But first—a parable.
Serendipity is impossible to manufacture—by
definition. But recognizing it when it happens is a gift.
I received such a gift on a recent Saturday afternoon at
the Berryville Old Book Shop, which is just down the
street from Potter’s Barber Shop. The used bookstore is a
monthly, post-haircut stop for me, to check out Archie’s
Out of place, almost out of reach behind the clutter
on top of a tall stack, lay a children’s book I’d never seen
before. Now there are a lot of children’s books I’ve never
seen before, and most of them I never open. But the
compelling cover art of this book had a boy with a red
kite, a monkey, a dog, and a flying heron. And the title
intrigued me: The Three Questions: Based on a Story by
Leo Tolstoy. I reached down and opened to the dust jacket flap: “When is the best time to do things? Who is the
most important one? What is the right thing to do?”
At a used bookstore in Berryville, Virginia, Jim spotted the cover of The Three Questions: Based on a Story by Leo Tolstoy, written by Jon Muth.
These three questions snapped me out of my
Saturday afternoon languor and alerted me to the
possibility that the next moment just might be infused
with eternal significance. So, I read on. “When young
Nikolai seeks counsel from Leo, the wise old turtle who
lives in the mountains, he is sure Leo will know the
answers to his three questions. But it is Nikolai’s own
response to a stranger’s cry for help that leads him
directly to the answers he is looking for.”
As you may have guessed, I read the book right straight
through. And bought it for six dollars. Then I googled
the original Tolstoy parable on my handheld supercomputer and read it, too, right straight through. Here
is what the hermit (turtle) in the Tolstoy story told
the king (Nikolai):
Remember then: there is only one time that is
important—now! It is the most important time
because it is the only time when we have any
power. The most necessary person is the one
with whom you are, for no man knows whether
he will ever have dealings with anyone else: and
the most important affair is to do that person
good, because for that purpose alone was man
sent into this life.
The moral of Tolstoy’s story recalled for me Jesus’s
parable of the good Samaritan and a quote from the Bible,
found in the book of Hebrews, chapter 13: “Let brotherly
love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
And the book gave me a much-needed hook.
For my first Court Report essay as president of
HSLDA, as we reach our 40th year, I want to take this
opportunity to describe how I see the work of HSLDA
from the beginning in 1983 right down to this day. Especially our mission to make homeschooling possible.
For you, your children, and grandchildren.
With zeal, compassion, and excellence.
We are homeschoolers too, and we care about homeschoolers and homeschool freedom right down to our
And the answers to Tolstoy’s three questions will help
lead the way.
When is the best time
to do things?
Today is the most important time to preserve and
protect homeschool freedom. We live in a very different
world from that of 1983, when HSLDA’s founders Mike
Farris and Mike Smith saw a need and boldly addressed
it. But times change, and so has the need in the homeschooling movement for a national legal and policy advocacy organization dedicated to homeschool freedom and—perhaps more importantly—to homeschoolers.
Consider: in the year of HSLDA’s creation, 1983,
Motorola introduced the first mobile phones to the
public. The DynaTac 8000X took 10 hours to charge,
offered 30 minutes of talk time, cost over $10,000 in
2023 dollars, and was nicknamed “the brick.” That same
year, Nintendo introduced Mario Bros.
to arcades in Japan, and ARPANET
officially adopted the Internet Protocol (TCP/IP). And the rest, as they say,
Homeschooling was emerging as a
modern educational option at just about
the same time. It is estimated that fewer
than 100,000 children were homeschooled in 1983,
which was a dramatic increase from the 13,000 homeschooled children estimated just 10 years earlier.
Back in 1983, HSLDA kept track of its members in file
drawers, and activated telephone trees to get the word
out quickly. Today, an estimated 7–8 million children
are being homeschooled, nearly double prepandemic
And HSLDA keeps our member records in
a secure, sophisticated database that enables us to serve
over 100,000 member families—or about 600,000
In the olden days, there were far fewer homeschoolers,
but the legal battles tended to be bigger, more focused
on whether homeschooling was even legal at all. Many
states back then took the position that homeschooling
was illegal unless one of the child’s parents possessed a
state teaching license.
