For many people, homeschooling means socially clumsy kids being fedtextbook materials by an over-possessive mother. But for Susannah and TaranStucchio, homeschooling means field trips, loose schedules, and a lot ofdiscovery. The two Mount Vernon, N.J., students have been homeschooled for most of thepast 10 years. Before starting second grade, Susannah, now 16, was given thechoice of being homeschooled or going to public school. Her older brotherwas having trouble in his public school classes, and her mom thought homeschooling would prevent the same problems from happening with her daughter.Susannah, a kayaker and rock climber, chose homeschooling and has neverregretted it. Twice a week a tutor visits the Stucchios, and their mother fills in byteaching English and social studies. Susannah likes the freedom of her schedule. "I don't have to stick tosomeone else's schedule. I can make my own and have it fit around what Ireally want to do," she said. Taran, a kayaker as well, agreed. "I don't have to do everything at onetime," the 11-year-old said. "I can spread it out. I also have the time,if I want, to stop the schoolwork that I'm doing, just take a bike ride orgo for a walk." "It helps you learn to take responsibility for your own education withoutbeing dependent on some higher authority figure to do it for you," addedSusannah, who's not sure if she's going to college. Her brother is planningon studying botany when he gets older. "I'm really interested in plants," hesaid. "You can find so many ways to make them beautiful." Susannah and Taran, both brown belts in karate, do follow some guidelines.They file school records through a "home-based education plan" sent fromMichigan. To graduate high school, Susannah needs 22 credits at 180 hoursper credit. Besides having to keep track of credits, Susannah and Taran alsotake the California Achievement Test. Just like in public school, there are required classes like English, math,and science. They do physics and chemistry labs in a classroom-like setting."But then there's nine electives, which you actually get to choose howeveryou want," Susannah said. "I got three already in music, and I have two inkayaking."
Unlike public school students, however, the two have nothing but good thingsto say about their education. "I love my teacher," said Susannah. "She's thecoolest person." The freedom to choose exactly what they want to study is a big attraction tohomeschoolers. They get hands-on experience instead of just learning out ofa textbook. For a while, Susannah was involved in a program called GlobalYouth. "I got to see these things as opposed to just reading about them andhearing about them." For his social studies lessons, Taran often reads thepaper as well as history books. The flexibility of classes may be one of the reasons the number of homeschoolers nationwide is increasing. According to CNN, 2% of allstudents learn at home, a number that's growing every year. This summer, ahomeschooled student won the Scripps Howard National Spelling BeeCompetition. Some people, however, still aren't used to the idea. Critics say that homeschooled kids lack socialization skills. But the Stucchios argue that theyhave lots of friends, including neighborhood kids and other homeschooledkids across the country. "When you're in school, you're not actually exposedto as many different people," said Susannah, "You're stuck with the samepeople in your age group all day. So you don't really get to go out and meetpeople."
Susannah has a few other criticisms of public schools. "They're all crackingdown and saying, 'Oh, we need to get higher test scores.' All they want todo is lengthen the time in school and make you sit down more." Susannah added, "If you do the opposite thing and relax and let kids reallyjust experience the classes and go to what they're interested in, I thinkthat they'll succeed more."