The Washington Times
November 12, 2007

Washington Times Op-ed—Instilling Basics Teaches Leadership

by J. Michael Smith
HSLDA President

If I told you that homeschool parents had established a leadership academy in their home, you might be surprised. Even most homeschool parents would be surprised because surveys show the two main reasons parents choose homeschooling are to avoid the negative peer environment of public schools and to teach from a religious perspective. Few homeschool parents identify training their children to be leaders as the reason they chose home education. But are they right? Perhaps many homeschool parents are training their children to be leaders without realizing it.

In fact, the two main reasons given by homeschooling parents for their choice point to the development of a leadership academy in the home. Preparing children to be independent thinkers rather than to follow the latest fad of their peers and presenting the case for belief in something beyond themselves are important for the development of leaders.

The best example we have found to illustrate this claim comes from the Korean War. According to a declassified report by the Army Medical Corps on the experiences of prisoners of war in Korea, the Chinese attempted to identify the leaders so they could separate them from the general prison population. The Chinese wanted to make sure the prisoners remained compliant, and removing the people identified as leaders would help them manage the others.

The Chinese focused on two characteristics: first, whether the prisoner exhibited a “poisonous individualism” and second, whether the prisoner had an overt religious faith.

The Chinese were concerned with independent thinkers. Those types of people do not follow the crowd just because it is perceived as the popular thing to do.

Homeschoolers certainly can identify with independent thinking because there are hundreds of thousands of homeschooling families, each teaching their children differently. Homeschooled children rarely become dependent on peer approval, which all too often leads to disastrous results. Children are especially vulnerable to negative peer pressure, but homeschooling develops individualism and the ability of children to stand up for their own opinions as their parents guide their education.

The Chinese also separated anyone who had overt religious faith. Why was this a concern? Typically, individuals who have a strong belief in God and are not ashamed to enunciate it have a code of ethics that causes them to resist the crowd when the crowd is going in the wrong direction. Religious faith is a potent force. People of faith will respond according to their deeply held convictions and take action.

Though we abhor the treatment of prisoners of war by the Chinese, we acknowledge that they acted correctly to make things easier for themselves. They targeted the people who would cause them problems.

All nations need to develop leadership qualities in their people. We need future generations to think critically to tackle tomorrow’s challenges.

Homeschoolers are well placed to have a leadership role. The majority of homeschooled children are creative thinkers who exercise independent thought, are self-directed, hold to a religious faith, show commitment to others, desire to improve themselves and seek to solve problems. Noting those qualities plus good character and supportive families, we believe homeschoolers will be making a tremendous impact on the direction of this nation.

Although the first thought of most homeschool parents is that they are simply making the right decision for their children, they are, in fact, training the leaders of tomorrow in hundreds of thousands of leadership academies across the country. Homeschoolers have the potential to revolutionize this nation, and it all starts in the home.

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

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