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HOME SPUN : For More and More Parents, the Living Room May Be a Classroom

October 13, 1988|PAT GERBER | Times Staff Writer

When it was time for Francisco Quevedo to start his formal education, there was no question that he would carry on the family tradition by attending the same exclusive preparatory school that made scholars of his father, uncle and aunt.

The decision has borne rich fruit. About to turn 12, Francisco is well-versed in the classics and tests at the 12th-grade level. He has already been preadmitted, or qualified to matriculate, at two universities.

Francisco, like his elders, is receiving a classical education. He has studied Homer's "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey," epic works usually reserved for high school or college. But Francisco's school is decidedly unconventional.

The classroom is a converted bedroom in the Quevedo home in southern Orange County, and Francisco's teachers are his grandfather, Henry (Hank) Quevedo, and grandmother, Alice Quevedo.

Francisco's classmates are his younger sisters, Mariel, 7, and Victoria, 8.

The girls, like their brother, also are testing higher--at the sixth- and seventh-grade levels, respectively--than their peers in conventional classrooms.

Hank also firmly guided the educations of all five of his own children. But although his grandchildren are being taught exclusively at home, his children were taught both in traditional classrooms and the familial setting.

From kindergarten on, Hank negotiated with public and private schools to determine his children's curriculum. He set up contracts with teachers, and if school programs strayed from the agreements--which, Hank said, they often did--he didn't hesitate to pull the children out of the classroom and teach them at home after negotiating an independent study arrangement with the schools. And sometimes he worked nights so he could teach during the day.

Hank's success with his own children could be a harbinger for his grandchildren. Ed, the 31-year-old father of Francisco, Mariel and Victoria, graduated magna cum laude from UCLA and works for a Newport Beach law firm. Steven Michael, 28, also a lawyer with a Newport Beach firm, graduated summa cum laude and first in his department at Princeton University. Susan, 25, followed her brother Steven at Princeton and also graduated with honors.

Although the achievements of the Quevedos are unusual in either a traditional or unorthodox academic setting, Francisco and his sisters are among a growing number of children in Orange County--at least 1,200, according to the county's Community Home Education Program--who are being taught reading, writing and arithmetic by their parents.

Fred Fernandez, a consultant for the state Department of Education who has been following the home-school movement in California for five years, estimates that there are 2,300 home schools with four or fewer pupils in California. A more realistic figure, however, is probably twice that because many parents don't bother to file any kind of registration with the state, he said.

Based on a 1985 study, anywhere from 125,000 to 260,000 children nationwide are being schooled at home, according to Patricia Lines, a research analyst with the U.S. Department of Education. Recent evidence, however, suggests that today the number of home students is closer to 500,000, she says.

Not even the most fervent advocates of home schooling, which demands an enormous commitment of time and energy from parents, believe that it will ever replace public schools. But the growth in home schooling points up a growing frustration with the local as well as the national education system.

Religious motives rank high among people who choose to teach their children at home. But so does a concern over drugs and violence on school campuses, said Red Balfour, who heads the Community Home Education Program, which provides instructional materials for home schooling. "I've never had a family tell me that Jesus told them to do (home schooling)," Balfour said. He noted, however, that a strong fundamentalist Christian ethic influences the home-school movement in Orange County.

So does a desire for closer family ties.

"You're dealing with people who want to spend more time with their children," Lines said. "There is a strong cohesive desire to have a close family, (not just by the parents but) on the part of the children, too."

Not all parents, however, have altruistic motives. Fernandez notes that some families who register as private schools do no teaching but are merely using their children as cheap labor to work in family businesses or on farms, or to baby-sit.

Many parents approach home schooling with the best of intentions but soon find they are overwhelmed by the demands on their time and teaching talents, said Alan Trudell, a spokesman for the Garden Grove Unified School District, the second largest in Orange County.

"The child suffers when parents bite off more than they can chew," Trudell said.

The argument school officials probably most often make against home schooling is that it doesn't give children a chance to develop social skills.

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