‘Homeschooling’ is the modern term for the revival of traditional general education of children. In generations before the 20th century, most families took responsibility for the basic education of their children, and schools of those times often required that the children be able to read and do basic arithmetic before the schools would accept the children as pupils. Because children of poor families went to work far before they reached the minimum working age of 14, compulsory public school attendance laws were enacted1 in the United States beginning in 1852 in Massachusetts and ending in 1918 in Mississippi.2
Since then many social changes have shifted the educational responsibility away from the family, just as some contemporary social changes seem to be shifting away from parents the responsibility for providing proper meals for their children. On the ‘education hand’ public schools assumed the job of teaching reading, writing and ‘rithmetic. On the ‘nutritional hand’ public programs provide breakfasts, lunches and sometimes, after-school snacks. It is the position of many homeschoolers that just as families are naturally responsible for the feeding, clothing and sheltering of children, so, too are they responsible for educating children.
The revival of traditional home education began in the early 1900s with the publication of School in the Home by A. A. Berle3 and Natural Education by Winifred Sackville Stoner4. Despite the growing provision of public schooling by the state a few families continued to educate their children at home, William F. Buckley and Agatha Christie come to mind as people who did not attend mass-, government- or public-schools as children but rather were educated at home. Mr. Buckley mentions his education by his mother in his most recent novel Getting it Right, and Mrs. Christie writes in An Autobiography that her mother decided that “no child ought to be allowed to read until he was eight years old.” Mrs. Miller, Agatha’s mother, was thwarted because Agatha taught herself to read before she was five.
By the 1950s and 1960s in the United States public schooling was socially conservative and as a reaction to this many liberal parents chose to teach their children at home. They were encouraged by authors such as John Holt5 and Ivan Illich6. Perhaps in conjunction with the liberal movement against conservative education the schools, too, shifted to a more liberal mode of education. This caused a reaction among conservative parents who viewed this shift as secular humanism and a growth in the number of Christian schools joined the ranks of the already well-established Catholic parochial schools. In 1978 the IRS revoked the tax-exempt status of some private schools7 and they foundered. Conservative parents were left with the choice of homeschooling or using the secularly humanistic public schools. By the middle of the 1980s both ends of the political spectrum were represented among homeschoolers but the thin center did not hold. As has happened so many times through history, schism occurred (for reasons not germane to military homeschooling). Those effects are still felt today.
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Because of the increasing numbers on both the ‘right’ and the ‘left’ ends of the homeschooling spectrum the movement was an item of interest for the mainstream news media. Homeschooling came to the attention of middle- America and some parents liked what they saw. Homeschooling ranks increased, and the perception of what homeschooling is, grew.
Since the 1960s home education has gone from being a do-it- yourself, homesteading phenomenon to being big business. In the name of ‘Education’ entrepreneurs of all stripes will happily sell you anything your pocketbooks can afford or bribe you with ‘free’ public-school-at-home materials, too.
Where there was scarcity there is now surfeit. Where once textbook publishers refused to have any truck with renegade parents outside the education establishment there are now homeschooling workbooks sold ‘over-the-counter.’ Where once you needed a teacher’s ID card to buy educational materials, now all you need is a credit card.
Homeschooling has arrived.
John Holt and the Origins of Contemporary Homeschooling http://mhla.org/HoltOrigins.htm
Raymond Moore, The Ravage of Home Education Through Exclusion by Religion, 7 July 1998 http://homeschooling.gomilpitas.com/articles/070798.htm
Cheryl Lindsey Seelhof, Who Stole Homeschooling? http://expage.com/page/whostole
Cheryl Seelhof, A Homeschooler’s History of Homeschooling
Notes to chapter
1. John Taylor Gatto, True Believers and the Unspeakable Chautauqua, page 9, “De-Moralizing School Procedure”
2. Enactment dates of State Compulsory School Attendance Laws from infoplease.com
3. School in the Home by A. A. Berle, listed on Gifted Children & Homeschooling: An Annotated Bibliography by Kathi Kearney http://www.gifteddevelopment.com/Articles/Gifted&Homeschl.html
4. Natural Educationby Winifred Sackville Stoner listed on Juvenile Nature Literature and Nature Pedagogy, c.1850-1920: Additional Resources in the Library of Congress
5. Growing Without Schooling web site
6. Ivan Illich Writing On The Web
7. I. Update on Private Schools, Green v. Connally, 330 F. Supp. 1150 (D. D.C.) aff’d sub nom. Coit v. Green, 404 U.S. 997 (1971)
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Copyright 2006, 2010 Valerie Bonham Moon
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