Home Schooling: Up from Underground

Parents who want to teach their kids at home are increasingly winning court battles and organizing self-help networks.


In April 1978, at the urging of Amherst, Massachusetts, Superintendent of Schools Donald Frizzle and the Amherst School Committee, the Massachusetts District Court issued warrants for the arrest of Peter and Susan Perchemlides. The couple's alleged crime: failure to comply with the state's compulsory schooling law by refusing to send their eight-year-old son, Richard, to the third grade. But before they could be tried, the Perchemlideses themselves initiated a civil suit against the school authorities—a case that put government-regulated, compulsory schooling on trial.

The Perchemlideses are not negligent parents. They simply wanted to educate Richard at home, by themselves—a choice that a rapidly growing number of parents throughout the nation are making. Like thousands of other parents, the Perchemlideses believed they could teach Richard better than could the public school. In the minds of the local school authorities, that belief made Peter and Susan Perchemlides criminals.

The family's legal confrontation with the public school establishment began in the fall of 1977. Peter, a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Duke University, and Susan, a student of social and political thought at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, notified Superintendent Frizzle that they would not return Richard to Mark's Meadow Elementary School to begin third grade. They believed that as a result of his experiences in second grade at that school Richard "had regressed in some cognitive skills," had "lost confidence and self-assurance," and had become "shy, unsure and self-conscious, discouraged over academic achievement and unable to project a goal for himself."

The couple also expressed deep philosophical differences with the school's dominant social values. They charged that the "hidden curriculum" of the school promoted conformity, passivity, alienation, and anti-intellectualism. They had satisfactorily taught their two oldest sons at home for four years while living in Boston, they said, and now they wanted to pursue the same course with Richard.

Massachusetts is one of the few states that require prior school board approval of the curriculum of both private and home schools. Superintendent Frizzle told the Perchemlideses that the desire to teach Richard at home was "extremely unusual and…generally not viewed as a wise course of action." Nonetheless, he gave them a private school application for approval by the school committee and indicated that he would not expect as detailed a curriculum plan as required from a private school. At that point, the family entered an administrative nightmare that did not end until the court intervened on their behalf one year later.

Frizzle rejected the family's application. In a letter sent to them two weeks before the only school committee meeting that they were ever permitted to attend, he claimed that their application was inadequate: it did not indicate that the Perchemlideses had appropriate educational backgrounds; it did not indicate "curricular sequencing"; and it did not indicate what opportunity Richard would have for group experiences "essential to a child's personal and educational growth."

Though the Perchemlideses had been told that because of the less-formalized circumstances of home schooling, a fully detailed curriculum description would not be expected, their plan was then denied precisely because it did not provide enough curriculum information. This seemed inherently unfair to them, and they offered to submit an expanded proposal for the school committee's reconsideration.

Following a series of meetings to which the Perchemlideses were never invited, the committee rejected the revised proposal. No reasons were given. The couple asked the committee to reopen the matter so that they could explain their proposal. That request was also denied. Since Peter and Susan still refused to send Richard to school, the authorities sought a criminal indictment of them for truancy violation. The district court judge refused to arraign them, however, and dismissed the charges, because the couple took the offensive and filed a civil complaint against Superintendent Frizzle and the school committee in superior court.

In its suit, the family claimed a constitutionally protected right, under the Ninth Amendment, to teach Richard at home. (The Ninth Amendment acknowledges that individuals have rights in addition to those explicitly enumerated in the Constitution.) They also claimed that the school committee had denied their right to due process, because there were no procedural safeguards against arbitrary decisions.

The official position of the school authorities was that the law requires all educational alternatives to be the equivalent of public schools. For the reasons cited in Superintendent Frizzle's letter, the authorities contended that parents cannot provide the equivalent of public schooling at home. Furthermore, they claimed that parents are entitled only to "elementary" due process, that the school committee has complete discretion in reaching a decision, and that its decisions are subject to only "limited" review by the courts.

In September 1978, Judge John Greaney ruled that "the plaintiffs have a right…to home education for their child, and this right bears constitutional protection…through its inclusion in the penumbra of certain protected constitutional rights, most notably those guaranteed by the Nineth [sic] Amendment." He did not require the Perchemlideses to prove a First Amendment right to educate their child at home, stating:

Parents need not demonstrate a formal religious reason for insisting on the right to choose other than public school education since the right of privacy, which protects the right to choose alternative forms of education, grows out of constitutional guarantees in addition to those contained in the First Amendment. Non-religious as well as religious parents have the right to choose from the full range of educational alternatives for their children.

