A ‘school movement’ began in the 1840’s when reformers like Horace Mann (Massachusetts) and Henry Barnard (Connecticut) began statewide ‘common-school systems.’ Mann and Barnard desired to increase opportunities for all children (not just the wealthy who had the benefit of private schools through the colonies). The population was becoming extremely diverse with more immigrants coming into the country from Europe and Asia. Much of their argument centered around the assumption that education could ‘preserve social stability and prevent crime and poverty’ (Chesapeake.edu). The education would be accessible and free to everyone, financed by public funds. At the turn of the century, only about six percent of teenagers graduated from high school. This was the era of ‘inclusivism’ and education for all was becoming the norm. It was in the early 1900’s that school attendance became mandatory, with choices in the parochial schools, private schools or public schools. By mid-century, a new model for efficiency was needed. For this, educators and administrators looked to the efficiency of the factories that had provided so many needed uniforms, weapons and food needed for World War II and the minor wars that followed. A more ‘factory-minded’ approach was needed, both in educating teachers and teaching children. Thus, the first ‘buzzwords’ and cyclical educational programs emerged. Education became big business in America. But, unlike the efficient factories, education has never received the status of being nationally efficient. However, the graduation rate did increase to 85% over the course of the 20th century, school districts rounded out to 15,000, school buses transported children to schools by the 1950’s. In 1925, the Supreme Court ruled in Pierce v. Society of Sisters, that states could not compel children to attend public schools and that children could attend private schools instead. This ruling was seen as an alternative for any group that finds the available forms of education unsatisfactory (Chesapeake.edu). In the late 20th Century, most states gave great attention to their role in raising education standards, but a report in 1983 indicated low academic achievement with students being outperformed on international academic tests by students from other industrial societies. Statistics also suggested that American test scores have been declining over time. (A Nation at Risk, History of Education).
Unlike ‘public education’ which seems to have some identifiable beginnings, homeschooling is centuries old. Children have often been educated or apprenticed in specific skills. Books like Johnny Tremain and Hiding Place look to family relationships and training in the ‘family business’ for the children. Girls would learn to cook, sew and manage the house. Parents would teach children to read, usually with the Bible as their source. But probably the first reference to ‘homeschooling’ would be Alexander the Great being homeschooled by Aristotle 2500 years ago. Alexander’s father, Philip, offered this tutoring job to Aristotle and they used the Temple of the Nymphs at Mieza as a classroom. As payment, Philip agreed to build Aristotle’s hometown of Stageira. But, moving forward many centuries, the current homeschool movement probably gained strength around 1960 when John Holt, an Ivy League graduate became unhappy with the public school system. He realized that reforming the school system would be impossible. He also believed that a child should naturally be curious and should not be forced into a structured system. Raymond Moore also became a spokesman for the homeschooling movement, but he was a Christian and claimed that parents should be responsible for their childrens’ education to ensure that Christian education was included. In the 1980’s, laws that existed prohibiting homeschooling began to be struck down. With private education becoming more expensive, public schools becoming more ‘cookie-cutter’ in their educational regiment, the development of the internet with resources, support groups and a plethora of available curriculum for homeschoolers, this movement to educate children at home began growing exponentially. Today, nearly 1.8 million students are homeschooled in the United States, about 4% of the child population.
The Classical Education movement is not new either. The world ‘classical’ or ‘classic’ means ‘basic or fundamental, of the first or highest quality, class or rank.’ (Dictionary.com). This classical movement really began about the same time the ‘factory,’ cookie cutter education was beginning. Dorothy Sayers published her article, The Lost Tools of Learning, where she laid out what a classical education would look like and explained the various stages of the classical education. But other authors emerged that have explained the education in layman’s terms, authors like Susan Wise Bauer, whose book, The Well-Trained Mind, has transformed countless homeschool settings and Cheryl Swope, who wrote Simply Classical, encouraging a classical education for all types of children, academically gifted or not.
So, while many think that homeschooling is the ‘new kid on the block,’ that simply isn’t true…the public education is the ‘new kid’ and while there may be many things a public education can offer, 1.8 million children are being educated the old way…at home!