There are three things I said I would never do: have kids, teach school, and go on a cruise. Since I homeschooled my three children for 21 years, I obviously and thankfully capitulated on the first two items long ago. But until 2020, I had clung to my resolve to avoid stepping foot on a cruise ship.
In February, a longtime pal invited 25 friends to go on a cruise to celebrate her retirement after 30 years of homeschooling. Only the promise of fellowship and fun could overcome my stringent objections of claustrophobia, seasickness, and food allergies. (If your food choices are severely limited, why go on a cruise?)
One night on the ship, we happened to eat dinner beside a group of 20 younger women who, we happily discovered, were homeschooling moms too! In the midst of our conversations with them, several of the younger women began to cry. When I asked if I had said something offensive, one explained that they were tears of gratitude and relief.
Several of them had been wondering if they had the strength to continue homeschooling. Just meeting a group of women with over 400 years of homeschooling experience under our combined belts encouraged them to press on. They realized if we could do it, they could too.
On Sunday, our groups joined for a worship service onboard the ship, and our conversations continued. I was reminded that most homeschooling moms, past and present, share the same hopes and dreams for their children, as well as the same worries and concerns.
This providential intersection between these two groups of women poignantly illustrates why homeschooling moms across the generations need each other. While the homeschooling landscape looks different now than it did 40 years ago, our mission in this intergenerational community should be to welcome, encourage, inspire, affirm, and strengthen one another.
To prepare for this article and give a wide variety of perspectives, I interviewed 14 homeschooling moms—four millennial moms, six pioneer moms from the 80s, two pioneering African American moms, one single mom, and one mom who is blind. Some of these moms have finished their homeschooling journey; others are in the early years.
If, as a parent, you’ve felt forced into homeschooling because of circumstances beyond your control, you might be surprised to know that many pioneer homeschooling moms and dads were reluctant homeschoolers—or even opposed to homeschooling when they began. While this article focuses on the experiences of homeschooling moms, I hope these stories will encourage and inspire you as a mom or dad in your homeschooling journey, whether it lasts one year or 20 years.
Powered by love
Homeschooling is definitely a “love your kids” movement. At its heart are parents who desire to give their children the best education and opportunities possible, regardless of the sacrifices required.
A plaque in my home office reads, “A worried homeschool mom does better research than the FBI.” Why is that?
What compels us to be up all hours of the night researching answers for our children’s struggles? Why can’t we sleep when one of our kids is sad, upset, or lonely?
Why will we spend hours upon hours looking for just the right math curriculum when we have a million other things to do? What causes us to homeschool when other educational options can seem so much easier?
A deep, sacrificial love motivates most homeschooling parents. Faye Abbas, homeschooling mom of two sons, knows what it means to overcome obstacle after obstacle. She has been totally blind since birth, and she homeschooled her boys from kindergarten through high school. Her son Kendall is now a pediatrician. Daniel was accepted into the Navy SEALs program, but he self-dismissed after a severe injury and is now a registered nurse in a cardiac care unit.
From the beginning, I wanted what was best for my children. Nobody was as invested as I am in their wellbeing, their future, their lives, how they learn, and how they grow into the people God means them to be.
I didn’t do everything right. I blew it a lot. But what I had going for me is that I loved them more than anybody else ever could have.
Vickie Farris, homeschool mother of 10, wife of HSLDA founder Mike Farris, and a trained teacher, offers this encouragement:
I think parents have been brainwashed into thinking that after a certain age, experts have to take over because parents are incapable of teaching. I think moms are the best teachers because you’re the one who knows the most about [your kids] and you love them—and can gear your message toward their particular personalities.
You can do this!
As HSLDA vice president of litigation Jim Mason writes, “A free people have built a radical counterculture, motivated by nothing less than the love of their own children.”*
Encouragement for your homeschool journey: How my story began . . .
I’ll never forget the first time I heard the word homeschool. It was 1984, and I was talking to my close friend about where my 6-year-old son, Ty, should attend school in the fall.
She matter-of-factly informed me that she was planning to homeschool her son when he turned school age. I had never heard of such a bizarre thing. I knew nothing about homeschooling, and the only images I could conjure up were constricting, confining, and risky (like being in the garbage compactor on the Death Star, waiting to be crushed with Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewbacca).
My friend gave me a copy of Dr. Raymond Moore’s book Home Grown Kids and asked me to read it. Driving home that afternoon, I kept telling God (and myself) over and over again all the reasons I would never homeschool—hoping that I was convincing Him. But that evening, I began skimming the book, and I was hooked.