The court ordered the school authorities to review the family's application. Testimony revealed that some committee members had not read it at all. Judge Greaney reminded them that the "parents' constitutional right to decide how their own child shall be educated places reasonable limitations on…and thus circumscribes the discretion of the local authorities." Parents have the right to full due process of law in school committee hearings, the judge held, including the right to prior notice of meetings, the right to call witnesses, the right to representation by counsel, and the right to a "neutral and detached" hearing body.

The court ruled that independent learning programs need not have "congruent equivalency" with public schools and that the state has no power to force its socialization plans on families:

The question here is…not whether the socialization provided in the school is beneficial to a child, but rather, who should make that decision for any particular child.…Under our system, the parents must be allowed to decide whether public school education, including its socialization aspects, is desirable or undesirable for their children.

Although a superior court decision does not constitute a binding, statewide precedent, the Massachusetts Department of Education issued a memorandum to all school committees and superintendents stating that "the Perchemlides decision is the most thorough and well reasoned decision on this issue to date" and that "it offers substantial guidance for school officials as well as parents."

The Perchemlideses are not alone in their attempt to remove their child from the school system. There is a growing movement of parents to educate their children independently of the traditional school setting—referred to as "home schooling," "deschooling," or "unschooling." To chart the variations and strength of the movement, I talked to some of the people—parents and educators, lawyers and researchers, legislators and activists—who are part of it all across the country.

There is remarkable diversity in the composition of the deschooling movement. Larry Arnoldsen, professor of education at Brigham Young University, has been serving as an educational consultant to home-schooling families for several years. The first deschoolers, he told me, were "dropouts from contemporary society—hippies, yippies, that sort of thing." Today, the ranks include well-educated middle- and upper-class families—"lawyers, business executives, and even university professors of education"—and they come from the political right and the political left.

Many home schoolers are fundamentalist Christians who oppose their children's inculcation in the values of secular humanism. Others believe that there is nothing remotely humanistic about schools that resort to corporal punishment and operant conditioning to manipulate students. Some families object to the teaching of evolution or sex education, while others may object because these are not taught. Unschoolers may be self-sufficiency advocates who believe that schools promote materialism and patterns of mass consumption, or they may oppose what they see as a destructively competitive school environment that relies on fear of failure to motivate students.

In 1981 Gunnar Gustavsen of Andrews University in Michigan surveyed 221 home school operators. The most common reasons given by these parents for removing their children from public school were "concern for the moral health and character development of their children," rivalry and ridicule and violence in conventional schools, and the poor quality of public education. They believe that their children will be "better prepared for life than children who attend conventional schools," according to Gustavsen.

On standard psychographic measures, he found that these unschoolers tended to be individualistic and law-abiding. They were "opposed to excessive government involvement in education" and "dissatisfied with available options in contemporary education."

Though the early experiences of deschoolers were isolated and unorchestrated—and often carried on in defiance of the law—a broad deschooling movement is gaining momentum largely because the diverse factions have been able to cooperate in their efforts to promote and legitimize independent schooling. One certain indication of this is the emergence of an extensive self-help network.

The National Coalition of Alternative Community Schools is one example. It provides members—individuals and schools dedicated to freedom of choice in education, nearly half of which are engaged in home-school programs—with academic counseling and information about state laws and court decisions. Pat Montgomery is the founder and president of the Ann Arbor, Michigan–based group. She has appeared in court cases in four states to provide expert educational testimony on the behalf of home-schooling families. "Parents are consumers in the school marketplace," she believes, "and have the right, therefore, to control the process of education."

The National Association for Legal Support of Alternative Schools, based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, provides assistance to law firms, individuals, and schools that are fighting restrictive or illegal practices of state regulatory bodies. It is currently assisting in a $300,000 civil-rights suit against school officials in Indiana (Mazanec v. North Judson–San Pierre School District).

"During the 1981–82 school year, we began receiving letters and phone calls from families who were being harassed, denigrated, and threatened by school officials," Ed Nagel, coordinator of the organization, told me recently. Although cases against 12 Indiana families had been tried and dismissed twice, the school district was still seeking a conviction. Nagel believes that a civil-rights ruling against the district will deter other officials from bringing unjustified court cases against unschooling families. "When the state violates your fundamental rights," he says, "it should be liable for damages."

Another effective link in the homeschooling network is Growing Without Schooling (GWS), a newsletter for unschoolers edited and published by celebrated Boston-based education critic John Holt. The newsletter's circulation has grown to 3,600 since it began in 1977. It provides readers with information about laws in their states, important legal decisions, and how to minimize trouble when dealing with bureaucrats, lawyers, and judges. A directory lists unschoolers who want to contact other unschoolers, as well as friendly lawyers, school districts, professors, and certified teachers who are willing to help or advise families.

Many other organizations have sprung up across the nation (see sidebar, p. 27). Working from a variety of religious and political perspectives, they provide academic, legal, or moral support to deschoolers.

