The modern homeschooling movement emerged in the 1970s with the influential voices of educational theorist John Holt and his friend Raymond Moore. Holt, a supporter of school reform, argued against the oppressive nature of formal schools, promoting a method known as “unschooling.” In 1977, Holt established the newsletter Growing Without Schooling, which became a hub for early homeschoolers.
Raymond Moore added to the movement by advocating for children to be schooled at home until the age of eight or nine, believing that early schooling was detrimental. His book Home Grown Kids, published in 1981, became popular among homeschoolers as an introductory resource.
At the time when Holt and Moore began promoting homeschooling, it was legal in every state but subject to varying regulations. Some states imposed stringent requirements, such as mandatory teaching licenses for parents. Early homeschoolers often worked with local school boards to meet requirements and submit their home education plans. Holt and Moore’s organizations provided assistance in mediating with officials and, if necessary, legal aid.
In the 1980s, a significant shift occurred within the homeschooling community. Evangelical and fundamentalist Christians, motivated by culture wars rhetoric, joined the movement. They viewed public schools as “Satanic hothouses” and took an antagonistic stance towards school administrators. Legal battles ensued as homeschoolers encountered uncooperative officials, leading to a negative feedback cycle and increasing litigation. This period became known as “the look over your shoulder time.”
To navigate the changing landscape, homeschoolers turned their attention from the local level to the state level, advocating for legislative changes to accommodate homeschooling. Debates arose within the homeschooling community regarding the level of oversight these laws should contain. Some homeschoolers accepted standardized testing and curriculum plans, while others considered them oppressive. Consequently, the process of legalizing homeschooling varied across states, with some witnessing changes in education policy without legislative action, while others developed detailed homeschool statutes. Oversight of homeschooling today varies widely from state to state.
In the 1980s, the homeschooling movement also underwent a “changing of the guard.” The leadership and influence of Holt and Moore waned, and homeschooling became associated with conservative religious ideas and the Christian Right. Homeschool organizations became increasingly explicitly Christian, requiring the signing of statements of faith and excluding secular homeschoolers. Michael Farris, a homeschool parent and attorney, founded the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) in 1983, which became a dominant force in the movement, shaping its networking system and public image.
While early homeschool leaders focused on freeing children from formal schooling and supporting their individual interests, these newer leaders emphasized a radical social and religious vision. They sought to train children to transform the United States based on Christian beliefs. The movement became more hierarchical and some leaders adopted extreme ideologies, including discouraging women from attending college or advocating for a return to Old Testament law.
Despite these shifts, homeschooling continued to grow in popularity, with families choosing it for various reasons beyond pedagogical or religious ones. Concerns about bullying or the quality of local schools motivated some families to homeschool. The increasing diversity within the homeschooling community, along with the rise of the internet, has challenged the dominance of Christian homeschooling groups and has the potential to reshape the movement.