Home School Versus Home Room: The Education Debate

It's one of the fastest growing forms of education in the Heart of the Valley. But what really appeals to families when it comes to homeschooling? Is public education really that bad? WAFF 48 News Education Reporter Jason Gaston set out to separate myth from reality.

The story begins in Eva. That's in Morgan County outside Decatur.

"Well girlie - time to get up," said Martha Whitney.

It's 6:30 a.m. at the Whitney house.

"All right Opal and Audrey, we got to get you dressed."

This family's getting ready for school. Soon, there's breakfast. But after a quick meal, the kids don't get on a bus.

They pull their books out of a kitchen cabinet. Their dining room transforms into a classroom.

"Patience is something you develop," said Stuart Whitney.

Stuart Whitney and his wife Martha have ten children and they home school. Two of their kids have graduated. Two aren't school age. That means right now, they teach six kids at home: a decision they made years ago.

"We were living in California at the time. It was based on just or not wanting to give up our child to a stranger in a classroom environment," Stuart Whitney said.

So, the Whitneys organized The Way-Home Christian School. It's a church-based network that oversees many of the Valley's homeschool families.

"The reason homeschooling works for us is my wife and I are committed to our marriage - we're committed to our family at home and we're committed to God," Stuart Whitney said.

The Whitneys milk cows and make crafts - chores designed to teach. But first and foremost: books.

"If you use curriculum way beyond where you're children are at it'll increase your stress level," Martha Whitney said.

That said - Martha doesn't have to know everything about subjects like Algebra or Chemistry, either.

"The way the homeschool materials are written, it's written in such a way the kids can teach themselves," Martha Whitney said.

The Whitneys aren't alone. An estimated 10,000 to 15,000 families homeschool in Alabama. That number climbs higher each year.

You may be surprised to learn Alabama has no law governing homeschools. It's up to each family to be honest and make sure their kids pass the test.

But for the Whitneys and their ten kids, there's no question when it comes to honesty. Or socialization. To ensure their ten kids interact well with others - there are monthly outings with other homeschoolers. They even have real graduation ceremonies.

"We have a greater opportunity to influence our children's socialization with our character as parents rather than letting peers develop our children's character," Stuart Whitney said.

What about the other side? Despite perceived increases in public school violence over the years - there's a host of parents who wouldn't take their kids out of public schools for anything.

Meet the Goodmans in Huntsville, Sparky and Julie. They have two kids - Caley, a sophomore at Grissom High School. Danny is a sixth grader at Whitesburg Middle School. The Goodmans love public schools.

"I think 95% of students can succeed in a public school," Julie Goodman said.

And that's not just an amateur observation....

"I've been teaching at Johnson High School for 19 years and I teach in the business department," Julie Goodman said.

As a teacher, Julie knows the ins and outs of education in Alabama. She was disappointed at the failure of the September tax vote.

"In Alabama I think we're kind of in trouble because the tax didn't pass."

But Julie and Sparky still believe in tax-funded schools.

"Sometimes there are situations where you're going to have to stop and figure out if your kids are getting out what they need to from the public education system," Sparky Goodman said.

The Goodmans aren't unlike a homeschool family. The only difference? Caley and Danny share their education with thousands.

Despite strength in numbers, drawbacks remain. One of them universal among public schools: teasing.

(Jason Gaston) "If you see it going on in your classroom? (Julie Goodman) "I jump on it right off the bat. I don't allow them to pick on each other," Julie said.

Despite bullying and other problems, the Goodmans wouldn't educate their kids any other way. Neither would the Whitneys. They're two families with two very different classrooms.

Two forms of education with one simple, common goal.