The number of deschooling families is hard to determine. Holt, some years ago, estimated the number to be about 10,000; researcher John Naisbitt, author of Megatrends, believes the 1982 figure to be as high as one million. There is no definite figure, however, because many families don't want to be studied or counted. Fearing prosecution and harassment, a large but uncertain number of parents simply hide their children in defiance of the law.

Some families, however, like the Perchemlideses, have mounted bold challenges against the schooling bureaucracy. Encouraged by the support of the growing network, unschoolers have won a series of legislative, judicial, social, and moral victories in nearly every state. Through the courts, through their actions, and through research, the home schooling movement is laying bare some critical flaws in the compulsory schooling laws as they have been written and enforced.

In 1978 Robert and Linda Sessions of Decorah, Iowa, were tried and convicted of violating the state's compulsory schooling law. Earlier that year, the couple had applied to the Decorah Community School District for approval of the home-education plan that they had drawn up for their seven-year-old son, Erik. The school board rejected their plan because neither parent was a state-certified teacher and the board contended that noncertified persons cannot provide an education equivalent to the public school's.

Robert Sessions is an associate professor of philosophy at Luther College, but the position requires no state certification. The family appealed the board's decision to the Iowa State Department of Public Instruction, which also rejected their home-schooling plan. The Sessionses stood firm in their resolve not to subject Erik to public schooling and found themselves convicted criminals.

School officials are aware that most families do not have the financial means to wage a lengthy court battle against a state institution. In spite of economic obstacles, the Sessionses appealed their conviction in district court and won. The ruling, which ended school district harassment of the Sessionses, may make future convictions of unschoolers difficult or impossible under many state laws.

The Sessionses argued that the compulsory schooling law violated their First Amendment rights and that its enforcement denied their right to due process. The court ruled that the couple could not substantiate their claim to First Amendment protection but wholeheartedly supported their claim to a right to due process.

Judge Frank Elwood agreed with their argument that since they were charged with a crime (truancy violation), the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt lay with the state. The state, he concurred, would have to show that their son was not receiving "equivalent instruction by a certified teacher elsewhere." Finding, however, that the state had failed to prove that case, the court concluded "that there is reasonable doubt as to the question of the certified teacher, and that as a consequence the defendants should be acquitted of the criminal charge."

Home schoolers see this as a crucial legal weapon for resisting state schooling laws. Parents charged with the crime of truancy can rely on the legal assumption of innocence, thus forcing the state to prove them guilty, beyond a reasonable doubt, of failing to educate their children adequately.

The educational establishment would maintain that this is a simple proposition. Most home schools "don't measure up to accepted standards," says Terry Herndon, executive director of the National Education Association, a teachers' union. In an exchange with Herndon printed in the Family Weekly newspaper supplement, Raymond Moore, a developmental psychologist and home-schooling advocate, charged that the NEA has never produced any evidence in support of this claim.

I tried several times to contact Herndon at the NEA to see what evidence he had to substantiate his charge about home schooling. Herndon did not return my calls, but Jean O'Neil of the executive office staff submitted my query to the NEA's research and instructional departments. The NEA, O'Neil reported to me later, has "apparently nothing" on this—neither department could provide any evidence in support of Herndon's claim.

All the states have compulsory schooling laws of some type. Although they vary greatly, they generally mandate that all children of specified ages attend a public school or an equivalent private school or otherwise obtain equivalent education. As in Iowa, where Robert and Linda Sessions were prosecuted, many state education authorities have long interpreted "equivalent education" to mean instruction by a state-certified teacher. In other states, certification is a statutory requirement, and school authorities have tried to use it to prevent home schooling.

State certification requires completion of a state-approved teacher training program, but deschooling advocates contend that such training is largely irrelevant to the highly personalized, one-to-one setting of home learning. Public school teachers, they claim, are trained not so much to teach as to measure, classify, and control large groups of students. As evidence, home schoolers frequently note that private schools rarely require state certification of their teachers, yet their students generally score higher on achievement tests than do public school students, who must be taught by state-certified teachers.

A recent study of more than 1,000 high schools nationwide, sponsored by the Department of Education and entitled Public and Private Schools, supports this claim. The results of the 1981 study, authored by University of Chicago sociologist James Coleman, have been widely discussed. As Coleman summarized them, writing last year in the journal Society: "When family background factors that predict achievement are controlled, students in both Catholic and other private schools are shown to achieve at a higher level than students in public schools."

