Homeschooling Has Come Along Way

As children head back to school, an increasing number of their homeschooled peers will be starting their academic year as well. Homeschooling in the United States is growing at a strong pace.

This diversity challenges any simplistic understanding of what homeschooling is and what impact it will have on the public school system.

Recent statistics indicate that 1.5 million children were homeschooled in the United States in 2007. This is up significantly from 1.1 million children in 2003 and 850,000 children in 1999.

The homeschooling movement first emerged in earnest during the 1980s. Back then it was largely led by evangelical Christians. But as the movement has grown, it has also changed.

In my own research, I have seen how diverse homeschoolers now are. This diversity challenges any simplistic understanding of what homeschooling is and what impact it will have on the public school system.

So how do we understand this evolution in American education?

Early Trends

In fact, homeschooling was common up until the late 19th century. Most children received a substantial part of their education within the home. In the late 19th century, states started passing compulsory attendance laws. These laws compelled all children to attend public schools or a private alternative. In this way, education outside the home became the norm for children.

It was in the 1970s that American educator John Holt emerged as a proponent of homeschooling. He challenged the notion that the formal school system provided the best place for children to learn. Slowly, small groups of parents began to remove their children from the public schools.

By the 1980s, homeschooling families had emerged as an organized public movement. During that decade, more than 20 states legalized homeschooling. For the most part, evangelical Christians led these battles. Organizations such as the Home School Legal Defense Association, founded in 1983, provided the necessary legal and financial backing for these families.

Only 36 percent of the homeschooling families in their survey chose “the desire for religious or moral instruction” as their primary reason for their decision to homeschool.

At the time, homeschooling was seen to be in conflict with secular school systems. Religious parents came to define the public face of the homeschooling.

Reasons for Homeschooling

Today, homeschooling is becoming part of the mainstream. It is legal in all 50 states. In addition, a growing number of states are making attempts to engage the homeschooled population for at least part of the day.

For example, 28 states do not prevent homeschooled students from participating in public school interscholastic sports. At least 15 more states are considering “Tim Tebow Laws” – named after the homeschooled athlete – that would allow homeschoolers access to school sports.

The overall homeschool movement is also much more diverse. For example, sociologists Philip Q. Yang and Nihan Kayaardi argue that the homeschool populationdoes not significantly differ from the general U.S. population. Put another way, it is not really possible to assume anything about the religious beliefs, political affiliations or financial status of homeschooling families anymore.

Data from the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) provide further corroboration. In 2008, the NCES found that only 36 percent of the homeschooling families in their survey chose “the desire for religious or moral instruction” as their primary reason for their decision to homeschool. At the same time, other reasons, such as a concern about the school environment, were just as important to many homeschool families.

Changing Face of Homeschoolers

Discussions about whether homeschooling is good for children can be emotionally charged. Some scholars are critical about the increasing number of homeschoolers, while some others view homeschooling in a different light.

They believe that homeschooling families are more responsive to a child’s individual needs and interests. They may be better at taking advantage of learning experiences that naturally arise in home and community life.

Indeed, in my own work as a teacher educator, I have come across parents who have chosen to homeschool their children for reasons that are not entirely religious. These include two public school teachers with whom I work. Reasons for parents could range from concern over food allergies, special needs, racism or just that their child might be interested in a career in athletics or the arts.

Given all these changes, it may be time for public educators and policymakers – both so desperate to increase parental participation – to reassess who and what represents the homeschooling movement of today.


Article was first published on

Parents have been demoted to deputy school teachers

I was giving a talk at Florida Gulf Coast University the other night near Fort Myers when I noticed a flyer on the door of the lecture hall. The sign (I wish I had gotten a picture now) read: “PARENT FREE ZONE.”

Rather than schools acting in loco parentis, parents act in loco scholis (in place of the school at home), tasked with enforcing the dictates of the school.

I chuckled at first, thinking it was more of a tongue-in-cheek joke to new freshmen who were used to having their parents around. Then my stomach sank when I had the realization that it probably wasn’t a joke.

Chances are that this sign had to be put up — not because the instructors in the classroom wanted to make a joke but because they had been harassed by parents who find it necessary to involve themselves in the academic lives of their adult children.

There have been articles written on this, like this one from WaPo:

The kids who have been raised by parents who watched their every move, checked their grades online hourly, advocated for them endlessly and kept them busy from event to activity to play date are tucked away in college. But that doesn’t mean their parents have let go. They make themselves known to schools, professors, counselors and advisers. And yes, college presidents.

Or this one, that tells of parents calling Florida professors when their children can’t get into classes.

Or this one, in which a mother urges other parents not to call professors.

With parenting like this, is it any wonder that young people have a bad reputation in the workplace?

With problems like this, you’d like that there were all of these loving, caring parents out there who had strong, organic relationships with their children. Yet this is far from the case. Helicopter parents might care about their children’s “success” (how they, the parents, define that), but they rarely know their children and rarely set them up for dealing with life.

