Grassroots in Education: A History of the Modern Homeschooling Movement in America, Part 1, By Katy-Anne Wilson
Katy-Anne Wilson describes herself as “mommy to four public children who are or will be sent to public school (so thankful for special education programs).” She is about to graduate college with a degree in writing and sociology. This post was originally published on her blog on August 4, 2012, and is reprinted with her permission.
In this series: Part One | Part Two | Part Three
The story of the modern homeschooling movement in fundamentalist and evangelical Christian circles, who currently dominate this movement and have done so for more than a quarter of a century now, is a story of manipulation. A lot of the modern homeschooling movement happened because of the “culture wars” which started to emerge in the 1920’s. In fact the whole premise of this paper is that the main reason the modern homeschooling movement is as strong and popular as it is currently is because the religious right wanted to gain political and cultural influence in order to “take back America for Christ” and turn the USA into a Christian country. The religious right want to force the American people to live by their ideals and their morals by changing laws in America.
This paper focuses on the fundamentalist and evangelical Christian homeschoolers because 85% – 90% of homeschoolers are fundamentalist or evangelical Christians. (Gaither 2009, p. 341) When the modern homeschooling movement first started there were roughly 10,000-15,000 children who were homeschooled in the USA, but by the mid-80’s the professional estimates are at somewhere between 120,000 and 240,000 (Gaither 2009, p. 341) and now that number is even higher at 1.35 million children in the United States are now homeschooled, (Cooper & Sereau 2007, p. 110) with the majority of these being fundamentalist or evangelical Christians.
The modern homeschooling movement started as a grassroots effort in the 1970’s on the part of secular educational reformers who believed that an institutionalized school setting was not conducive to their children’s education and wanted to educate them through means they considered to be more natural. By the 1980’s, the fundamentalist Christians, the ideological homeschoolers, were beginning to infiltrate the homeschooling movement and by the mid-80’s had completely hijacked the movement from its founders original intentions and had turned it into a political fight against society. (Coleman 2010, unpub.) During the 1970’s the “Christian Right” (fundamentalists and a lot of evangelicals) rose to a position of great political influence. (Dowdy & McNamara 1997, p. 162)
Educational History in the USA
Emergence of the Public School System in America
The public school system in America originally emerged as a protestant religious initiative in the 1830’s and was established by the religious fundamentalists such as the Calvinists, Puritans and the Reformers. (Goldfield et al. 2001, pp. 403 – 404). The Puritans believed that everybody should learn the Bible as well as basic math, reading and writing skills, and they thought that the best way to do this was to develop a public school system. (Goldfield et al. 2001, p. 403). Klicka (1995, pp. 117-118) claims that the main reasons for wanting the children educated at all were so that children could read the Bible for themselves and if they could read and understand it for themselves then they would obey it. The main goals of the original public school movement were literacy (but only as it pertained to learning to read and obey the Scriptures) and vocational training (which was really either household work, the trade of the child’s parents, or an apprenticeship in another trade). Although colleges have existed in some form in the USA since the 1700’s, the goals of the Colonists did not usually include a college education for their children. (Klicka 1995, pp. 117-118). However the public school system was very loose and unregimented until the 19th century.
The public school system was overhauled and reshaped between 1880 and 1920. (Goldfield et al. 2001, p. 681). The 1920’s were the start of what has been dubbed the “culture wars” (Goldfield et al. 2001, p. 777). It was during this time of public school reform that things such as compulsory attendance laws came about, and when kindergarten was started and age appropriate segregated classes were formed. The public schools began to hire professional teachers, and the schools provided students with vocational training. (Goldfield et al. 2001, p. 681).
Although it was fundamentalist Christians who began the public schooling movement, they abandoned it in droves during the 1980’s in order to home school. Secular educational reformers started the modern homeschooling movement which was soon taken over by the Christian fundamentalists and while secular people homeschool, it is not to the same magnitude as the Christian fundamentalists. There are also many Christian fundamentalists who place their children in public schools too but there are many more who home school.