The last big case to address the legality of homeschooling on a statewide basis was in California in 2008,
In Re Jonathan L. In a surprise ruling, an appellate court
held in February 2008 that homeschooling without
a license had never been legal in California—to the
surprise and alarm of tens of thousands of California
homeschool families. But after HSLDA got involved
and rallied other freedom-loving people and organizations to speak up, the same three judges reversed
themselves that August, holding that homeschooling
was legal after all.
To fully appreciate how remarkably intense those five months were, please read A Look Back at the Great California Homeschool case of 2008 (And What It Means for Today). You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. It will move you, Bob.
One of the great lessons I learned working on that case
was that the diligent labor of homeschool advocates over
the years, often behind the scenes, led to the winning
argument in 2008: each time a statutory proposal might
have affected California’s private school statute in a way
that harmed homeschoolers, advocates were able to get
amendments that protected homeschooling.
In just one example, all private school employees were
required to be fingerprinted, but that statute was amended in 1998 because of the diligence of the dedicated
homeschool advocates at California’s Family Protection
Ministries (FPM), a legislative watchdog group. FPM
made sure the law excluded “a parent or legal guardian
working exclusively with his or her children.”
The word “homeschooling” was never used in any
statute, but when we presented the court with all the
examples where statutes protected homeschool-type
private schools, the court agreed in its August 2008
opinion “. . . that California statutes permit homeschooling as a species of private school education.”
What those quiet advocates did in their “today” in
1998 saved homeschooling 10 years later in 2008. Like
them, we need to be diligent in all our own todays.
of the Education Empire
Speaking of “big cases”: as you read my next thoughts
about another challenge we face today, please play The
Imperial March from Star Wars while you imagine a
group of educational elites striding on screen, wielding
shining sharp pens that crackle and zing as they etch
scathing criticisms of homeschooling through the air.
These educational elites hail from far corners of the
galaxy, but have this in common: they believe every parent and every child should be subject to their
Educational Empire’s careful monitoring, tight regulations, and prescribed curriculum.
The group includes such famous ivory tower inhabitants as Stanford political science professor Robert
Reich, Harvard School of Law professor Elizabeth
Bartholet, William & Mary Law School professor James
Dwyer, and more.
Since 2002, Reich has been insisting that the Empire
should determine what is appropriate for parents to
teach and has proposed multiple ways that families could
prove their curriculum aligns with the Empire’s values
In 2020, Professor Bartholet famously wrote a
law-review article advocating for a “presumptive ban” of
homeschooling, suggesting that most homeschoolers are
backward clods who can’t be trusted. When the Harvard
Crimson magazine profiled Professor Bartholet’s article
in April of 2020, COVID-19 wasn’t the only thing that
The outcry was immediate and widespread. Professor Bartholet heard
from homeschooled Harvard alums,
current students, and parents;
academics who study education and
and, from a ragtag
bunch of lovable homeschool advocates who wrote 17
essays over the next few weeks, in a series called HSLDA’s
Response to Harvard Professor Bartholet.
While we might enjoy using fun metaphors to
describe the educational elite and their efforts, including
the ironic timing of Professor Bartholet’s unveiling her
proposed homeschooling ban just as public schools all
over America were closing due to COVID-19, we must
never forget that they aren’t joking. They mean it. And
they are not alone among intellectual elites who do not
agree with us about homeschool freedom.
In December 2022, a comedian I’d never heard
of tweeted, “It’s insane to me that homeschooling
is an accepted practice in this country.” She continued
with the backward-clod trope and collected 17,000
retweets, 3,800 quote tweets, and 162,000 likes. The opponents of homeschool freedom have not
left the field, which is why today—and every day—HSLDA is on watch to
expose and address this
kind of threat.
