Reading, Writing, and Righteousness | Feature | Chicago Reader

Reading, Writing, and Righteousness 

Why are people so crazy about home schooling?

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By Robert McClory

It's 10:30 on a Wednesday morning in May--a school day. But the six children of Laurie and John McClure are all home, just as they are every school day. Rebecca, 16, and Joshua, 14, are sitting at the kitchen table quietly filling out work sheets for a unit they've been studying on "basic life principles." The middle two, Philip, 12, and Daniel, 10, are at a table in the dining room. They've finished work sheets on their "wisdom booklets" and are moving on to more concrete subjects. The science textbook they're using is called Understanding God's World. Their mother, Laurie McClure, who's 36 and expecting her seventh child any day--any minute actually--is working on math with Rachel, 6, at a chair in the corner. Debra, 4, alternates between drawing pictures and playing with Andy, the family's two-year-old rat terrier.

McClure remains poised and in control amid all this activity, though she seems like the sort of person who remains unruffled regardless of circumstances. She can take some comfort in the knowledge that her own mother has come to help with the delivery, which, aided by a midwife, will take place in the bedroom upstairs.The children will be allowed to witness the birth if they wish. The older ones were there four years ago when Debra arrived, then went downstairs and helped bake her a birthday cake. This is a family that does just about everything together.

The McClures live in an old, rambling, four-bedroom frame house in the Austin neighborhood. There's a huge weather-beaten American flag hanging on the front of the house and few luxuries inside, other than a piano, a lot of hymn books, and individual portraits of the six children on the living-room archway.

The McClures are evangelical Christians who take their religion very seriously, and that's the major reason none of the children has ever attended a school. "No way we would have them go," says Laurie, "not with all the peer pressure, the bad attitudes, the swearing. Some of the things that get in kids' heads are impossible to ever get out."

No one knows how many children are home schooled in the United States. The U.S. Department of Education counts about 500,000. But some studies suggest the number is closer to a million--or 2 percent of all school-age children. Their numbers are growing by more than 15 percent a year. Home-schoolers come in several shapes and sizes--some follow a strict curriculum, some follow none. The families have a few common denominators: determined parents, a focused way of looking at the world, and a dissatisfaction with public education. The majority, like the McClures, are highly motivated conservative Christians.

Laurie McClure had a traumatic experience in the ninth grade. An all-A student in her downstate Illinois school, she got a D on her biology final when she refused to echo her teacher's and textbook's acceptance of evolution. Instead, she explained her belief in the creationist approach, which takes the biblical account of creation literally. "I was absolutely devastated," she says. Creationism, she notes, has implications in just about every area of her children's studies. "It's actually the basis of our belief."

The school day is quite structured at this house, with five hours devoted to study. John, 44, usually oversees the religion and values studies in the morning or evening, because he, as father and head of the home, has the "primary responsibility" to pass on the faith. During the day he works in construction with a nondenominational organization that provides funds for Christian missionary groups.

The children also have set hours for the study of ordinary subjects like math, English, and history. The oldest two have some flexibility; they're given discrete units of study that they're expected to master in a week's time, proceeding on their own schedule. Laurie, who has acquired a host of books to assist her, acts as teacher, principal, tutor, and counselor. "The Bible tells us we are to instruct our children," she says. "It's very clear in Deuteronomy. Besides, who cares more about our kids than us?"

The McClure lifestyle is exceedingly simple, almost Amish in design. There's an old black-and-white television set in the basement, but it's rarely turned on. Even public TV is "mostly humanistic," explains Laurie. "If they were to watch, I'd have to be with them all the time to point out the parts that are wrong."

