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Past, Present, & Future of Homeschooling

By Martin and Carolyn Forte
The modern homeschooling movement has been a very successful educational alternative for over thirty years and continues to grow in popularity and acceptability. The majority of you who are reading this article probably have no idea what it was like to be a homeschooler in the late 70’s and early 80’s, the decades which represent the birth of the modern homeschool movement. Let’s take a few minutes and discuss the progression of homeschooling through the decades starting with the “pioneers”, progressing to the “settlers” and ending with the latest members of the homeschool community, the “refugees.”

As with any successful movement, it all starts with the pioneers. These are the individuals who had a vision, were willing to blaze the trail and take the arrows in the back. The original pioneers were composed of two very distinct groups. The first group was composed of hippies living off the coast of Big Sur or the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas and was basically very happy smoking their happy grass and skinny-dipping. They really were interested in just doing their own thing and bringing their children with them. This resulted in a rather isolated group with very little organizational power or desire.

The second group, formed mainly of Christians and those with similar goals, was highly influential in setting the direction of the movement for the next decade or so. This group homeschooled primarily for religious and academic reasons, as well as to protect their children from the ways of the secular world. During this time period, not only prayer, but nearly all references to Christianity were removed from public schools and in the mind’s eye of the Christian community, the progression of secularism was of great concern.

The early homeschoolers in both these groups were pioneers in every sense. They had only sketchy guidance from the few trailblazers of the decades before them. In many cases they were completely on their own, unaware of the few individuals and organizations that offered support or advice to homeschoolers. The pioneer homeschoolers had no conventions, state or national organizations, organized and knowledgeable legal defense, or curriculum support. To make life even more difficult they usually operated outside the then-current law, while trying to duck under the radar of local truant officers. There are documented cases where some parents actually spent time in jail for homeschooling their children. These were families who believed passionately in what they were doing and were willing to make sacrifices to give their children a better life. The methods and philosophy of the early pioneers varied enormously, but they found common ground in their commitment to raising their children free of government interference.

They did the best they could with whatever materials were at hand. As few text books were available, most homeschoolers of the late 70’s and early 80’s used the public library as their primary source of written materials. As these pioneers were forced to develop curriculums free of text books, they soon discovered that they had a tremendous advantage over classroom-educated children. Those who stuck with it concluded that far from being necessary for learning, formal texts actually slowed down the pace of learning. Occasionally, we were given a discarded reader or social studies book only to find it was boring and useless. We didn’t know at the time that we had discovered what Diane Ravich wrote in her book “The Language Police” that virtually all elementary text books are purposely designed to be bland, boring and obscure, an insult to the native intelligence of children. Far from being a handicap, the lack of formal texts propelled pioneer homeschoolers into real study and research using real, or as Charlotte Mason put it, “living books.”

This new awareness, combined with the teaching of Dr. Raymond and Dorothy Moore who introduced the concept of physiological maturity determining academic readiness in their publication “Better Late Than Early”, allowed the pioneers to determine their own educational timeline or as the educational community would refer to as “scope and sequence.” Before his passing in 1985 John Holt left a very large foot print on the heart and minds of the pioneers. His “unschooling” concept that allowed for more “interest-led ownership” by the children provided a tremendous amount of freedom from the less-than- successful structured educational model of the class room school system. If you were to ask most homeschoolers in the late 70’s and 80’s who the true pioneers of homeschooling was they would reply the Moores and Holt.

Because the pioneers did not have conventions, the internet or other supportive vehicles, they relied on their own research and reading. They were hungry for knowledge on the various avenues they could pursue in successfully teaching their children. This is why most pioneers became eclectic homeschoolers, blending the teachings of Moore, Holt, Mason and the concepts represented in the classical education and Jeffersonian models. Encouraged to follow their interests, free of artificial schedules and fabricated lists of facts to be memorized, our children learned to inquire, experiment, observe, learn from failures, digest information, analyze and create their own conclusion that was either verbally communicated or written. In other words, our children were given the opportunity to learn how to learn, as well as teach themselves. When we asked our older daughter what aspect of homeschooling provided her with an advantage in college, her immediate response was: “I have the ability to teach myself.”

Gradually homeschoolers began to find each other, forming groups and organizations to share information, support and legal defense. The latter was no trifling matter as parents were threatened, harassed, jailed and in at least one case died for the right to homeschool. The mid 1980’s found homeschoolers organizing on every level: Local park days, private schools for independent study, county, regional, state, and national support organizations as well as specialized support for ethnic, religious and handicapped children. Seminars and conventions brought homeschoolers together in large numbers attracting vendors and publishers who scorned individual homeschoolers only a few years earlier. All this material and organizational support that was the result of the persistence and sacrifices of the pioneers, resulted in a homeschool community that was safer and more secure. At this point the pioneers had succeeded in their job and created a safe and secure community.

As with every successful community, its success attracts a new class of individuals which we call the “settlers.” It is important to remember that the “settlers”, for the most part, homeschooled for the same reasons as the “pioneers”, which basically can be summarized as educational excellence or faith-based reasons. Like the settlers of the old west, these new homeschoolers worried less about attacks from outside than the pioneers had. Their numbers and successes began to afford them an increased sense of security and protection. Unfortunately, this has resulted in a complacency that might prove to be detrimental to homeschooling. This, combined with the reality that they didn’t have to be totally self-reliant in terms of devising a program of learning -- let alone develop an educational philosophy -- has changed the attitude of some homeschoolers. In fact, the trend among many settlers is to buy their educational philosophy instead of developing their own unique style.

