My coworker at Alliance Defending Freedom texted me right after dinner. His wife, who homeschools their children, was having a (socially distanced) backyard event for four families from their neighborhood. All four were thinking seriously about homeschooling and wanted her advice. She turned it into a fun evening.
My coworker’s friends weren’t alone; a recent national poll from RealClear Opinion Research revealed that more than 40% of families are more likely to consider homeschooling, once the lockdowns are over.
The demographic details of the responses are extremely interesting and contrary to the stereotypes about homeschooling—namely, that homeschoolers are almost exclusively white conservatives. According the poll, almost 37% of White respondents, 38% of Hispanic respondents, and more than half of both Black and Asian respondents indicated that they were more likely to homeschool, take part in a neighborhood homeschool co-op, or enroll their kids in virtual school after the pandemic.
And the poll wasn’t biased toward conservatives: almost 48% of self-identified Democrats on the poll indicated more willingness to homeschool, compared to 42% of self-identified Republicans.
This is an opportunity to welcome an unprecedented number of new families into homeschooling—the most significant shift in American education in a hundred years. But it will not happen on its own; the actions that current homeschoolers undertake in the near future are absolutely essential to turn this from an abstract opportunity into a profound, nation-shaping reality.
The plain fact is that the decision to homeschool is a big decision for all concerned. And a mom or dad is far more likely to make such a decision if they have a relationship with a friend or mentor who has walked this path before.
Groups like HSLDA, state organizations, and local co-ops can and are undertaking plans to help to maximize this opportunity, but the most effective action will always come at the grassroots level—especially when the prospective homeschooler has a face-to-face guide.
It is unlikely, of course, that 40% of all families with school-age kids will actually choose to begin homeschooling. But if only 5% actually begin, the homeschooling movement would more than double. If 10% begin to educate their own children, we would more than triple. If homeschooling doubles, it will be equal to private schooling. Anything beyond that level of growth will make homeschooling the second-largest form of education in the nation.
A number of questions about this prospect immediately arise, which need to be addressed. Such growth will absolutely change this country, but it will also change the homeschooling movement. We need to address this kind of change to understand the path we are considering.
Let’s consider five questions:
1. Will growth impact our freedom to homeschool?
Numbers matter in politics.
I will never forget an exchange I had many years ago with the then speaker of the house in Iowa. There was a bill in progress that would impose far more serious regulations on homeschooling than was previously the case. I encouraged him to back away from his support of the bill, which was being pushed by many establishment groups—including the state version of the National Education Association.
The speaker of the house asked me, “how many homeschoolers do you have in my district?” I estimated that there might have been 20–30 families at the time. He replied, “there are 2,403 public school teachers who are members of the NEA in my district. And I can count.”
There are approximately three million members of the NEA in 2020. If homeschooling doubles in size, there will be approximately 4.2 million homeschooling parents in the country. This will be a formidable number that will give pause to every politician who wants to think about limiting the freedom of homeschoolers. Homeschoolers may differ on many political issues, but homeschooling freedom is something that has historically united every branch of our movement.
It is true, of course, that with increased numbers, the public school establishment will become apoplectic. It will not be just the teachers union—the state departments of education and others in the education establishment will want to do everything they can to stop millions of children from leaving their system. We can count on attacks arising.
But, as almost all homeschoolers know, Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Bartholet and her fellow travelers have already taken aim at homeschooling freedom.
My reply to further attacks is, “let them try.”
When we were a tiny movement—like in the days of that Iowa legislation I mentioned earlier—homeschoolers consistently won victory after victory over a 30-year period, despite the fact that the entire education establishment opposed us at every step. With the abundant blessing of God and with His protection, homeschoolers worked diligently in the courts, in the legislatures, and among the general public to achieve a complete turnaround. Around 1980, it was generally thought that homeschooling was illegal everywhere; it wasn’t until after the California court of appeals reversed itself in the Great California Case of 2008, that it was conceded that homeschooling is legal in all 50 states.