The children rarely associate with other children in the neighborhood, and then only with those who belong to a small Bible church in which the family is deeply involved. Yet these kids don't appear to be chafing at the bit. Asked if he ever feels hemmed in, 14-year-old Joshua gives an answer that seems right out of those basic life principles. "If you're under authority you really have more freedom and less stress. It's better if God lays out what you're to do and not do. That takes off a lot of burdens." Rebecca, 16, says she doesn't expect to go through the usual period of teenage rebellion. "We see the way kids are today--the cliques, the way they dress, the haircuts, the way they walk. It all says rebellion. But we are called to be model Christians."

"Sometimes," says Joshua, "the walk talks louder than the talk talks."

"By their fruits ye shall know them," adds Laurie.

When not studying, these home-schoolers have plenty to do. They listen to stories on the radio (WMBI, the Moody Bible Institute station), go on trips with church members or other home-schoolers to museums and libraries, and earn money in their spare time doing odd jobs. Joshua mows lawns and repairs model trains. Rebecca volunteers at a nearby hospital, crochets, and occasionally baby-sits for neighbors, something she can do during the day when regular baby-sitters aren't available.

She plans to continue her academic studies all summer. That way she'll finish her high school book work by next Christmas and can take the ACT test for college. She hasn't yet thought about what kind of college she'd like to attend. She's considering a career in nursing and says she wouldn't be averse to marriage someday. "If the Lord would have it he has already picked out someone for me. I'm preparing for whatever is to come."

Inspired by the integrity of Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas, Joshua says he might like to be a lawyer.

"A godly lawyer," says his mother.

"Yes," he agrees. "one that would not be swayed by this world's standards."

The younger children aren't yet into careers. Daniel, ten, has an excellent memory and gladly begins reciting the 11th chapter of Hebrews with practically no encouragement. And six-year-old Rachel seems to have musical gifts. She stands by the piano, playing entirely by ear a melody that isn't immediately recognizable but seems to be either "Jesus Loves Me" or "O Come All Ye Faithful."

Advocates of teaching children at home are eager to point out that it's as American as apple pie and was the mode of learning for such stalwarts as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, and Sandra Day O'Connor. But now that home schooling has taken off, the concept and the kind of people attracted to it are being scrutinized as never before.

Studies by the National Home Education Research Institute indicate that home-school parents tend to have slightly less formal education than the national average, a somewhat smaller annual income, and a lot more children. According to the institute's surveys, most students are achievers, placing on average in the 80th percentile for their age group. Its research also claims that some 95 percent of home-school parents are born-again Christians, and almost 60 percent of these are fundamentalist evangelicals, charismatics, or Baptists. The McClures would seem to fall right in the mainstream.

But there's another, older group of home-schoolers that has its roots in the free-school movement of the 1960s and isn't grounded in Christian doctrine--or any overt religious belief, for that matter. Larry Kaseman--a Madison, Wisconsin, educator and author of Taking Charge Through Home Schooling, says other studies estimate that determined Christians constitute only half of the ever-growing home-school population. "There's really no way to tell," he says, "because home schooling is such a private affair. Families come and go in it, and people don't have to explain their reasons."

The visibility of religious home schooling probably stems from the fact that it's so organized and structured, publishes so much material, and advertises so widely. As an option, home schooling is currently a darling of the Christian Right. In June the 11th annual convention of Illinois Christian Home Educators drew more than 3,000 adults to a church in Naperville. Some 80 exhibitors were on hand busily selling Christian-oriented school materials. A plethora of publishers has emerged producing study guides, workbooks, and texts exclusively for the home-school market. One of the largest, A Beka Book Publishers of Pensacola, Florida, claims to have 125,000 students enrolled in its accredited program.

By contrast, the free-schoolers are less likely to seek specialized educational techniques and texts, using instead the newspaper or a current magazine as the text of the day. Nevertheless, there are also suppliers for this market and for the thousands of home-schoolers who don't readily fall into any category, including the Clonlara School of Ann Arbor, Michigan, which offers an accredited home-based program for the more secularly oriented. Yet the outsider image of all home schooling is so persistent that its adherents, whatever their philosophy, are drawn together at times in symbiotic relationships to protect their turf against governmental incursion. The movement makes for strange bedfellows.

