When public education became established in the U.S. in the mid-nineteenth century, some families turned to home education as an alternative to the learning environment provided in public schools. Their motivations ranged from religious reasons to overall dissatisfaction with government control over curriculum and teaching methodology. Homeschoolers share the belief that the education of children should be the responsibility of parents or guardians and that it is their own prerogative to decide whether their children should be educated. Estimated to be more than two million students in 2010, homeschooled children are from a diverse population, cutting across ethnic, religious, political, and economic backgrounds. Homeschoolers in rural as well as in urban and suburban areas work with what they have, utilizing the resources found in their homes and neighborhoods to help with educational activities and learning opportunities. Twenty-first-century homeschooled students win national spelling bees and geography contests, enroll in Ivy League colleges, and have overall positive academic performance, as opposed to their public school counterparts.
Keywords Alternative Education; Compulsory Education; Countercultural Left; Forced Education; Homeschooling; Public Education; Religious Right; Unschooling
Homeschooling, also called home education, is the education of school-aged children at home rather than at a public or private school. Prior to the establishment of public education in the mid-nineteenth century (when education became compulsory until a certain age), many children studied at home. By the beginning of the twentieth century, public schools had become commonplace and states had adopted compulsory education attendance laws (Lines, 2001). Families who believed that the education of children should be the responsibility of parents or guardians opted to homeschool their children. Educating children under the supervision of parents or guardians, instead of school teachers, has grown steadily, with as many as 2.35 million American students being educated at home in 2010 (Ray, 2011).
Throughout the history of the homeschool movement, motivations to homeschool children have ranged from religious reasons—because of the separation of church and state mandate—to overall dissatisfaction with public education because of government control over curriculum and teaching methodology. Two individuals in the 1970s prompted increased interest in homeschooling. Raymond Moore, a US Department of Education employee and former Christian missionary, and his wife, Dorothy, a reading specialist and elementary school teacher, provided a religious right thread for the homeschool movement. John Holt, an Ivy League graduate and a teacher in alternative schools, provided a countercultural left thread.
In the 1980s, the Moores published Home Grown Kids and Home-Spun Schools, which were authored from a Christian outlook but offered a worldwide message and realistic advice to parents regarding how best to make them successful home teachers. Their book advocated a conservative attitude toward home education that balanced studying, doing chores, and working outside the house, all organized to promote the development needs of the child (Lyman, 1998).
Holt, following several years as a classroom instructor, discovered that well-meaning but worn-out teachers were charged with programming children to recite correct answers, which, he asserted, deterred self-directed education and often retarded children's inherent desire to learn and understand. He espoused a philosophy—which became known as unschooling—that was a laissez-faire means to home-based education. Holt documented his issues with mainstream education in How Children Fail (Lyman, 1998).
The Moores earned a sizable following of parents who decided that homeschooling could be used “primarily to pass on traditional Christian religious values to their children. Holt, a humanist, became a cult figure for New Age devotees, ex-hippies, and homesteaders—those on the countercultural left” (Lyman, 1998, para. 25). While Holt and the Moores attracted very different constituencies, both ends of the spectrum promoted the home as the best source for the beginning of a child's development and assimilation into the community and the world at large.
Reasons for Homeschooling
Homeschooling is viewed by many as a return to the roots of society, where family, community, religious institutions, and work were all integrated into daily lives. Holt's assertion that schools existed to sort children into economic winners and losers based on test scores has rung true for many who homeschool. The Moores' concern that forced education was contrary to a child's development influenced others. An ever-widening range of families have increasingly embraced homeschooling as a chosen style of learning for their children (Farenga, 2002).
As a 2007 survey discovered, 36 percent of homeschooling households cited wanting to provide religious or moral instruction as their primary motivator; 21 percent felt school had a poor social and/or learning environment, 17 percent objected to institutional curriculum, about 7 percent preferred nontraditional educational approaches, and 6 percent sought to address their child’s health or special needs issues (National Center for Education Statistics, 2009, p. 14).
Many, including professional educators, believe that it is unrealistic to expect public schools “to meet the needs of every child in the community and that it is the responsibility of parents, schools, and the community to work together to educate all children, no matter what form of education parents choose” (Romanowski, 2006, p. 129). Homeschooling is considered one of many alternative education approaches.
Across the board, Miles (2004) suggests families tend to decide on homeschooling due to an intense commitment to their children. Some parents evaluate their children’s performance in school and find it to be below their standards, opting to subsequently pull them out and teach them from home. Others make the decision because they valued the benefits that could be gained to create and nurture a strong family relationship. Others are confident that they do better than public schools. While some homeschooling parents are educators, many have no special credentials (Miles, 2004).
While not as coordinated on a national level as other options to public education, several organizations serve as support groups and clearinghouses for curriculum materials as well as sources for research and evaluation information:
• The Home School Legal Defense Association (www.hslda.org) follows the constitutional right of families to decide on their own what course of education and form of schooling is best for their children and to defend family freedoms.
• The Cato Institute (www.cato.org) seeks to gain more involvement of the general public in regard to policies and the influence of the government on education.
• The National Home Education Network (www.nhen.org) facilitates grassroots work of state and local homeschooling institutions by offering knowledge and advice, creating networks of homeschooling families, and advancing public relations across the country.
• The Home Education Research Institute (www.nheri.org) has a mission to publicize statistics, facts, and discoveries on homeschooling and to instruct the public on home education information and the research done that proves its effectiveness, benefits, and potential drawbacks.
• The Home School Association of California (www.hsc.org) has information for educators and individuals who have serious interest in homeschooling.
• The Home Education Magazine (www.homeedmag.com) offers homeschooling advice and facts, as well as guidance, encouragement, effective tools, contacts, networking opportunities, and updated newsletters.
• Homeschool.com (www.homeschool.com) provides resources, information, and support for homeschooling families.
Present-day homeschoolers tend to be spread out in a broad range of communities, cutting across ethnic, religious, political, and economic backgrounds. They generally use resources that are at their disposal to aid in teaching, or else they opt to create their own tools that may offer help. Families in rural areas, where children can learn by interacting with nature, are as just as effective in homeschooling their children as those who live in cities where museums, cultural centers, and libraries become teaching and learning resources. Other families involve traveling as a tool used for teaching, finding their lessons in the landscapes and landmarks of many locations across the country.
Charlie Miles (2004), a homeschooler who has published on the Internet, commented on the "how" and "why" of homeschooling. Related to finances, he observed that some families sacrifice an income so that one parent can stay in the...
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