In a speech that surprised some home-school proponents, Utah's state school superintendent voiced his support Saturday for the home-school concept.
"Technology is rapidly changing the way we learn things, freeing people to learn in their homes," James R. Moss, Utah superintendent of public instruction, told home educators. "Old institutions are rapidly evaporating. It's time for home schoolers."The boldness of the superintendent's endorsement surprised and pleased the more than 600 people attending the Utah Home Education Association's eighth annual convention. They praised Moss for his courage, as a public education leader, to validate an organization they say suffers from an unjustified stigma.
"What he said deviates from the norm, and public educators usually thrive on standardness," said UHEA President Roger Wise. "A lot of public educators will feel threatened by his comments."
Moss said the the role of public education is changing in part because of the influence of the home-school movement. Year-round school, which places a responsibility on parents to "keep kids learning during the off-track months" is leading education to a home-school posture, the superintendent said.
Providing a new twist to a quote by a former president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, David O. McKay, Moss told home schoolers, "No success in public education in this state can compensate for your failure to teach your children in the home."
A state education planning commission intends to come out with a statement soon that focuses on the concept of education belonging in the home between parents and their children, said Moss.
"All that we (public school educators) do must be in support of that."
By their own definition, the UHEA includes those who teach their children in their homes - primarily outside the public school system - and those who teach their children at home to supplement public education.
In his remarks, Moss did not specify his definition of a "home schooler."
Wise called Moss a "bold and very brave man" for his public comments to home educators. Wise zealously believes in the advantages of home education. His five children are taught by his wife in their home. Somewhat paradoxically, however, he teaches in the public arena at the Utah Valley Community College.
"Parents have abdicated their parental responsibilities to Big Brother - the public school system. Parents who rely on public educators have given up everything - including their right to teach their children about sex, AIDS, health, history and so on. Parents need to get back those basic parental rights," Wise said.
Agreeing with Moss, Wise said that technology makes it increasingly possible for parents to teach their children in their homes. Home teaching improves the self-discipline, individuality and responsibility of students and offers learning in an atmosphere free of drugs, immorality and peer pressure, he said.
Those taught at home may enter college by passing the ACT test. Home education enhances, rather than deters, a student's chances of doing well in college, he said.
Wise serves on an education coordination council and meets with Moss once a month to update the superintendent on UHEA's activities. As long as the local school districts are informed of the students who are being taught in their homes instead of in the public school, school officials have generally not created problems for parents, Wise said.
"We have found as people learn about home education, they will embrace it in theory."
Richard Blair, UHEA public relations director, also applauded Moss for his "insightful and forward-looking" address, calling it a milestone in home-education history.
"In the past, people have wrongly associated home schoolers with the controversy surrounding the John Singer shooting death in 1979. Singer was not a member of our group. That incident was not over Singer's desire to teach his children in his home; it was about his defiance of an order that he release the children of his second wife to their father.
"But because of Moss, home schoolers will be now be regarded as those at the forefront of the American education system. He'll be criticized for his candor, but we think he's only telling the truth."