An Elected Official’s Perspective on Home Schooling

By Texas Comptroller Susan Combs

When our forefathers crossed the Atlantic Ocean to settle in America, they came for a variety of reasons, but one was uppermost: freedom – freedom for themselves and their families, freedom of religion, freedom from oppressive government, and freedom for opportunity.

Thanks to these pioneers, Americans, including Texans, are blessed with a strong and open form of government. However, for those among us who wish to homeschool our children, it has not always been easy, even though recently home schooling has gained national acceptance and recognition. Clearly, it is not a question of the quality of the education that is provided. After all, the early settlers here home educated with remarkable success.

The people I know who opt for home schooling are all actively engaged in the vital tasks of child rearing and child educating. As we read and listen to experts about the crisis in education in America, one thing is absolutely clear – involvement by parents is the single most important factor in a child’s education.

Some years ago I was a juvenile prosecutor in Dallas and frequently handled cases involving fourteen- and fifteen-year-old juveniles who read at the second and third grade level. What was the common denominator? These young individuals had a weak and fragile home environment – perhaps one parent, and only a disinterested one at that, or an elderly grandparent who lacked the energy to deal with the youngster. These children lagged far behind their peers in education, and we saw the results in the courtroom.

Parents who choose to homeschool take their children’s futures so seriously that they are willing to take the time, expend the effort, and reap the rewards of providing the education themselves. The parents who do so are not only in cities, large and small, but also in the country and rural communities that dot the landscape.

Across Texas, families engaged in farming and ranching worry about their children and their education. Farmers and ranchers are not only eyeing the sky hopefully, waiting for rain, but also watching their children, hoping they will have a solid educational background on which to build a bright future.

This is precisely the reason many rural families are opting for home schooling. In fact, I know many families near me who have done just that. My ranch is located in the Big Bend area of Texas, and the closest town is Marathon, a town of only 750.

My ranch manager and his wife are both very interested in the future of their three children, and after a great deal of deliberation, they made the decision to homeschool their three children for a number of years. They have been extremely happy with the results. Their oldest child is a sophomore at Texas A&M University and is doing very well. Other ranching neighbors just across the highway homeschooled their three children, as did another family twenty-five miles down the road.

Home schooling is obviously not confined to rural areas. My husband’s cousins who live in the Dallas area homeschooled their three children through high school. The oldest is in graduate school, after receiving a diploma from Texas A&M; their daughter is working in the Dallas area, and their son is a junior at A&M.

What did these very different parents have in common? They share the desire for their children to have a first-class educational experience and the chance to create their educational programs. These families have been happy with the materials available to them from a variety of sources (some printed, some by video) and the quality of the educational content.

One of the questions these families were asked by some was about the socialization of their children. The home school community is close-knit emotionally, even if separated by miles or subdivisions. Contests in Alpine and Marfa, visits to and by other children, and 4-H and ranch riding events produced a wonderful environment for all of these children in which to interact positively with children from across a broad area. In the major urban areas, there are usually well-developed networks that provide numerous opportunities for academic contests, music contests, and a wide array of other activities.

Perhaps most important, however, is the chance for these parents and children to share very special and close relationships. Both parents in each family are usually engaged in the process, although one might carry the greater share of the teaching load. But the opportunity to watch a child progress through a difficult task, master a complex subject, or show the delight in learning about something new and exciting – these memories will sustain the parents throughout their lives.

There is, of course, another enormous advantage to home schooling—the ability to manage the family’s time. The complaint many families, whether they homeschool or not, have about their daily existence is that it is so fast-paced that there hardly seems to be enough time to do fun, family things together.

On our ranch, the kids studied in the morning and did homework in the afternoon. They still found plenty of time to ride their horses, play around the ranch, help Mom in the kitchen, or ride with Dad on the ranch. The flexibility of scheduling allowed the family to take trips on days when a traditional school system would not have permitted it.

What about the value of moving ahead at your own pace? The children I know who were homeschooled and then went on to college were often ahead of their peers who had come from either public or private schools. No system is perfect, but home schooling is an option that is growing in national use, and I applaud the families who choose to dedicate their time and energy to their children in this way.

A fourth-generation rancher, Susan Combs, her husband of twenty-six years, and their three sons live in Austin, where her husband started a successful high-tech company. Susan was sworn into office in 1999 as the state’s tenth commissioner of agriculture and the first woman in the state’s history to hold this position. She was elected to that office again in 2002. On January 1, 2007, she was sworn in as Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.