by Isabel Lyman
21 July 1997
John and Cindy Clarkin live in a rural town in western Massachusetts with
their seven children. Their modest home doubles as the Clarkin children's
homeschool, where on any given day a visitor can witness the Clarkin children
involved in various schooling activities: Hannah practicing the piano, David
working on a math sheet, or Ruth playing an educational geography game. Cindy
shuttles from child to child like a schoolmarm of yesteryear, answering
questions, checking assignments, and, on occasion, changing the baby's
diaper. The children's school program includes visits to a nursing home and
participation in the Presidential Physical Fitness Program with other
It's hardly an idyllic life for Cindy, who has no outside help with household
chores and finds little free time for her gardening and calligraphy hobbies.
Yet she and John, an electrical engineer, are pleased that their
homeschooling program has enabled them to build strong family bonds and has
allowed them the freedom to concentrate on teaching their children core
religious and moral values.
"Public school was never an option," says Cindy, "We thought we'd send our
children to private Christian schools." But they changed their minds when all
their friends started homeschooling and they attended a seminar led by Gregg
Harris, a popular homeschooling author and speaker. "The workshop convinced
us how doable homeschooling was, and that we could be a family unit in the
nineties," explains Cindy.
Another couple who have discovered the joys of teaching their children at
home are Ruben and Donna Almaguer, who homeschool Ashley (9) and Adam (7) in
an airy South Florida home surrounded by tropical fruit trees. One room of
the house, which faces an in-ground swimming pool, is the children's
schoolroom. Ruben and Donna see homeschooling as the wave of the future,
where children can excel academically while learning at a pace that is
comfortable for them.
"I want to be the first homeschooling family that homeschools their kids
through college," Ruben jokes with the enthusiasm of a convert. Like Cindy
Clarkin, Donna is the primary teacher. She and the children participate in a
support group of 200 other families who educate their children at home.
The Clarkin and Almaguer families have much company in their decision to
homeschool. Patricia M. Lines, a researcher with the U.S. Department of
Education, estimates that presently half a million children are homeschooled.
Rich Shipe, a spokesperson for the Home School Legal Defense Association,
says the number is more like 1.23 million. Since many homeschoolers do not
register with state or local school authorities, there is no way precisely to
quantify this phenomenon. But all sides agree that the homeschool movement
has been experiencing spectacular growth. The National Home Education
Research Institute notes that homeschooling is growing at a rate of from 15
percent to 40 percent per year.
While homeschooling is legal in all 50 states, some states are more
restrictive than others. Idaho and Oklahoma are considered user-friendly to
homeschoolers, in that there is no requirement for parents to initiate
contact with the state to begin to homeschool. On the other hand, states like
Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New York are heavily regulated in that a
curriculum must be approved by the state.
Back in the 1970s and early '80s, when parents were fighting legislative and
court battles over compulsory attendance laws, homeschooling was largely made
up of two groups -- left libertarians and fundamentalist Christians. Today,
however, homeschooling has moved into the mainstream, attracting a broad
cross-section of Americans. Religious conviction and a realization of the
hostile, secular humanist atmosphere prevailing in the government schools
continues to be a major factor in parents' decisions to switch to home-based
education. However, there are other factors as well. According to the Florida
Department of Education's 1996 survey of 2,245 homeschooling families, the
most frequently cited reason to homeschool was dissatisfaction with the
public school environment (safety, drugs, adverse peer pressure). U.S. News &
World Report confirms the trend: A recent issue noted that mainstream
Americans are converting to homeschooling because they believe their local
schools are "dangerous places."
Parents, sometimes pushed into this choice, are discovering that
homeschooling is a very nice fit for them. In Strengths of Their Own, a
recent report of 5,402 homeschooling students, homeschool authority Dr. Brian
Ray notes that homeschoolers outperform their public school counterparts by
30 to 37 percentile points on standardized tests, in all subjects. These
higher test scores result regardless of the parents' educational background,
income, ethnic group, or occupation.