There's a relaxed informality about the gathering in the basement of a west-side church on a Friday morning in May. Everything's loose and a bit chaotic. The occasion is a play directed by 11-year-old Laura Savage and featuring some 20 other children between the ages of 5 and 13. The whole production--including costumes, props, and modest scenery--has been pulled together by the kids, all of whom are members of a home-school support group with no special religious ideology. The children know one another because they regularly play and go on trips together. The audience is composed mostly of mothers, a few fathers, and a smattering of grandparents. This group has been interacting for more than five years.

Preparations for the play go on interminably, but no one seems to care. The children are in charge. Finally Savage announces that everything's ready. The play, published by the Feminist Press, is an adaptation of Kamala and the Thieves, which is set in ancient Punjab. Kamala and her rather doltish husband (who doesn't even merit a name) are in dire straits, so they appeal to the raja, who graciously gives them a few acres of hard, virtually useless wasteland to live on. One night Kamala realizes a trio of thieves is hiding outside her window, so she tells her husband in a loud voice that five pots of gold are buried on their land. He doesn't get it, but the thieves dig up the entire field. They find nothing, but they make it possible for Kamala to grow a rice crop. When the thieves return seeking revenge she tricks them into climbing a tree to look for the gold, where they encounter a hornet's nest. In slapstick fashion, the play ends with a band of small hornets stinging the fleeing thieves.

Savage is only partly successful in keeping the action under control, since she's also the narrator, line prompter, and stage manager. Compounding her problems are several tiny children who wander into the performance area to prance around and wave at their mothers. One mother decides she can't take it anymore and rushes up to snatch her three-year-old, who has wrested the raja's scepter from him and is waving it menacingly.

But Savage remains calm, almost seeming to revel in the unexpected. Her parents, Rob Savage and Jean Vondriska, smile proudly when the play's over. They've been home schooling their daughter since she was of kindergarten age, and they're doing the same for her five-year-old sister, Zoe, who performed ably as a hornet in the play.

Jean, who has a master's degree in special education and who worked as a school administrator, says organizing this production seems to have brought out latent directorial abilities in Laura, but that doesn't mean she'll be enrolled in formal theater classes. "In home school we wing it," Jean says. "Whatever comes along is an opportunity for learning." Besides trips to the library and museums and sessions with the other children in the support group, Laura may spend part of a day accompanying her father to the store to purchase supplies for his business, or she may go with him to his neighborhood police-beat meeting, or she might just read a book all day.

"I believe in unschooling," says Jean. "The child lets you know what and when she wants to learn. You just have to be there." When Laura recently discovered Monopoly she and her mother played it almost nonstop for three days. "It wasn't wasted time," says Jean. "She learned a lot about money and the whole concept of capitalism. These days parents seem to give everything to their kids--everything but time."

Jean says home schooling has done a lot for the whole family. "I think it's freed us up." Rob agrees. "We're all involved in this. Learning goes on nonstop."

Last year Rob quit his longtime job as a computer programmer and started his own venture, building kayaks in the rented house next door. He says he feels more creative now, and besides he's around all day to participate in the nonstop learning.

The founder of the freewheeling home-school community the Savage family belongs to is 54-year-old Dorothy Werner, a round earth mother whose recorded phone message announces that she's also a source of information on home births, "revaluation counseling," magic, auto repair, and food co-ops. Werner confesses she was "dragged backwards kicking and screaming" into home schooling. But once in she became a fervent apostle; she's the founder of an organization called HOUSE (Home Oriented Unique Schooling Experience). Some 17 HOUSE chapters, each with 15 or more families, are scattered around Chicago and the suburbs. "We've got all kinds," says Werner, "even some single mothers and some families where both parents work full-time. If you think it's important you can do it. The only absolute requirement is you have to like kids."

