In the Beginning
As we reminisce about the past in celebrating the 25th anniversary of Home School Legal Defense Association, I have fond memories that go back to the genesis of home education in my family.
HSLDA / Art CoxJ. Michael Smith, President, Home School Legal Defense Association
AS A RESULT OF
LIVES WERE CHANGED
IN ALMOST EVERY WAY.
The year was 1981. Elizabeth and I had four children—a senior in high school, a 10th-grader, a 5-year-old, and a 3-year-old. My attention at that time was focused on my 5-year-old son, who was in a kindergarten program at a local church. I had been an advocate of early childhood education for my son and had actually enrolled him part-time in a preschool program when he was 3 years of age. My thinking was that in order to give our children the best advantage for succeeding in the future, the earlier the better for education. However, the school informed us that our son was not ready to be advanced into the 1st grade. This news was quite a shock and I thought to myself, “How can our child flunk kindergarten?”
With this as the backdrop, I was listening to Focus on the Family on my car radio one day as I drove to court in Los Angeles. James Dobson’s guests that day were Dr. Raymond Moore and his wife, Dorothy. The Moores were trained in child development and education. They were sharing that their experience demonstrated that little boys typically were two to three years behind little girls in their maturation. This meant that when little boys went off to school at 5 or 6 years of age, they were competing with little girls in class who were 2 to 3 years more mature and more ready to learn than they were. As a result, all kinds of behavioral and self-esteem issues could and would develop.
This caused me to immediately reflect on my son, who I knew was plenty smart but was not really interested in doing much learning at 5 years of age. This was the first time I had ever heard about academic developmental differences between boys and girls, and it immediately made sense to me. Dr. Moore shared that because of this delay in maturing for many young boys, it would be unfair to place them in a school setting that could
detrimentally affect their entire life. Some would be labeled learning disabled when they really weren’t, and would have that label as long as they were in school. He suggested that these little boys, and even some girls, would be better off not starting formal education until age 8 or 9. This again made sense to me.
Then, Dr. Moore shared that not only were some parents delaying the formal education of their children, but others were even beginning to teach their children at home. He explained some of the benefits of teaching children at home, e.g., individualized instruction, children going at a pace that matches their abilities and temperament, and improved family life by having family members together.
I had never heard of homeschooling before, and as I listened to the program and some of the anecdotal evidence of the benefits of homeschooling for families and children, I thought to myself, “This is something that we should try.” I couldn’t wait to get out of court that day. Rather than go back to my office, I went straight home where my homemaker/housewife was happily waiting for me to arrive. What she didn’t realize was that what I was about to share with her would change her life and our family dramatically.
I shared with her what I had heard on this 30-minute radio program—and after all, I had become an expert on homeschooling now as I knew more about it than 99.9% of the rest of Americans. After I shared with Elizabeth the benefits of homeschooling and the research about early childhood education, I said, “What do you think?” My wife hesitated for what seemed like an eternity and then asked me a question. “And what would your role in homeschooling be?”
Oh. I hadn’t thought of that. I did, however, have a vision for my wife and my son—and that would be one-on-one tutoring across the kitchen table hour after hour. I later learned that this was not exactly my wife’s vision of homeschooling. But after we discussed it a little bit more, she said, “Well, why not? Let’s give it a try.”
Within one week, we had attended our first homeschool conference of approximately 10 families in Weimar, California, and there we met Dr. and Mrs. Moore. After observing these families, many of them already homeschooling, we were more convinced than ever that we would give it a try with our 5-year-old son. Our 10th-grader, who was then in private high school, said, “Why not me?” So my wife began with a 10th-grader and a 5-year-old who was quickly turning 6. And the rest is history. Our 10th-grader went on to graduate from homeschooling as did our 5-year-old and his 3-year-old sister.
As a result of beginning to homeschool, our lives were literally changed in almost every way. As I shared last time in the Court Report, Elizabeth and I did not realize that there was a legal issue when we started teaching our children at home. We didn’t even ask the question “Is it legal?” We just assumed that anything this good would be sanctioned by the state. How naive we were. Very shortly, we learned that the California Department of Education considered any homeschooling family to be illegal unless the instructor was a certified teacher. Soon, we were thrust into a legal battle defending families in California who were considered to be illegal. At the same time, Mike and Vickie Farris encountered a similar situation in Washington State, and out of this conflict, HSLDA was born in 1983, enabling homeschoolers across the country to band together to make homeschooling legal in every state.
My wife and I are eternally grateful to Dr. and Mrs. Moore, as well as to Dr. James Dobson, for introducing us to the concept of homeschooling. As we have shared our story around the country, many have indicated that they heard that same radio program and as a result, began homeschooling as well. The homeschool movement owes a great deal of gratitude to these three individuals—I believe that the 1981 radio broadcast was the catalyst for launching the evangelical homeschool movement of today. Praise the Lord!