How Does Homeschooling Work?

A couple of weeks ago, I came across an awesome tweet that I tucked away so that I’d remember to write about it when I had a moment. It summarized this recent national survey which found that 52% of parents in the age of COVID-19 have developed a more favorable view of homeschool.

RED ALERT! (If you’re establishment, that is…)

Now, I know a lot of you are getting ready to hit “reply” to remind me that what formerly public school families are experiencing right now is not homeschool. I agree. Which actually makes this survey even more encouraging!

When you homeschool your children (did you know that nearly two million American children are homeschooled?! Pre-COVID-19, that is…) you are typically responsible for choosing what curriculum—if any—you are going to use. You decide the best setting in which to “do school”—at the beach, at the lake, in a homeschool room in your home, at the park with other homeschool parents… the options are pretty much endless.

The current forced homeschool experience truly isn’t what “normal” homeschool looks like. Parents are still answering to the dictates of the Department of Education (such a creepy sounding government agency). They are making sure their kids are set up in front of the computer for their Zoom lessons at the right times, and they are the ones physically working through assignments with their kids, and navigating sometimes confusing systems to get completed work turned in to teachers for grading. Parents are very much answering to the schools, still.

And yet even in spite of the fact that this new way of educating their children is kind of a hassle, parents are still responding favorably to it!

That is really, really big news! It means that parents enjoy having their children at home with them, enjoy having their hands directly involved in the education of their children, and don’t mind having to put in extra hours and learn new ways of doing things in order to make sure that their kids are learning.

So while we veteran homeschoolers can say, “But this isn’t real homeschool! Real homeschool is SO MUCH BETTER!” we should still feel very excited at the news that even a little bit of education freedom is being met with really positive feelings by parents who have maybe never even considered homeschool.

Not surprisingly, those who hate the idea of parents having “control” over their own children have also taken note of recent trends in homeschool, and no doubt of polls like this which point to increased positive views of homeschool by public school parents.

I think most of us have been tracking the awful Harvard summit that was supposed to “take on” the “dangers” of parents being allowed to control how their children are educated. I was thrilled last week when it was announced that the summit was cancelled—although it remains to be seen if they will attempt to reschedule once things return to normal.

As a quick refresher on the mentality of the folks who were heading up the anti-homeschool summit, I offer this quote from Elizabeth Bartholet who said, “We have an essentially unregulated regime in the area of homeschooling. That means, effectively, that people can homeschool who’ve never gone to school themselves, who can’t read or write themselves.” She argues that she doesn’t think it’s a good idea that “parents should have 24/7 essentially authoritarian control over their children from ages zero to 18,” and concluded, “I think it’s always dangerous to put powerful people in charge of the powerless and to give the powerful ones total authority.”

So yeah. That’s what we’re up against. Yikes.

(By the way, check out this awesome takedown of Bartholet’s claims from another academic who totally demolished her awful arguments. Key quote: “The article contains a number of assertions about homeschooling that are clearly undermined by the facts and unsupported by her sources.” Ouch…)

I’ve often seen a quote that says something like, “Don’t question your ability to teach your child. Question putting your child in the same system that left you feeling incapable of teaching your child.” I like that quote because it is a reminder to us that it’s okay to feel a little bit of self-doubt about homeschool, but that it’s our job to ensure that our kids have a better education than we had—and that we are perfectly qualified as parents to know the needs of our children.

One of the greatest and most successfully propagated lies told by those in favor of government control of education has been that Americans were widely uneducated before the federal government made education compulsory. I don’t really know why this has been so widely accepted except that most of us were introduced to this idea in—you guessed it—government mandated school, and so we just assumed it to be true. I mean, why would they lie?

Except they did lie.

I could write out a whole bunch of information that would remind you how widely circulated this lie has become, and how readily it has been accepted, but my friend Larry Reed just did a fabulous piece on it—complete with loads of great sourcing and links for deeper reading—so I’m going to offer his words here instead:

In 1983, Robert A. Peterson’s “Education in Colonial America” revealed some stunning facts and figures. “The Federalist Papers, which are seldom read or understood today even in our universities,” explains Peterson, “were written for and read by the common man. Literacy rates were as high or higher than they are today.” Incredibly, “A study conducted in 1800 by DuPont de Nemours revealed that only four in a thousand Americans were unable to read and write legibly” [emphasis mine].

