Home-schooling wasn’t always just another educational option for families. In present day America, we have the freedom to home-school our children if we please. Each state has its own requirements or guidelines for home-schoolers; many states, thankfully, keep their hands out of the process fairly well, leaving the education of children up to the discretion of their families, as it should be. But it wasn’t always this easy.
Last Saturday, I was fortunate to be part of a group of women who met together to discuss the journey of home-schooling. We heard four women give their testimonies of being part of the first wave of parents who brought home-schooling back to America. In each case, these women overcame many difficulties that stood in their way of educating their children at home. I was humbled to hear of the powerful determination they all had!
My mother started homeschooling my sister and me in the early ’90s after realizing that schools in our area (southern California) were not adequate, or even safe, for me to attend. Once we moved to Idaho when I was seven, I chose to attend school for one semester, but after that asked to be home-schooled again. My mom didn’t have much support for her efforts, so she started a home-school group, researched different teaching techniques and curriculum with us until we found ideas that worked for our individual learning styles at every stage, and persisted through social hostility that arose against her choices. I am forever grateful for her sacrifices that enabled me to pursue my dreams of becoming a musician and a teacher, and am honored to continue the legacy as I prepare to home-school my daughter as she grows!
Another woman at the gathering, Debbie, gave her account of coming to the same realization as my mother: the schools just weren’t adequate for her children to find the joy of learning, which is what schools should be doing. She began home-schooling her children in 1981, in a time when she knew nobody else who home-schooled, and had no idea what she was doing! All she knew was that she wanted to teach her children by “surrounding them with nature and books”, as she said, and with the overall goal to raise them in the love and wisdom of God. “We ‘evolved’ into mostly literature-based, Bible based, board game playing, nature loving, field-trip taking sorts of home-schoolers,” Debbie explained. She persevered through problems, too, and even encouraged other families to join her! Her children are now grown into lovely people, and one is even home-schooling their own kids. Here is her favorite quote which she said encompassed the reason she thought home-schooling is so important, from the autobiography of renowned author and thinker G.K. Chesterton:
“The change from childhood to boyhood, and the mysterious transformation that produces that monster the schoolboy, might be very well summed up in one small fact. To me the ancient capital letters of the Greek alphabet, the great Theta, a sphere barred across the midst like Saturn, or the great Upsilon, standing up like a tall curved chalice, have still a quite unaccountable charm and mystery, as if they were the characters traced in wide welcome over Eden of the dawn. The ordinary small Greek letters, though I am now much more familiar with them, seem to me quite nasty little things like a swarm of gnats. As for Greek accents, I triumphantly succeeded, through a long series of school-terms, in avoiding learning them at all; and I never had a higher moment of gratification than when I afterwards discovered that the Greeks never learnt them either. I felt, with a radiant pride, that I was as ignorant as Plato and Thucydides… But it is a simple psychological fact; that the sight of a Greek capital still fills me with happiness, the sight of a small letter with indifference tinged with dislike, and the accents with righteous indignation reaching the point of profanity.
And I believe that the explanation is that I learnt the large Greek letters, as I learnt the large English letters, at home. I was told about them merely for fun while I was still a child; while the others I learnt during the period of what is commonly called education; that is, the period during which I was being instructed by somebody I did not know, about something I did not want to know.”
The third woman at the gathering, Sue, began home-schooling her children in 1963 with several other neighborhood families, after taking the children out of the local school in Washington state. But a few weeks later, the sheriff came knocking at their doors, demanding that their children return to the public school or they would be labeled as truant and the parents would face jail time! This disturbed the families so much that although most of them were pressured into putting the children back into school, one frightened family moved out of the state. Yet the return to the public education system was rough; the children were taunted, the parents were ostracized in their communities, and Sue continued to experience persecution every time she attempted to speak out about the need for a different approach to education.
She had many more incredible life experiences, such as witnessing firsthand the shocking agendas of the education committees who write the nation’s school textbooks, becoming a lawyer, actually teaching for the public school system (until they fired her for being TOO good of a teacher… another long story), having her car overturned by angry teachers, delving into the classical Christian education method, helping a class of students formulate a law proposal that was adopted as state law by the Missouri legislature, developing her own curriculum for various subjects, teaching critical thinking and writing skills for over four decades, and many more accounts that show not just how much opposition a person can face when they stand firm on the belief that children deserve something better for their education than what they are receiving, but also stand as a witness of how important the instruction of children truly is.
The fourth woman at the gathering, Susan, is currently home-schooling her two children, a junior in high school and a third grader. She told of the incredible variety of resources, curricula, classes, opportunities, and programs available nowadays for home-schoolers. The abundance of possible supplements for home education is astounding! Compared to what my mother, Debbie, and Sue had access to several decades ago, the home-schooling community is so vastly different. Over a million and a half children are currently being home-schooled in the U.S. alone! Home-schoolers regularly prove that they are just as capable of achieving high academic standards, developing competent social skills, developing worthy life goals, obtaining college degrees, and pursuing careers as students who attend private and public schools. The link listed above is just one example of statistics available online that prove this point.
The independence of home-schoolers today is a product of the struggles that people like my mom, Debbie, and Sue went through just a few short years ago to ensure that they could choose how their children were educated. As it is said of America’s fight for independence during the conception of our country, “freedom isn’t free”. Many other families have faced legal action, arrest, condemnation from friends, persecution from their communities, and difficulty finding the resources needed as they sought to educate their children according to the dictates of their conscience, not according to the mandates of an impersonal government.
Sadly, home-schooling is not legal worldwide yet; Germany is one of the few countries that still forbids home-schooling, and several other countries fight families who try to home-school because the laws are vague. Organizations like the HSLDA have been vital in the battle to educate at home. But today, many families have the freedom to choose public, private, parochial, or home for their child’s education. The choice of schooling is up to the parents, as it should be.
How thankful I am for the freedom I have, knowing that I won’t have to hide my daughter in the house during school hours for fear that a truant officer will threaten my family. Opportunities to explore our world are at every turn. Many places are home-schooler friendly when before we would have been met with closed doors. Home-schoolers are being accepted to universities and succeeding in their degree fields. As my daughter begins her journey as a learning, growing, inquisitive person, as all children are, I feel very blessed with the freedom to choose the best possible education for her as an individual.
Stay tuned for part two of this series, coming soon!