Laying the Foundation: Homeschool in History

 

Laying the Foundation: Homeschool in History

Just when did this novel idea of teaching your own children at home become such a fad? Did it evolve with the hippie movement of the 60s? I am sure you have heard the list of prominent homeschoolers over time; George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Douglas MacArthur, Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, Dwight Moody, Benjamin Franklin, John Philip Sousa, and C.S. Lewis, to name a few. Since it appears that home education has been around for some time, let’s take a look at how the foundation was laid.

Home Education is Not New to the Party.
Alexander the GreatFor centuries, children were taught at home before they went on to higher education. Alexander the Great is known to have been educated at home, making him the first recorded homeschooler. Over time, depending upon the social status and gender of the child, what knowledge they acquired at home may have been all the education they were ever afforded. It was the Puritans who recognized that children should have skills in reading, writing, math and biblical virtues, so they established community schools for their children. By the 1840’s, advocates such as Horace Mann were lobbying for free compulsory education for every child in the United States. Massachusetts was the first state to pass compulsory education laws in 1852, and by 1918, all children in America were required to attend school through 6th grade 1.

About 70 years later, parents began taking education into their own hands once again.  The unraveling of traditional values disillusioned parents, and a movement for home education began. By the 1980’s, state educational agencies in some states saw the trend and relaxed the compulsory laws in order to accommodate home schooling. Others, however, did not, and truancy lawsuits were filed all over America. The Home School Legal Defense Association was established in the early 80’s as a mostly volunteer organization2. Their first case was defending criminal prosecution for truancy against the family of a nine-year-old boy in Vancouver, Washington3. Since then, as home educating has grown, so has its support for home educators around the globe.

The Letter of the Law and Homeschool
One cannot fully grasp the homeschool movement without taking a look at the legal trends surrounding it. Although it seems as though parents have begun to demand more control of their children’s education in just the past few decades, the first case that protected a parent’s right to guide their child’s education was in 1922. This court case decided that the state could not deny foreign language education if the school offered it and the parents wanted their child to study it. Not long after that, in 1925, parents were given the right to choose what type of school their children attended, whether it was public or private. Fifty years later, the Supreme Court ruled on a case that protected home education in Wisconsin vs. Yoder, which decided that the compulsory attendance law could be superseded if religious convictions necessitated it, allowing families to school at home1. This mostly affected Amish families who could remove their children from school after age 12 in order to continue their religious studies at home. According to one article, in 1950, states were given the right to require that children attend state funded schools if their social development was in danger of being impeded, leading to an abnormal unproductive life as an adult. Again, in 1983, courts decided that states could require children to attend school because of the interaction it provided with peers3.

Looking back, it is easy to see that requiring attendance based on the assumption that students would be socially impeded is unwarranted, when studies now show that home-educated graduates in college have healthy self-esteem and are less anxious than peers who were not home-educated4. Nevertheless, it wasn’t until the 1990’s that home education began to take root and become a popular educational option for hundreds of thousands of families across America5. Many Christian parents across the nation heard this call and answered;

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:4-9



  1. Home Schooling-History, Legal Background, Legal Trends, Effects, Future Implications. StateUniversity.com. n.p.. 6 June 2014.
  2. Tyler, Zan. The Curtain Rises on HSLDA. Court Report 1 Jan. 2003: n. pag. Web.
  3. Farris, Michael. The Good, The Bad, The Inspiring: Marking the Milestones. HSLDA Court Report, 1 Jan. 2014. Web. 1 Jan. 2014.
  4. Medlin, R. G. (2013). Homeschooling and the question of socialization revisited. Peabody Journal of Education, 88(3), 284
  5. National Center for Education Statistics. Institute for Education Sciences, 2007. Web. August 1, 2014