The Struggle for Home School Liberty

By Mike McHugh, September 13, 2011 10:56 am

The home school movement in the United States is now entering its second generation phase. The pioneers who began to home school during the 1970’s are, for the most part, finished with the task of teaching their own children and are now watching them marry and have children of their own. It is entirely likely, however, that many of the parents who are just beginning their home school journey will be unaware of the significant price that was paid by home school pioneers to make home education possible.  For this reason, I am concerned that home educators today may be tempted to think that the right to home school has always been easy to pursue without legal harassment.

In the providence of God, I was given the opportunity to witness, first hand, the battle that unfolded for parental rights in home education beginning in 1977. It was during this year, that I joined the staff of the legal department of the Christian Liberty Academy located in Arlington Heights, IL. This academy was one of the first schools in the nation to offer an organized program to parents who desired to train their children at home; and was virtually the only organization of its kind to also provide free legal support to families who needed it. In the 1980’s, I had the privilege to provide expert testimony at a number of home school court cases across the country that involved families who were affiliated with the Christian Liberty home school program.

As a very young man working on behalf of home educators, I quickly grew to appreciate the courage and fortitude of those parents who began to teach their children during the turbulent 1970’s and 1980’s. The courage and dedication of these parents made such an impression upon me, that even though many years have passed, I still believe that their story is worth remembering. As one who observed the battle for parental rights in education from the front row, I believe that it is my duty to make other families aware of the exploits of those parents who fought so that future generations of home educators might enjoy the blessings of liberty. What’s more, I believe that it is the duty of all first generation home schoolers to pass on this information to the next generation. This knowledge is vital to the next generation of parents, for it will help them to better value the freedoms that they now enjoy; and it will also inspire them to place their trust in God if persecution is renewed at some future point.

The modern home school movement first began to emerge in the late 1960’s. Early on, many states began to view the small but growing home school trend as a threat that needed to be eliminated. For this reason, most home educators often functioned “underground” in order to avoid harassment from local school officials who were bent on using the compulsory education and child abuse laws as a weapon to stomp out undesired competition. Not surprisingly, the first phase of the battle for home school freedoms began to unfold in the early 1970’s, and was characterized by a proliferation of court cases involving parent educators and school districts. Leaders of the early home school movement such as Dr. Paul Lindstrom (founder of the Christian Liberty Academy), Samuel Blumenfeld, John Holt, Dr. Raymond Moore, and Rousas J. Rushdoony were instrumental in providing expert testimony at a number of key home school court cases during this difficult period.

One of the many ironies inherent in these early court battles, was that families were commonly accused of neglecting their children’s social needs when it was actually the heavy handed intimidation tactics of state school officials that caused most families to shelter their children from others in their community. Several parents during this time were charged with “educational neglect”, for failing to “socialize” their children, and in more than a few cases, actually had their children taken away for a period of time. Many more parents faced jail time or heavy fines (not to mention burdensome attorney’s fees) for the supposed violation of their state’s compulsory education law.

Even in cases in which home educators had the financial resources to successfully defend themselves in court, government school officials would commonly elect to simply drop the case, thereby eliminating the possibility of a precedent being set in favor of home education. For this reason, even when parents were successful in overcoming legal harassment in the courts, such early victories rarely helped to establish a court record that could be utilized by other families who were soon to be dragged into court. Little wonder then why the battle for home school freedom and parental rights continued to rage in the courts all through the 1970’s and 1980’s. By God’s grace, some progress was eventually made in the courts during this period, but it was slow and costly.

The second phase of the struggle for the liberty to home school was characterized by a steady shift away from the courts, and into the legislative arena. This move was born out of a growing awareness that real progress would only take place if the actual state school laws could be changed or amended to overtly protect the constitutional rights of parents to home school. Beginning in the mid 1980’s, several states began to pass laws that were clearly favorable to home education as a result of the intense lobbying efforts of thousands of zealous parent educators. In the providence of God, the legislative arena proved to be much more receptive to the cry of home school parents compared to the courts. The willingness of many legislators to protect the rights of parents during this period may well have been because state schools and state budgets were beginning to experience one crisis after another. By the early 1990’s, numerous states had passed laws to protect the constitutional rights of parents to teach their own children. Just as importantly, the child abuse and neglect laws in many states were amended to prohibit school officials from being able to use these laws against families simply because they chose to home educate.

The rest, as they say, is history for since the mid 1990’s it is rare for anyone to be hauled into court simply for home schooling. It is my prayer that this brief summary of the struggle to legitimize home education would give those parents who are new to home schooling a greater appreciation for the freedoms that they enjoy today. As the old saying goes, “You don’t know how much liberty is worth until you know how much it cost.”

For those families who wish to gain a fuller understanding of the exploits of pioneer home educators in the struggle to be free, I heartily recommend the book that was written a few years ago by Christian attorney Christopher Klicka (1961- 2009) entitled, “Home School Heroes”. This book can be ordered through the Home School Legal Defense Association website at www.hslda.org .

May the God who gave us life, continue to grant us the liberty that we need as parents to train up our children in the way that they should go.

Copyright  2011  Michael J. McHugh

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