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Saturday, October 25, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Hans Zeiger / NEXT team

There's no place like home: Home-school students prove success of alternative

For years, Americans have been concerned about the moral and academic deterioration of the public schools.

Fortunately, an increasing number of parents and their children are finding refuge from the public schools in the home-schooling movement.

Unfortunately, CBS Evening News declared war on home-schooling in a recent special report.

On Oct. 14, CBS presented a false exposure of the "dangers" of home-schooling titled, "A Dark Side to Home-schooling."

In the report, CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather and correspondent Vince Gonzales portrayed the home-schooling movement as a grisly, abusive, underground network of human-rights violators.

Gonzales went so far as to suggest that states should require extensive regulations and parental background checks in order for the "largely unregulated" home-schooling movement to be legal.

"Unlike teachers," Gonzales said, "parents need virtually no qualifications to home-school. Not one state requires criminal background checks to see if parents have abuse convictions."

One "child advocate" who was interviewed on CBS said that home-schooling allows "persons who maltreat children to maintain social isolation in order for the abuse and neglect to remain undetected."

The CBS report focused exclusively on a few bad home-school families, some of whose names are recognizable — like Andrea Yates, who drowned her young children in the bathtub.

Whatever CBS was trying to prove in its special report, the few home-schooling horror stories are hardly notable in contrast with the vast, achromatic hull of the sinking public schools.

When I was in the intermediate grades of a public elementary school, I became concerned with the lack of emphasis on character development in the classroom. I knew something was wrong with the secularized, morally neutralized situation I had been in since kindergarten. My fourth-grade sex-education manual was required reading, but the Bible was a banned book.

With my parents' willingness and prayer, I chose to be home-schooled during my junior-high-school years. Leaving the government indoctrination center at which I'd spent my early years, I don't believe I missed out on much.

In fact, I was able to study at my own pace, get my work done early in the day, and I had additional time for hobbies, volunteering on a political campaign, and participating in orchestra, track and wrestling at the local junior-high school.

Home-school students are involved in more extracurricular activities than their peers, from internships and community college courses to hobby clubs and regular community service.

After being elected as a student body officer my ninth-grade year, I headed back to the public junior high with a glorified vision of becoming a student leader and a campus Christian missionary. I started out with more hope in the public schools than when I graduated earlier this year.

Having been a part of both the home-school movement and the public-school morass, I would now go so far as to recommend that parents not place their children in a public school at all.

The home-schooling community, as a general rule, is built on moral absolutes, not moral confusion; on self-responsibility, not self-esteem; on excellence, not excuses.

As a result, home-school students have won many of the recent national geography, spelling and history bees. Home-school students consistently score higher on the ACT and SAT college-entrance exams.

And home-school students are living proof that money is not the key to good education. According to the Ethan Allen Institute, the typical cost of home-schooling is only one-fifth of the cost of public schooling.

CBS has positioned itself as an irrational foe of home-schooling. If home-school graduates really are as successful as they seem, CBS may soon regret having made such an enemy.

Hans Zeiger is a freshman at Hillsdale College in Michigan and an '03 graduate of Puyallup High School. E-mail: NEXT@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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