by Rebecca Kocsis

How do you define homeschooling? Truth to tell, today the term has come to mean many things to many people. Doesn’t matter how often, who’s doing the teaching, or who’s ultimately in charge; if it happens outside of a traditional classroom, it’s homeschooling.

Homeschool History Lesson
Here’s a homeschool history lesson to explain why “old-time” private home educators say today’s public-school-at-home folk are “not really homeschooling.” I realize that type of statement is very inflammatory. Even I cringe when I hear it, and I am one of the old-timers. Rather than apologize for it or excuse it, though, I’d like to try to explain it.

Back in the 80’s, yes, way back before some of you reading this were born, parents across the country fought many a hard won battle to secure the right to legally take their children out of government schools to teach them at home.* The educational establishment didn’t believe that parents could do a good job. The government didn’t like the fact that they weren’t in charge, and in some states, it was even illegal. Overall, there was a great distrust of parents’ ability and motive.

“What?! You think you can teach your children? And teach them what you want?” Really, that’s what compulsory education was all about—still is. It was not established to ensure the kiddos received a good education. It was about controlling the narrative; making sure that youngsters became good citizens—according to their standards, of course. Part of those standards was to transfer the students’ allegiance from their families to the state. Another was to destroy the Christian faith.**

Over the course of the years, roughly between 1960-1980, the last vestiges of Christianity were expelled from public schools. So no Bible, no Ten Commandments, no prayer. It was replaced with situational ethics and behavior modification, and of course, a good healthy dose of evolution as fact. No wonder many Christian families in the 80’s no longer saw government schools as a fit place to educate a young Christian. This social experiment has done nothing but devolve since then.

In addition to convincing the educational establishment and the government that parents could teach their children at home, many of us had to convince our friends and family, too. Many a grandparent was concerned about the fact their grandkids “didn’t go to school” and feared the parents were going to get arrested. One of the first questions that arose when you said you homeschooled was, “Is it legal?” Most of us had at least one friend or family member who told us we were going to ruin our children’s lives. Needless to say, we didn’t have an easy time of it.

Public education had been around long enough that most people didn’t think there was any other way to educate a child. Parent-directed education was a revolutionary way of thinking that resulted in, what was at that time, a revolutionary way of life. So not only were there legal battles to contend with, you had to stand up to scrutiny from concerned relatives, too.

Still we said, “No, thank you,” to the government schools and their goals for our children. “We’ll take charge of our kids’ education.” We called that homeschooling.

Please understand it wasn’t so much that a parent was giving the instruction, though that was important. It wasn’t just that the kids were educated at home, though that was equally important. The main point was that it was education apart from the government schools’ jurisdiction. The big difference was who was in charge.

That’s why when a parent nowadays says they homeschool through a public school, some homeschool pioneers cry foul and say “that’s not real homeschooling.” How can you be homeschooling if your kids are enrolled in a public school? Homeschooling and public school were mutually exclusive. That’s it in a nutshell.

Because of the hard won battles to defend their right to teach their children at home apart from government oversight, many see going back to public school to teach your children at home as giving up hard won battleground. They see it as a kind of defection even. It’s a surrender of parental rights for which they sacrificed so much. We won the right to take jurisdiction over our children’s education and now you are giving it back. Hence the emotional response.

I hope this helps parent educators of today understand why you may have received a very emotional response to public-school-at-home from a parent educator from “yesteryear.”

Back to Today
No, the term homeschooling doesn’t mean what it used to, and we old-time homeschoolers have to get used to it. It doesn’t matter how strongly you feel about it; meanings of words change. I often don’t use the term homeschooling any more because of that. Depending on who you are talking to, it could mean anything from private Christian home education to a five day drop off program for kindergarten. Yes, that’s a thing. I’ve decided to use more descriptive terms like private home education and public school-at-home.

This is where I have a strong word for those of the long time private Christian homeschool community. Think twice before responding to Christian parents who choose public school-at-home programs. Dial back on the emotional responses. I know how strongly you feel about this, but you aren’t winning anyone over. You’re just offending people by telling them they aren’t “real homeschoolers.”

How do you like being told you have a lack of faith? Seriously, this is the pot calling the kettle black. God is leading us all on a journey of faith. If your faith isn’t being tested in some way today, it will be tomorrow, or next month. The tests are coming. Likewise, we aren’t scoring any points by accusing our brothers and sisters in the Lord of compromising with the world or worshipping money.

First, let’s acknowledge that we who homeschooled back in the 80’s and 90’s did a good job of convincing the rest of the world that parents can teach their own children. As my Jewish neighbor once told me, “You’ve shown me that there’s more than one way to educate a child.” Now others are enjoying the freedoms we won. Good on us.

I would suggest we should provide a safe place to answer questions and hold a dialogue. No need to compromise your mission to do that. Think about this: In the public homeschooling community there are all kinds of people. Some are believers, some are not. Of the believers, there are people who fall into all kinds “categories.” Of those there are some who have no idea there’s a private option. There are those who are becoming increasingly uncomfortable. And there are those who know it’s time to leave—many of those are seeing the options they once enjoyed disappear when their students reach high school age. If your circle of friends, your group, or your leadership team are antagonistic to them now, they won’t be seeking you out for answers or help when they reckon it’s time to leave some time in the future.

I know it’s not the “homeschooling” we fought for. If we want to help others discover complete homeschool freedom and continue to protect our own, we need to be winsome in our responses and respectful of others’ choices.

*Learn more about the history of homeschooling in California here.

**Learn more about the history of public education in Israel Wayne’s “Education: Does God Have an Opinion.