Court decisions in other states besides Iowa are also undercutting the attempt to equate "equivalent education" and state certification of teachers. The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled in 1978: "It cannot be said as an absolute that a teacher in a non-public school who is not certified…will be unable to instruct children to become intelligent citizens." In a Michigan home-schooling case, the district court judge found in 1979 that "the state…has failed to produce any evidence whatsoever on the interests served by the requirements of teacher certification and the defendants' experts to the contrary demonstrated that there is no rational basis for such requirements." Courts in Minnesota and Missouri have rendered similar decisions. Educational equivalency, some courts are now saying, is measured by the quality of education received by the child, not by the home having teachers equivalent to the public schools'.

Official opposition to home schooling rests on more than the issue of teacher certification, however. Advocates of public or other formal schooling claim that no home or parents can hope to match the kinds of educational resources available in a school. With the flowering of home computers, this may soon be a moot point—Business Week reported in January that one of the fastest-growing areas in new-software development for home computers is educational programs.

Unschoolers, in any case, point to evidence that the larger the school, the less the opportunity for a child to obtain a genuine and meaningful education, because a teacher with a classroom of 20 children can give any one child only a fraction of the attention he would likely receive at home. Studies conducted by the Hewitt Research Foundation show that the number of meaningful adult-child responses in the home can amount to hundreds per day. An assertive child in school may have up to four daily adult-child responses, and many less-assertive children, the studies reveal, simply "slip through the cracks" of the factory-like school and have few if any meaningful experiences.

Raymond Moore, a distinguished developmental psychologist, is president of Hewitt Research and served as the director of a 10-year multidisciplinary analysis of influences on early learning. He has concluded that in most children the senses of sight and hearing are not physically mature for formal study until the ages of 8 or 9. Moreover, children are not cognitively mature enough for formal study until they can reason consistently—usually not before ages 8–12. (Boys usually trail girls by about a year.)

As the structure of the brain grows, says Moore, its function increases, and taxing a child's brain before it is ready causes confusion of brain signals. Children who are forced into formal schooling at the age of 6 may thus be labeled as "learning disabled" by the very schools that damaged them. "It is conceivable," Moore told me in an interview, "that we are paying our money for state 'services' that endanger our children, then paying it again for state attempts at their remedy."

Lack of socialization with other children is another argument frequently advanced against unschooling families—as in the Amherst School Committee case against the Perchemlides family. Hewitt Research studies suggest, though, that forced, random associations can be damaging to children who have not reached a certain level of maturity. A child who is put into an institutional setting before he has an understanding of his own values will lock into the value systems of his age mates. Spending more time with his peers than with his family, he becomes "peer-dependent," adopting the habits, mannerisms, and language of those around him. Peer-dependent children, the Hewitt studies indicates, often experience a loss of self-worth, pessimism toward their families and their future, alienation, and anxiety, and they frequently resort to violence, while children who learn at home in a consistent, single-value track do not become peer-dependent and develop more stable, independent thinking.

Ultimately, many proponents of compulsory, government-regulated schooling advance the "melting pot" theory of public education: the state has a legitimate interest in instilling in citizens common values and a common fund of knowledge to prevent a fragmented society, they argue. In Jeffersonian terms, the continued existence of a democratic society depends on an educated citizenry, because only a literate populace can make informed political judgments.

There is no evidence, however, for the proposition that we would be a nation of illiterates without compulsory school attendance. Educational historian Samuel Blumenfeld has concluded as a result of his research that "prior to the introduction of compulsory public education, Americans were probably the most literate people in the world." In an article in REASON in March 1979, Blumenfeld pointed out that in the early 1800s in Boston, for example, 93 percent of the school-age children attended school (two-thirds of them private schools)—before universal taxpayer-supported education and compulsory school attendance had been instituted.

For their part, deschooling advocates cite an impressive list of individuals who have had little or no formal schooling. Thomas Edison was expelled from school at age 10. A school teacher told his mother that Thomas was "addled." Edison attributed his success to the instruction and encouragement given him by his mother. John Quincy Adams never attended school until he entered Harvard at the age of 14. Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, John Stuart Mill, Mark Twain, Andrew Carnegie, and the Wright brothers spent much or all of their early lives without formal schooling.

Critics of the public school system argue that it has in fact ignored, and not furthered, the true interests of individuals, that the uniformity of public education that is cited in its defense is based on the pretense that ours is a homogeneous society. It is precisely compulsory state schooling, they contend, that makes a truly free and democratic society unlikely; for state schools, in this and other nations, emphasize conformity and from an early age narrow the expectations and awareness of alternatives among citizens.

The courts have long upheld the position that the government has an important interest in regulating the education of school-age children and that the right to enforce compulsory attendance is included in the police powers delegated to the states. The Supreme Court, however, in several landmark cases—among them Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925) and Farrington v. Tokushige (1927)—has held that the state may not foreclose the right of parents to choose educational alternatives that meet legitimate academic standards and that parents have a right to provide education for their children that is consistent with their beliefs.

