The Washington Times
July 7, 2008

Washington Times Op-ed—Homeschooling Pioneers Deserve Thanks for Efforts

by J. Michael Smith
HSLDA President

As America celebrates its 232nd year of freedom as a nation, a revolution within our nation continues to grow. The homeschool movement, which is a rebirth of the primary form of education in early America, continues to advance despite overwhelming odds.

The modern homeschool movement traces its roots to the late ’70s and early ’80s when two main ideas began to revive the method of education our forefathers practiced. First was a belief that the traditional classroom and institutional school, as a whole, was inadequate to meet the individual educational needs of children, and in some cases may actually harm a child’s development.

Two men are credited with giving energy and expression to this idea. John Holt, who was a public education reformer, generally is recognized as the first to begin arguing in writing that children are by nature curious and eager to learn, but schools tend to suppress the natural curiosity of children rather than encouraging it.

Mr. Holt’s efforts to reform public education failed, and his effort to advance his ideas through private schools was met with meager success. He finally concluded that parents who wanted to have their children learn could simply teach the child at home. Mr. Holt summed up his philosophy this way: “I think that learning is not the result of teaching, but of curiosity in the activity of the learner.”

Raymond Moore’s emphasis was on early childhood development and he concluded through his extensive research and studies that children, especially boys, should not be in a formal classroom setting until as late as age 8, and in some cases, age 10. Prior to that time, they should interact at home with their parents. Mr. Moore believed that a child’s interests should be encouraged and fostered by the parent. This led naturally to homeschooling.

The second motivation leading the revolution away from public school attendance and toward homeschooling occurred in the ’60s and ’70s when a series of court cases significantly fueled the homeschool movement. These decisions, such as banning prayer in school, prohibiting the reading of the Bible in the classroom, and mandating evolution to be taught as the only viable theory for exploring life, seriously troubled many parents.

Just as Great Britain chafed at the Colonies’ efforts to gain freedom, the public school establishment and the teachers unions were not pleased with this group’s effort to seek freedom from government control in their children’s education. Many state school officials considered this movement quite rebellious and attempted to squash it through the compulsory school attendance laws every state had adopted after the Civil War.

These laws require a child between certain ages to be in a public school or another educational program that the state approves. Private schools generally are recognized as legitimate alternative schools, but homeschooling was recognized as a legal option in only a handful of states in the early 1980s. Some state laws recognized exceptions from public school attendance if the child was receiving “equivalent instruction elsewhere.” However, these states were reluctant to recognize homeschooling as a legal “equivalent.”

Parents were faced with threats of prosecution and jail for teaching their children at home. They also faced the possibility the state could remove their children from their home for failing to send them to public school.

Despite the potential for these frightening consequences, thousands of families with the pioneer spirit and the conviction that God was calling them to teach their children at home did not yield to the state’s power.

It was this backdrop that prompted the founding in 1983 of the Home School Legal Defense Association, which defends the fundamental right of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children. Although a struggle, courts reluctantly began finding that this parental choice was protected by the Constitution.

State legislatures one by one then began to recognize the right and value of parents teaching their children at home. More than 30 states in a matter of 10 years passed laws recognizing homeschooling in various forms as a legal exemption from public school attendance.

Just as our founders were courageous in their battle for freedom, so were the homeschool pioneers in their battle for the freedom to homeschool. America owes a great debt of gratitude to the pioneers of the homeschool movement. As we celebrate freedom, HSLDA salutes the thousands of homeschool parents who risked going to jail, and even the loss of their children, to establish this freedom for the hundreds of thousands of homeschool parents today.

Michael Smith is the president of the Home School Legal Defense Association. He may be contacted at (540)338-5600; or send email to media@hslda.org.

 Other Resources

Family Times Column