No place like home

Thousands of Texans say they can do a better job teaching their children at home. But some local truant officers claim parents are using a massive loophole in Texas law to skip school altogether.

But as her oldest daughter started to reach school age, she visited the public schools and decided they were inappropriate. Her daughter was already too far advanced, she concluded. The administrators told her not to worry--that the children all evened out by the third grade. Not surprisingly, Ruderman wasn't the least bit comforted by the notion that all kids would ascend or descend to the same level by then. "Sure, they all evened out by the third grade, because she would stop learning so fast," she says.

Ruderman believes she'll keep her children at home in the foreseeable future. "Sometimes I think, 'Why don't I just put them in school? I could have coffee breaks,'" she says. But she sees her daughters developing a zeal for learning on their own and figures that will be helpful when they reach high school level and will need to tackle subjects Chana isn't equipped to teach on her own. "What's really hard to develop are good habits," she says.

When Michelle Jones talks about homeschooling, she still sounds angry. "I was mad because she took me away from all of my friends," the 12-year-old says, pointing at her mom.

When she started public school in Mesquite this year, Michelle told her new friends that her time on the road "was boring and stupid."

Michelle now says her favorite subject is science, especially learning about plants and cells. Her mother says she's always been a fast learner.

Mother and daughter sit in the family room, where one wall is adorned with family photos, many of which feature the long-haul rig in the background. Michelle glares at her mother and says in a mocking voice, "I would like to finish at this school to the eighth grade." It's as if she knows her mother might pull her out again.

In November, Harriet Jones learned she suffers from a fatal disease, which she didn't want named in this story. She is too weak to drive with her husband for long distances. He's looking for a job where he can sleep at home more often, because she and the children need his care.

Michelle is now in the sixth grade, and Darnelle is in the seventh. But Harriet admits the lure of extra money has made her think about withdrawing her children to "homeschool" them on the truck again. After all, the family earned $75,000 when everyone was on the road, compared to $40,000 other years. And she recognizes the consequences.

"It was never questioned out on the road," she says. "I just said, 'I'm homeschooling.'

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