It painted an amazing picture of education in the context of warm, responsive homes where parents are at the wheel, learning is enjoyable, faith is nurtured, and creativity and character are encouraged. I found myself enthralled by the possibilities yet scared to death of the ramifications. Further fueling my fears, neither my husband Joe nor I knew one person in the world who was already homeschooling.
In the end, I couldn’t come to terms with homeschooling, so I set aside that longing in my heart for something different and enrolled Ty in the local public school. Even though he was 6, the school district had agreed to put him in their K–5 program. He was intelligent and gregarious, yet according to tests, Ty needed a year to mature to be at his prime for 1st grade.
A few months later, the school district reneged and told me Ty had to be placed in the 1st grade. When I refused and looked instead at private school options, I discovered that the private schools were already filled. This forced our hand—the only choice left was homeschooling.
Those fears I had earlier? They came crashing down on us in spades. Joe and I had to hire an attorney just to find out the homeschooling law because the local school district and state department of education refused to tell us. There were no local support groups, state organizations, or Mr. Google to provide information, direction, or help. HSLDA had recently launched and started helping homeschooling families on the West Coast but was not yet national in scope.
Even though we meticulously complied with the law, the school board denied our application to homeschool, forcing us to appeal. Our attorney warned us that the state board of education would simply rubber-stamp their denial, which would propel us into family court. I reminded the Lord, “I told You this wasn’t a good idea!”
During the agonizing appeals process, I recalled that the state superintendent of education was a friend of my mother’s; he agreed to meet with me. I carefully explained our situation, expecting him to say something like, “Zan, none of this is your fault. You are just a mother with a deep love and concern for your child. What can I do to help?”
I was in no way prepared for what he actually said: “You know, Zan, I can have you put in jail for truancy if you continue down this homeschooling path.”
Immediately, I heard someone reply, “Well, sir, you will just have to put me in jail.” Then I realized I was the one speaking! That was my defining “give me liberty or give me death” moment.
On the way home, I remember thinking, “I am being threatened with jail because I love my son. Is this really the United States of America?”
Eventually—after a couple of conversations on my behalf—one of our US senators, for whom I had worked in high school, met personally with the state superintendent of education and urged him to approve our homeschool program. Thankfully, that kept me out of jail, and we were given permission to teach Ty at home for the coming school year.
At the end of our one-year experiment in homeschooling, Joe and I decided to continue for another year. At the same time, hostility toward homeschooling families in our state mounted, causing us to become intensely involved in cultivating a grassroots movement, spearheading legislative campaigns, participating in lawsuits, and establishing and running a state homeschool organization that enabled families to homeschool without permission from the government. Thanks to God’s blessing, the life-saving involvement of HSLDA attorneys Mike Farris and Dewitt Black, and the work of many dedicated homeschoolers, South Carolina is now a great place to homeschool.
Stories from other states
Lana Thornton from Tennessee homeschooled her three children across 29 years. This is her story:
We started homeschooling in 1981 after hearing Dr. Raymond Moore speak about home education on the Focus on the Family radio program, as many people in our generation did. My husband, Claiborne, immediately bought some of Dr. Moore’s books—and reading those books convinced us to homeschool.
But I still had questions, reservations, and fears—especially because homeschooling was not legal in Tennessee at the time. I told Claiborne, “Remember, I was an art major, baby. I don’t know how to teach, especially reading.”
When we began homeschooling, we didn’t know what we were doing, we didn’t know any other homeschoolers, there were no support groups, and most curriculum suppliers wouldn’t sell to homeschoolers.
During those early years, five families in our state were taken to court for truancy for homeschooling, and some went to jail. One family sent their children to Georgia because they were wrongfully charged with educational abuse and neglect just for homeschooling. Paying their legal fees cost them their home.
In 1984 Claiborne and I helped host the first homeschool conference in Tennessee. And we started our state organization, Tennessee Home Education Association. We lobbied as a family, alongside hundreds of other families, on behalf of homeschool freedom.
In 1985, Governor Lamar Alexander signed the first Tennessee homeschool law into effect. HSLDA was and still is extremely helpful in our state.
As new homeschoolers in the early 1980s, Dorothy Karman and her husband Dick unexpectedly found themselves in a position of statewide homeschool leadership in Oregon. As a battle over homeschool legislation raged, the couple took up the mantle of grassroots lobbyists—a post they held for more than 30 years. Looking back on her early homeschooling days, Dorothy remembers:
The first month we homeschooled, I would give the kids their little sack lunches and have them go out the back door, go around the house, and knock on the front door. I would open the door, and they would say, “Good morning, Mrs. Karman,” and then they would sit at their school desks. I gradually moved away from “school at home” to individualized instruction and discipleship.
