As surely as leaves in the forest change color in autumn and fall to the ground, the nights will grow longer and colder through the bleak midwinter.
But the winter solstice marks the beginning of the lengthening of days. Every day, the sun climbs a little higher in the southern sky, and its rays penetrate more directly through the naked boughs to warm the leaf-strewn forest floor.
The elevating sun is a sign that the end of winter is near, and it soon sends me and Charlie Boy the Wonder Dog out sauntering along the Shenandoah River in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains. There we seek the first real signs of spring: the signs that promise marvels to my eyes and the assurance of new creation to my soul.
Signs like the maroon-mottled leaves of yellow trout lilies, or the frilly green skirts of Dutchman’s-breeches. But my favorite sign of spring is the colony of smooth, gray-green leaves that will soon unfurl into a hazy carpet of lavender-flowered Virginia bluebells.
Anyone can learn to read the signs of my Shenandoah Valley springtime. One year is like unto another. But you must observe diligently, and you must not dither past the leafing of the oak and the sycamore, or you will miss the moment. The moment of the ephemeral wildflowers. The moment the river claps its hands and the mountain sings for joy.1
Few things make me feel so sad as missing the moment.
Reading the signs
Reading the signs of our times can be a trickier business than tracking the seasons. But just as spring follows winter, “what has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”2 And as with the seasons, diligent study of the past and observation in the present may reveal a transcendent moment, a moment to seize before it flits away.
In the months since Harvard law professor Elizabeth Bartholet’s anti-homeschooling law-review article created such a stir, released in early 2020 just as public schools were closing because of COVID-19, I have been reflecting. Looking at events since then through the lens of my vocation as a homeschool-freedom attorney, I ask myself, “Does homeschool freedom exist for such a time as this?”
Fifty years ago, if you had asked education officials in all 50 states whether it was legal for parents without teacher certifications to educate their own children at home, the near-unanimous chorus would have been simple: “Don’t be ridiculous—no!”
Today, the answer would be a resounding, unanimous, “Don’t be ridiculous—of course homeschooling is legal!”
Homeschooling’s progress from a perceived fringe to a mainstream option has been one of the most dramatic “wins” of the last 50 years. HSLDA founder Mike Farris calls it a “generational win.” Visionary leaders like Mike Farris and HSLDA president Mike Smith think about the future and plan with wisdom and imagination. They realize that there are no guarantees. And no one knows for sure what tomorrow may bring.
Homeschooling in the early days required that kind of vision. Getting from there to here was never a foregone conclusion. Parents in the 1970s and ’80s risked legal peril and social stigma to do what homeschoolers take for granted today.
Together, moms and dads just like you and me started a movement
Yet homeschooling steadily grew, as more moms and dads just like you and me took the plunge. And as homeschooling grew into a movement, together we removed more and more legal, social, and practical barriers, allowing us to create a dizzying array of networks, co-ops, and state and local organizations—the rich mosaic we know as homeschooling today.
Entrepreneurs created homeschool curriculum and tools. Technological advances created amazing new opportunities for connecting and learning that were scarcely imagined at the dawn of the movement. And the number of children being homeschooled grew slowly but steadily for decades.
Then the world shut down in March of 2020—and homeschooling exploded!
An unprecedented era
All those decades of preparation—unwitting though it may have been—created a new dynamic, a new educational choice readily available to parents at just the right time. We early homeschoolers hoped other families would embrace homeschooling and the movement would grow, but we never anticipated what just happened. By some estimates, the number of children being homeschooled has doubled since the spring of 2020.
Many parents began homeschooling during the last two years after being forced by circumstance to observe their children’s public-school experience through Zoom, where they discovered three things: (1) they didn’t like what they saw; (2) their kids weren’t really learning much; and (3) having their children at home was fun and good for their family.
Because of COVID-19, many parents learned that the public school emperor has no clothes. As emperors often do, the public school establishment responded to the backlash by doubling down on policies that many parents not only don’t want, but also actively oppose.
A September 15, 2021, news report from Loudoun County, Virginia, where our office is located and whose public schools have become the focus of national scrutiny, provides a snapshot of what is happening around the country.3 Local school officials expected approximately 88,000 students to enroll in the fall of 2021, but only about 81,000 enrolled.