Well into the 19th Century, writes Susan Alder in “Education in America,” “parents did not even consider that the civil government in any way had the responsibility or should assume the responsibility of providing for the education of children.” Only one state (Massachusetts) even had compulsory schooling laws before the Civil War, yet literacy rates were among the highest in our history.

Great Britain experienced similar trends. In 1996, Edwin West wrote in “The Spread of Education Before Compulsion in Britain and America in the Nineteenth Century” that “when national compulsion was enacted ([in 1880], over 95 percent of fifteen-year-olds were literate.” More than a century later, “40 percent of 21-year-olds in the United Kingdom admit[ted] to difficulties with writing and spelling.”

Laws against the education of black slaves date back to as early as 1740, but the desire to read proved too strong to prevent its steady growth even under bondage. For purposes of religious instruction, it was not uncommon for slaves to be taught reading but not writing. Many taught themselves to write, or learned to do so with the help of others willing to flout the law. Government efforts to outlaw the education of blacks in the Old South may not have been much more effective than today’s drug laws. If you wanted it, you could find it.

Estimates of the literacy rate among slaves on the eve of the Civil War range from 10 to 20 percent. By 1880, nearly 40 percent of southern blacks were literate. In 1910, half a century before the federal government involved itself in K-12 funding, black literacy exceeded 70 percent and was comparable to that of whites.

Daniel Lattier explained in a 2016 article titled “Did Public Schools Really Improve American Literacy?” that a government school system is no guarantee that young people will actually learn to read and write well. He cites the shocking findings of a study conducted by the US Department of Education: “32 million of American adults are illiterate, 21 percent read below a 5th grade level, and 19 percent of high school graduates are functionally illiterate, which means they can’t read well enough to manage daily living and perform tasks required by many jobs.”

Compulsory government schools were not established in America because of some widely-perceived failure of private education, which makes it both erroneous and self-serving for the government school establishment to propagate the myth that Americans would be illiterate without them.

The whole piece is brilliant, but you get the picture with just this excerpt.

I think that people are waking up. Parents are realizing that they can teach their own children, and that they actually enjoy it. Sure, it’s better when they aren’t facilitating Zoom meetings and working on someone else’s timeline and navigating complicated accountability systems. Sure, “real homeschool” means lots of outings and loads of time spent with other homeschool kids at museums and parks and on educational field trips.

All of that will come again soon. But if parents are waking up to the idea that they are totally capable of managing the education of their own children under these circumstances, I know that they are beginning to feel little rumblings of, “maybe the kids don’t need to go back to school when it opens again…” in the backs of their minds. I know that their hearts are already starting to feel little pangs of sadness at the idea of this time at home with their kids close by, and being directly involved in their education, ending.

It turns out Americans weren’t stupid before the federal government took over education. In fact, as Mr. Reed points out, it can be argued that Americans have actually become less literate and in turn less educated than they were before learning was nationalized.

Thanks, government.

I know a lot of you are already fans of John Taylor Gatto. I had the privilege of getting to know him a little bit just before he passed. He wrote the forward to my book Passion-driven Education. He was such an inspiration and such an advocate of education choice and the uniqueness of each child and how that must be considered if we want our children to truly learn and thrive.

The Tuttle Twins and the Education Vacation follows Mr. Gatto as he teaches Ethan and Emily and their parents about the history of the compulsory education system and why it simply cannot meet the needs of all individuals.

I know that some of the families that love our books really like the public or private schools that their kids attend. They love their teachers and they feel that their children are getting the perfect education for them. To those people, I say, “Wonderful! Keep doing what is working for your family.” The beauty of education choice is that it truly allows all parents to decide what education best serves their child and to adopt that method.

To any of you who have, like those polled in the survey I mentioned, really enjoyed having your kids at home but are maybe a little unsure of your ability to homeschool, I say, “Come on in. The water is fine.” There are so many groups and resources available for every circumstance that prospective homeschool families could find themselves in—you are totally capable of educating your children at home, and you will have support and resources to help you succeed.

If you’re on the fence, snag a copy of The Tuttle Twins and the Education Vacation, and talk it over with your kids. You might be surprised at how much they relate to the things Mr. Gatto teaches in our story.

This is a pretty great time to really think about what kind of “normal” we want to return to. I hope a lot of parents will thoughtfully reflect on what they want the next school year to look like. 🙂

— Connor

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Textbooks don’t teach this; schools don’t mention it.

It’s up to you—and our books can help. Check out the Tuttle Twins books to see if they’re a fit for your family!