Faith sparks home-schooling for some

Wednesday, February 2, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:47 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

To the left, a large shelf spans the entire wall filled with education curriculum, history and literature books and rocks labeled with their scientific names.

In the corner of the room sits a student’s desk, there is a globe on another desk, and hanging on the wall is a chart listing all the U.S presidents.

To many, it would appear to be a classroom in a public school until one reads the sign posted on the cabinet:

“We obey the Lord Jesus Christ,” it reads.

This is not a public school classroom. It is the basement of Randall and Jami Prather’s house, and the classroom for their children.

It was here on a Saturday afternoon, where they oversaw the dissection of an owl pellet and a sheep eyeball, and a dead crayfish, frog, fetal pig, starfish and grasshopper — a lesson as part of the family’s home-school curriculum for their daughter.

“It’s a mutilation marathon,” Randall Prather joked.

Randall Prather is a distinguished professor of reproductive biotechnology at MU and Jami Prather holds a master’s in nutrition.

They are but one of an estimated 400 families in Boone County, according to Brad Russell, who choose to home-school their children. Russell and his wife, Ann, are another.

According to a study by the National Household Education Surveys Program, in 2003, there were more than 1 million home school students ages 5 to 17 in the United States.

In the report, 30 percent of parents who home-school said they do so for religious reasons.

Faith is the number one reason for both the Prathers, who have seven children, and the Russells, who have five children.

“We wanted to explain our faith and encourage the children to adopt it in everything that they do,” Jami Prather said. “They are getting an academic lesson and being grounded in Christianity.”

About 15 years ago, the Russells and Prathers were part of a small group of newly married couples who met in the Russells’ two-bedroom apartment for Bible study.

The group, all Christians, eventually became interested in exploring what home-schooling had to offer them.

“There came a point where we just said, ‘Hey let’s look into this,’” Brad Russell said.

After studying the benefits, the Russells and Prathers, as well as many of the other Bible-study members, elected to do it, citing their faith as the top priority.

“We knew that you don’t get reinforcement in the public schools for your faith,” Jami Prather said. “It’s just so important to shape children and lead them toward the Lord.”

A strong bond has grown among many of the home-schooling families.

Jami Prather said, “We just kind of encourage each other.”

Ann Russell said, “In the early years, a lot of us would get together comparing curriculums. There was a lot of interchange.”

She said that even now they exchange curriculum and books.

Kathy Noble also has experience with home-schooling her four children

“If you are doing it well, it really is taking up your life,” she said.

Jami Prather can attest to that. She has home-schooled all seven of her children for the past 13 years.

She makes sure the kids start school at 7:30 a.m. The three older children study upstairs independently, and the four younger children study in the basement.

Jami Prather’s responsibilities include grading, giving assignments, teaching, reading out loud, giving counsel and leading discussions about the big questions in life such as faith and marriage.

“It’s pretty labor intense,” she said.

The children study until 11:30 a.m., when they break for lunch. Then they resume their studies, the younger children for about an hour and a half, and the older children for at least two and a half.

By the end of the day, Jami Prather says she is tired and won’t talk about anything related to school.

Laura Prather, the oldest child at age 17, said she is thankful for her home-schooling education.

For the past three or four years, she has read about a hundred books each year. Literature is her favorite subject.

“Home-schooling teaches you to teach yourself because that’s what you have to do your entire life,” she said. Laura, a National Merit semifinalist, plans to attend MU next year.

Although all three families decided to home-school their children, they were all careful to say home-schooling was not the only way.

“For our family, and I can only speak for our family, home-schooling was the thing to do,” Noble said.

Likewise, Jami Prather said, “If people want to home school, we will be there to encourage them. If they say there’s no way, we make sure that they understand that we do not look down on them or think they are doing anything wrong.”

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