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.]

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  1. No video of them singing We Are The World?

    I am disappoint.

  2. OT: #2 is pretty awesome. Kind of like when FoD produced that stupid Mary Poppins video about a living wage while offering unpaid internships.

    1. That sort of stinginess by rich people really gets my goat. Very, very bad manners.

      1. And really, it’s so easy to pay the performers a little something. A small gig doesn’t cost much. Dunham can’t afford to pay a few hundred bucks per book signing?

        1. She’s got an HBO show and a $3 million book advance, so yeah, she can afford it.

    2. FoD? Do you mean Flag of Democracy?

    3. Is that a photo of Dunham, or a freakish-looking man wearing a woman’s wig?

  3. Doesn’t seem like it was that long ago when home schoolers were grouped along with militia movements and white seperatists.

    1. I thought they still were.

  4. I say this as someone who has a homeschooled child: The variety of whackjobs homeschooling is truly dazzling to behold. See the granola mom keeping her kids home to teach them proper respect for Mother Gaea and hate for corporations. See the religious zealot who thinks math should be taught solely from the Bible. See the shitty parents who “unschool” as an excuse to expose their children to places the parents want to vacation in. And the list goes on, including even normal people with rational reasons for avoiding public schools.

    1. See the shitty parents who “unschool” as an excuse to expose their children to places the parents want to vacation in.

      That still sounds infinitely better than traditional school.

      1. In some ways, sure, but going to Rome versus learning how to read before ten seems a little concerning. Just let the kid learn whatever he wants to. Might work when we have lifespans over a thousand years or so, I guess.

        1. You might find this interesting, or full of crap, but I’ll drop it anyway:


          1. Full of crap. I think kids do teach themselves quite a bit when it comes to reading, but it’s obviously pretty hit-or-miss with fuzzy guidance.

          2. People invented language when they, duh, didn’t have language. It’s even easier when the people around you do.

            Practically speaking, nobody is taught to listen in what becomes their native language. They just hear people talking. Why would it be any harder to pick up reading or writing it?

            1. Um, whole civilizations were illiterate for thousands of years.

        2. Unschooled has a lot of success. It seems questionable, but the end result seems to work out.

          I think for younger kids it works great, with more structure as they get older.

          1. Shorter robc: Play is fucking important.

          2. Some unschoolers aren’t really letting the kids control everything. My wife talks about people who say they’re unschooling who have plenty of structure and really aren’t doing more than saying that’s what they’re doing. For that matter, my wife takes my daughter to things that don’t always seem right down the center of “educational.”

            Homeschooling is very flexible.

            1. This. I tend to see the unschoolers as more of the whacko contingent, and certainly my kids (mostly) mock a lot of the super-proggy SJW’ness of their peers at the homeschool co-op, but I do have to say that homeschool has been very positive for them (my kids). And, probably, for the other kids too, given how our beloved government schools treat fringe-y elements.

    2. True, but I think everyone of those scenarios is superior to state education. Also, I used to coach football and baseball at a small Christian school that allowed home schoolers on the teams. They were usually the smartest most independent kids there.

      1. Wasn’t Tim Tebow one of those?

        1. I think so, but sadly not on my team. Best way to describe my team- They may be small, but they’re slow too.

  5. I like this sort of libertarian wedge issue. Or maybe “wedge” isn’t the right word, but issues that force people to think of things in ways that don’t fit neatly into left/right boxes.

    Another is the “food freedom” issue discussed around here. Libertarians and the GOP should make a big deal of that, to highlight another downside of excessive regulation.

    Libertarians would do well to find more such issues that confront the statists with common-sense reforms can be easily explained to the public.

    1. Often though I find that the “public” is often too far gone to even discuss common sense issues with.

      1. The public is just a lagging indicator of intellectual movements. If we can rip progressivism down to the studs, the public will go along with whatever is fashionable and requires no intellectual investment on their part.

        1. Great point.

        2. Intellectual movements are just lagging indicators of other intellectual movements. It’s people all the way down.

          1. What happened to the turtles?

        3. Yes, but one problem is to make libertarianism fashionable. The people who have the most control over intellectual fashionability have made it pretty unfashionable.

    2. Both of those (food freedom and home-schooling) have served as useful bridge-building opportunities for me when dealing with paranoid hippies who think the average libertarian is Gordon Gecko.