With the advent of so many publishers and authors convincing the homeschool parent that they have the golden bullet, the convention- or seminar-attending homeschooler has become confused, if not controlled by this influence. How many times have you listened to a dynamic speaker and left the seminar knowing that you have found the answer, only to discover six months later that the promises just seem to be as elusive as ever? While the homeschool community can get some great inspiration and information from these great speakers and vendors, the settlers must always be on guard not to lose sight of their original intent and the effect on their children of any curriculum or program you might subscribe to. We bring this reality to your attention only because we have seen so many settlers burn out and send their children back to the classroom.

Another trend within the community is the increased support system of classroom options. This basically started with the “Friday School” concept where homeschoolers meet one day a week for classroom instruction. The primary purpose here was to provide a source where a parent could find a teacher to teach a subject that they were uncomfortable with or lacked confidence in. An example would be the teaching of higher math or a biology lab classes. Some individuals have actually formed businesses with the whole purpose of teaching classes to homeschool students. In southern California, a company called Science-2-U provides complete science instruction from elementary levels through high school lab science classes to literally hundreds of students in the Los Angeles area. Today you can find classes from basic elementary levels all the way through Advanced Placement (AP) classes. While this is a wonderful development, the homeschool community should be careful to not lose sight of the original “homeschool” concept and not get caught up in the “alternative” school direction. This is an easy trap to fall into.

The homeschool community has also discovered the community college as a great source of instruction through the concurrent enrollment programs. The benefit here is that once the homeschool student has entered into “college” level classes, they gain not only high school graduation credits, but they also are receiving college credit for all classes successfully taken by the homeschool student. This has become such a great option that in some cases, we are seeing homeschool students graduating with their high school diploma and their Associate of Arts degree from the community college.
Through the massive buying power the settlers represent, major book publishers and vendors—large and small—have discovered the profit potential in this niche market. Small, family-operated bookstores and Independent Study Programs have flourished in the last 15 years. A very large portion of the settlers have become very computer and internet savvy which has created a very strong internet community. A homeschooler today can find literally thousands of internet sites covering every aspect of homeschooling. The internet has also been a great news source for the community. With the various sites, almost anything positive or negative occurs within the homeschool community it can take a very short time before the entire community is informed.

As we can see, the settlers have made wonderful strides in the homeschool movement. Their success with homeschooling has resulted in an annual growth of approximately 20%. This is a very successful growth rate regardless of what industry you are looking at. The settlers have been very influential in the normalization of homeschool and the acceptance of society as a whole, in recognizing homeschooling as a viable and legitimate educational option. Today, due to the success of the settlers, homeschool graduates are accepted by industry and all post-secondary institutions from community colleges to Ivy League universities and the military. Everyone is very excited about the success of the settlers with the exception of high schools, who seem to put up road blocks for those homeschoolers who want to transfer back into the public high school system. With this exception, we can proudly say that the settlers have done a wonderful job in creating a very positive impression for homeschooling.

This leads us into the third and newest member in the homeschooling community: What we refer to as the “refugees.” While the pioneers and settlers were primarily motivated by faith-based reasons or wanting a better quality educational option for their children, the refugee is entering the homeschool community as a last resort. The primary reasons for entering into this community is that the parent wants a safer environment, the child is failing in the classroom, the child has violated a zero-tolerance rule or the child has been expelled from the public school system. The parents in these cases have exhausted all classroom options and are left with the last option, which is homeschooling, until compulsory attendance requirements have been met. The transition into the private school option is in many cases outside the affordability of the family and they will default into the homeschool choice. The major problem for the homeschool community is that the parents in most cases really do not want to homeschool, but they feel trapped into this option. Part of the reason for this trapped feeling is that these parents just do not feel they are qualified to teach. This is going to become a great challenge for the settlers to do their best to welcome these new refugees and provide a safe and encouraging environment. Up to this point, the performance of the general homeschool community has been very positive with our students performing very well on standardized tests and post-secondary schooling. If we do not pay attention to the refugees, we will see a decline in the overall performance of the homeschool community. These refugee families in many cases come into the homeschool community with very low grade point averages and attitudes lacking a success motivation.

While it is true that many of the refugees will stay just that, there is also the great reality that many of the refugees will want to transition into the settler community with the hope of succeeding as true homeschoolers. The settlers will have to exercise some extra patience with the refugees, but if done properly we will see some fantastic results. We know of many cases where a refugee has successfully transitioned into the settler class in the homeschool community. We know of one case where a refugee with less than a 2.0 GPA and no future, entered into the homeschool community scared and confused only to graduate from an Independent Study Program with college credits and entering into a college path to become a minister. When this particular student had been asked where he would be at age 25, his response was either dead or in jail. Now, he is headed into a profession that will help countless number of troubled teens. The reality is that if the settlers spend a little time with these families and help build a dream as well as increase their confidence, these families and students will have a positive future. The sad part is that this particular homeschool student was rejected by a large number of exclusive ISP’s before he found one that accepted him and provided him and his family the tools to work with. How much better can it get when a community accepts all of its members, helps them create a dream and does what is required to make them a success? This will be the greatest footprint that the homeschool community can make, the taking of refugees from the classroom environment and providing them the pathway to success. MF & CF■