The Modern Homeschooling Movement
When the modern homeschool movement began, it was actually lead by secular educational reformers in the 1970’s (Coleman 2010, unpub.) who believed that schools damage children. The two secular leaders of the modern homeschool movement were John Holt and Raymond Moore. (Gaither 2009, p. 339) In the 1980’s Christian fundamentalists began to join the homeschool movement in large numbers, but for different reasons than the secular crowd. Coleman (2010 unpub.) refers to the secular educational reformers as “Pedagogues” and the religious crowd as “Ideologues”, because some homeschooled for pedagogical reasons and some for ideological reasons. During the 1980’s the Pedagogue crowd and the Ideologue crowd worked together with common goals such as making homeschooling legal in all 50 states of America. (Coleman 2010, unpub.) By the early 1990’s, homeschooling was legal in all 50 states even for parents with no teaching certifications. It was at this time that the Ideologues split off completely from the Pedagogue crowd having completed their goals of making homeschooling legal. The split had been inevitable and had been in progress since about 1985. (Gaither 2009, p. 340)
The Pedagogues simply wanted their children to be able to learn in a natural environment rather than be in institutionalized schooling, because they believed that natural learning was better for their children. Their primary motive was that their children be well-educated. Whereas the primary motive of the Ideologues was to religiously indoctrinate their children in Christian fundamentalism. (Coleman 2010, unpub.) In fact, most religiously motivated homeschoolers believe that they are fighting a culture war and that they must keep their children from being influenced by society, which they usually call “the world”. The culture wars are very important to fundamentalist Christians, and they believe that they are raising children in order to “take back America for Christ”. (Coleman 2010, unpub.)
To be continued.
Carper, J, & Hunt, T 2007, “Chapter 9: Homeschooling redivivus,” Dissenting tradition in American education pp. 239-264 Peter Lang Publishing, Inc. Education Research Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 13 August 2011.
Coleman, R.E. 2010, Ideologues, pedagogues, pragmatics: a case study of the homeschool community in Delaware County, Indiana, Masters thesis, Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana.
Cimino, R & Lattin, D 1998, Shopping for Faith: American religion in the new millennium, John Wiley & Sons, New York.
Cooper, B & Sureau, J 2007, “The politics of homeschooling: new developments, new challenges”, Educational Policy, 21, 1, p. 110-131, Education Research Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 13 August 2011.
Dowdy, T.E. & McNamara, P.H, 1997 Religion north American style, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Gaither, M 2009, ‘Homeschooling in the USA: past, present and future’, Theory and Research in Education, 7, 3, pp. 331-346, Education Research Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 13 August 2011.
Goldfield, Abbott, Anderson, Argersinger, Argersinger, Barney, & Weir 2001, The American journey: a history of the United States, 2nd edition, Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey.
Klicka, C.J, 1995 The right choice: the incredible failure of public education and the rising hope of home schooling: an academic historical, practical and legal perspective, Noble publishing associates, Gresham, Oregon.
The public school system in America originally emerged as a protestant religious initiative in the 1830’s and was established by the religious fundamentalists such as the Calvinists, Puritans and the Reformers. (Goldfield et al. 2001, pp. 403 – 404). The Puritans believed that everybody should learn the Bible as well as basic math, reading and writing skills, and they thought that the best way to do this was to develop a public school system. (Goldfield et al. 2001, p. 403).
And this was also responsible for the establishment of Catholic parochial schools in America. Because the Christian(TM)-established public schools were extremely Anti-Catholic — still fighting the Reformation Wars — the Catholic church had to start their own schools.
The culture wars are very important to fundamentalist Christians, and they believe that they are raising children in order to “take back America for Christ”. (Coleman 2010, unpub.)
How does this differ from any totalitarian mass movement (Fascist, Communist, or X-treme Islamic) breeding and indoctrinating its youth into an army of True Believers, weapons for coup and conquest against the Other?
Fundamental Christian homeschoolers are jihadists for Christ.