Steve and Pam Robinson and their four children live on the edge of the vast Escalante Desert in southwestern Utah, near the rural farming community of Newcastle. They moved there seven years ago because Steve likes farming. They told me that they have not sent their children to school in more than five years. Even though they do not believe in the concept of a god, they are asserting a First Amendment right to teach their children at home.

The Robinsons are members of the Church of Individual Responsibility, a nontheistic church in Salt Lake City. They affiliated their home education program with the church after the office of the Utah attorney general informed them that Utah, like many other states, exercises the least control over parochial schools.

When they informed the county school board of their decision to teach their children at home, however, Steve told me that "the school principal called and said that they could throw me in jail but wouldn't, 'just to be nice.'" Pam and Steve then made clear that they had a strong legal basis for their decision. They have not been bothered since.

The Robinsons became interested in deschooling after reading the book Summerhill. Pam told me that their libertarian political philosophy gave them the "courage" to remove their children from public school, because "it helped us to know that we were right and why."

Pam said that she had taught their oldest son, Jared, to read when he was in kindergarten and that he had read Little House on the Prairie before he finished the first grade. But under the careful instruction of the public school, she said, Jared had regressed to picture books by the second grade.

The Robinsons were dissatisfied not only with the quality of education at the public school but with its moral curriculum. "The teachers were very involved in teaching their own version of morality," said Pam. "Sharing was a common theme. I am much more concerned with my kids learning about private property. I want them to understand that you have to produce something in order to get something. The spiritual development of my kids is none of their business."

The Robinsons are among a growing group of "conscientious objectors" to compulsory government schooling who insist on the right to educate their children in accordance with their own beliefs. Many in this group are fundamentalist Christians, and others, like the Robinsons, have nontraditional religious or philosophical convictions. They are developing—and often sharing, through the home-schooling network—various educational and legal tactics for opposing the state educational bureaucracy.

These parents accept the argument, advanced recently by Theodore Wade, Jr., a professor of education at Weimar College in California, before a meeting of home schoolers, that "parents are ultimately and continuously responsible for their children's education no matter where they may be going to school." An important part of this responsibility is to transmit moral values to their children, argues Wade, but public schools are necessarily amoral because they must serve families with conflicting moral values. Wade consequently urges parents to assume the obligation to provide for their children's education themselves.

Weimar College, with which Wade is affiliated, is operated by a board of lay members of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. The college conducts training seminars for parents of a wide range of religious and philosophical affiliations to inform them about ways to keep their children out of the public school system and to provide them with the educational means to do so.

Many unschoolers are convinced that a First Amendment defense based on personal convictions is the strongest argument against the state. If a family has sincerely held beliefs that conflict with state requirements or with the practices in government-run schools, the state must demonstrate a "compelling interest" to enforce the law against those beliefs, they maintain. Depending on the statute in question, unschoolers claim sincere beliefs to gain exemption from compulsory school attendance or to register their home as a parochial school.

Michael Smith and his wife, Elizabeth, are unschoolers in Santa Monica, California. Michael is an attorney who has become involved in advising other families about dealing with school authorities. They "must go on the offensive right away," he emphasized in an interview. He counsels unschoolers to insist on a jury trial if court cannot be avoided and it appears that the judge and prosecutor are working together. The next step he recommends is to "put the prosecutor on trial" by forcing him to attack the religious convictions of the family before the jury. Prosecutors are often reluctant to pursue cases like this; but once a school district has filed an official complaint, they usually must act on it.

In California, said Smith, no unschooler has been convicted of violating compulsory attendance laws for many years. Although the state has prohibitively strict regulation of home schooling per se, California parents can gain exemption from the compulsory attendance laws by registering as a private school, which requires only that they file a one-page Private School Affidavit with the county office of education.

Like many other states, California places few or no statutory requirements on private or parochial schools. This is often true of states that virtually prohibit home schooling via strict regulations. Despite the arguments of school bureaucrats to the contrary, courts have generally held that in the absence of legislative standards, it is to be assumed that the legislature intended the matter to be free of regulation. "There's a soft belly to the law when it allows children to be kept home in this way," charged Bob Bennett of California's Department of Education in a 1981 interview with a Sacramento Bee reporter.

Most education officials in the state believe there's nothing they can do about what they see as a lamentable situation, but in several counties, authorities are making life difficult for home schoolers. The Los Angeles County School District, for example, has taken the position that "any home-schooling situation is a tutoring situation," which is strictly regulated by the state. Tutors must be state-certified teachers for the appropriate grade level of the child, and even if so certified, parents cannot teach their own children, according to the district.

