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Homeschooling: It's not just for the evangelical Christians anymore

Jean Gordon

August 16, 2003

Margaret Valentine, right, and her 9-year-old son Stuart review math in their living room. Stuart is homeschooled by his mother and studies a curriculum yearround.

Tending to three Nigerian goats in his family's back yard teaches Stuart Valentine how to be trustworthy - one of the virtues of his family's Baha'i faith.

Stuart, a 9-year-old Choudrant boy, has been homeschooled since the first grade. With his mother's guidance and coaching, Stuart studies such subjects as Spanish, life science and social studies throughout the year.

Stuart's mother, Margaret Valentine, said along with building an academic base, homeschooling affords her son the time to develop a strong spiritual foundation.

"Religious education goes throughout the whole thing," Valentine said.

Homeschooling has been legal in Louisiana since 1980, with an estimated 15,000 children in the state currently educated at home. Research has found that the homeschooling trend in the United States has primarily been among white, middle-class Christian families who - for religious reasons - choose to teach their children at home.

In fact, a 2002 U.S. Census bureau study found that 33 percent of parents who homeschool cited religion as their primary motivation.

But as homeschooling has become more popular - the National Center for Education Statistics reported that roughly 850,000 children were homeschooled in 1999 - people of different faiths and cultures have joined the movement to educate their children at home.

To network with other families who homeschool, Valentine, 49, said she visits Baha'i homeschool chat lists on the Internet and introduces herself to parents and children she encounters in parks, libraries and department stores.

"If I see someone with a child during the day at Wal-Mart, I know they homeschool," she said.

But because Valentine is not a Christian - like most homeschoolers in the region - she said she tries to determine whether people will be open to developing a friendship with her and her son.

And as a non-Christian, Valentine is ineligible to join the region's only homeschool group, the Northeast Louisiana Christian Homeschool Association.

About 120 local families belong to the organization, which provides support and extracurricular activities such as field trips, 4-H clubs and debate teams, said member Johnene Dobernig.

Dobernig, 40, said people who join the association must sign a profession of faith in God and salvation through belief in Jesus.

"For so many Christian homeschoolers this is really about belief," Dobernig said, adding that she views homeschooling as a ministry that requires a personal conviction.

The advantage of the association is that it brings people together who have similar morals and faith, said Dobernig, a former school teacher.

To help students learn about different cultures and practice civic responsibility, Dobernig said most group members participate in community service projects.

Crystal Matherne of Monroe said she homeschools her eight children because she wants them to get a quality Catholic education.

"I knew I could give them a better education in their faith," she said.

Matherne, 38, said she doesn't belong to any homeschool groups because she simply does not have the time.

"There are so many of us," she said. "We are so busy."

Matherne, who is pregnant with her ninth child, said her oldest children, who are in the sixth to 12th grades, keep busy with the local theater, youth symphony and with babysitting.

Because she homeschools, Matherne said she can control her children's curriculum, which she gets from a Catholic homeschool organization in Kentucky.

Her children learn Catholic history and read literature that is Catholic, secular and pagan.

"They get a really well-rounded education," she said, adding that she teaches daily religion lessons.

When researching her curriculum, Matherne said she sought out established Catholic education materials.

"English grammar books talk about little Johnny on his way to serve Mass," she said.

And Matherne said she follows the pope's recommendation when teaching about the origin of the universe.

"The theory of creation and evolution can go hand in hand," she said. "One day for (God) can be millions of years for us."

Valentine said she also uses her faith beliefs to guide her teaching.

"As Baha'is we believe religion and science agree," she said.

People of the Baha'i faith follow the teachings of Baha'u'llah, born in Persia in 1817.

The Baha'i faith is founded on a belief in spiritual unity and teaches that Abraham, Zoroaster, Moses, Krishna, Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad were all divine messengers, progressively revealing God's plan to bring his kingdom on earth.

A variety of texts, including the Bible, the Qur'an and the Bhagavad Gita, fill Valentine's living room bookshelves.

Valentine's son Stuart said he likes "just about everything" about being educated at home.

He recently started learning about endangered species, and that some animals face extinction.

Stuart said he wants to be a forest ranger when he grows up.

"To keep an eye on the wild animals out there," he explained.

©Copyright 2003, The News Star (LA, USA)

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