It’s almost as if these parents care more about signaling to other parents what good parents they are and making themselves feel good about their track record with their children than their children’s own success.

Parenting and the Education System

“Parents aren’t meant to participate in our form of schooling, rhetoric to the contrary.”

If we understand the purpose of K-12 schooling, this should be no surprise. K-12 is not set up to support the family and healthy parental-child relationships. It is designed to make those relationships entirely a function of the school and the schooled world. Rather than schools acting in loco parentis, parents act in loco scholis (in place of the school at home) and are exhorted to make sure their children follow the dictates of the school if they want to be successful.

This was a big point for John Taylor Gatto in his resignation from teaching:

Government schooling is the most radical adventure in history. It kills the family by monopolizing the best times of childhood and by teaching disrespect for home and parents.

An exaggeration? Hardly. Parents aren’t meant to participate in our form of schooling, rhetoric to the contrary. My orders as schoolteacher are to make children fit an animal training system, not to help each find his or her personal path.

John Taylor Gatto’s Resignation Letter

So, we see an apparent paradox of schooling (which really isn’t a paradox when you break it down): school destroys organic, real, lasting relationships between children and parents but also incentivizes parents to act as helicopter parents and dote on every aspect of their adult children’s academic lives.


This article originally appeared on

Slate Gets Education Wrong.

A writer at Slate recently wrote an article on education. She admits to not being a policy wonk, just judgemental. The very first thing you see in the article is a startling insult if you send your kids to private school you are a bad person. Not murderer bad but pretty bad either way. This would surprise most parents, you are a bad person for providing the best you can for your children.

Her basic argument is that if everybody sent their children to public schools then everybody would be invested and would leverage that to make the public schools better, for the common good…..eventually. The author readily admits that it could take generations to improve and that your children and even grandchildren may get a mediocre education because of it. Rest assured, though, it is worth it.

I want to take a minute here and say this. Really? What common good does she speak of? Whose definition of common good? Is sending all the children to bad schools really going to improve society as she hopes? This is astounding to me.

She does make a good point, though. She states “local school stinks and you do send your child there? I bet you are going to do everything within your power to make it better.” This is correct and many parents are seeing how bad public schools are for their children and reacting accordingly by putting their children in private schools or even homeschooling them. Not only are they paying to school their children, they are forced to pay for the schooling of others for the “common good”.

To the author’s credit, she does not suggest a legislative action just a moral one. She also credits aggressive PTA’s with raising money for schools as well as keeping administrators in line. What I think she fails to see is that those schools that do not have aggressive PTA’s will not necessarily change if you have all children to go public schools.

“But many others go private for religious reasons, or because their kids have behavioral or learning issues, or simply because the public school in their district is not so hot. None of these are compelling reasons. Or, rather, the compelling ones (behavioral or learning issues, wanting a not-subpar school for your child) are exactly why we should all opt in, not out.”

The excerpt above strikes me as particularly obtuse and really hits one of my pet peeves. Why does she get to decide what is and is not a compelling enough reason to send a child to private school or homeschool to get a more individualized education. Why wouldn’t a parent take the opportunity to educate their child in a private school or homeschool if they have a behavioral or learning issue? Putting children with these issues in public schools without a personalized learning environment is foolish and does more harm to these children than good. The only argument that can be made for putting these children in non-supportive environments is the one she makes, for the common good, and we all see where these things lead.

She goes on to recount how she had a sub-par education and that she survived it. I am going to venture out and say that most parents do not want to have their children survive a sub-par education but would rather have their children have the best education they can. It is not about bringing everybody down to the lowest level, it is about raising them up. Having everybody receive a sub-par education instead of some receiving a great education, some a good education and some a subpar education is not ideal. This brings up the question about public schools doing so poorly and what to do about that. This is for another blog post but to read more about it (, ).

She ends her article by calling her colleagues that send their kids to private schools morally bankrupt and reiterating that parents who send their children to public schools want the same things that parents who send their kids to private schools want. While I may agree with generalities in this situation i.e. parents want their kids to have a good education, I cannot agree with it in particularities. There are 320 million people in this country, each with their own identity, personalities, wants, needs, wishes, hopes, and dreams. Each one having particular things they value, differing strengths and weaknesses. To tell parents that their unique child has to go to a public school to learn the same as everyone else is absurd. While “for the common good” sounds great on a bumper sticker it does not allow for individualization of education. It does not value the individual at all. The greater good is not great without the individual.

In the quest to protect minorities and protect them, Slate and others on the so-called left despise the smallest minority out there, the individual. It is the parent’s responsibility, not the states, to teach the child or to find a proper teacher for the child. Children are not a one sizes fits all program. Each child learns differently as well as having different aptitudes in differing subjects. It is best to individualize education rather than lowering the bar to the lowest common denominator. We should be looking for innovative and decentralized ways to bring about education rather than a top-down approach. We should strip away standards and allow experimentation to happen in the realm of education. We have seen this proliferate online and with great success. The way to fix the education issue is not to further restrict choice but to expand it.