Homeschooling appeals to a surprisingly broad range of families, each with their own unique motivations for pursuing the method. Despite the myriad misconceptions about students’ social aptitude or ability to perform once they hit college, it remains an unyielding component of the education industry. But homeschooling gets so bogged down in theory and curricula, many take little time to ponder its extremely active, controversial history.
By no means is this list even the slightest iota comprehensive, but it does pick out a few interesting, relevant tidbits.
- Education in the United States and Europe was largely homebound until the 1830s: Even then, education was not compulsory in the former until 1852, implemented by the “Know-Nothing” Party in Massachusetts. Religious and ethnic minorities excluded from the policies on the grounds of their alleged intellectual inferiority and some crazy talk about a Catholic conspiracy to overthrow the government responded by continuing homebound classes. The Mormon community especially resisted required government schooling until 1915.
- The Native American community was one of the most vocal detractors of compulsory education: And, to nobody’s surprise, proved one of the most marginalized demographics once the United States began passing compulsory education laws. In yet another display of wrecking the indigenous ways of life under the wrongheaded nomenclature of “progress,” such legal measures drove stakes into their traditional schooling methods — which, of course, long predated the standardized style.
- Growing Without School was the first periodical about homeschooling in America: Founded by John Holt in 1977, this newsletter allowed homeschooling parents to connect with one another, exchange ideas and learn about the issues affecting them. It ran for 24 years, ending in December 2001 for financial reasons and leaving behind 143 issues in its archives. Much of the content celebrated the controversial “unschooling” method, which sports a highly flexible, student-directed curriculum with minimal structure.
- Both the left and the right have historically embraced homeschooling: Their reasoning may be different, but homeschooling is one of the few things both the political left and right have historically supported. John Holt, Growing Without School founder and author of numerous books on unschooling and homeschooling, pulled from many 1960s/1970s anti-establishment philosophies. His right-wing counterpart was former U.S. Department of Education employee Raymond Moore, who touted homeschooling’s religious potential during the same era.
- Raymond Moore and his wife Dorothy conducted some of the homeschool movement’s most influential studies: Along with John Holt, the Moores were the most influential figureheads of the homeschooling movement in the 1960s and 1970s. They sunk numerous resources and teamed up with representatives from the World Health Organization, Harvard University, Cornell University and other educational and research institutions in the interest of studying the method’s impact. Some of the findings, most especially the ones tying numerous learning and development disorders to compulsory state schooling’s completely inflexible, homogenous structure.
- Better Late than Early was published in 1975: One of Raymond and Dorothy Moore’s most influential findings centered around the role of parents in early childhood development. Their 1975 smash Better Late than Early revealed the results of intensive studies across different cultures and socioeconomic brackets. They made the argument that kids were not really psychologically or emotionally prepared for structured schooling until ages 8 through 10. Homeschooling advocates latched onto this information and used it to tailor curricula around their children’s natural development and foster tighter filial bonds.
- The number of homeschooled kids at least doubled between 1990 and 1995: Thanks to the efforts of John Holt and Raymond and Dorothy Moore, homeschooling received a bevy of mainstream attention and, subsequently, support. The April 2005 issue of The Home School Market discussed how the number of parents teaching their children outside the education system doubled from 400,000 to 8,000 in the half-decade between 1990 and 1995. However, the Homeschool Legal Defense Association put the number at 1.23 million, accounting for families who rejected joining relevant organizations and kept largely to themselves.
- Homeschooling was once illegal in most states: Prior to the 1960s, parents pulling their children out of public or private schools were held under truancy laws in almost every state. Oklahoma was the only one with no penalties levied homeschooling families until the practice drew mainstream acceptance. The Homeschool Legal Defense Association claims that thousands of families fled “underground” in order to utilize the method.
- State vs. Massa was the first significant court case to rule in favor of homeschooling: This 1967 landmark New Jersey hearing ruled in favor of homeschooling families and paved the way for mainstream acceptance. Laws requiring students to receive an education either in school or “elsewhere than at school” for a specific amount of time were pivotal in the ultimate decision. Homeschooling advocates pointed out that the movement itself qualified as such, and the court eventually stated, “This court agrees with the above decisions that the number of students does not determine a school and further, that a certain number of students need not be present to attain an equivalent education.” (Massa at 256).
- The HSLDA was founded in 1983: As one can probably imagine, the Homeschooling Legal Defense Association hosts its own fair share of controversies — not the least of which revolve around its largely fundamentalist Christian leanings. But despite one’s views on religion and education, the organization still enjoys considerable political influence and plays a significant role in homeschooling history. Michael Ferris, an attorney, founded the nonprofit in 1983 with the hopes of providing legal counsel to homeschooling families butting heads with their respective states. The organization charged $100 a year to represent the needs of participants, and by 2000 supported a membership of roughly 70,000 families and 250,000 kids. All that in spite of dwindling legal issues aimed at the homeschool demographic.
- Many exceptionally successful people were homeschooled: Despite homeschooling’s mainstream acceptance, some stereotypes persist regarding their social and professional abilities. Presidents such as Abraham Lincoln, John Adams and John Quincy Adams were all homeschooled before going on to lead the United States, as was Founding Father Benjamin Franklin. More creative kids will be happy to find out that Frank Lloyd Wright, C.S. Lewis, Louisa May Alcott, Virginia Woolf, Ansel Adams and plenty more all grew up in such an educational environment as well.
- 1983 tax laws allegedly increased the number of homeschooled students: Exact figures are difficult to come by, but changing tax regulations in 1983 drove many students in Christian schools back into their homes for an education. Parents upset at the denial of financial breaks to institutions practicing racial discrimination yanked their kids out of the private system and turned to homeschooling instead. Many could not afford the subsequent tuition hikes in the schools too stubborn to accept other races, either, and considered it their only available option.
- Charlotte Mason inspired the Parents’ Education Union in 1886: With the publication of Charlotte Mason’s Home Education, the Parents’ Educational Union (later the Parents’ National Education Union) sprang up around 1886 in England. Exact dates and detailed information are both difficult to come by, however, and there doesn’t seem to be much information about it available online. In the book, the author compiled her lectures and presented a comprehensive outline of childcare and education spanning from birth to 9 years of age. Mason also launched the “Parents’ Review” to unite members and spread information about liberal home education, which she edited until her 1923 death.
- The first college designed for homeschooled students opened in 2000: Purcellville, Virginia-based Patrick Henry College began with 80 students in the fall semester of 2000. While the institution doesn’t accept homeschooled students exclusively, its campus and liberal arts and government-centered curriculum cater mostly to their needs. Though groundbreaking in this regard, Patrick Henry College favors Christian applicants.
- Homeschooling was legal in every state by 1989: Despite being a largely accepted education option, homeschooling was surprisingly not legalized in every state until 1989. Much of the reticence stemmed from the fact that this particular strategy involved no qualifications whatsoever. Even parents without a high school education could still serve as teachers to their kids — a concern which led many policymakers and parents to look upon homeschooling with skepticism. To address this issue, some states — such as Ohio – made sure to pass legislation regulating what students must learn before graduation.