It will be imperative that existing homeschool organizations, groups, and networks build relationships with these new homeschool families. There are several good reasons for this approach, but ensuring that we are united to protect homeschooling freedom is certainly one of the more important considerations.
And we will only be able to build relationships if we welcome new homeschooling families with a generous spirit and a servant’s heart.
It will bring joy to my heart in a way that will be hard to contain, if at the very moment that Elizabeth Bartholet and company have decided to attack homeschooling, the nation moves to homeschool in a tidal wave of growth. With that growth, our freedom will become more secure. Only God can orchestrate things this well.
2. How will growth change the homeschooling movement itself?
There is much greater diversity among homeschooling families than is generally acknowledged by people such as Professor Bartholet. She clearly believes that serious Christians should not be able to homeschool their children. And her reason is not academic. She does not believe that any children should be brought up to believe in the worldview that flows from the twin beliefs that Jesus is the only way to God and that the Bible is authoritative in our lives.
Our response to Elizabeth Bartholet can be summed up in this phrase: parents, not government—and not you—get to decide what kind of education and faith their family follows.
If we think that restriction holds against Professor Bartholet, it needs to hold for us as well.
Homeschooling growth will result in a greater number of families whose beliefs will differ from your own. It is our solemn duty to support the right of every family to decide their own path. And we can be the ones to help their homeschool thrive if we approach them in a welcoming fashion.
This does not mean that there is no place for Christian support groups or organizations. Or for Jewish or LDS or Baptist or Catholic or Muslim or Hindu groups. But we need to make room in our movement for people who look different from us and believe differently than we do.
The one thing I would encourage us to do is to explain the legal difference between government school-at-home programs and private homeschooling.
I don’t think it is helpful to tell people that they are not homeschooling if they are doing some form of public school-at-home program. It will come across as demeaning and will lose us the opportunity to share the benefits of choosing private homeschooling with them.
Thus, I recommend that the movement make every effort to adopt the term private homeschooling to use in contrast with public programs.
And the reason why the private model is better for most families is clear: public homeschooling comes with philosophical controls. If you want your children to be raised in your own beliefs, then you must ensure that you maintain your freedom to choose your curriculum and your teaching methods.
And for those of us who are Christians, we naturally believe that we have a responsibility to be witnesses for Christ with the hope that others will join us in following Jesus. It is my experience that this is a very real possibility in the homeschooling movement. But it almost always comes as a result of relationships built over time that are marked by kindness and selfless service to others.
3. How will a material growth in the homeschooling movement change America?
This kind of growth has three predictable outcomes that will significantly impact the trajectory of this nation.
First, this increase will slow the pace of what could be called the values transfer that is going on in this nation.
It is an established fact that each generation has changed its views on a number of important issues—from personal sexual standards to the desirability of socialism to the role of absolute truth in deciding one’s own personal behavior.
Homeschooling does not guarantee that a child’s values or beliefs will be more conservative or more liberal. What it does ensure is that the parents’ views are much more likely to be passed on to their child than they would be if the child was enrolled in the public school.
This is the reason that Vickie and I began our 33-year homeschooling journey. We learned from a noted researcher, Dr. Raymond Moore, that children’s values are impacted most strongly by the group with whom they spend the majority of their time. Spend time with the family, and the child will more likely share the family’s values.
It is obvious error to believe that there is only one set of values among current homeschoolers. And that diversity of views will be only amplified if homeschooling grows in accordance with the patterns suggested by the earlier diverse interest in homeschooling.
But even though parents may hold diverse beliefs, there is a moderating effect on society with every child who spends more time with family. The more families that homeschool, the slower the pace will be for the radical transformation of our society’s value structure. I view this moderating influence as a good thing for our country.
Second, a greater percentage of children will grow up believing that the family is more important than the government in providing for their needs.
