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Home schooling - is it superior now to public-school instruction?; Yes, schools have turned too mediocre

THE injudicious use, or waste, of things like water, food, and energy has come under proper contemporary criticism during the past dozen years. But with regard to precious resources, there is no greater sin, to my way of thinking, than to squander a child's time.

The impressionable developmental years, crucially important to how and what the child thinks about the world, do not come again and are of special significance for parents concerned that the child be allowed to progress naturally toward the goal of fulfilling as much as possible of what is inside him or her.

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Much recent excitement has been aroused over the production of Wunderkinder, and this sad fetish is, of course, condemnable outright, since such pushing of young ones is far from what is meant by a natural fulfilling of who they are.

Although this pushiness has not, for the most part, gone on in our regular public school systems, that which has given rise to the growth in the home schooling movement has mainly been the public schools' tendency to err on one extreme or the other: the pushing or the wasting.

Whether struggling with low quality, or caught up in the overzealous ''success'' track, the overwhelming majority of our public schools carry on the Anglo-Saxon tradition of education through ''teaching'' - that is, by uniformly inserting ''X'' at a fixed rate into children's heads, rather than being primarily concerned about developing their abilities to think, which is ultimately the only thing that will be of help to our society. In Jean Piaget's words: ''If you teach a child something, you prevent him from discovering it.''

Slightly cryptic as it may be, Piaget's remark underlies much of the raison behind the home schooling idea and identifies the ''alternative'' sought in the philosophy of home school pioneer John Holt. Most of the best education is auto-education, and the best locale for that is a home which has taken pains to assemble an environment conducive to that kind of learning.

Individual learning programs are far easier to devise in the home scene, where the individual child's optimum periods of interest and readiness to absorb can be taken into account. Human beings simply do develop along different lines at different rates, and with home schooling children can tackle a concept at 5, for example, which the schools would not have considered them ready for until 8. They can postpone to a riper time a subject that might have been frustratingly introduced too early in school.

The common criticism of home schooling - that of insufficient social opportunities - is rapidly losing ground. Great ingenuity in this regard is being shown by the many small home-and-school cooperative groups springing up throughout the country. Home-schoolers see a fresh balance being struck between home and peer socializing at a time when the ''latchkey'' syndrome is by no means confined to underprivileged households.

This is certainly not a blanket condemnation of all school systems everywhere. The case to be made most strongly regarding home schooling is simply the importance of a parent's having the recourse to the reasoned, selfless, lovingly meticulous overseeing of his or her child's development when it is felt that a local school's ability to meet the need is not what it ought to be.

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Although logistic matters had a role in the start-up of the home schooling movement (access to schools in remote, rural, sometimes snowbound areas, for example), it is this issue of quality that will play a larger and larger part in opening options to parents who are ready and able to take on the education of their children.

The education of the young is at the forefront of the ways that national productivity is inevitably being redefined. To Maria Montessori (1870-1952), ''our children are the future'' - our future. And hardly any productive activity could carry a more profound need for love, care, and diligence than the mining of the priceless resource that our posterity can be.

Keeping the options open to that end - to improving upon the fastidious mining of that pure gold - is a crucial investment in a future that will overtake us all.

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