Homeschooling and Its Importance for the Survival of a Free Republic
What do George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, Booker T. Washington, Florence Nightingale, Susan B. Anthony, Thomas Edison, Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein and Sandra Day O’Connor have in common? They were all homeschooled as were countless other famous statesmen, scholars and scientists.
Children traditionally were taught at their parents’ knees. In most cases, it was the mother who served as their instructor, in colonial as well as modern times. It wasn’t until the mid-1800’s that the states assumed the legal role as the educator of the country’s children. Massachusetts was the first to demand compulsory education in 1854; the Southern states, not until the 20th century.
The Bible was the backbone of the early curriculum. Because attendance at church each Sunday was mandatory for most children, they were expected to be literate and able to read the scripture as well as the hymns. Tocqueville, struck by the universal literacy among the colonists, commented on the unusual (to a French aristocrat) phenomenon in his writings.
Most children at that time received basic instruction in history, religion, mathematics and literature. In more affluent families, the children also learned Latin, Greek and French. George Washington was taught drafting and agronomy by his older brother. The younger Washington was a successful surveyor and farmer before becoming the country’s first President.
Each state enacted its own laws for compulsory public education. The first normal school was founded in Concord, Vermont in 1823. By 1873, every state had free elementary schools. Federal guidelines were not enacted until the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was passed in 1965. It was a measure contained in the language of the War on Poverty legislation. National control of the curriculum remained the purview the states.
In 1960, almost 100% of America’s youngsters were enrolled in its public schools. The counter-cultural revolution that swept the country during the sixties brought with it the resurrection of homeschooling. At first limited to hippies living in communes, the concern about radical moral and cultural values being introduced into their children’s schoolrooms gradually persuaded middle-class families to educate their young at home.
By 1990, 800,000+ children were being homeschooled. By 2003, the number had grown to 1.1 million. By 2013, it was 1.5-2.1 million. The actual number may be much higher, given the reluctance of many parents to invite government scrutiny into their homes by officially registering the information.
Home education has become a billion-dollar industry. Thousands of teaching aids and programs are available at fairs held across the county. Homeschooling families are organized into local and state cooperatives. National advocacy groups like the Homeschool Legal Defense Association defend their legal right to home school, most often on the basis of the first and fourteenth amendments.
In 2006, the European Court of Human Rights issued a decision affirming the power of the German government to ban home education. This has understandably raised very legitimate, troubling concerns about a similar possibility of federal overreach in this country by the Obama administration.
Often criticized as a phenomenon limited to affluent, two-parent, White Christian families, thereby invalidating the impressive data, there has been a dramatic and welcome increase in interest in homeschooling among Black and Hispanic families. These children have demonstrated the same impressive results on SAT and ACT achievement tests as their White peers as Fields-Smith and other scholars have noted.
A number of powerful shifts in public education have influenced parents to homeschool. They include the rise of violence on campus, the sexualization of the content of the academic syllabus, the emphasis on multiculturalism, the incidence of illegitimacy and presence of pregnant females in the classroom throughout their pregnancy, the attack on religion and divinity and the corrosive dumbing down of both curriculum and educators.
As Leonard Sax and Cornelius Riordan have noted, 50% of class time is devoted to social indoctrination; the balance of the day, to watered-down academics. Fundamentals that students mastered by the eighth grade in 1895, most college graduates today have failed to equal. With four hours each day for eight months of every year a near-total waste of time, academic content can be distilled into a four-hour period in home school. That has been its premise, beauty and simplicity in a nutshell.
The public must not misunderstand the goal of public education. It was stated in plain English by the founding fathers, Horace Mann and John Dewey. It is usurpation of parental control over their children by the State.
Articulated in their earliest writings, this malign intent went unnoticed or unappreciated. In his seminal book, The Right Choice, Christopher Klicka quotes both men at length, making their insidious purpose very evident. The reality is sobering.
When Mann became the first secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education in 1837, he declared all children had a legal right to an education that must be guaranteed by the state. He also said “society in its collective capacity” is the real godfather for all children. Mann’s goal was to establish “a new religion, with the state as its true church and education as its Messiah.”
John Dewey is the second most important figure in the history of public education in America. An avowed statist and secular humanist, he believed that society and education must be planned and controlled by the State.
“Education is the fundamental method of social progress and reform.” Teachers must realize they are guarantors of “the proper social order and the right social growth.” Dewey also declared “there is no God… and no room for fixed natural law or moral absolutes” and thus gave birth to the credo government über alles.
These same concerns echo comments by Professors James Carper and Thomas Hunt who fear our public schools have become the functional equivalent of an established church that is being underwritten by compulsory taxation.
Chester A. Pierce, a psychiatrist and professor of education, put it more bluntly. “Every child in America entering school at the age of five is mentally ill because he comes to school with… allegiances toward our founding fathers, toward our elected officials, toward his parents, toward a belief in a supernatural being, toward the sovereignty of this nation as a separate entity. It’s up to… teachers to make all these sick children well by creating the international children of the future.”