Another now: When
the “ayes” have it!
By my expert count, there are approximately 55 legislatures in these United States: one federal, 50 state, one
federal district, and three territorial. And they all love to
dedicate bridges to Harvey K. Smedlap. But that’s not the
point. They also love to pass laws. Laws about this. And
laws about that. Someday our law cup will runneth over.
But not this year. In 2023, HSLDA estimates more than
150,000 proposed laws will either be introduced or carried
over from last session. Now, these bills may not directly
reference homeschooling. However, we’ve learned through
experience over many years that sometimes bills referencing things like private schools, compulsory attendance ages,
employment opportunities, jury duty requirements, zoning
regulations, or daytime curfews can indirectly have a big
effect on homeschooling families or groups.
The HSLDA legal team, together with state homeschooling advocates, monitors each of these legislatures
every day, and keeps an eye on dozens of administrative
agencies, which can also promulgate regulations that
adversely affect homeschool freedom. We will work to
improve homeschool laws where we can, and we will
oppose any retrenchments should the Empire try to
Who is the most important one?
In some ways it’s easier for me to look at the big picture and think big thoughts about the future than it is to
appreciate the work HSLDA does every day.
But the most important person is the homeschool
mom on the phone with us right now—calling us about a
distressing letter she received from her school superintendent. At its heart, HSLDA is a nonprofit, public-interest
law firm dedicated to helping homeschool moms and
dads just like you and me in their hour of distress.
In 2022, HSLDA’s legal team handled almost 20,000
contacts. Just under 14,000 of those were general homeschooling questions. Around 1,100 were homeschool
graduates who experienced some form of discrimination
because their homeschool education was treated as
second class. And 2,700 involved a family who had been
approached by either a school official or Child Protective
Often we can fix the problem with a letter or phone
call. My motto is to win early and win often. But while
we delight in resolving the issues homeschoolers bring to
us as quickly and as painlessly as possible, we are always
on watch for the seeds of a bigger problem that begins as
a small one. And if the government official who is “just
there to help” wants to dance to the tune of unlawful
authority, the HSLDA legal team is always ready to do-sido—all day, every day.
A real-life example from New York
Here’s how that do-si-do works in real life: consider
the case of Tanya Acevedo, a single mom in New York
City who withdrew her child to homeschool midyear.
Tanya did everything New York’s homeschool regulation
required, but New York City’s Central Office of Home
Schooling was undermanned and chronically behind in
doing what the antiquated New York regulation required
The central office failed to notify the public school to
remove Tanya’s child from the school’s attendance rolls.
After 30 days of incorrectly logged “absences,” the public
school reported Tanya for “educational neglect.” An
investigator showed up at her door after-hours, demanding to interview her child and inspect her apartment.
HSLDA lawyers are on call 24/7 to handle homeschool-related legal emergencies. Tanya called our
answering service, and it transferred the call to me at
home around 7:00 p.m. The CPS investigator agreed that
this was not a real emergency and left. My colleague Tj
Schmidt took over the next day, and helped Tanya get
the investigation closed satisfactorily.
But because New York City’s treatment of homeschoolers was generally contrary to law, affecting thousands,
we were able to use Tanya’s bad experience for good, by
suing former Mayor Bill De Blasio and others. The lawsuit resulted in New York City entering a consent decree,
with a court-supervised promise to clean up its act and
report its compliance to HSLDA every quarter for two
years, which just recently ended. The situation for all
homeschoolers in New York City improved because of a
homeschool mom named Tanya.
We never know when one of the tens of thousands
of emails and phone calls we get every year will set into
motion a series of events that will expand the boundaries
of homeschool freedom. But one of my greatest blessings
being an HSLDA lawyer has been participating in many
cases like the one with Tanya.
And today, in early 2023, we are in the early stages of
possibly similar events in Ohio, Kentucky, and New Jersey.
Each on behalf of a real live homeschooler. They may
resolve quickly, or they may become the next big case.
