| On a typical weekday, Jonathan Luxton, 11, sleeps in late, eats breakfast at 11:30, plays on the computer at noon, writes legalese and enjoys reading about atomic physics.
Jonathan does not attend school the way most children in America do; instead, he is home-schooled.
He works on projects of his own conception whenever he wants. Recently, for instance, he recorded a Hardy Boys book via his "play" company. In the liner notes he wrote, "Produced in accordance with FCC regulations." Then he added: "Ha! Ha! Just kidding! Produced by the Jonathan Luxton Syndicate. No rights reserved, preserved, or deserved."
"Every day is a little different," said his teacher and mother, Susan Luxton, who oversees her son's education in their Mountain View home. Her husband is a professor at Stanford University.
Jonathan is one of roughly 300,000 home-schooled children in California and one of about 2 million across the country, according to the Home School Legal Defense Association. And those numbers are growing every year, according to experts.
The top two reasons why families choose to home-school their children are familiar: concern about the negative peer environment in some public schools, including exposure to dangerous drugs, crime and gangs, and the fact that some families want to teach from a religious perspective, said Ian Slatter, spokesman for the home-school group.
Also, some home-schoolers want to spend more time with their children. And many perceive as unnatural the idea that "everyone in the same age group and everyone in the same neighborhood ought to grow up in a square room," home-schooling parents said.
Susan Luxton supported the idea that traditional schooling suffers from too much conformity.
"When school is in session kids don't have time to do projects like this on their own, because someone is always telling them what to do," she said. In middle school, she noted, students have seven or eight teachers directing them, several hours a day, five days a week.
"I think most children tend to do better if they have a chance to learn more in depth, and not have to make an adjustment to that many teachers being their boss. That's a lot of bosses all of a sudden," she said.
For 20-year-old Mia Lieberman, a Mountain View native who was also home-schooled, public or private school would have set her back. Lieberman completed high school coursework at age 12 and began taking math and English courses at Foothill College. She started working at age 14.
This year she began her first semester of veterinary school at UC Davis as the youngest student in her class. She never set foot in a public or private school, according to her mother Haleen Rock, a retired immunologist.
People often ask whether home-schooled students have enough "socialization," but Lieberman said she never felt like she missed out on a normal high school experience.
"It was great because it let me pursue my own interests, so I didn't have to be locked in a classroom," she said of her home schooling experience.
"Binge drinking and the drunk parties -- no I don't feel like I missed out on high school," she said. "I've been around adults for so long, I just would have been bored."
As part of her studies, "I spent a lot of time in the kitchen doing chemistry experiments, like pH dye with red cabbage juice and exploding Ziplock bags with baking soda and vinegar," she said. She also sang with the West Bay Opera in Palo Alto, Rock said.
Loren Mavromati, president of the California Homeschool Network, who calls concern over socialization "the S question," said home-schoolers may have better social skills than public or private schooled children.
Most home-schooled teenagers, she said, "will actually look you in the eye when talking with you -- unlike most teenagers in public schools, because they think of adults as the authority and not people you would chat with."
The Mountain View Whisman School District has an "independent study" home schooling program, housed at Crittenden Middle School, in which about 50 students from Mountain View and neighboring counties may enroll. The program provides families with California standards-based textbooks, teacher's manuals and pre-organized subject matters which students must complete, according to director Michiko Hashimoto.
The beauty of home schooling compared to structured 45-minute classes is that students can spend more time on a subject, Hashimoto said.
"Let's say you started an experiment, and because you're in a one-to-one situation and the kid is really interested in the subject matter, you're not limited to stopping because recess is there. You could spend five hours on this one thing," she said.
Home-schoolers don't have homework per se. "Because you're working one-to-one, student and teacher, the feedback is right away," Hashimoto said. "So you wouldn't need homework to understand whether they got the concept and you'd have to repeat it."
Typically, a public school student in grades one to three will spend 280 minutes a day in school, Hashimoto said. A fourth to eighth grader will spend 310 minutes, while kindergarteners spend about 200 minutes. But a home-schooler can often go through the same amount of material as a public school student in much less time, she said.
"It's more efficient when you're working one-on-one than it is when you're 20 to 30 students in the class," said Stacey Mason, assistant to the Mountain View Whisman home schooling program, who also home-schooled her daughter during the fifth grade. A teacher in a classroom has to wait for each student to close their notebooks or find a particular page, she added.
Anyone can home-school their child, said Mavromati of the California Homeschool Network.
"If you can listen to your children you're qualified," she said. "I've known people who did not graduate from high schools themselves and they are better teachers for their children than a public school teacher."
There are several ways families can become home-schoolers: Through a program like Mountain View Whisman's, through a private or charter school, or through the state. Luxton and Lieberman choose to register directly with the state because it offered the greatest amount of flexibility, they said.
"It's just a choice," Hashimoto said. There are as many different reasons why people home-school as there are families, she said -- including, in some cases, disability reasons.
"I think families figure out what they really, really want and so you make choices to accommodate what your values are."
Eleven-year-old Jonathan will assess his own progress this year. His mother is keeping the option of public school open for the future. But for now, he's happier at home, he said.
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