Now, those 7,000 students didn’t just disappear into thin air. They chose other options. According to the local paper, Loudoun school officials cited a lack of virtual learning options, continuing COVID-19 safety concerns, and the high-profile battles over equity and other social issues. At $17,000 per pupil, that’s a loss of around $119 million dollars out of a $1.4 billion dollar budget.4 A sudden, unexpected 8.5% budget hit will not go unnoticed.
But the same news report quoted a local clinical social worker, who noticed that her phones were quieter, and fewer parents were calling for her services for their high school–aged children.
“For some kids, whose anxiety was high, it actually was a help to be home. Being home allowed them to have a calmer, less anxiety-provoking situation,” the social worker said. “[When] families who would not consider homeschooling prior to the pandemic, because of COVID, they saw how their child did and that they actually still could learn quite well, they are now moving to homeschool, because for their child it was actually better . . . For them, it was a Godsend.”5
And this discovery was not confined to families with kids in public schools.
A young father I know exemplifies the significance of what is now happening. Before the pandemic, he and his wife had considered homeschooling but decided to send their children to a private Christian school, a school they liked and had no issues with. When that school closed to in-person learning and homeschooling became the family’s only option, they experienced the joy of teaching their own kids. As you know, there is no substitute for being the one to see your child’s eyes light up with discovery. And homeschooling makes particularly rich, fulfilling relationships possible between parents and children and among siblings. This dad told me that they have decided to continue homeschooling because of their firsthand experience of these and other blessings.
Stories like this are one of the main reasons I think that many families who started homeschooling because of COVID-19 will continue out of joy.
Taking a stand for our kids
But COVID-19 is not the only factor in the current shakeup of educational norms. Public schools are becoming more and more engaged in ideological indoctrination that many parents can no longer tolerate. On issues ranging from sexuality to race to whether our American story should be celebrated (warts and all) or be a source of shame, the public schools appear bent on taking sides, following diktats from on high rather than the concerns and preferences of parents. In response, parents all over the country are speaking up to school boards and education departments, taking a stand for the traditional role of schools and against an imposed orthodoxy with which they disagree.
In response to this renewed civic vigor, the United States Justice Department launched an investigation into whether those parents should be treated as domestic terrorists under the PATRIOT Act.6 (Not something I thought I’d ever write, but it’s true.)
Whether those newly involved public school parents prevail in taking back more control remains to be seen. But when COVID-19 broke the public school’s near-monopoly in its ability to provide education, millions of moms and dads learned that homeschooling is a real, viable choice. Whether the challenge to their children’s education comes from COVID-19 or from public schools refusing to answer to parents, homeschooling is a choice that works, is available to almost any family, and helps children thrive.
And today, everybody knows it. So even if homeschooling’s numbers recede from the pandemic high-water mark, the educational option will remain front and center for more parents, who will be more willing to make the switch if their kids’ needs are not being met—for any reason whatsoever.
Which brings me to a vital question for the future. The future of education, yes, but perhaps the future of liberty more generally.
Is it possible that homeschooling has reached a tipping point?
Merriam-Webster defines tipping point as “the critical point in a situation, process, or system beyond which a significant and often unstoppable effect or change takes place.”
The pandemic has been an unbelievably difficult challenge. But out of something devastating, something very good is sweeping across our country.
Right now, we may have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! What if, together, we homeschool moms and dads can help inspire even more families to begin homeschooling—enough to reach the tipping point? Enough to cause an unstoppable change. Enough to permanently shift the education of millions more children from so-called experts back to families and organically grown local communities.
What would such a tectonic shift do to preserve and promote liberty for future generations? It would allow even more parents to provide what they know is best for their unique children in a safe learning environment. It means parents have the opportunity to raise their children with the caring values and religious beliefs most important to them. Perhaps this moment, on the heels of a great national struggle, could give rise to a “new birth of freedom,” as President Lincoln highly resolved after the Battle of Gettysburg.
Meeting the moment
To do this, we’ll need to seize key opportunities and watch for the challenges that could well come our way if—or more likely, when—the empire strikes back.