What is the right thing to do
for individual homeschoolers?
When Tanya Acevedo or another homeschool mom
(or dad, maybe you!) is on the phone with a question,
problem, or emergency, we serve her with zeal, compassion, and excellence in every department at HSLDA.
Our legal team strives to help her calmly understand all
the options, and to assist with the same level of personalized professionalism that a corporate VP would
get from a big-name law firm. And whether it’s one of
our special needs consultants helping with a plan for a
challenged learner, or a representative of our charitable
program who helps homeschoolers in need obtain one
of our donor-supported HSLDA Compassion grants,
we all aspire to make life better and easier for the person
who’s called us for help. By helping the person right in
front of us, and by doing our best for her, we believe that
the homeschooling movement writ large will be stronger and healthier too.
These are our aspirations, our reasons for being, our
most heartfelt convictions.
What is the right thing to do
for homeschool groups?
Sometimes the one we do good for isn’t an individual person, but a group of homeschooling families. The
freedom of parents to choose private home education
has led, of necessity, to the organic creation of a vibrant
private ecosystem of families, co-ops, support groups,
and state organizations, which are neither required by
law nor commanded or funded by state officials. Each of
these in its own way, and all of them together, contribute
to the civic health of society—what I called in another Court Report essay “the civic virtue of private home
Perhaps your family is part of a local co-op
or a state organization—and you know the combined
strength and encouragement that comes from being part
of a supportive homeschool community.
While one of HSLDA’s main goals over the years
has been to remove legal barriers for families, we also
foster and support the efforts of homeschoolers and
groups—to make homeschooling possible more widely,
in community, suited to the unique needs and desires
of a free people to associate and organize according
to their own deeply held beliefs and aspirations. We
believe that—for the good of the families and kids who
have chosen to homeschool with others—promoting
this organic association is the right thing to do.
Bottom line: Today is the day!
It’s important for you to know—and for me
to affirm here—that HSLDA is a Christian
organization, and that our mission to make
homeschooling possible falls right in
sync with Tolstoy’s three questions and
his answers. These answers resonated
so deeply with me because I believe,
as I described in “The Civic Virtue,”
that raising, nurturing, and educating
children falls under the laws of nature
and nature’s God. And more specifically
(if you share my Christian, biblical worldview) that God placed children in the family as His institution on earth for raising kids, and that all
parents (whether they share my biblical worldview or
not) owe a duty to the Creator to equip kids with the
love, knowledge, and tools they need to become caring,
Flowing out of that perspective, HSLDA believes
that the homeschool dad singing the ABC song to his
4-year-old son; the mom leading the weekly co-op; the
volunteer organizing speakers for the state homeschool
convention; and a merry band of dedicated homeschool
advocates in Purcellville, Virginia, personally assisting
families of all backgrounds every day, are all playing a
part in creating a vibrant society and an environment of
freedom that promotes human flourishing.
In closing, I want to circle back to Tolstoy’s three
- When is the best time to do things?
- Who is the most important one?
- What is the right thing to do?
For HSLDA, the best time is now. The most important one is you, Tanya, or any other homeschool mom
or dad on the phone with a question, problem, or
emergency. The right thing to do is good, and for us
that’s helping you make homeschooling possible for
your family so your kids can grow up and discover for
themselves the best time, the most important one, and
the right thing to do.
 Ray, Brian D. 2018. “Homeschooling Growing: Multiple Data Points Show Increase 2012 to 2016 and Later.” National Home
Education Research Institute, April 20, 2018.
Ray, Brian D. 2022. “How Many Homeschool Students Are There in the United States During the 2021–2022 School Year?”
National Home Education Research Institute, September 15, 2022.
Reich, Rob. 2002. “Testing the Boundaries of Parental Authority over Education.” Moral and Political Education 43: 275–313.
Claire, Julia (@ohJuliatweets). 2022. Twitter post, Nov. 30, 2022. To be fair, many of the replies challenged the comedian.