A Brief History of the Modern American Homeschooling Movement


(Excerpted and adapted with permission from A Twaddle-Free Education: An Introduction to Charlotte Mason’s Timeless Educational Ideas.)


A Brief History of the Modern American Homeschooling Movement

by Deborah Taylor-Hough


The history of modern homeschooling has its roots in the counterculture Liberal Left, but within twenty years, the movement was fully adopted by the equally counterculture Conservative Right. The ideologies and methodologies surrounding these two diverse and oftentimes polarized groups created an interesting mix of people and cultures within the homeschooling world.

In the early 1960’s, John Holt, a prominent educator, humanist and author, advocated for radical school reform in his popular books, How Children Fail and How Children Learn. Holt stressed in his writings the need for educational decentralization and greater parental autonomy. At the same time as Holt’s work, many of the 1960’s “hippies” were moving into communes, having babies, and hesitating to send their children to the local government-run schools. The original modern day homeschoolers were part of the free-love hippy communes of the 1960’s.

In the 1970’s, Holt was contacted by several counterculture Liberal Left homesteaders who were living remotely throughout the countryside, educating their children off the compulsory education grid. Holt decided to connect these independent and relatively isolated families with one another, and in 1977, began publishing Growing Without Schooling (GWS), the first newsletter dedicated solely to homeschoolers. GWS became a way for these families to share wisdom and knowledge with each other, and to find moral support from others who had also chosen this radical means of schooling (or “unschooling”) their children. Through his tireless activism, Holt—almost by accident—became the de facto leader of the then-underground and mostly illegal homeschooling movement. Home education did not become legal in all fifty states until 1993.

Eventually, Holt connected with Raymond and Dorothy Moore, a husband and wife team of educational researchers whose independent research was showing surprising results—that formal instruction in math and reading was best put off until after age eight. The Moores began consulting with homeschooling families and wrote several bestselling books including Better Late Than Early and School Can Wait.

Over time, the Moores became regular contributors to Holt’s newsletter, and after Raymond Moore appeared a number of times in the late 1970’s on Dr. James Dobson’s national Christian radio program, the concept of homeschooling came out of the homesteads and communes, and found its way into the world of Evangelical Christians and the Conservative Right.

In the 1980’s, as many private Christian schools closed their doors due to changes in tax status, a large number of Fundamentalist Christians who had already opted out of the “too Liberal” public schools found themselves scrambling to find an acceptable educational option for their children that would not involve sending them to the local secular public schools. Many Christian textbook publishers began marketing their educational products to this growing group of disenfranchised parents, and the “school-at-home” form of homeschooling was born. These parents attempted to reproduce in their homes the classroom settings of their children’s former private schools.

The ideological divide between the Liberal Left and the Conservative Right—between the secularly motivated and the religiously motivated—remains an on-going source of contention within the homeschooling community, itself. Interestingly, Milton Gaither observed in his book Homeschool: An American History that “to this day, many accounts of homeschooling written by [conservative Christian homeschoolers] do not even mention Holt or the entire left wing of the movement.”

As the academic success of homeschooling became apparent to the general public, the homeschooling movement shifted from being strictly the realm of two extremes—the Liberal Left and the Conservative Right—and into the mainstream. Many public school districts around the country began to offer home-based, teacher-supervised learning options through both in-person and online venues as well as satellite, umbrella, charter, and correspondence programs through both public and private schools.

Most of the recent homeschoolers joining the ranks appear to be motivated primarily by academic reasons. Ideological and religious reasons—although still strong—seem to be a less popular parental motivation for homeschooling than in years past.


51BlGAcUHnL(Excerpted and adapted with permission from A Twaddle-Free Education: An Introduction to Charlotte Mason’s Timeless Educational Ideas.)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Deborah Taylor-Hough is a long-time homeschooling mother of three (now adult) children as well as a freelance writer and the author of the bestselling Frozen Assets cookbook series (SourceBooks) and Frugal Living for Dummies (Wiley).  Visit Debi on Facebook.

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