Werner, who says her ancestors as far back as the American Revolution were schoolteachers, taught in the Chicago public system for a year and a half. She became frustrated in 1975 when a third-grade teacher in a Lakeview school tied her son, Erik, then 8, to his desk because he was reading a C.S. Lewis science fiction book instead of his assigned material. She raised Cain, pulled him out, and enrolled him in an alternative school. When that school closed, she and a group of 14 other families started their own alternative venture, the Sunflower School. In 1978 she, her husband David, a teacher in the city-college system, and their four sons moved to Austin. For a while she took several of the kids on the bus back and forth to Sunflower every day, while teaching Erik at home (he was too old for Sunflower).

Not satisfied her children were getting what they needed, she read books and journals by educational theorist John Holt, including How Children Learn and Growing Without Schooling, and decided the problem wasn't certain schools or certain teachers. The problem was school--period. Holt contended that human beings are born learning and will continue to learn efficiently and enthusiastically at their own pace and in their own time unless this natural process is interrupted or halted.

"What stops them from learning every time?" asks Werner. "The public schools do that quite well. It's not the teachers' fault either. They do the best they can with a machine that doesn't work." Warming to her subject, she shares her deepest conviction: "Schools are designed to give the maximum number of children a discrete body of mediocre information. There's too many kids in class, not enough time, no individuation. They're made to learn, so they can be reinforced in the common cultural values. They don't learn to think for themselves or develop values that make sense to them."

In 1980, when she began home schooling her sons full-time, she spread the word among friends that she was launching a support group and invited anyone who was interested to her home. "I thought we'd get six or seven," she says. "Forty-three showed up in my living room. I didn't know where to put them."

That was the start of HOUSE. The U in the acronym originally stood for "unschooling," but when some newcomers found the idea too radical she changed it to "unique." For Werner and many HOUSE parents, old basics like textbooks, lesson plans, and tight schedules are all part of the problem. "Learning is a lifetime experience," she says. "It goes on all the time--everywhere if the mind stays open."

Werner's familiar with the disbelieving look on the face of parents when she talks about her passion for home schooling. And by now she can dismiss their objections the way Frank Thomas dispatches fat pitches into the stands at Comiskey Park:

Children need school time for socialization. "They can get all they need through the scouts or their church group or friends in the neighborhood. In the classroom they're entirely with other kids exactly their age doing what everyone else is doing. What kind of socialization is that?"

Parents aren't professional educators. "Kids learn from people who care about them. I've seen mothers with an eighth-grade education--or even less--who were wonderful teachers. Besides, it's the children who do the learning. A 12-year-old who's motivated can pick up all eight grades of arithmetic in about six weeks."

Schools have recreational and educational resources families can't afford. Chicago is a cornucopia of resources, says Werner. "There's the YMCA and Park District programs. The library has the latest encyclopedias and all the other books a kid could need." The museums, she adds, have mind-expanding learning opportunities far superior to anything found in a normal school."

Children need to compete scholastically with others their age. "Children need challenges," says Werner. "That's essential. But challenges come from their own innate desire to understand a difficult subject or explore some mystery or acquire a skill. It doesn't have to come from trying to prove they're better than someone else."

Werner has home schooled all of her children, including her youngest son, Tim, now 13. The older four, now on their own and working, took classes at the city colleges, and one earned a degree. But their mother doesn't put much stock in degrees, which she calls "tickets."

"If you need one to get into something you're really interested in, then you go and get it," she says. "Otherwise there's no value in degrees or testing people to see what they know. Tests are based on short-term memory; studies show that three weeks after a test the student has forgotten 60 percent of the information."

Werner's son, Erik Wessing, the one who was tied to his desk by a teacher, is now 29, has been married for five years, and lives in Evanston. He says home schooling made him impatient with the repetition and slow progress he encountered when he started formal classes in the city-college system. The main advantage, he adds, is "it taught me to read with a capital R--that is, I know how to look things up, how to dig out information." He attended college for several years, then worked as a computer programmer, became a printer, and later worked in a bookstore. Now he's studying to be a travel agent. Home schooling, he says, "tends to give one a broad range of interests."

