Writer Reflects on Life As a 1970s Child of "Home-schooling Anarchists"


For those who have either had non-traditional schooling or done it (or considered it) for their kids, Margaret Heidenry's article for The New York Times Magazine is a great reflection on being the child of "home-schooling anarchists" in the 1970s — long before the practice was legal in all 50 states and "decades before you could Google a lesson plan or buy a "My Kids 'Heart' Home Schooling" bumper sticker."

Heidenry's mother described their learning methods  and activities — yoga and tea breaks were included, but also math and geography —in another New York Times Magazine article back in 1979.

Writes Margaret Heidenry:

In her article, my mother laid out the basic tenets of her approach to educating us. "They work at their own pace," she wrote. "They have no assignments to complete. . . . I am not teaching the children. I am permitting them to learn."

After Mom's article appeared, multiple letters to the editor expressed "fear for the Heidenry children." Readers wondered if we would ever be able to adjust to the "real world" or were destined to be "social misfits" and underachievers. My siblings and I still hear echoes of this social disapproval. Many to whom we recount our early years seem troubled by our unorthodox upbringing. In the age of Tiger Mothering and helicopter parenting, no one can understand how our parents' experiment could have been anything but hard on us.

Daughter Heidenry does go on to describe some of the difficulties of being dragged around Europe and the U.S. by parents who often had very little money. Also trying was the children's eventual task in adjusting to a magnet school, where in spite of it being known a a progressive environment, the kids found out they were super-weirdos. Some of the familiar (to me) holes in education which can happen with a more unstructured education are also described.

But in terms of homeschooling, the family was also positively prehistoric in their education decision, writes Heidenry:

In the '70s home schooling still fell under the rubric of "criminal truancy." In St. Louis, when my siblings didn't show up for homeroom, a social worker came knocking. As my mother wrote in her article, she and my father told the government agent "that we would refuse to send the children to school if we were ordered to do so and . . . were prepared to go to court." The social worker, realizing that we weren't being neglected, recommended to the school principal that we be allowed to remain at home.

Estimates put the number of home-schooled kids during that period between 10,000 and 15,000. It wasn't until 1977 that the first newsletter about home schooling, "Growing Without Schooling," by John Holt, was published and a verifiable movement was born. While Holt is referred to as the "father" of home schooling, he was not yet an advocate when my mother made her decision. In fact, Holt contacted her after the Times article appeared, asking if he could pass out copies of it at his lectures.

Home schooling is still embraced by those with progressive ideas (Julian Assange was taught at home), but what was once the province of the bohemian few is now more likely to be embraced by religious conservatives. Today, according to a poll by the Department of Education (PDF), 83 percent of parents who home-school their children — nearly two million children are now taught at home — do so out of "a desire to provide religious or moral instruction."

My family moved from Los Angeles to Pennsylvania in 1988, partially so my parents could homeschool my siblings and me. The legal way for my crazy libertarian parents to do so was paved by a lawsuit just four years previously.

The article is a nice look at some of the great and the not-so-great parts of not going to school —including that mixture of pride and exasperation which follows you the rest of your life as you have to explain to another person no, I didn't go to school. (Heindry's upbringing was much more globe-trotting and bad-ass than mine, though.)

Whole thing here.

Reason on homeschooling and school choice, too.