      The GOP will never go along with deregulating food, though sometimes you can press states into relaxing restrictions on small farms (like Salatin and Virginia).

      1. Then don’t call it “deregulating food.” Call it “removing pointless red tape that increases food costs and crushes small businesses.”

      2. The GOP was largely responsible for keeping saccharin from being banned, amending the FFDCA to carve out an exception for it, repeatedly as the exceptions sunset. Republicans were also more favorable than Democrats to keeping laetrile on the market. Orrin Hatch was a strong advocate for keeping regs off dietary supplements, because some important operators in the business were based in Utah.

        1. Orrin Hatch still represents everything that’s wrong with DC, though.

    3. Food freedom has been very much an issue important to the “left”, “right”, and (to some degree) the center. Health foods, dietary supplements, anti-fluorid’n, small and/or organic farming…all issues transcending the labels.

      1. Yes, but Republicans have not jumped on that as an issue and forced the Democrats to defend all the stupid regulations. It’s a perfect wedge issue.

  6. though inevitably, people managed to combine them

    Ive said there are 8 groups of homeschoolers, based on 3 criteria.

    Religious, political, and hippy.

    Generally, those are evangelicals (also conservative jewish and etc), libertarians, and the radical left.

    And they combine in all possible ways, forming the 8 groups.

      1. They exist. They’re crazier than a shit house rat, but they’re out there.

        1. I found them pretty normal.

          But, ummm, that may say more about me.

          I played Ultimate Frisbee with a bunch of them.

          1. Then again, they were evangelical hippies majoring in engineering.

      2. And here I thought everyone had visited a Christian commune at some point in there life.

        1. must be too young to remember the 60s/70s — Godspell.

    1. No, there is another. The ones very dissatisfied with public education and not up to dropping $1,000/month or more on private.

      1. That is category 8.

        Cat 1. Libertarians.
        Cat 2. Hippies
        Cat 3. Evangelicals
        Cat 4. Libertarian Evangelicals.
        Cat 5. Libertarian Hippies.
        Cat 6. Evangelical Hippies.
        Cat 7. Libertarian, Evangelical Hippies.
        Cat 8. None of the above.

        1. What about “withdrew my kids from school before I could face a fine for their chronic tardiness”?

        2. I think they deserve their own category. It’s not like public education isn’t getting progressively worse. I know a kid who graduated near the top of a large class at an “A” school who thought California was another country. I don’t mean the way we might think that, I mean literally. How is that even possible? Not on the standardized test? Also thought the Mississippi was in South America.

          1. My pastor’s wife was born in Puerto Rico. When they lived in Tennessee, they had to spend 4 hours trying to register to vote because they didnt think she was born in the USA.

          2. There might be 4 factors now. That one wasnt significant enough when I came up with my concept.

        3. You need a category for the kids with the emotional issues who can’t handle the institutional environment of regular schools. That’s what happened with my cousin. After a few months in high school, it got so bad, he refused to leave the house. So my aunt pulled him out and he got his GED at fifteen.

    2. I see how you get 7 combinations, not 8.

      1. Nemmine, you explained above. I forgot the complement, thought it didn’t count.

  7. I will grant that “unschooling” (w/ educated adults) may be superior to 60% of the schools available, or maybe more, but it’s hardly the best case scenario if you hope your kids will win the education arms race.

    Case in point: laid-back parents here who suddenly realized their “creative, multidisciplinary, holistic approach” had failed to prepare their kid to rock the PSAT. Can’t have that, so it became imperative to, ahem, *obtain* last-minute ADHD & learning disability diagnoses.

    On the plus side, no one ever took their kids to jail for playing cops and robbers with imaginary handguns.

    1. Just hope the neighbors don’t call the cops for seeing kids playing outside.

  8. Is homeschooling even possible if both parents work?

    1. That’s what slave nannies are for.

    2. Did you really…. oh, it’s you.

    3. If one parent works from home it is, or if you have a genius child you can. But it’s pretty hard to homeschool if you don’t have at least one parent around for the majority of the day.

  9. It is a very contradicting question and no wonder why there are so many people with different opinions. I know people who were able to get profound education of such kind as it was the only possible way for them. Taking into consideration the great amount of online resources ( My Essay Writers Online for students presents an excellent example) which make many things available, everything is possible. However, we should realize that school is not only for getting knowledge and getting basic skills, I is also the place where we get first experience of communication with people

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