Werner volunteers with a variety of organizations that support home schools. One of these, the Ad Hoc Committee for Illinois Home Education Legal and Legislative Matters, joins free-schoolers like her with Christian conservatives in the continuing effort to keep the movement unharnessed. In 1985 they rallied to help defeat a bill in the Illinois Senate that would have required all home-schoolers to register with the state. Similar bills emerge every year or so, but the committee has thus far managed to get them scuttled before they come up for a vote. The committee is divided on how to respond to the recently proposed Parental Rights amendment. On the surface it looks like a clear endorsement of the freedom home-schoolers want. But Werner fears it would open a can of worms by permitting a reevaluation of all existing legislation affecting parents as teachers.

Illinois has no restrictions or requirements for parents who teach their children at home, other than an obligation to provide instruction in the English language and to cover social science, math, and reading for every home-schooled child between the ages of 7 and 16. But compliance is virtually never checked, unless a student transfers back into a regular school or takes an admission test for college.

Some states require that home-schoolers be registered, and some test the children at regular intervals. But national groups such as the Home School Legal Defense Association, headquartered in Virginia, have reversed restrictions through court action in many states.

Today some 250 colleges, including Harvard and Yale, accept home-schooled applicants. But most such students seeking college credits seem to gravitate toward community college or small, private, often religiously affiliated institutions. Admissions directors at several Chicago-area universities say they rarely encounter home-schooled applicants and keep no special records on their performance.

Home-schooling critics do exist, though few are willing to go on record for fear of sounding mean-spirited. The official position of the National Education Association is straightforward and succinct: "Home-school programs cannot provide students with a comprehensive educational experience."

Also direct is Mary McCarthy, an Indiana University professor of education, who believes home schooling doesn't turn out balanced students: "It lacks diversity in ideas. At some point the state has to take a stand on what values, like diversity, all students must be taught."

The movement came under scrutiny in April when seven-year-old Jessica Dubroff, along with her father and her trainer, was killed in the crash of their light plane near Cheyenne, Wyoming. Free-spirit Jessica was trying to become the youngest person ever to fly across the country--and she was a home-schooler. Some editorials intimated that this is what we can expect when children are given unlimited choices, but the murmuring quickly subsided. "There's no such thing as a home-school pilot program," said Scott Somerville of the Home School Legal Defense Association. "It's just an aberration that a family would try something that different."

But Illinois state representative Douglas Hoeft, a Republican from Kane County, says he's seen some pretty weird aberrations. Formerly the Kane County superintendent of schools, Hoeft used his position to check up personally on reports of home-school abuse and uncovered quite a few. In one case, he says, a mother who claimed she wanted to shield her sixth-grader from the "abominations of the world," was actually running a house of prostitution and didn't want her daughter talking to other children about her home life; when the girl was finally placed in a local school, she could read only at a second-grade level. In another case a father kept his daughter home so he could sexually abuse her. Hoeft also uncovered a street gang in Aurora whose members, apparently with the collaboration of their parents, were using home schooling as their excuse for not attending classes.

Hoeft insists he regards home schooling as a "wonderful movement," and he believes the vast majority of parents are doing "a fantastic job." He's uneasy about the absence of even minimal governmental oversight, but he's not about to introduce legislation in Springfield. "There's no more paranoid group in the world than home-schoolers," he says. "There's a lot of zealotry out there. They are absolutely determined. So I have to ask myself if it's worth the effort." He says that the last time a very mild bill that would have required only that home-schoolers be registered was discussed in the education committee, "200 little home-schoolers, each armed with a civics project, arrived to show us the great work they were doing." The bill died.

