "less" likely than homeschooled youth to express
tolerant attitudes, to volunteer time and money for social causes, or to
participate in community events (Hill, 2000).
HOMESCHOOLING AND SOCIALIZATION
Both supporters and
opponents of homeschooling emphasize the importance of learning necessary social
skills (Webb, 1990; Whitehead & Bird, 1984). A major criticism of
homeschooling is the social isolation of the student (Van Galen & Pitman,
1991). However, the public school process of sorting children by age and ability
and isolating them from their parents and siblings can produce its own forms of
social isolation (Howley, DeYoung, & Theobald, 1996). The tacit lesson in
such an arrangement can be conformity (Van Galen & Pitman, 1991).
Medlin (2000) separates the socialization issue into three goals that can
guide home educators:
participation of homeschooled children in daily routines of their local
acquisition of rules of behavior and systems of beliefs and attitudes needed
both during their education and later in life
ability to function effectively as contributing members of society
Attending to these socialization goals may help guide parents in planning
activities that encompass a concern for others, whether they live in one's own
rural community or in a distant city or nation.
ACADEMIC VALUE OF METHODS AND CURRICULUM
of homeschooling is that modern teaching methods and materials are not always
used. Underlying this criticism is an assumption that professional educators
generally know "what works" to educate children--a much debated assumption. What
is clearer is that both groups of educators--public school teachers and
homeschooling parents--can be overwhelmed by the number of subjects that need to
A growing number of educators in small schools and homeschools have
discovered that place-based methodologies can be used to integrate separate
disciplines and subject matter with home and community projects. Student
interests combine with daily living activities and practical experience in a
variety of interconnected subjects to help children gain both practical and
academic knowledge (Webb, 1990).
Activities specific to place-based education might concentrate on community
themes, local occupations and hobbies, local government and history, or
community concerns (Knapp, 1996). The homeschooled student can be guided to
collect, organize, and analyze relevant information; produce a worthwhile
project or result from their study; and reflect on and self-assess progress.
A well-known example of rural place-based education is Foxfire, initiated by
Eliot Wigginton in the late 1960s (Wigginton, 1985). Youth interviewed members
of the local community, unearthing and publishing a multitude of stories from
the residents. Foxfire has grown into a teaching and learning method used in a
variety of educational settings. The method stresses 11 core ideals that include
active learning; an audience beyond the teacher; and connections among the
classroom work, surrounding communities, and the world beyond (Foxfire Fund,
Another example of community-based learning is the PACERS Small Schools
Cooperative, initiated by the University of Alabama, in which students have
become community historians, scientists, and artists (PACERS, 2001).
Participating schools incorporate local needs into the curriculum, creating
projects as varied as a community newspaper and a small business that builds
computers for local residents (Cedar Bluff School, 2001; Gaylesville School,
One innovative program, "Elders' Wisdom, Children's Song," encourages
communication between older community members and school-age children. Students
interview community elders and develop songs, plays, public recitations,
artwork, and publications based on their stories (Community Celebration of
Although rural areas may lack such homeschooling resources as museums,
Internet communications, and expansive libraries, other assets abound, as these
school-based examples illustrate. The knowledge and experience of elders, the
close proximity to the natural environment, and the skills and practical
knowledge of rural residents who live without metropolitan conveniences can be
valuable resources for homeschooling. By utilizing these unique resources,
students may obtain practical experience in a variety of interconnected
subjects. The community becomes not only the classroom but also the audience for
the students' accomplishments (Knapp, 1996).
Homeschooling parents can guide their children in
discovering and appreciating the values, economy, history, and ecology of their
home communities. At the same time, they can provide for children's academic
learning and social development. These goals can be reached by planning
activities that combine real-life experience with academic learning; using an
interdisciplinary approach; and working in cooperation with others in the
community to accomplish projects or produce useful products. Rural homeschools
offer unusual flexibility and opportunities for practicing a place-based
approach to education that can benefit both the students and their communities.
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Lubienski, C. (2000). Whither the common good? A critique of home schooling.
Peabody Journal of Education, 75(1 & 2), 207-32.
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Peabody Journal of Education, 75(1 & 2), 107-23.
Orr, D. W. (1992). Ecological literacy: Education and the transition to a
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PACERS Small Schools Cooperative. (2001). Tuscaloosa, Alabama: University of
Alabama. Retrieved December 18, 2001, from http://www.pacers.org
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