Amid the disasters happening in America today, there’s some excellent news.  Homeschooling has won a solid place among roughly 1.5 million children and is mostly protected by law.  It has become a refuge for families sick of their local public schools and the many copycat private and parochial schools.  Even where decent private and parochial schools are available, they often cost too much for middle-class families to afford.

Homeschooling also ties a family together, making it a refuge not only from government but from the madding crowd.  A curriculum can be tailored to the family’s religious and other beliefs, and to each child’s particular abilities and enthusiasms.  Most homeschooling families also avoid the annoying hourly bells that turn conventional schools into factories.  If a child is immersed in learning statistics by using a spreadsheet to manipulate baseball stats, why interrupt to switch to another subject?

I’ve been writing about homeschooling since 1982, and its advance has been a welcome, and rare, triumph for conservatives and for every home-castle.  It’s also an example of how victories can be won by our side.

Up to the 1970’s, homeschooling was the mainstay of Birkenstock liberals and hippies protesting establishment schools.  Almost everybody, including the most conservative Christians, was happy with either the local public school or parochial and private schools.  The Wayne-Westland public schools I attended in Wayne, Michigan, from 1960 to 1973 still had the local feel you see in the movie Hoosiers.  They were “our” schools.

Then things changed.  In the early 60’s, the U.S. Supreme Court absurdly ruled that virtually any mention of religion in public schools amounted to a violation of the First Amendment’s proscription on “an establishment of religion.”  And in the late 60’s, public schools started teaching sex-ed programs, often based on Planned Parenthood’s materials, in violation of the sacred right of parents to teach their children such matters, at the time they deemed appropriate for each child.  In effect, the Court set up public schooling itself, under the direction of federal judges and the U.S. Department of Education, as an ersatz “establishment of religion.”  Along with the general loosening of social standards in the 60’s, academic standards were shredded in many public schools, especially those in the inner cities.

Public schools, as well as many private and parochial schools, adopted such fads as “whole language,” in which words were treated like Egyptian hieroglyphics, spreading illiteracy like a plague.  Strong dissatisfaction with the results of whole language sparked a reaction, first among homeschoolers, then among parents with kids in the public schools, that resulted in a reemphasis on phonics.

Much credit goes to the early battlers for homeschooling, including lawyer William Bentley Ball and his star witness in court, Russell Kirk.  Kirk’s numerous books and article on education, and his authoritative presence on the witness stand, won crucial cases for homeschooling families, in particular in his home state of Michigan, which was more antihomeschooling than such leftist states as California.

When I worked in Washington, D.C., in the mid-1980’s, I met a couple of times with Ball and Kirk to get perspective for my stories, and to see how the homeschooling defense was going.  Kirk had testified about the high scholastic achievement of homeschoolers and pooh-poohed what critics were already branding a lack of “socialization.”  Kirk would point out how many parents pulled their kids from schools rife with violence and bullying, and took care of socialization through enrollment in local sports teams, music groups, and even college classes.  Nowadays, homeschoolers routinely win spelling bees.

William Bentley Ball was a courtly and learned gentleman.  He was best known for winning religious-freedom cases for the Amish.  In Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972), the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that forcing children to attend public schools “violates the free exercise clause of the First Amendment.”

When Ball died in 1998 at age 82, the New York Times obituary noted that

Mr. Ball’s argument before the court made the case that government must prove a compelling public need for actions affecting religious groups.  Subsequent court decisions weakened that doctrine, causing Congress to pass the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 to enshrine the compelling-reason doctrine.


In a rebuke to Congress, the Supreme Court substantially gutted that legislation in 1997.  But the act had passed almost by acclamation, and efforts continue to revive the issue perhaps in narrower language acceptable to the court.

The battle never ends.  In California, it remains relatively easy to set up a homeschool in your domestic castle.  Many friends of mine have done this over the years.  You just establish your homeschool as a private school, submit a Private School Affidavit to the relevant county board of education, and keep track of your students’ progress.  If the government makes an inquiry, you just pull out the records.

Nonetheless, every few years the government tries to invade homeschools.

An attack was launched in 2002 by California Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin, a tool of the most powerful special interest in the state, the California Teachers Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association.  In a July 16, 2002, memo to local school boards, her deputy superintendent, Joanne Mendoza, wrote that homeschooling

is not an authorized exemption from mandatory public school attendance. . . . Furthermore, a parent’s filing of the affidavit required of a private school does not transform that parent into a private school.  Therefore, those parents who homeschool their children are operating outside the law, and there is no reason for them to file an affidavit.

Eastin would have had better luck poking a hornet’s nest with her pinky finger.  Homeschoolers swarmed, attacking her for branding them all outlaws who should be in the hoosegow.  They wrote letters and made calls to their state legislators.  Even the ultraliberal legislators were taken aback by the volume of the lobbying.

Also instrumental was the Home School Legal Defense Association, a Virginia-based group started in 1983 that carries on the work of Ball, Kirk, and others.  For $120 per year, homeschoolers get a complete legal defense should the government assault them, plus copious online materials to aid homeschooling.  At the time of the Eastin brouhaha, HSLDA President Michael Smith said, “It’s really absurd when you think about it.  Because California, supposedly this forward state, would be the only state in the union that would require homeschoolers to be certified teachers.”