How to Do It
There is no one "right" way to homeschool. Some families choose to purchase a
pre-planned, grade-appropriate curriculum. Others rely on homemade materials
supplemented by frequent trips to the library. Some parents hire a tutor to
teach particular skills like a foreign language or musical instrument.
Homeschoolers also participate in learning co-ops with other homeschoolers or
take classes at a day school or community college. Finally, children may only
be homeschooled for a year or two before returning to conventional classroom
settings. Whatever program homeschooling families choose, the results are
most often high-achieving and principled young people. Barnaby Marsh, who was
homeschooled in the Alaskan wilderness, went on to graduate from Cornell
University and was one of 32 U.S. Rhodes Scholars selected in 1996. Rebecca
Sealfon, a 13-year-old homeschooler from Brooklyn, was this year's winner of
the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee. Army Specialist Michael New, a
decorated medic who was court-martialed for refusing to don a United Nations
uniform, was homeschooled. Fifteen-year-old country singer LeAnn Rimes has
skipped two grades through her homeschooling.
The explosive growth of homeschooling has created a busting-at-the-seams
market of products and services for both novices and the experienced.
Distributors of curriculum and computer software tailor-made for home
scholars are thriving, homeschool web sites abound, and there is even a Home
Education Radio Network (HEN) operating out of Colorado. (See Robert W. Lee's
article and bibliography, beginning on page 55, for specific information on
homeschool materials and resources.)
The Origins of Homeschooling
The seeds of what has become the modern homeschool movement were planted by a
number of unrelated individuals about 30 years ago. In 1969, Dr. Raymond
Moore, a former U.S. Department of Education employee and school
superintendent, laid the groundwork that would credentialize homeschooling
and earn him the moniker "the grandfather of homeschooling." Dr. Moore, who
holds an Ed.D. from the University of Southern California, along with his
wife, Dorothy, a reading specialist, initiated an inquiry into previously
neglected areas of educational research. Two of the questions the Moores and
a team of like-minded colleagues set out to answer were: Is
institutionalizing young children a sound educational trend? What is the best
timing for school entrance?
Moore's team sought advice from over 100 family development specialists,
including Urie Bronfenbrenner of Cornell University, John Bowlby of the World
Health Organization, and Burton White of Harvard University. These
professionals recommended a "cautious approach to subjecting [the child's]
developing nervous system and mind to formal constraints." Psychologist
Bronfenbrenner went even further, advising that subjecting children to the
daily routine of elementary school could result in excessive peer dependency.
After extensive study the Moores concluded that developmental problems --
such as hyperactivity, nearsightedness, and dyslexia -- are often the result
of prematurely taxing a developing child's nervous system and mind with
continuous academic tasks like reading and writing.
The Moores went on to author Home Grown Kids and Home-spun Schools, two 1980s
homeschool classics. Dr. Moore advocates balancing study, chores, and play in
an atmosphere geared toward a child's particular developmental make-up.
During the 1960s and '70s other voices emerged in the public school debate
directed toward decentralizing schools and returning greater autonomy to
teachers and parents. The late John Holt, an Ivy League graduate and a
teacher in alternative schools, chronicled his litany of complaints in How
Children Fail. Holt viewed schools as places that produced obedient, but
bland, citizens who would dutifully pay confiscatory taxes and cower in meek
subservience to authority figures. Holt concluded that the most humane way to
educate a child is to homeschool him.
In 1968, Reverend Paul Lindstrom founded Christian Liberty Academy, a K-12
school now located in Arlington Heights, Illinois. Two years later he
launched his homeschool ministry, Christian Liberty Academy Satellite
Schools. From 20 homeschool families in 1970, the Christian Liberty
homeschool program has blossomed into a global effort with more than 50,000
students in all 50 states and more than 50 foreign countries. In a 1987
interview with THE NEW AMERICAN, Dr. Lindstrom noted that he had launched his
homeschooling effort with an advertisement in this magazine's predecessor,
American Opinion, because our readers were far more ready for this
educational concept than any other audience he could think of.