“One of the blessings of homeschooling,” adds Dorothy, “is the relationship that we’ve built with our kids, and that has carried over into the relationship with our four grandsons.” Although 150 miles away, Dorothy homeschooled her oldest grandson for 10th grade via Skype. And this happened before the pandemic made remote learning at home a worldwide experience.
The Karman’s story is three generations of nurturing, cooperation, and communication at its height.
When Elizabeth Smith started homeschooling her 5-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter in 1982, they lived in Los Angeles, where Mike (who is now president of HSLDA) practiced law. “In the early days,” she recalls, “I was worried about being turned in for homeschooling. My kids never went outside the house between 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. The shades were drawn. And we didn’t answer the phone or the door.”
In spite of these stressful circumstances, Elizabeth learned some valuable lessons early on. “I realized that I needed to take advantage of the opportunity to be with our kids and truly enjoy being with them,” she notes. “Developing strong relationships is key. Every day I read aloud to the kids—when they were little, when they were in elementary school, when they were in high school, and when we went on family trips. And I learned to view my curriculum as a tool rather than let it rule my life.
Creative approaches to coping with uncertainty and nosy neighbors
Many families in these formative years of homeschooling found very creative ways to cope with the accompanying fear and stress. Some of our friends bought their children private school uniforms to wear when they went out in public. Another family with hostile neighbors had their school-age children get in their station wagon every morning, and the mom would drive off as if she were taking them to school. After driving around outside their neighborhood for 15 minutes, the mom would have the kids lie down out of sight in the back of the car. Then she’d pull into their garage, closing the door behind her, and they would then spend the rest of the day inside, quietly homeschooling with their shades down.
This recurring theme of homeschooling with the shades down illustrates the fear, loneliness, and alienation that early homeschoolers often experienced. I’ll never forget Mike Farris calling to discuss one of the many legal issues in my state of South Carolina. In the midst of the conversation, he told me he was thinking of writing a new book titled Homeschool with Your Shades Up.
First I wondered, “Are we ever going to be able to homeschool with our shades up? Is that really possible?” But as I continued to ponder, I realized a new day of freedom was dawning.
The importance of standing for freedom
As these moms have so vividly described, one of the first and primary tasks for pioneer parents was fighting for homeschool freedom. Many did this through founding state homeschool organizations that became watchdogs for freedom. HSLDA was a vital part of the legal and legislative fights in many states. As freedom grew, so did the homeschooling community.
During the last 40 years, a strong infrastructure of support groups, services, co-ops, conferences, and curriculum has been created, along with virtual groups and online learning. Many pioneer homeschoolers have sought to become the helping hand to younger generations that we never had. We don’t want anyone else to have to go through what we experienced in those early years of little freedom and no support.
Pioneers aren’t the only activists, though. Copper Webb is a millennial mom and homeschool grad who, at the time of the interview, served on the board of her state organization in Idaho before moving to Wisconsin. She explained:
I've chosen to be active in my state organization because I see the value of being connected with other like-minded families. Our organization offers a lot of resources online, through an annual convention, and through its publications. And it provides an opportunity for me to learn from others.
Public school teachers have in-service training for professional development to help them grow in their craft. I think that’s really important for homeschool moms too—that we continue to grow, be stretched, and become better at our occupation of educating our children. My state organization’s resources have really strengthened me and my family, and I want to be able to help other families as well.
Elizabeth Bailey was homeschooled in Iowa and is now a homeschool mama with six children of her own, ages 8 and under. She remembers her parents telling her about parents jailed for homeschooling their children. “There used to be an HSLDA magazine with a clip-out card to give any social worker who tried to coerce entry into our house without a warrant. It said, ‘STOP! Search Warrant Required by Court.’ Through that I realized that freedom is not free.” As continuing evidence of their commitment to homeschool freedom, Elizabeth and her husband, Joe (also a homeschool grad), serve in leadership roles with Homeschool Iowa, and Joe recently joined the HSLDA board.
Reaching out and serving others
Another pioneer with a deep passion for strong families and homeschooling, Joyce Burges started teaching her five children in 1990. Inspired by the biblical story of Esther, Joyce feels called to help the many African Americans who are considering homeschooling. Joyce and her husband, Eric, started the association National Black Home Educators in 2000. Joyce says:
We empower African Americans, as well as all races, to educate their children with excellence. We offer conferences and recommended resources with African American heroes in many subjects.
We have veteran moms who mentor younger homeschooling moms. We have a co-op where parents come together with their abilities, talents, and creativity to teach our children.
We work hard to encourage strong families. We speak to fathers and mothers individually as well as together. We speak in our churches about parental involvement, which is the key to educational excellence and success.