In an August 27 letter to California legislators, Eastin called for legislation regulating homeschooling:

My staff and I have received dozens of angry telephone calls and written communications that unfairly assume that the Department is misapplying the state’s compulsory education law in derogation of the rights of parents, and a handful of conservative publications have attacked our application of the law.  None of these charges is true, of course, but the amount of misinformation, and passion, in these communications does make me believe that the situation cries out for a legislative solution.

It helps to have fools for enemies.  Eastin was term-limited out of office the next January after eight years as the state’s pedagogical busybody.  Even leftists were happy to see her go.  But in February 2008, the Second Court of Appeal of California ruled against homeschoolers, insisting that “Parents have a legal duty to see to their children’s schooling under the provisions of these laws.”

Homeschoolers refused to be bullied.  Eastin’s successor, Jack O’Connell, sided with the families.  So did Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.  The court then reversed itself.  Wrote Justice H. Walter Croskey, “California impliedly allows parents to home school as a private school, but has provided no enforcement mechanism.  As long as the local school district verifies that a private school affidavit has been filed, there is no provision for further oversight of a home school.”

At the federal level, homeschoolers largely have been left unmolested, perhaps because the feds are too busy wrecking local public schools.  But in 2004 the Department of Homeland Security, newly created under Republican President George W. Bush and a Republican-dominated Congress, sponsored a mock attack on a public-school bus by homeschooling fanatics called “Wackos Against Schools and Education”—in placid Muskegon, Michigan, of all places.

As the HSLDA noted at the time, “Homeschoolers have never committed violent acts against public schools or any terrorist acts.  Comparing us to the most dangerous people in the world is a terrible insult and a travesty.”

An apology followed:

The Muskegon Area Intermediate School District shared the disappointment of others when we learned the September 21, 2004, emergency preparedness drill referenced homeschoolers as the fictitious group responsible for a mock disaster.  We apologize. . . . A sample scenario was required in order to receive the necessary funding to stage the event.

The district “did not construct the scenario, but participated with other county agencies, hospitals, and emergency responders in conducting the drill.”

It was the mammoth federal government—run at that time entirely by Republicans—that attacked the homeschoolers, with the local bureaucracies in cahoots to get the federal lucre.

A recent case of persecution of homeschoolers involved the Romeike family, who fled Germany in 2008 because the fatherland still enforced a Nazi-era law against homeschooling.  (Apparently, post-World War II denazification didn’t go far enough.)  Reported FOX News in March of this year, “Initially, the family was granted asylum in 2010 based on religious freedom grounds, but the Obama administration decided to appeal that decision, and won.  The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear the family’s appeal.”  Shortly after, the Department of Homeland Security reversed itself and granted “indefinite deferred status” to the Romeike family.

Homeschoolers, joined by other conservatives, again were active in writing letters and calling congressmen.  The Obama administration, with other repressive priorities on its agenda, figured this one wasn’t worth the fight.

In the late 80’s, when some friends of mine were homeschooling in Orange County, they would drive over to a local Christian homeschool bookstore to buy materials for their three children.  They also used mail-order catalogues.  Materials were well developed even then, especially the Saxon math system.  It helped that my friends lived in a populous area with numerous sports and music programs.  But in those days, it was harder for folks in rural areas to get decent materials.

The internet, despite its many faults, is often a boon to homeschoolers—provided proper precautions are taken to protect kids from offensive material.  Parents also should understand that reading actual, physical books will always be better than scattered reading, even of digital books, online.  A physical book is a world unto itself and aids in concentration.

Online learning comes into play as a tool and supplement.  It’s easy to find materials to teach your children, not just on, but on the homeschool sites that identify confessionally with your Christian denomination.  Almost all the Great Books, however you define them, can be bought cheaply or even found online.

Harvard, MIT, and other top schools now post their entire curricula online.  Too advanced?  Not for some homeschoolers I know.  Thomas Jefferson was homeschooled in Latin, Greek, French, the classics, science, history, and horsemanship.  At 16, he attended the College of William & Mary.

Another attraction of supplementing parent-led teaching at home with materials available on the web is that the top teachers in many fields are available with a few clicks.  Here, for example, is an upload I found on YouTube: “Russell Kirk, T. Kenneth Cribb, E. Christian Kopff, Antony T. Sullivan on 8 Jan 1989 giving a historical lecture” on Rome.  A child who plays Mozart on the piano can find many of Mozart’s numerous works free on YouTube.

Difficult science subjects are especially helped by such online resources as the Khan Academy.  I remember when I took calculus at the University of Michigan in 1973.  The teacher was incomprehensible.  I switched to a much better teacher, and the class was a breeze.  That’s the Khan Academy’s philosophy: keep refining its math and science courses to make them more comprehensible.  Courses includes self-tests to gauge progress.

In most homeschooling families, Mom stays home to lead the schooling, while Dad works to earn the family money, helping out in the evening.  But where needed, Mom also can supplement the family income with work from a desk near where the kids are studying.  Such work can include writing or editing on the web, making home crafts to sell, or operating a larger home business.

Indeed, in more and more cases, Dad can stay home too, selling his work online or running a home-crafts business.  For that reason alone, young men just starting their families might consider taking up work they could do at home.

Homeschooling requires a unique level of dedication that some families simply will not have.  But I’ve noticed that, after what is sometimes a difficult start, many homeschooling families find a groove where things go smoothly, and they would not consider doing anything else.  Given the socialistic Common Core curriculum that is now being imposed nationally, and the marked and increasing deterioration of public schools, homeschooling certainly should be considered as a viable alternative.