Through their national media appearances, legislative and courtroom
testimonies, and speeches to sympathetic communities, Raymond Moore, John
Holt, Paul Lindstrom, and other pioneers worked hard to convince an often
skeptical public that homeschooling is a good alternative to state schools
and that it is, in a sense, a homecoming, a return to a pre-industrial era
when American families worked and learned together instead of apart.
While homeschooling has gained enormous popularity in the last ten years, it
is still coming under sharp attack from various quarters. Sometimes the
critics are family members or neighbors who mistakenly believe homeschooling
is illegal, or that it will deprive the child of essential "socialization" or
proper academic instruction, and jeopardize his opportunities for a college
education. However, as homeschooling has become more commonplace these
concerns have greatly diminished. Little more than a decade ago, homeschool
families were often considered oddballs and extremists; today they are to be
found in virtually every community and are more likely to be admired than
ridiculed. Their accomplishments have laid to rest the fears that
homeschooling is somehow detrimental to both child and society.
On a larger scale, the National Education Association adopted an
anti-homeschooling resolution at its 1996 summer convention. Resolution B-63
declares that "homeschooling programs cannot provide the student with a
comprehensive education experience." Further, the resolution notes that if
homeschooling is chosen, "instruction should be by persons who are licensed
by the appropriate state education licensure agency." But in this, as in
other matters, the NEA is concerned not about education, but about power and
control. The most potent rebuttals to the NEA and other naysayers are the
many outstanding graduates which homeschools have produced.
Typical Success Story
Alexandra Swann, now 26, of New Mexico is one such graduate. Joyce Swann,
Alexandra's mother, armed with only a high school diploma and Calvert
School's (an accredited correspondence program) elementary school curriculum,
decided to homeschool Alexandra as well as her nine brothers and sisters.
"Twenty years ago we didn't know anyone who homeschooled. There was a concern
we would become vegetables, unable to function in society," remembers
Alexandra of their beginning days.
Ten years after that leap into the unknown, Alexandra was on the fast track
to academic success. By age 16, she had earned a master's degree from
California State University's external degree program. After graduation, she
went on to write and self-publish No Regrets, a book about her homeschooling
experience. At age 18, she was hired to teach U.S. history and Western
civilization at a community college. She also authored advice columns for
homeschoolers and spoke at home education conferences. Alexandra says her
students at the community college were all products of the public education
system. "I was horrified because there were so many of them who couldn't read
and write," she notes.
Today, Alexandra works in sales, manages Cygnet Press (the publishing company
started by the Swann family), and has just finished a novel co-written with
her mother. But she is hardly the sole success act of the family -- seven of
her homeschooled siblings also hold master's degrees.
The social aspects of high school life -- proms, athletic teams, cliques --
were not missed by Alexandra. "I had a wonderful time in school from the day
I started to the day I graduated, so I really could not have improved on
that," she says with confidence.
No Government Help, Thank You
The modern homeschooling story is fundamentally one of a grassroots movement
of parent educators who have taught their children how to read and write at
kitchen tables and in home offices. These parents have educated their
children without a dime of government funding and, frequently, without much
This is not to imply that homeschoolers are powerless. Two years ago,
homeschoolers came of age, politically, when they overwhelmed Capitol Hill
switchboards pushing Congress to drop a drive to force parents to get
teaching certificates before they could homeschool. The House voted with home
educators, 424 to 1, on this issue.
Homeschoolers have also received a great deal of positive media coverage over
the past ten years in the pages of the New York Times, the Wall Street
Journal, and USA Today.
Homeschoolers have succeeded in making a countercultural idea acceptable, and
if the present U.S. educational dilemma escalates, the number of homeschooled
children, who want school and state to be separate, will continue
dramatically to increase.
This column appeared in The New American on July 21, 1997.
Isabel Lyman lives in Edmond, Oklahoma. A former editorial columnist for the Daily Hampshire Gazette of Northampton, Massachusetts, her views have appeared in various national publications, including the Wall Street Journal and Investors Business Daily. She may be contacted via e-mail by clicking here.
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