The Left/Right Alliance That Legalized Homeschooling

And its descendant, the fight against Common Core


NPR's Sanjena Sathian looks back at the left/right coalition that brought homeschooling out from under a legal cloud. The left wing of the alliance featured fans of John Holt and other radical critics of institutionalized education; the right wing reflected Christian conservative concerns. Those worldviews may have been far apart (though inevitably, people managed to combine them), but their proponents still worked together:

I suspect she actually said Taoism, not Zen Buddhism, but who knows?
Penguin Books

Fast-forward to the 1980s, when left met right. [Home School Legal Defense Association founder Michael] Farris found himself defending a hodgepodge of home-schoolers/unschoolers throughout the decade, mostly Christians like him and his family, but also "black Jews, Muslims…even one woman who told me her religious practices were a cross between Zen Buddhism and the philosophy of Winnie the Pooh."

States got creative, defending compulsory school attendance laws by leveraging truancy and even child abuse charges against home-schooling parents, and lawyers like Farris rose to the top of a booming individual rights movement.

Farris and other lawyers fought to change the definition of a private school to include home schooling; they combated truancy charges aplenty and faced down the dictum that students should only be taught by certified teachers. But mostly they won the courts' silence, as judges refused to rule on the inherent value of home schooling and instead considered it from a rights perspective. That, in itself, was victory.

Today, most of the nearly 2 million home-schooled kids are probably still seen as fringe—but the idea of criminalizing parents for teaching kids at home? Equally fringe.

Sathian wraps up by contrasting those "1980s debates that could unite two opposing value systems under the shared umbrella of a libertarian ideal" with "today's deeply personal and political battles" over issues like Common Core. But I wouldn't rush to consign the left/right education alliance to the nostalgia pit just yet. Both the Christian right and the John Holt left object strongly to Common Core, and lately they've been joined by many voices within the teachers unions, which certainly wasn't the case with the homeschooling battles. Unity at last!

[Via Ralph Nader.]