Unfortunately, many kids who spend most of every day for 13 years in the public schools end up taking away the lesson that the government supplies their most important needs. The more children who learn from life experience that the family is the key to supplying our practical needs, the more freedom loving they are likely to be—and we need freedom-loving people in all political parties and from all demographic groups in our society.
This will also have a moderating impact on the radicalization of our nation. The more self-reliant, freedom-loving people we have, the better our country will be in terms of those very values. If you love freedom, you will like the impact that a growth in homeschooling will deliver.
Third, the taxpayers will save billions of dollars at a time it is really needed.
It is not merely private businesses and families that are struggling from the COVID crisis. State and local governments are also experiencing—and will continue to experience—a dramatic decline in tax revenues. There is a need to cut spending, wherever it can be done.
With an average of $12,612 per-pupil expenditure, if 5 million children pursue homeschooling, taxpayers will save over $63 billion. That’s a lot.
4. What can your family do to help our movement grow?
The two most important things that every new family needs to believe to initially decide to homeschool— and then to continue—are
- “we really can pull this off,” and
- “this is good for our children.”
You can help the movement grow by becoming adept at speaking to these two issues. And there is no greater evidence that you can offer to a prospective homeschooling family than your own homeschooling story.
For years, I have talked about the “great-kid, average-parent syndrome” as the reason for homeschooling growth. Parents look at families who educate at home and say, “those are great kids. I would like my kids to turn out like that.” And then they look at the parents and say, “they’re average parents like me. If they can do this successfully, maybe I can do so as well.”
Your first step could be to make yourself available to people you know as a homeschool resource for them. Introduce them to your local support group, state organization, and HSLDA. Do backyard homeschool information meetings, like the one my coworker’s wife did for her neighbors in Texas.
Some of you will only be willing to help when asked. And that’s ok.
But others of you may want to actively spread the word to friends, neighbors, fellow church members, and others. You can do this by simply delivering the message: “if you are thinking about homeschooling this year, I would be glad to help answer questions that you may have.”
One thing that is extremely important to remember is to listen to parents and find out what their concerns are. Speak to their concerns. If they are worried about the academic success of homeschooling students, tell them your own story, tell them the stories of other families you know, and point them to the statistics that the National Home Education Research Institute has published (you can access some of them here).
If parents are considering homeschooling because they strongly disagree with what their children are being taught in public schools, you can help them to know that they are free to teach their children their own values in homeschooling.
If they are concerned about health and safety from COVID-19, your approach is pretty straightforward.
The point is this: Listen to people. Answer their questions rather than giving your spiel—especially at first.
The most important thing you can explain to people in the long run is why you believe that homeschooling is best for your children. And when you can explain this in a way that inspires others to want that for their families, you will be an effective influence in the lives of others.
5. Why should I want to do this?
We have an opportunity to share a positive story with millions of families. And by sharing that story, we can advance our freedom to homeschool, contribute positively toward our nation’s future, and ensure the best possible educational experience for our kids.
And for those of us who are Christians, Christ calls us to serve others. Witnesses are called upon to simply say what they know. This is a time for us to share our faith with people who need to know Jesus.
Here’s an incredible once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Let’s make the most of it
Looking for resources? Early in spring 2020, as the public schools started closing, HSLDA began stocking mompossible.org with helpful video and article resources to help families transition to home education.
Also check out their Facebook mentorship program, where new homeschooling parents can get advice from veteran homeschoolers.
 Schultz, Tommy. 2020. “National Poll: 40% of Families More Likely to Homeschool after Lockdowns End.” Federation for Children, May 14, 2020. www.federationforchildren.org/national-poll-40-of-families-more-likely-to-homeschool-after-lockdowns-end.
 The number is an approximation from memory. The speaker’s point was that the number of members of the teachers union was far greater than the number of homeschoolers.
 Mason, Jim. 2020. “A Look Back at the Great California Homeschool Case of 2008.” HSLDA, May 5, 2020. www.hslda.org/post/a-look-back-at-the-great-california-homeschool-case-of-2008.