Werner regards the instances of abuse Hoeft reported as sporadic and so bizarre as to be almost unbelievable. As a council member of the National Homeschool Association, she expects the movement to continue to grow, especially in its conservative, Christian religious manifestations. Some of the appeal comes, as it always has, from the depressed state of public education, but a lot, she says, comes from fear. "People are closing doors and pulling down the shades. They read about rampant crime and sexual liberty and illegal aliens crowding in on us. The world looks bad. They want safety and stability." For them especially, the highly motivated, efficiently run Christian home-school industry has a lot to offer.

A pioneer and leading light in that industry is the Reverend Paul Lindstrom, founder of the Christian Liberty Academy headquartered in Arlington Heights. Lindstrom, a voluble, bearded man of 56 who seems to be delivering a sermon even when he's engaged in ordinary conversation, is also a kind of superpatriot gadfly. In the 1960s, as a major organizer of the Remember the Pueblo Committee, he demanded that the United States intervene militarily in North Korea. In the 1970s he tried to form commando units to free Americans held in Laos. In the 1980s he supported the contras trying to overthrow the government in Nicaragua.

His office is a living shrine to conservative Christianity and old-style patriotism. A bronzed etching of the Constitution hangs on the wall behind his chair, and countless knickknacks commemorating heroes such as Douglas MacArthur (who was home schooled) and Ronald Reagan are scattered about. An autographed picture of Oliver North, inscribed with congratulations to Lindstrom for "raising them up right," sits prominently on a shelf.

Three years ago Lindstrom hit the front pages of the Chicago dailies when he made an offer to Mayor Richard Daley and the Chicago Board of Education. If the city would loan him one of its vacant school buildings, his operation would refurbish and staff the school and accept neighborhood kids on a first-come, first-served basis. If by the end of the school year his students were significantly outperforming students at neighboring schools, the board would reimburse him for a portion of its expenses and provide Lindstrom with two additional schools for the next year. If the kids didn't do so well, the board would owe nothing and Lindstrom would go away. He was turned down without comment by Daley. A Chicago Teachers Union spokesman was less polite. With the school system already in such a mess, said Jackie Gallagher, "it's a perfect time for someone like him to step in with a perfectly inane kind of concept of building a religious school pyramid style."

Lindstrom had insisted the school would not have an explicit religious ideology. Still, it's difficult to imagine him involved in anything without a religious ideology.

Seated in the office that once served the superintendent of the Arlington Heights School District, he chuckles at his naivete in making the offer. "I think some around the mayor really supported us, but there were just too many minefields."

Lindstrom was running a small Christian school in Prospect Heights in the late 1960s when he was approached by a couple on Chicago's south side who were teaching their children at home and wanted to have Christian materials to use. He was glad to oblige and was soon accommodating a dozen or more home-school families. In 1974 he sensed he was on the cutting edge of a trend and took out an ad for his home-school idea. He quickly added 200 more families. Since then the number has been growing exponentially; in 1985 he bought an Arlington Heights high school building, which was empty because new schools had been built and attendance was dwindling.

Today the sprawling 12-acre campus is the site of the 600-student Christian Liberty Academy day school. More important, it's the headquarters of a gigantic, nongeographical school system serving 40,000 students in every state and 56 foreign countries. The Christian Liberty Academy Satellite Schools (CLASS) is one of the largest home-school operations in the country, with some 125 employees interacting with parents and children they're unlikely ever to meet face-to-face. For $200 to $300 a year a student can get an accredited education from kindergarten through senior high.

Lindstrom says he puts so much effort into home schooling because the public school system is "an antiquated, multibillion-dollar rip-off." Public education was a "bad idea from the start and it hasn't gotten any better since." According to Lindstrom, academic decline is the major reason parents are attracted to CLASS. "Kids aren't reading, they're not absorbing information, they're not mastering the three Rs. There's too much wasted time." But even if the schools were performing at an acceptable level, Lindstrom wouldn't be satisfied because, by definition, they've eliminated the religious dimension.

