New York— – Marty and Linda Nalitz live down the street from Columbine High School. They have decided to withdraw their nine-year old son Ryan from the private Christian school where he just completed second grade; from now on, they will teach him at home. Linda, a part-time respiratory therapist, will handle the bulk of the teaching chores while Marty works at a mortgage company.
Linda, you were working in the hospital where some of the Columbine victims were sent. What was that like?
Linda Nalitz: I was assigned to go work down in the ICU and — I'm a respiratory therapist, by the way — and we were getting one of the girls back on a ventilator. So, I was in her room, waiting for her to get back from surgery. So, you know, when it all unfolded, when we were watching all the feedback on TV — we did get three of the students, the three that were paralyzed — the most critical we got that day. So it was pretty harrowing.
FNO: So when did you decide that it was time to take your child out of school?
Marty Nalitz: I had wanted to for a couple of years. ... I personally had been of the opinion that home education is far superior than any classroom education. My wife just came to the same conclusion just in the past few months. It was after Columbine. In all honesty, I'm not sure that Columbine was what did it, although we are both of the opinion that the types of things that happened at Columbine will happen in private schools and Christian schools as well. Safety is a part of it, certainly, but it's more the educational aspect of it. But safety is a part of it.
My personal opinion is that we have not seen the last Columbine. I mean, look at yesterday. What was it? A day-care center. I don't think, despite all the best efforts, I don't think that the private schools and the Christian schools are going to remain immune. My son's school a year and a half ago had a terrible act of vandalism against it, more than once.
I remember my son's reaction when we'd pull into the school and see some of the things written on the school — I think he was in the first grade at the time — and it's a rotten thing for little kids to have to see, and to live with all day. Very nasty things about killing Christians. That's going to happen at any school like that. You know, that's the culture that we live in today. I don't suspect for a second that the private schools are going to remain immune from it.
Linda: There was the case of this student — this was the first year I sent him there — that was disgruntled, and he took a briefcase or backpack or something into the school, and called in a report that there was a bomb in it. Now, you know — it was just a joke, but those things aren't unrealistic to expect.
Safety is a big thing. If you know your child is at home, he's with you. If he's on a field trip, he's with you. And you know what he is learning, and what he isn't learning. He doesn't have those Eric Harrises to deal with day in and day out. Or maybe even become one of the people that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold had a problem with.
FNO: How did the school react to your request to remove your son?
Marty: They care about him very deeply, and his teacher last year was just a fabulous teacher and she talked to my wife at length about it and to me about it to the point that we were convinced that it was the best, the best thing for him. We loved the school he went to. I just don't believe that teaching a group of kids is the best way to teach them. I think that if you take a group of 20, 25 kids, you'll have some kids who are going to be more hands-on learners. There are going to be some who are going to be visual learners. I want my child to learn the way that's best suited to him, not to the way that's best suited for 20 kids to learn.
One of the things that actually made me realize it the most was that I taught — I substituted at the school for a week last year, filling in for somebody for the senior high students. And, I was not happy with the social stuff, the way the grown up kids were behaving I didn't think was that far off from the way the kids were behaving in the public schools. And, it was just an eye-opening experience for me as far as how these kids learn. And, I don't believe that it's the best way for them.
FNO: Did he have a difficult time there?
Marty: It was more behavior stuff that we were noticing. Just simple things like not bringing his homework home. We were finding his homework hidden in the back of his desk. Just silly things like that. He wanted to see if he could get away with it.
FNO: Does Ryan agree with the decision to teach him at home?
Marty: He's excited about it. The kids that he was the closest with at his old school — he can still play with them.
Linda: People talk about socialization, and I think — I hate to sound rude, but he's not going off to a monastery. ... I mean, he's not falling off the face of the Earth.
Marty: Now, homeschool people do a lot of things in groups. There's fitness stuff, field trips and stuff like that. That's all well and good. I mean, my son plays hockey four or five times a week. He's around other kids. He's in all kinds of sports, so he's around other kids. I don't want him to be a hermit or anything, I want him to have friends. But, I prefer that he try to be a good influence rather than try to imitate the bad influence.
FNO: What about homeschooling appeals to you?
Linda: I want to give him the best possible education that I know he can get, and with homeschooling, you can do that because you're the teacher and you can chart their progress every day, and you know where he's weak and where he isn't. And, you know what learning is conducive to his type of learning ability. So you know, you don't have to wait until the teacher's conference to find out if your child's having problems. You realize it right away and can tackle it. The reason why I chose to homeschool — you know, all those advantages — and his hockey interest, his learning style and safety concerns.
FNO: What were some drawbacks that you considered?
Marty: I honestly don't see any (drawbacks). I mean, he's going to go to school. ... It's more of a commitment from us — the parents — which I think is good. I mean, all of us need more of a commitment from parents. So, I don't know that that's a drawback. It's just something that we're going to have to become accustomed to.
Linda: The negative is that you probably don't spend a whole lot of time apart. But that's OK because my son is much more enjoyable a human being when he's around me or another adult than he is with a bunch of rowdy kids.
FNO: What do you predict he'll like or dislike about attending classes in the kitchen?
Marty: I think he is all boy. I think the discipline ... I don't want to say discipline so much as the attention part of it — remaining focused and things like that, that's always going to be a concern. But, at the same time, you know, there's nothing wrong with stopping for five minutes, then starting over again. The beauty of this is that if it takes you until 5:00 to finish the lesson plan, then you do that. You don't have to say, well class ends at three and now you're going home. You can go at his pace.
FNO: Are you and your wife going to have to be learning a lot of the subjects that you might be a little rusty in?
Marty: I don't think so, I think we'll have to review, certainly — so that we're giving him the right answers. We'll have to make sure that we're up to speed on everything, but I don't know — I don't think so. I think it's going to be mostly fun.
FNO: Do you think he will be homeschooled through the 12th grade?
Marty: That would be my hope. ... I'm of the opinion that homeschooling is the wave of the future. I think you're going to see more and more people go, because the schools at all levels are failing. I mean, personally — and somebody told me that this was old-fashioned — but I disagree, I think this is cutting edge.