"They will do anything to intimidate you," Betty Gerbozy, director of Weimar College's Home School Division, warned parents at a recent seminar. "They will tell you untruths if they think they can scare you." Gerbozy says that the Los Angeles district has been harassing home schoolers by sending fire and health code inspectors to their homes and claiming that the homes must meet the standards for institutions. And some parents report that the district will not send them the Private School Affidavit form. Claiming that the district's motivation is economic (schools get their funding on the basis of average daily attendance), Gerbozy warned the home schoolers at the seminar, "You are a threat to those teachers."

Partly in response to such tactics, there has evolved a new deschooling phenomenon—"satellite schools." In the fall of 1982, California saw the establishment of a private school whose purpose is to register home-schooled students, as well as distribute educational materials to their parents.

Some satellite school programs are primarily intended as educational aids. Parents who feel that they need direction in their home-schooling efforts can affiliate with a school or college that provides a base program. Parents become supervisors working under its advisement. Weimar College, for example, offers parents throughout the country the option of making their home a satellite school. For an annual fee, it provides curriculum materials and achievement tests and maintains students' records. Other alternative and fundamentalist schools offer a similar program, and many are willing to provide families with legal support if they are challenged by authorities. In some areas of the country, especially in the very rural locations where transportation costs are high, home schooling is actually encouraged by officials. Some school districts permit parents to enroll their children in a home-study program established by the district. Many are familiar with and will accept packages offered by correspondence schools and satellite school programs. And in some areas, parents are free to develop their own independent education plans.

In 1980 the Louisiana state legislature passed a bill that deregulated all nonpublic education in that state. The bill's author, State Representative Woody Jenkins, believes that "no one should be able to dictate how a child will be educated." Prior to deregulation, home schooling had been prohibited by statute, as it is in several other states, and obtaining certification as a private school had been difficult.

Jenkins originated the bill when Louisiana school officials began criminal proceedings against a local couple who were educating their four children in their home-based Christian Academy. A broad coalition of liberals and conservatives came together in support of the deregulation, says Jenkins. They "agreed to disagree on many issues, but they all accept that parents have the primary right and responsibility to educate and care for their children in the manner they deem fit."

In the 1981–82 school year, 244 home schools were set up in the state. Noting that the home-schooling movement was spreading to North Carolina, Montana, and Arizona, Jenkins predicted in an interview in 1982 that "if we can survive for the next five or six years, we are growing so widespread that it will be impossible to change."

The educational establishment, however, does not give up easily. In response to an Associated Press story at the beginning of the 1982–83 school year, which charged that doubt on home schools had developed in Louisiana and noted that only 30 families had reapplied for another year of home schooling, I interviewed Jenkins again in early 1983. The reason many home schoolers had not reapplied, he explained, is that the state board of education had instituted new reporting requirements. Many parents were unwilling to supply all the required information and instead set up private schools in their homes or "are outright disobeying the requirements," he said.

Obtaining state approval of a home-study program requires filling out a six- page form and verifying that home study will provide a "sustained curriculum," Jenkins noted, whereas parents can set up a private school in their home simply by notifying the state board and saying how many students attend the school. Jenkins estimates that there are currently about 1,000 students in homeschooling situations in the state—either in home-study programs approved by the state, in home-based private schools, or in home-study correspondence programs.

In 1981 the American Civil Liberties Union issued a statement encouraging other states to join in the deregulation of learning. Citing "the parental right to choose an educational alternative to public education," the ACLU urged that provisions like Louisiana's "be extended to all jurisdictions because the state's interest in assuring minimal levels of education does not extend to control of the means by which that interest is realized."

"Patty and Larry Davis" (not their real names), a couple in their mid-30s, live in a small farming community in the Midwest. Without informing the authorities, they are keeping their eight-year-old daughter out of school.

"I wouldn't lock my daughter in a classroom for eight hours a day," Patty told me when I spoke with the couple last summer at a home-schooling seminar. "She needs the freedom to become herself."

The Davises have not begun any formal teaching with their daughter. She taught herself to read and learned how to make change, said Patty, while helping with a family-operated health food store. "She is starting to learn and become really expressive. We don't want to turn her over to the state now that she is becoming a very exciting person to be with."

Recently, the Davises told me, a friendly, local elementary school teacher tested their daughter using the same achievement tests given in the local schools. She scored two years above her grade level in spelling and math and five years above her grade level in reading. The Davises keep her at home during the day so as not to be discovered, and they believe that if they can continue to hide her from the authorities she will have a more "balanced" education—including "carpentry, the use of tools, and other things girls are not often taught in school."

Refusing to notify the local school board for fear of being turned down and hiding their daughter from the authorities, the Davises are part of the covert, unschooling underground. But with a growing and active resistance movement against compulsory government education, and with more and more parents and organizations willing to stand up to the state and press their case in the courts if necessary, it seems likely that the Davises are not the wave of the future for home schooling. To a remarkable extent in the last few years, home schooling has come up from the underground.