"You see," he declares, "all facts are God-ordained--all facts! Whatever is true in any branch of knowledge is true because he has made it so. Therefore you have to view life from a worldview that places God at the center, not man. The founding fathers based the Constitution on Bible principles. I'm more interested in God's ideas about economics than Dole's or Clinton's ideas. This notion of spending ourselves out of debt is far removed from what scripture tells us."

The creationist theory is a foundation stone in the Lindstrom curriculum. It maintains that the universe was formed by God in six days of 24 hours each, with each species, plant and animal, individually created. And it all happened several thousand years ago, as the Bible says, not millions of years. Evolutionary theory is only theory, Lindstrom insists, and it has feet of clay. "Now don't get me wrong. We present both sides to the students, and we ask them which model presents the more logical picture. Teachers in public education can't do that."

Creationism has been repeatedly rejected by the vast majority of the scientific community as bad science and by leading theologians as a rigid, wrongheaded interpretation of the Bible. I ask Lindstrom if one may be permitted to interpret the six days of creation as a literary device illustrating God as the origin of all that is and not as a you-are-there account of how the universe came to be. No, he says, noting that the word for "day" in Genesis is a special word used for the 24-hour day throughout the Hebrew Old Testament.

This literal mind-set affects just about everything in the CLASS curriculum. Mathematics instruction, for instance, begins by explaining that ten is "God's basic number for measurement." That's why there were ten patriarchs, ten plagues, and ten commandments. Arithmetic reveals God's "three-in-one nature," allowing the student to move forward (through addition and multiplication) or backward (through subtraction and division) into infinity, just as God moves. History emphasizes the religion of each nation that's studied, and students are urged to determine in what way "the people and their ruler were disobedient to God's law" to explain the defeats or catastrophes that nation experienced. In economics the capitalist, free-enterprise system is extolled as God's approved method of honoring free will, rewarding honest work, and protecting against needless debt. Even art is Christianized. The subject portrayed in art "should always be rational and recognizable," otherwise some subliminal communication "meant to manipulate the thinking of the viewer" may occur.

Everything in Lindstrom's operation is tightly run, from customer service to research and development. In the curriculum department a staff designs individual, yearlong study plans for each of the students, depending on their interests, needs, and past performance. About 900 to 1,000 of these tailored curricula (along with the appropriate textbooks) are mailed out every week. In the peak season of late August the staff works 12 hours a day, six days a week to handle the rush. In the grading department 20 people labor in cubicles, correcting and marking students' submissions so that they can be quickly returned to parents. A sophisticated computer department churns out curriculum documents and materials. A mail room that's more like a factory dock is awash in packages of texts, workbooks, and tapes that are being boxed and readied for delivery--about eight pounds of material per student.

This enterprise isn't a business in the normal sense, according to Monty Johnson, marketing director for CLASS. "Education is a battlefield," he says. "It's cultural warfare--we're fighting for the hearts and minds of children!"

Laurie McClure had her seventh baby in early June, just a few days late. Along with the midwife, Laurie's mother, and two nurses, the children and their father witnessed the arrival of Lydia, who weighed in at eight pounds, 15 ounces. Philip, 12, oversaw the baking of the birthday cake, apparently now a tradition. Laurie felt so well she was able to attend home-school promotion night at her church only six days later. Although the summer schedule will be more relaxed, formal studies will continue for her children at least two days a week.

The entire Savage family recently got involved in the children's education for the better part of a day when Laura found an injured bluejay in the backyard. All other activity ceased while the creature was examined, books on birds were scanned, and animal-control officers were contacted for instructions. The bird took a bit of nourishment and was housed in a box in the basement where it would be safe from the rabbits, the guinea pig, and the gerbil. Their nonstop learning will continue through the summer too.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photos by Chip Williams.

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