Homeschooling is the antidote to state indoctrination. Parents are free to design the scope and content of the curriculum, choose the texts and workbooks and set the pace of instruction. They serve as the child’s private tutors. Their love, undivided attention and patience guarantee his gradual mastery of the material. They are also the key to the phenomenal success of homeschooling.
Study after study has shown that homeschooled children score an average of 15-30 percentile points higher on achievement tests like the CAT and ITBS, higher on college admissions SAT and ACT tests, maintain a higher GPA in college and a higher rate of success and civic involvement in adulthood. Studies funded by HSLDA have demonstrated a 2-grade difference in the 4th grade and a 4-grade difference in the 8th grade between homeschool and public school students.
Home educated students have proven their bona fides in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, National Siemens Westinghouse Science Competition and Merit Scholar Award program. They placed first in the national spelling bee in 1997 and first, second and third three years later.
These achievements have been repeatedly discounted as not representative of average students. They are criticized as reflective of a population that would succeed in any environment and are, therefore, invalid. The same false arguments about socioeconomic class and privileged family background have been used to try to discount or invalidate the success of graduates of catholic and single sex schools.
The records of The Young Woman’s Leadership Academy in East Harlem or Ivy Preparatory School in Atlanta or of the success of poor Black Caribbean girls who became heads of state are eloquent proof poverty and race do not preclude success. The impressive data have nevertheless failed to silence the critics.
Homeschooling is a threat to the power of government to control education and the public purse and, by the indoctrination of its young future citizens, the direction of the country. Its success is also a threat to teachers’ unions, particularly in light of abysmal scores in math, science and reading on international assessments like PISA and TIMMS of US public school students.
This explains the unending legal challenges to parents who homeschool and forcible intrusions into their homes by various policing authorities. Unions have proposed, and states have attempted to enact, a series of laws to require parents to obtain teacher certification or to accept prescribed monitoring and testing programs. In each and every instance, HSDLA has stepped in to take the matter to court and protected the parents’ legal civil rights.
Where do we go from here? Homeschooling entails a significant commitment by parents and is, for reasons of temperament, finance or circumstance, not feasible for everyone.
It is, however, an important option, whenever indicated and possible. It is also one that traces its roots to our colonial, if not Biblical, origins. We should always be mindful of Hitler’s famous maxim to “give me your children, and in 10 years I’ll change society.” Homeschooling must be protected, nurtured and preserved.
About the Author: R. Claire Friend, MD, is the Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, UC Irvine Medical Center, and the editor of the UC Irvine Quarterly Journal of Psychiatry. She is a retired psychiatrist and frequent commentator on the psychological dimensions of education and social welfare policies.
(1) Partial list of homeschoolers, http://www.homeschoolacademy.com/famoushomeschoolers.htm
John Quincy Adams
William Henry Harrison
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
William Jennings Bryan
Pierre du Pont
Alexander Graham Bell –
John Moses Browning
Peter Cooper – invented skyscraper, built first U.S. commercial locomotive
Elias Howe – invented sewing machine
Sir Frank Whittle – invented turbo jet engine
Frank Lloyd Wright
Orville and Wilbur Wright
Sandra Day O’Connor
John Paul Jones
Robert E. Lee
Louis May Alcott
Hans Christian Anderson
Pearl S. Buck
William F. Buckley, Jr.
Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain)
Beatrix Potter – author of the beloved Peter Rabbit Tales
George Bernard Shaw
Jill Ker Conway – first woman president of Smith College
Timothy Dwight – President of Yale University
William Samuel Johnson – President of Columbia College
Horace Mann – “Father of the American Common School”
Charlotte Mason – Founder of Charlotte Mason College of Education
Fred Terman – President of Stanford University
Frank Vandiver – President of Texas A&M University
Booker T. Washington – Founder of Tuskegee Institute
John Witherspoon – President of Princeton University
George Washington Carver
Booker T. Washington
Susan B. Anthony
(2) World Net Daily, “A Constitutional Amendment for Homeschoolers?” http://www.wnd.com/2006/12/39151/#1ild4cQTwUqQ7gL8.99
(3) Cheryl Fields-Smith & Monica Wells Kisura; Resisting the Status Quo: The
Narratives of Black Homeschoolers in Metro-Atlanta and Metro-DC, Peabody Journal of Education,
2013, 88:3, 265-283, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0161956X.2013.796823
(4) Christopher Klicka, The Right Choice: Home Schooling, Oregon: Noble Publishing Associates, 1995, p.80
(5) Ibid., p. 82
(6) Ibid., p.84
(7) Home School Legal Defense Association, http://www.hslda.org/docs/study/rudner1999/Rudner2.asp