Today, some 2 million American school children are not enrolled in public or private schools, but rather are educated by their parents at home. Almost 51 million school children are educated in America’s government-controlled public school system. Lastly, 5.7 million school children are educated in private schools. Harvard University professor Elizabeth Bartholet believes that the home education of 2 million children is a threat to the nation and to the well being of children. (She teaches “civil rights and family law, specializing in child welfare, adoption, and reproductive technology” at Harvard, according to Wikipedia.) You can read more about her ideas on home education in the May-June 2020 edition of Harvard Magazine.
So how did this terrible behemoth of home education take over the schooling of America and threaten our nation of 330 million people?
The modern home schooling movement actually began in the 1970s with John Holt and Raymond Moore. They did not see home schooling as anything particularly religious but rather as a reform movement. In fact, many early advocates were left-leaning in their politics! They believed that public education at the time was more of a stifling rote-learning “one size fits all” approach; children needed to be liberated from the state-controlled curriculum and allowed to pursue their own interests within the context of family. It was not until the 1980s that some Christian groups gravitated to this idea, but more on that later.
Home education is as old as America itself (founded in 1607 at Jamestown, by the way). There were no state controlled public schools. The idea of a free school for the public came from the German reformer Martin Luther who believed that everyone needed to learn how to read so that they could read the Bible. When Englishmen came to the New World, for the most part they educated their children at home; however in New England these free schools for the public (in which the pastor usually taught the children) was popular. Throughout colonial America, “public schools” were mostly confined in New England and some areas of the northeast. The rest of the country relied upon home education or employed private tutors, or used some combination of both. Such notables who were educated at home and/or with private tutors were: George and Martha Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Abigail Adams, and Roger Sherman. I would say that they were all rather well educated.
From the time of colonial America to the mid-1800s public education was still the minority method of educating children. However, with the large influx of European immigrants in the mid-1800s, and through the influence of Horace Mann, things began to shift. Through Mann and others an emphasis grew to create government run schools that would mold and shape children into becoming good citizens of the United States. The moral influence of family and church was de-emphasized in the new public education.
By 1900, 72% of all American children attended public schools, but usually they attended some 72 days a year, and then in many communities they did not attend all day long. The trend continued for longer days for schools to have a greater influence over children. By the mid-twentieth century, home education was nearly extinct. American parents were very content to put their children in the hands of experts who would teach them everything they needed to know.
As stated above, the modern home school movement began in the 1970s as a reform movement from people not connected with any kind of Christian agenda. By the mid-80s however, evangelical or fundamentalist Protestants, along with Roman Catholic parents (and some from other religious groups) saw the benefits of educating their children at home. Although the US Supreme Court had consistently ruled that parents have the right to educate their children, it was not until 1993 that every state in the union had passed laws legalizing education in the home (with some regulations in each state).
Today, although almost all of America’s schoolchildren are educated at home due to the coronavirus, only 2% are “homeschoolers” who are not part of the public school system. Somehow, now that so many are learning at home…that poses some kind of threat to education, or to “democracy” or to national security, or to…something.