In the early 1980s, homeschooling was practically unheard of. Even though the model of parents teaching their children at home was one of the earliest (and most effective) forms of education in history, homeschooling had fallen into obscurity. Families who chose such a “nontraditional” education route often encountered major opposition and legal challenges. Some homeschooling parents were even put in jail for truancy or “contributing to the delinquency of a minor.”
So when Mike Farris—an attorney and homeschooling dad in Olympia, Washington—started getting calls from other homeschooling families looking for legal representation, he quickly realized that this was bigger problem than he could solve on his own.
Farris knew that families homeschooling without competent legal counsel would stand little chance of prevailing against the government. But he could only help so many families—and beyond that, competent legal counsel was prohibitively expensive.
So Farris hatched a plan—but he needed a partner.
A chance encounter
Meanwhile in Santa Monica, California, Mike Smith and his wife were homeschooling their kids . . . and local homeschoolers were contacting Mike for legal representation. (He’s an attorney, too.) At the time, many California school districts took the position that parents could only homeschool their kids if they were certified to teach.
As it happened, the two Mikes ran into each other at a homeschool conference in Sacramento, California, in early 1983.
After meeting Smith and hearing his story, Farris excitedly shared his plan: start a non-profit membership organization aimed at making homeschooling legal in every state. The idea was to have a large enough organization to fund legal representation of homeschooling families from all across the nation—in other words, to make homeschooling possible for everyone through advocacy in the courts, legislatures, and marketplace of ideas.
To Smith, that seemed like a huge hill to climb. So naturally, when Farris asked if he would be interested being on the founding board of directors of this organization, he jumped at the chance.
Turning the tide
HSLDA started with a handful of member families. Farris worked from his home in Washington state, and Smith from his law office in Santa Monica. But within a few years, Farris and Smith had both relocated to Washington, D.C., set up a dedicated HSLDA office, and hired several full-time employees to help keep up with the rising number of member families.
As HSLDA and the homeschool movement grew, so did the freedom to homeschool. Working alongside state homeschool organizations—and backed by a rapidly expanding community of homeschooling families—we slowly but surely turned the tide.
Over the years, we’ve convinced state legislatures to adopt statutes acknowledging the right of parents to teach their children at home. We’ve won a number of high-profile cases on behalf of families whose ability to homeschool has been threatened. And we’ve expanded our services to help make homeschooling possible for families not only legally, but practically as well.
In the process, homeschooling has gone from a relatively unknown fringe movement to a flourishing and popular educational option for families of every shape and size.
Today, homeschooling is legal in every state—but that doesn’t mean our work is done. We continue to protect and advance the freedom to homeschool, defend member families facing legal challenges, and equip homeschooling parents to give their children the best possible educational experience.
Although we’re constantly re-evaluating ourselves and adapting to meet the needs of the homeschool community, the focus of our work and the reason we exist will always stay the same: to help kids thrive by making homeschooling possible.