A mere three weeks before the COVID pandemic ushered in months of school closures and shelter-in-place mandates, the director of Harvard Law School’s Child Advocacy Program, Elizabeth Bartholet, submitted final revisions to her controversial academic article on homeschooling.
“The new legal regime should impose a presumptive ban on homeschooling,” she wrote, “and it should impose significant restrictions on any homeschooling allowed under this exception.”
Her timing could not have been worse. This article appeared in the May-June 2020 edition of the Arizona Law Review as many parents embraced homeschool and online learning for the first time. And, it turns out, parents weren’t the problem, as Bartholet suggested. The public schools were.
It didn’t take long for the national homeschooling movement to expand into new territory. Parents, in response to what they observed, sought to counter the poor education standards, school shootings, negative peer pressure, anti-white “critical theory,” and gender ideology embedded within many schools.
Initially, many people expected public school participation to return to pre-pandemic levels by the 2022-2023 academic year. A recent analysis by The Washington Post found just the opposite.
The report draws on data from 32 states and the District of Columbia, including data on homeschooling from 7,000 school districts. It found that “home schooling has become—by a wide margin—America’s fastest-growing form of education, as families from Upper Manhattan to Eastern Kentucky embrace a largely unregulated practice once confined to the ideological fringe.” Homeschooling outpaced (at a 51 percent increase) private and parochial schools. Public schools experienced a 4 percent decline.
The rise in homeschooling is in part due to the unprecedented number of Hispanic and black families who left public education. The reasons are just as varied as the families themselves.
Listed in order, the Post’s analysis found that families were most likely to homeschool given their “concern about school environment, to provide moral instruction, dissatisfaction with academic instruction at schools, concerns about school shootings, concern about bullying, local public schools too influenced by liberal viewpoints, and concern about child being discriminated against.”
Sustained support for homeschool education is one of the single greatest victories of grassroots conservatism. Such a system allows family-oriented education that values the needs of each child, including their need for lifegiving moral formation.
Contra Elizabeth Bartholet, the growing homeschool movement empowers parents to counter the radical “whole child” ideological approach to education that views the state-run school, not the family, as the central building block of society.
Claims by some conservatives that public education should just return to the “3 R’s: Reading, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmatic,” miss the point. Education is not a value-neutral project; it is a study in moral formation. As students learn how to read, write, and solve mathematical equations, they are also formed by particular values and beliefs. These are features, not bugs, of good education. Homeschooling, like homemaking itself, trains students in self-governance and the moral nature of education.
The question of who should educate children sparked the homeschool movement of the 1960s. Despite being a common form of education early in the United States, homeschooling had almost disappeared by the mid 20th century. This all changed when the controversial Calvinist thinker R.J. Rushdooney published The Messianic Character of American Education, accelerating what was to become the homeschooling movement. Rushdooney argued that public education was doomed from the start and fundamentally at odds with Biblical Christianity.
Contrary to what critics have said, the homeschool movement has succeeded largely due to three things. First is the proliferation of resources. For decades, homeschoolers have had access to many curriculums and course guides tailored to the specific needs of different families and students. State-wide curriculum fairs provided both a community for homeschooling families and access to cutting edge approaches to education.
Second, the movement has been supported by countless devoted mothers whose time and flexibility created a strong movement. These women were not bound by the demands of a 9-to-5 job. As a result, they were free to pursue new education styles with their children.
Third, at the outset of the movement, a number of prominent lawyers founded the Home School Legal Defense Association. Their judicial wins, exceeding the success of the pro-life movement, provide legal cover in all 50 states to protect families and their right to educate their child. The result is that the United States has some of the best education laws in the Western world.
There’s no doubt that policymakers are paying attention to the growing preference for flexible schooling. We can expect to see a hot debate in states on the use of vouchers and education saving accounts to offset the cost of homeschooling.
This piece originally appeared in World Magazine