Gerald King teaches science at an alternative high school in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This article is a joint project of the Sabre Fund and the Reason Foundation Investigative Journalism Fund.

Learning Laws

Compulsory school attendance statutes have not been as much a problem for those wanting to unschool their children as the interpretation and enforcement of those laws have been. Whether or not to approve a home-education plan or to bring criminal charges against unschoolers is usually up to the local school boards. Pat Montgomery, executive director of the National Coalition of Alternative Community Schools, describes the ambiguous status of home schooling: "It is legal in thirty-three states, but it is written so broadly that every time you turn around the administrators have a new interpretation. In Michigan, we have had five changes in interpretation in two years by the administration. We are now on our sixth interpretation."

Opinions issued by state authorities may affect the enforcement of compulsory schooling laws, as will the conditions of the local courts and prosecutor's office. In 1980, for example, one North Carolina district attorney dropped more than 3,000 truancy cases because prosecution of serious crimes had taken all available docket space.

The following table provides a summary of the legal status of home schooling throughout the country. For specific details and further reference, the state's code or statute is given in parentheses. The Hewitt Research Foundation provided most of this information. Supplemental information was obtained from Theodore Wade, Jr.'s book, School at Home, and from John Holt's newsletter, Growing Without Schooling.

Alabama: Home schooling permitted by a certified teacher; religious exemption available (16-28-3, 16-28-5)

Alaska: Home schooling permitted; entrance age, 7 (14.3010, 14.3011)

Arizona: Home schooling permitted by statute; entrance age, 8 (15-321, 15-802)

Arkansas: Home schooling not permitted; home may be registered as a private or parochial school; entrance age, 7 (169 150, 169 151)

California: Home schooling permitted by a certified teacher; home may be registered as an unregulated private school; entrance age, 6 (48200. 48222, 48224)

Colorado: Home schooling permitted; entrance age, 7 (22-33-104)

Connecticut: Home schooling permitted; entrance age, 8 (10-184)

Delaware: Home schooling permitted; entrance age, 6 (Title 14, Sec. 2703 [1981])

District of Columbia: Home schooling permitted; entrance age, 6 (31-401 [1981])

Florida: Home schooling permitted by a certified teacher; entrance age, 6 (232.01-232.02)

Georgia: Home schooling permitted; home may be registered as a private school; entrance age, 7 (32-21)

Hawaii: Home schooling permitted; entrance age, 7 (298-9)

Idaho: Home schooling permitted; entrance age, 7 (33-202, 33-118, 33-1201)

Illinois: Home schooling not permitted; home may be registered as a private school as the result of a court case; entrance age, 7 (Chapter 122, Section 26-1)

Indiana: Home schooling permitted; entrance age, 7 (20-8, 1-3-1)

Iowa: Home schooling permitted by a certified teacher; entrance age, 7 (299.1, 299.4 [1981])

Kansas: Home schooling not permitted; home may be registered as a private school; entrance age, 7 (72-1111)

Kentucky: Home schooling not permitted; entrance age, 6; home may be registered as a private school as a result of court cases (159.010)

Louisiana: Home schooling permitted; entrance age, 7 (17:236 [supp. 1981])

Maine: Home schooling permitted; entrance age, 7 (Title 20, Sec. 911)

Maryland: Home schooling permitted under limited conditions; private schools have minimal regulations; entrance age, 6 (7-301)

Massachusetts: Home schooling permitted by court decision; entrance age, 6 (76, 1)

Michigan: Home schooling permitted by certified teacher; entrance age, 6 (340.731)

Minnesota: Home schooling not permitted; entrance age, 7; home may be registered as a private school (120.10 [West cum. supp. 1981])

Mississippi: Home schooling permitted; entrance age, 7 (37-13-92 [1981 cum. supp.])

Missouri: Home schooling permitted; entrance age, 7 (167.031)

Montana: Home schooling permitted; entrance age, 7 (20-5-102, 20-7-116, 20-10-121)

Nebraska: Home schooling not permitted; entrance age, 7; home may be considered a private school (97-201)

Nevada: Home schooling permitted; entrance age, 7 (392.040, 392.070)

New Hampshire: Home schooling not permitted; entrance age, 7 (193.1)

New Jersey: Home schooling permitted; entrance age, 6 (18A:38-25)

New Mexico: Home schooling permitted; entrance age, 6 (22-12-2 [supp. 1981])

New York: Home schooling permitted; entrance age, 6 (N. Y. Education Law 3204.2)

North Carolina: Home schooling not permitted; home may be registered as a private school; entrance age, 7 (115-378 [cum. supp. 1981])

