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No. 3

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by J. Michael Smith
- disclaimer -
The Birth of HSLDA

March 3, 2008, began the 25th year of HSLDA’s existence. Feeling a little nostalgic, I thought it might be interesting to share with you some of the experiences we had in the early days of HSLDA.

HSLDA / Art Cox
J. Michael Smith, President, Home School Legal Defense Association

As I described in my last column, our family started homeschooling in 1981 after listening to a Focus on the Family radio program. During the broadcast, Dr. Dobson interviewed Dr. Raymond and Dorothy Moore about early childhood education, the different intellectual maturation rates of girls and boys, and homeschooling. My wife, Elizabeth, and I immediately became interested and within a week we had attended our first homeschool conference in Auburn, California, where we met Dr. Moore.

Impressed by the folks we met there, we decided to take the plunge with our 5-year-old and our 10th-grader. Shortly after we began homeschooling, Dr. Moore invited me to speak at a homeschool conference in Southern California. While driving to the conference, Dr. Moore said to me, “Oh, by the way, I’d like you to give a presentation on the legality of homeschooling in California.”

Well, I hadn’t even thought about the legality of homeschooling in California. Dr. Moore countered, “That’s no problem. I have a file here that contains a lot of legal information about various states, and I’m sure California is in there. Why don’t you read that over and I’m sure that you can make a very fine presentation.”

Sure thing, Dr. Moore. So I read the file…and became an expert on California law and homeschool law in 30 minutes.

When we arrived at the conference, I was surprised to find 500 people there. When it was my turn to address the crowd, I explained the general homeschool law around the country and said that in looking over the California law, I couldn’t find homeschooling mentioned anywhere. I don’t remember what I told the crowd that day about homeschooling in California, but I hope no one was recording it. I’m sure it was pretty pathetic.

At that conference, I met Susan Beatty, who, along with Karen Woodfin and another lady, was publishing a newsletter that was informative and helpful to those just beginning homeschooling and the “veterans” alike. Susan had been homeschooling a short time by then, but had made a lot of contacts around the country with other homeschoolers and homeschool leaders. She had become acquainted with an attorney and homeschooling father in the state of Washington by the name of Michael Farris. Michael was active in defending homeschooling families in Washington, where the school districts insisted that homeschoolers be certified teachers (does this sound familiar?). I was soon to learn that this was also the position of the California Department of Education at that time.

In 1982, at a homeschool conference in Sacramento, Susan suggested that Mike Farris and I get together since we were both defending families teaching their children at home. When I first met Mike I was instantly impressed with his knowledge of the legal issues and his passion for our cause. It was at that first meeting that he outlined the idea of HSLDA. It was obvious to both of us that because of the complicated constitutional arguments required in court, few homeschoolers would have the financial resources to hire a lawyer with the necessary expertise to defend them.

Mike asked me if I would like to be a founding board member and I quickly replied, “Yes!”

I would like to be able to tell you that HSLDA’s membership numbers immediately grew by leaps and bounds. However, that was not the case. We started out with very slow growth. It was very difficult for us to get the word out around the country, but we did grow little by little—although not fast enough for Mike Farris to be able to support his family on the proceeds of membership as we had desired. He took a job with Concerned Women for America (CWA) and moved across the country to Washington, D.C.

It was at this time that we added a new board member who became critical to the success of our organization. Jim Carden and his wife, Jeanie, were homeschooling their young family in Ft. Worth, Texas. Jim provided the secretarial help and office location so we could have a place to process applications and receive correspondence. The Texas office lasted for almost a year and then we were able to move HSLDA to shared space with CWA in Washington, D.C., where Mike could oversee the operations.

Memberships did steadily grow and in 1985 we were able to hire our first full-time lawyer, Christopher Klicka, who in June of this year will have been a full-time co-laborer of HSLDA for 23 years. Mike Farris joined HSLDA full-time in June of 1986, and in March of 1987, I moved my family from California to the Washington, D.C., area to devote my life to defending homeschoolers all across the country.

I am pleased to report that after 25 years, homeschooling families still want to join HSLDA because they want to advance homeschooling and make sure the freedoms gained are preserved for future generations.

As I think back to our early experiences at HSLDA, I am sure of two things. First, I have never regretted a day of being a part of HSLDA and having the privilege of being a part of the best movement in America.

Secondly, homeschooling is the greatest thing that we as parents can do for our children and for our families. For all of us, academics and academic advancement are very important for our children. But the most important thing that we can do for our children is offer them an opportunity to develop their character by pointing them to the Savior. Homeschooling gives us increased opportunities to carry out God’s will, which is to raise our children up in the nurture and the admonition of the Lord.

May God continue to bless your family and your homeschool.