Here is a link to an article in Secular Homeschool Magazine that seems to contradict some of the information about the number of homeschool families choosing this option strictly for religious reasons. Just in case anyone wishes to research it further.
Cindy, I agree with pretty much everything she’s saying about the demographics. Demographic studies of homeschooling are very flimsy, but they are all we have. One of the most frustrating things about the multitude of surveys is that most of them offer a different number of “why do you homeschool” answers or entirely different options. I agree that it’s extremely difficult to infer hard statistical data about the number of Christian fundamentalist homeschoolers. One of the reasons for this is that HSLDA has pushed, pushed, pushed to deregulate homeschooling. As it is now, some states don’t even have to count the number of homeschoolers in the state. They don’t require parental notification when students leave the public high school.
I think that before we can even had better statistics about homeschooling, there needs to be more information collected about them. I trained in social science with my undergrad and when I started looking at the demographic studies, I was very discouraged. They say a lot less than most people want them to say, but they are all we have. I appreciate your efforts in bringing a balanced perspective to the comments here.
I’ll tell you what we do know about the propensity for fundamentalism in homeschooling. The most extreme fundamentalists, let’s just take Doug Phillips, Ken Ham, and Kevin Swanson, deliver keynotes every year at some of the largest Christian HS conferences around the country. Conferences that attract tens of thousands of people.
The unschoolers/secular HS’ers are a growing proportion of the homeschooling community, but they have nowhere near the organization, funding, reach, and scope of Christian homeschoolers. I think it’s very, very likely that over 50% of homeschoolers are teaching some form of fundamentalism (courtship, patriarchy, purity, revisionist history, creationism, and sex mis-ed). Don’t you think if we’re looking at a majority, or close to a majority, of homeschoolers being closely involved with fundamentalism, that this is a homeschooling issue?
There is obviously a huge disconnect between the secular and Christian homeschooling communities. Yes, there may be growing groups of moderates, but the biggest conferences are held by Christian homeschoolers and are commonly keynoted by fundamentalists. If fundamentalist Christian homeschooling is dying out, why are they still making SO MUCH MONEY?
I think you are correct that there are many fundamentalist Christians homeschooling, probably a majority, but 85% seemed high.
It is an odd world we live in right now. I have never seen it like this. Everything, absolutely everything that people can disagree upon, they do so from the most extreme corners. There is very little compromise or a willingness to see things from someone else’s perspective, or even just to agree to disagree.
In my experience, fundamentalist Christians, like those that have been discussed here, manage to exert the most influence on their children even if they are not homeschooled. Kids tend to reject the parts of their parent’s teachings that don’t ring true when they go to college. Not always, but it happens a great deal of the time.
But in all fairness, many public schools overreach when it comes to the area of raising children that really is the parent’s domain. I saw it with my own eyes. Sometimes I see things posted by fundamentalists who hate any government involvement and I roll my eyes. There are other times, where despite my wanting to disagree, I am compelled to agree with whatever has them upset. Fling enough stuff and I guess some of it will stick.
When things get this acrimonious, we sometimes tend to tune out and just focus on our own. I really do not want the option to homeschool go away because I truly do believe it is an excellent option if done well. And there is one thing that I’ve noticed that all of the homeschool authors on this blog have in common; they are excellent writers. Public schools just aren’t churning out many of those.
Also, Nick. I just want you to know that I would not give HSLDA a dime. I find their politics abhorrent. Most of the homeschool families I know, even the ones who are not Christian fundamentalists, knee-jerked into signing on because they felt they needed protection. No doubt HSLDA would protect them if they needed it, but I would feel dirty.
However, I do not judge too harshly, because homeschoolers probably need someone looking out for them (almost every group has someone lobbying for them), and I know one of my friends whose daughter has Asbergers needs to be able to homeschool.
I also wrote a post reviewing some of these issues, you can check it out. It’s mostly a review of Mitchell Stevens. http://homeschoolersanonymous.wordpress.com/2013/04/23/home-education-ideologies-and-literature-review-part-1/