North Dakota: Home schooling not permitted; home may be registered as a private school if it has a certified teacher; entrance age, 7 (15-34)

Ohio: Home schooling permitted; entrance age, 6 (3321.01, 3321.04)

Oklahoma: Home schooling permitted; some home schools operate as private schools; entrance age, 7 (181)

Oregon: Home schooling permitted; entrance age, 7 (339.010, 339.030)

Pennsylvania: Home schooling permitted; entrance age, 8 (Title 24, Sec. 13-1327)

Rhode Island: Home schooling permitted; entrance age, 8 (16-19-1)

South Carolina: Home schooling permitted; entrance age, 7 (59-65-10, 59-65-40)

South Dakota: Home schooling permitted; entrance age, 7 (13-27-3)

Tennessee: Home schooling not permitted; home may be incorporated as a school; entrance age, 7 (49-1708, 49-1710)

Texas: Home schooling not permitted; home may be incorporated as a private school; entrance age, 7 (Title 2, Sec. 2, 21-032; 21-033)

Utah: Home schooling permitted; entrance age, 6 (53-24-1)

Vermont: Home, schooling permitted; entrance age, 7 (Title 16, Sec. 1121)

Virginia: Home schooling permitted by certified teacher; no requirement for school accreditation or teacher certification in private schools; entrance age, 5 (22-275-1, 22-275-3)

Washington: Home schooling permitted by certified teacher; entrance age, 8 (28A 27.010)

West Virginia: Home schooling permitted; entrance age, 7 (18-8-1)

Wisconsin: Home schooling permitted; entrance age, 7 (118-5)

Wyoming: Home schooling not permitted; entrance age, 7 (21-4-102)

Help for Home Schoolers

The home-schooling movement is not a single, unified entity but an array of individuals and organizations with interspersed connections and affiliations. The following list of resources for those interested in home schooling is representative of the wide variety of viewpoints among home schoolers. It is not meant to be an exhaustive list of all home-schooling resources but to provide a starting point for those who may wish to learn more about the rights of home schoolers, what they do, and how they do it.


Citizens for Educational Freedom
Washington Bldg., Suite 854, 15th and New York Sts., N.W., Washington, DC 20005
Provides educational and legal information and legal support

Council for Educational Freedom in America
2105 Wintergren Ave., Forestville, MD 20747
Provides information on educational freedom

Educational Freedom Foundation
20 Parkland, Glendale, St. Louis, MO 63122
Provides legal information and support

Hewitt Research Foundation
Box 9, Washougal, WA 98671
Provides educational and legal research data

Holt, Associates, Inc.
729 Boylston St., Boston, MA 02116
Publishes Growing Without Schooling newsletter; provides networking services and educational and legal information

Home Education Resources Center
337 Downs St., Ridgewood, NJ 07450
Provides educational and legal information

Independent Family Schools Resource Center
R.D. 1, Box 95, Smyrna, NY 13464
Assists in developing home-school program; provides legal assistance and information

National Association for Legal Support of Alternative Schools
P.O. Box 2823, Santa Fe, NM 87501
A legal and educational resource center; provides satellite-school program through the Santa Fe Community School

National Coalition of Alternative Community Schools
1289 Jewett St., Ann Arbor, MI 48104
An educational and legal resource center; provides satellite-school program through the Clonlara School; publishes a national directory of alternative programs; offers networking service

Parents' Rights INC.,
12571 Northwinds Dr., St. Louis, MO 63141
Provides educational and legal research and information; offers legal support


John Holt:
Teach Your Own, Delacorte Press

Raymond and Dorothy Moore:
Home Grown Kids, Word Books
Better Late Than Early, Reader's Digest Press
School Can Wait, Brigham Young University Press
Home-spun Schools, Word Books

Theodore Wade, Jr.:
School at Home, Gazelle Publications


A Beka, 125 St. John Street, Pensacola, FL 32503

Accelerated Christian Education, P.O. Box 1438, Lewisville, TX 75067

Alpha Omega, Box 3153, Tempe, AZ 85281

American School, 850 East 58th street, Chicago, IL 60637

Calvert Institute, 105 Tuscany Road, Baltimore, MD 21210

Christian Liberty Academy, 203 E. McDonald, Prospect Heights, IL 60070

Clonlara School Home Based Education Program, 1289 Jewett St., Ann Arbor, MI 48104

Home Study Institute, 6940 Carroll Avenue, Takoma Pk., MD 20012.

Marin Community Resource Center, Camino Alto and Sycamore, Mill Valley, CA 94941

Santa Fe Community School, P.O. Box 2241, Santa Fe, NM 87501

Weimar College Home School Division, Box A, Weimar, CA 94736