Eight-year-old Lorien Evans doesn't go to school. She wakes up there.
Lorien, who lives in Eagle Rock, is one of a growing number of children who are being educated at home for reasons that range from their parents' conviction that the Bible mandates it to dissatisfaction with public education.
No bells ring in Lorien's school. No principal's voice booms over the public address system. There are no exams, no grades, no competition for the teacher's attention, no schoolyard pals--or bullies.
Lorien's teacher is her mother, Linda Evans, a former school librarian who devotes several hours a day to teaching Lorien and her siblings, Sarah, 5, and Andy, 3. While children in conventional schools are wriggling in their seats, Lorien curls up in the living-room rocking chair to read the library books that are her textbooks.
Nobody knows exactly how many children are being taught at home. A U.S. Department of Education spokesman recently estimated that 250,000 children attend home schools nationwide, double the number of three years ago. Proponents of home schooling put the current figure as high as 1 million.
Fred Fernandez, a consultant on private schools to the California Office of Education, estimates the number of California home schools at 1,800. In the Los Angeles area, hundreds of children study long division at kitchen tables, pledge allegiance to dining-room American flags and call the teacher "Mom."
Home schooling is permitted in all 50 states. California law does not speak directly to the issue (much to the chagrin of critics of home schooling), but it does allow parents who wish to teach their children at home to do so if they file an affidavit with the state declaring their homes to be private schools.
Oversight of California's vague private school statute is left to local school districts. The law requires, for example, that private-school students must be taught the subjects taught in public school. The law also requires that private-school teachers, including home schoolers, be capable of teaching, although it doesn't specify who should make that judgment.
Not surprisingly, officials in the 1,100 school districts in California vary in their views of the desirability and legality of home schooling and, thus, in their tolerance of home schools. The educational Establishment voices many concerns about home learning, ranging from questions about the quality of education most parents can provide to fears that children educated apart from their peers may suffer socially or psychologically. Home schoolers insist those fears are largely groundless.
Lorien's school, which has never been visited by an education official, is called the Questing House.
Unlike Lorien, the younger children are not yet legally required to be in school. But as Linda Evans said, "We don't send the younger ones into the other room, so they all pick up on it." As a result, Sarah already outshines her older sister in math, a situation that might be harder for Lorien to bear if she was not such a gifted artist.
Although Linda carries most of the family's pedagogical burden, husband Steve, an insurance agent, also teaches. Steve, whose office is nearby, reads to the children when he comes home for lunch each day and again at night. He leads them through math games and has taught them a smattering of Spanish and Swedish. And Steve was the one who helped Lorien bind last year's schoolwork into a handsome volume entitled "Lorien's Frist Grade Workbook," lovingly preserving her almost correct spelling of first.
Like many other home schoolers--as many as 80% by some estimates--the Evanses are devout fundamentalist Christians. Home schooling allows them greater control over the values their children absorb with their phonics and other academic lessons. But Steve Evans said their reasons for opting for home schooling are as much secular as religious. Indeed, the burgeoning home education movement has created strange bedfellows--a large number who want to turn their homes into God's classrooms and a secular minority who read the reformist work of educators John Holt, Ivan Illich and others and decided that the best school is no school at all.
The Evanses are a little of each.
Advocates of "de-schooling," the Evanses try to make learning part of the natural flow of their family day, a day imbued with their belief in God.
In the Evanses' view, making a batch of blueberry muffins is a better lesson in reading and measuring than any classroom exercise. As Steve said: "The more homelike we make our schooling, the more successful it is. As soon as we make it class-like, it becomes less successful."
The Evanses believe they can do a better job than the public and most private schools. "We're very impressed with the quality of some of the teachers we've seen, but they're up against an impossible situation," Steve said.