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I asked a friend where she had gone to school.

"I didn't" she replied. Then she hastily explained. "People came in."

"So you were home-schooled," I said, adding since I realized her age, that she was well ahead of the trend.

"Well, not exactly," she tolerantly said. "The people were tutors, not my mother and father."

"Oh," I muttered, finally understanding.

The education she was talking about came from a social order that most Americans don't experience. It was a time of enormous industrial wealth for few — even during the Great Depression, when she was born — and her Detroit upbringing was a throwback to an insular society that lived and learned among its own, especially where young ladies were concerned.

Her maiden name is that of a famous automobile. While it is no longer in existence, the family that built it is still prominent in other areas of commercial success.

This, of course, is miles away from what we now call "home schooling," which is based on any number of beliefs that the public school system is contaminated by Godlessness, incompetence and danger, among other things. The do-it-yourself approach is basically unregulated, with only a few states requiring that those who teach — usually parents — have even a high school diploma.

Actually, just 13 states and the District of Columbia demand home instructors have some minimum requirements. The other 37 states, according to the Education Commission of the States as reported by the Washington Post recently, have no such requirements. Furthermore, only 20 states require an assessment of academic progress for the home-schooled, and only 12 states subject these "students" to standardized tests. Oh, yes. Attendance is required in just 23 states and the District.

Thus, it is possible for pupils whose parents disavow the public system in the interest of protecting them from "life its own self," as a famous writer once quipped, to never have to face a standard test, a report card, or expulsion for skipping class. Such a deal! I know at least 10 kids, all of them my grandchildren, who would shout, "Sign me up now," if they had the chance.

Those who support this concept of education will point out endless statistics about how well home-schooled students perform as compared to their peers who climb aboard school buses at an early hour each morning. The movement is growing and nearly 2 million children nationally are now being home-schooled, up from 1.1 million in 2003, according to the Post.

But if these claims are correct, and they're difficult to determine, the entire concept of public learning that is based on well-educated, trained teachers is not only faulty but beyond repair. If high school dropouts can teach as well as professional educators, taxpayers have been wasting their money, big time.

Both my parents were college-educated at a time when that percentage was far below what it is now. But they would not have even suggested that my three siblings and I should be home-schooled even though they were qualified and quite capable of teaching. Why? They believed in the benefit of social interaction in the development of young men and women. Learning to survive equitably with those from every social and economic strata, they believed, was important to their children's future success.

That didn't mean they weren't on top of our studies on a daily basis. They checked our homework, assiduously demanded proper grammar at home and away. Dinnertime discussions were broad and lively on a number of subjects from history to mathematics to current events and school activities. But home involvement, missing in so many young lives today, is far different than the burden of actually teaching.

For me personally, being home-schooled would have meant missing a host of learning opportunities, including athletics, participation in social and academic clubs and certainly the chance to forge good friendships in a common experience. Those friendships still exist today.

Apparently the Internet has allowed many home-schoolers to develop some of these skills, but there can be no replacement for the day-to-day, face-to-face, interplay with your peers. Learning who can be counted on and who can't is key to a productive later life.

"I think I missed some things," my friend who had been tutored said. "The instruction was professional but learning to deal with life was absent."

— Dan Thomasson is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service and a former vice president of Scripps Howard Newspapers. Readers may send him email at: danthomasson@verizon.net.

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