Cheryl Carter started homeschooling because she didn’t want her kids to become a statistic. “I had been a schoolteacher and understood that bright Black kids weren’t given the same opportunities to succeed due to institutional racism and a number of other issues,” she explains. “[My husband] Derek and I have always wanted our kids to reach their potential because I believe everybody’s smart and should be given the opportunity to reach their potential.”
Cheryl and Derek live in the New York City area. They have held numerous leadership roles in homeschooling on a national level, in their state homeschooling organization, and in local support groups. Cheryl currently serves on the HSLDA Compassion board as a committee member.
“In the early years, most homeschoolers were Anglo,” Cheryl remembers. Now more and more Black Americans are interested in homeschooling, and she is there to help. In addition to serving through homeschooling organizations, she teaches and tutors students and helps high schoolers get into competitive colleges. She is devoted to developing strong families and building a legacy of success in the Black community to replace the achievement gap present in many schools.
As a single mom for 19 of her 23 years of homeschooling, Mary Jo Tate has encouraged a host of single moms—as well as other moms who feel overwhelmed— in their journeys. This is her story:
Everyone’s path is different, but for me, homeschooling started as a logical continuation of my role as a stay-at-home mom. Then my husband left when our sons were ages 6 months, 4 years, 6 years, and 9 years, and our lives were turned upside down.
I suddenly had to manage the home on my own, earn a living, establish a new family identity, and figure out how to continue homeschooling. I quickly realized I couldn’t be a lone ranger. My parents, church, friends, and homeschool support group made all the difference. Most importantly, I learned to rely on God in new ways and to trust in His provision.
Being a single mom was not the life I dreamed of, but I learned to find peace in the space between the ideal and reality. Homeschooling brought lots of joy and helped my sons grow into responsible adults. Most importantly, God was faithful, as he reminds us in II Corinthians 12:9: “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”
The value of mentors
“The younger generation of homeschool moms absolutely needs help and guidance from older homeschool moms who have been there,” Copper Webb says. “It is a lonely journey. Not everyone understands the weight and responsibilities that moms feel, not only to care for and nurture their children, but also to educate them.”
Anne Miller, president and executive director of Home Educators Association of Virginia, strongly encourages young moms to reach out to moms who have finished homeschooling. She also urges older women to “speak positively into the lives of younger women and notice the good things they are doing.”
Susan Beatty, who founded the Christian Home Educators Association of California and homeschooled her three kids, emphasizes the importance of a support network: “Make sure you are not alone. Be part of a local support group, whether it’s just half a dozen families in your church, a large group, or a cooperative situation where you’re not doing everything by yourself.”
When Jenn Murff, PhD, started homeschooling, she had a difficult time teaching her older daughter to read—and she was going to quit homeschooling because of it. Then she reached out to a mentor who’s a reading specialist—her mentor assured Jenn that she just needed some practical strategies to equip her daughter.
“Now I’ve taught three kids how to read!” Jenn says. “It just took a little support. That’s why being in a community of generations is so important.”
A millennial mom who started homeschooling “accidentally” six years ago, now a board member with the South Carolina Home Educators Association, Anna Wray says that she loves homeschooling because of the opportunities it creates for multigenerational relationships. She wants her children to be in a community where they can both learn to respect and benefit from the wisdom and experience of those who are older.
Linking arms across generations
An old Chinese proverb reminds us, “One generation builds the streets on which the next will walk.” Seasoned homeschooling moms, I encourage you to continue to build streets that this younger generation of moms can walk on. That could mean organizing and running a speech and debate club, volunteering with a state homeschool organization, teaching classes for homeschool students, or starting a new organization or Facebook group to meet a particular need. Be involved in the lives of your grandkids. Speak at homeschool events. Take a meal to a young family, be a mentor to a new homeschooling mom, or simply share words of encouragement with a younger mom.
As I grow older, I think much more about leaving a legacy and making a positive impact in the lives of others. As Cheryl Carter told me, “If you want to live forever, make a difference. And then inspire others to do the same.”
“I would just love the support of older homeschooling moms to let me know that I’m on the right track, even if the way I homeschool looks different from the way they homeschooled,” says Jenn Murff with longing. “I know that those women who came before me and paved the way for me are so full of wisdom and encouragement. I would love to link arms with them to gain their wisdom within my journey.”
We are all living links from our generation to another generation. Pioneer and millennial moms (and dads) have a unique opportunity to work together and support each other as we journey through life, love our families, and nurture and launch our children on their own journeys. And we can take joy in knowing that how we live and what we do today echoes in eternity.