As a general concept, homeschooling has a long history. Private, in-home tutoring was quite normal in wealthy ancient Roman families. The pioneers of the American west had to teach at home, at least until their settlement was big enough for a schoolhouse.
Homeschooling did not really begin as a modern cultural movement until the 1970s. At that point a fellow named John Holt, a leftist and humanist educator, persuaded hippies to include homeschooling as part of life on the commune.
No matter what Holt’s political leanings were, I can’t help but agree with him:
“we must look beyond the question of reforming schools and at the larger question of schools and schooling itself. Can they do all the things we ask them to do? Are they the best means of doing it? What might be other or better ways?”
John Holt’s influence is still strong today, embraced by a cross-section of homeschoolers who call themselves unschoolers.
Around the same time, Raymond Moore attracted socially conservative Christians to the idea of homeschooling, eventually getting the attention and approval of Focus on the Family’s Dr. James Dobson.
In the 1980s, the hippie generation mercifully ended. Meanwhile, the conservative Christian brand of homeschooling flourished, and with it came the stereotype: the fundamentalist homeschool family.
This stereotype continued throughout the 80s and the 90s, perhaps fairly so. Even today, families who resemble the parody are not altogether uncommon at homeschool functions I have attended.
I have also found a genre of bloggers who describe their childhood experiences in isolationist homeschool families–a trauma they must overcome. As firsthand accounts, they cannot be simply dismissed. Yet, my firsthand experience tells me these cases are aberrant, not representative of the homeschoool community.
The hundreds of families I socialize (“S” word!) with on a regular basis are Christian, but they certainly aren’t isolated. There is tremendous diversity of background, religious practice, and daily life. On park day, teenagers roam together, sharing stuff from their smart phones. The younger ones are running wild, having sword fights and climbing trees.
Also, it’s hard to find a homeschool parent who was actually homeschooled themselves as a child. The ‘fundamentalists’ may have paved the way, but they no longer define the movement. As Professor Reynolds noted, Buffy the Vampire Slayer herself once asked, “What about home schooling? You know, it’s not just for scary religious people any more.”
Buffy was right. Today’s homeschool community is less defined by religion than it ever has been before:
“Many parents do not like the emphasis on standardized tests; others remove their children because of bullying. Others, like Pedersen-Giles, realize their children struggle when asked to sit at a desk for extended periods.”
Many of my peers have told me they are homeschooling because the traditional school wasn’t working for them. Like me, they have experienced the calcified rigidity of an educational system that can no longer treat children as individuals. Like me, they have experienced the time-consuming impositions of a traditional school system, whether public or private. Like me, they have noticed that our education system seems more interested in indoctrinating our children than educating them.
Homeschooling has been embraced by a whole new swathe of the American population, for reasons beyond the origins of the practice. A twelve-year veteran of homeschooling recently remarked to me about a STEM class my son attends, “Ten years ago, no one would have paid for a class like this. Now we are so overwhelmed with interest that we have to cut off participation and turn people away.”
This new sort of homeschooler, it seems, just unplugs from the traditional school and plugs into local homeschool scene, where they enjoy athletics, academics, field trips, and the very novel concept of being in charge of their children’s education.
It’s almost like they are redefining the very idea of “school.”
I’m just glad to be a part of it. I hope that sharing my experience helps someone out there, looking for some sanity in education. Ironically, a family member recently told me I was ‘insane’ to homeschool.
The truth is, if you are willing to take the plunge, then sanity awaits.