“Children at risk.” “Students hunted down.” “Parents arrested and jailed.”

Sounds like headlines about a third-world country or a secretive cult. They are not. These are headlines about home educators– home educators in the United States.

Headlines and news articles about the perils of home education were just a mere two decades ago, some less than 10 years ago. Home education is certainly not a new phenomenon. One hundred years ago, Calvert School began their Home Instruction Department. Prior to that, informal home instruction was the norm.

By the 1940s and 1950s, as free government schools became more prevalent, it didn’t seem necessary, or desirable, to keep children at home under the tutelage of their parents. But, as free education became worth what it cost, nothing, parents sought to take back control of their families.

In the 1970s , homeschooling was thought to be an outgrowth of the freedom, peace, and love movement. It wasn’t long before Christian families were embracing this alternative method to train their children. By the early 1980s, as home education became more popular, opposition began in earnest. CHEA of California was founded in 1982. On its heels, in 1983, at least eight other state home education organizations were founded, the first issue of The Teaching Home Magazine was published, and Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) was founded. Montana adopted a home education/private school law. And, Georgia’s compulsory school law was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Thus began an educational revolution called home education.

Most of the resistance was from school administrators who had little understanding of the rights of parents. Today it’s hard to imagine resistance that is more than having to answer an enquiring phone call. Not so in 1983. Those early days are described by Chris Klicka, the senior counsel of HSLDA, as “Fear. People were afraid.”

At that time California was considered a “safe” state to home educate because compulsory education requirements were satisfied through the private school exemption rather than a specific homeschool law. However, families were teaching their children behind drawn curtains and not going outside during school hours. In other states though, parents were being prosecuted and convicted for taking a stand against compulsory education laws that limited their freedom to educate their children in the way God told them to. North Dakota was such a hot bed of legal fires that one mother, upon moving to North Dakota, wrote, “We had already decided to NEVER tell anyone else that we were homeschooling .” And, “We were too paranoid to contact other North Dakota homeschoolers.”

During the early 1980s, families in that state were being prosecuted and convicted for violation of compulsory education laws. After a series of appeals, in 1986 the State Supreme Court ruled against them. In 1987 two of the families were tried again and again lost. And, more and more families were being charged. In 1989, homeschoolers from 11 states, including California, went to Bismarck for the “Bismarck Tea Party,” flooding the legislators’ offices with tea bags saying “The consent of the governed for homeschoolers, too.” It was that year, after a six-year struggle, the governor signed North Dakota’s homeschool law. At the same time, to the south in Iowa, officials were not only were going after homeschooling families, they attacked private day schools as well. Fathers and a pastor were sent to jail for violating compulsory education laws.

One pioneer home educator stated, “During these earlier years, I attended meetings of homeschooling families who knew they were unlawful in their homeschooling programs, and who had ‘underground’ contingency plans to remove children — and often, homeschooling mothers — from the confines of Iowa in order to escape Iowa authorities.”

Legal battles were heating up in California as well. Over the next few years, there would be major cases but one in 1989, People v Darrah and Black set a precedent to protect home-based private schools in California. The municipal court ruled that “persons capable of teaching” and “private full-time day school” were unconstitutionally vague and could not be enforced. The ruling hasn’t been challenged. In 1995, three California truancy cases were brought to court. All were cleared on the private school exemption. The last major case to be tested in the courts was the DeJonge case in Michigan which took eight years to settle.

Four years, six years, eight years. That’s how long parents were willing to fight for the principle and right of parents to direct the education of their children without government interference or government involvement. These parents were willing to put everything on the line for the right to freely teach their children at home.

This brief history shows the freedom to homeschool was fought for. This brief history shows how the freedom to homeschool was fought. Freedom that wasn’t easily won. It has been a battle. A battle the enemy, Satan, won’t give up easily, but one that we know God has ultimately already won.The flames of resistance are being rekindled.

New tactics are being used. Instead of court battles, the assault is subtle and stealth. A campaign of misinformation is one method. For example, notice the misinformation (as highlighted) in a Bakersfield newspaper report last year:” . . . Kern County School District Assistant Superintendent, Bud Burrow. Mr. Burrow, when asked how many children in the county were homeschooled replied, “We wouldn’t have a clue, because homeschooling is outside the legal and proper way of doing things. California is a compulsory attendance state, and it’s illegal. It’s either home or school, it’s not meant to be both.” The article goes on to state that “the legal way to homeschool is through a public school independent study program, a charter school, or via tutoring by a certified teacher.”

Another attack is the willingness of government schools to “help” through public independent study and charter schools. The invitation to bring government education into homes is seen by some as an acceptance of home education, when, in fact, it is the antithesis of what the early home educating families fought for.

Legislative battles are more subtle as well. New laws are not aimed directly at home education. Instead, they creep to more government education. Full day kindergarten (AB 2024) and Universal Preschool (Proposition 82) could easily become mandatory school years in the not-too-distant future.

As the government mandates new education programs, demands will be made for more oversight; including oversight of private home-based schools. The new century is like a time warp for the veterans who fought the good fight for the freedom and choices now available. They see history is repeating itself. The government camel is putting its nose under the edge of the tent of home education.

For a detailed timeline of important court cases, go to HSLDA’s website

Copyright 2005. Susan K. Stewart. Reprinted by CHEA of California with permission of the author.

Susan and her husband Bob began homeschooling their three children in 1981, graduating all three from high school at home. Susan speaks and writes on homeschooling for CHEA as well as for other organizations and publications. She currently serves as CHEA’s Prayer Partner Coordinator. You may contact Susan at [email protected]