An estimated 2 million children — about 2.5 percent of school-age kids — are educated at home. In a look at urban homeschooling in City Journal, Matthew Hennessey provides some history of the movement that I haven’t seen before.
In the mid-1970s, as few as 10,000 children were homeschooled in the United States, mostly in rural areas, he writes. Homeschooling was illegal in 30 states.
Things started to change in 1978, when “the Internal Revenue Service under President Jimmy Carter threatened to revoke the tax-exempt status of Christian day schools that it accused of using religion-based admissions standards to circumvent federal antisegregation laws,” Hennessey writes.
The IRS ultimately caved on its threats, but the evangelicals took a message away from the battle: the federal government—as embodied by the newly established Departmentof Education—was out to get them.
“What galvanized the Christian community was not abortion, school prayer, or the ERA,” Moral Majority founder Paul Weyrich told sociologist William Martin for his book With God on Our Side. “[It] was Jimmy Carter’s intervention against the Christian schools. . . . [S]uddenly it dawned on them that they were not going to be left alone to teach their children as they pleased.”
Backed by the Religious Right, Home School Legal Defense Association lawyers fought a state-by-state battle in the 1980s to remove legal barriers to homeschooling. “By 1993, the practice was legal in all 50 states,” writes Hennessey.
Homeschooling is becoming more secular and urban. Online courseware has made it much easier for parents to educate their children at home. It’s also easy to network with other homeschooling parents and students.
Anne and Erik Tozzi teach their five children in their Yonkers home. He’s a specialist in medieval history; she’s an art historian and rare-book specialist.
Schoolwork for the Tozzi children, who range in age from two to 14, can mean a day spent at their book-strewn dining-room table discussing Chaucer or a visit to the Museum of Natural History or the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan.
. . . Last year, the older Tozzi kids worked with students from around the country to write a radio script, which they produced for an all-online course. They took online classes in Latin, religion, and math with teachers based in other cities. They used Skype for live class lectures and to communicate with other students for their projects. . . . The younger children used Skype for a weekly “Story Time” with a teacher.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 28 percent of homeschoolers are urban, 34 percent suburban and 31 percent live in rural areas.