Because of your partnership as an HSLDA member or donor (and some of you are both!), here’s a quick overview of what HSLDA has been able to do since the early days of COVID-19 school closures, to inspire and equip parents interested in trying homeschooling, and to meet the moment:
- We published a series of 17 essays responding to Professor Bartholet’s law-review article calling for a ban of homeschooling, and we collected these essays in a book, entitled Homeschool Freedom: How it works and why we need it.
- We’ve hosted over 40 free how-to-homeschool webinars answering parents’ most-asked questions and created a library of on-demand recordings.
- We’ve worked with the VELA Education Fund to provide over a million dollars in grants to homeschooling groups to assist them in launching innovative approaches to homeschooling, especially to serve new homeschoolers.
- We’ve provided 1,258 low-income families the ability to afford curriculum and other resources through our Compassion Grants.
- We’ve created easy-to-use tools to connect new homeschoolers to their state and local homeschool organizations—groups that play an irreplaceable role in keeping homeschooling free by monitoring legislation and by forming supportive communities for families.
- We’ve produced a winsome video called Make the World Your Classroom—to inspire parents looking for an alternative to public school and to direct them to important resources for newcomers.
Throughout this chaotic time, HSLDA’s core mission has remained the same: to provide quality legal assistance to homeschool families who need it, keeping homeschooling free for all of us. We’ve continued to field hundreds of calls every day from our member families who have specific legal or educational questions or are navigating sometimes-distressing encounters with local officials. (This support has been especially important for those new to homeschooling.)
And we have continued our robust attention to state legislatures and Congress. Where we can, we continue to advance the boundaries of homeschool freedom through legislation, and we are particularly vigilant to prevent retreats wherever they are proposed.
Despite the uncertainty all around us since early 2019, homeschooling has proven to be an oasis for many families. Together—with state organizations, local support groups, and grassroots homeschooling families just like yours—we are working to help these new families stick with homeschooling and to encourage many others to consider homeschooling as a real option.
As I write these words, the brightly colored autumn leaves swirl in the wind outside my home office. And we are preparing for the entire Mason mob to gather at our rural Virginia home for Thanksgiving Day.
When this magazine reaches your home in January, Lord willing, Charlie Boy and I will be rambling along the Shenandoah, awaiting dozens of great blue herons who will soon arrive to rebuild their nests in a giant sycamore tree on the opposite bank. And before long, I will be scanning the ground for the first signs of the ephemeral wildflowers.
Springtime moments like these, and the moment I hope I am seeing in the homeschool movement, remind me of the Beaver’s awesome foreshadowing in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. “They say Aslan is on the move—perhaps has already landed.”7
The advancing of spring is an archetypal unstoppable change, as was Aslan’s reversal of the White Witch’s spell over the land of Narnia, where it was “always winter and never Christmas.”
Is it possible that homeschool freedom was made for a springtime moment such as this?
Thank you for helping us do everything in our power to meet this fleeting moment!
More ways to meet this moment...
Here are several ways you can help introduce more families to the wonderful option of homeschooling!
- Share this 3-minute video introduction to homeschooling (on a page with helpful getting-started articles).
- Download, print out, and post these “Make the World Your Classroom” flyers around your community: grocery store bulletin boards, libraries, community centers, or your doctors’ offices.
- Share HSLDA’s free on-demand webinar library.
- If you know a homeschool family facing financial difficulties, you can connect them with our Compassion Grant application.
- Invite parents curious about homeschooling to visit or join your local homeschool group and state organization. You can also share our searchable homeschool groups directory.
- Make a tax-deductible donation to help HSLDA inspire and equip even more families to homeschool in 2022!
1 Psalm 98:8.
2 Ecclesiastes 1:9 (NIV).
4 Loudoun County Public Schools. 2021. “FY22 School Board’s Adopted Budget Executive Summary.”
5 Bour, Hayley. 2021. “Loudoun School Enrollment Again Declines.”
6 Adams, Becket. 2021. “National School Board Group Wants Biden to Use the PATRIOT Act against Parents.” Washington Examiner, Oct. 1, 2021.
7 Lewis, Clive Staples. 1950. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. As much as I love the book, it annoys me that an Oxford don didn’t use the Oxford comma in the title. Nobody’s perfect.