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    by Mike McHugh

The Struggle for Home School Liberty
Date Posted: September 7, 2006

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 teaching their own children and are now seeing them marry and have children of their own. It is entirely likely, however, that these second generation parents will be largely unaware of the significant price that was paid by many of the early home school pioneers to make home education possible. I am concerned that the majority of home educators today may be tempted to think that the right to home school has always been easy to pursue without legal harassment.

For those of us who began to teach our own children during the turbulent 1970’s and 1980’s, it is still quite easy to remember what it was like to face the lions of legal harassment while entering the arena of home education. For this reason, I believe that it is the duty of first generation home schoolers to pass on the knowledge of how God raised up and granted victory to a small band of parents who were willing to stand up for parental rights in education. 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. 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.

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 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. 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 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 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 new book by Christian attorney Christopher Klicka entitled, "Home School Heroes". This book can be ordered through the Home School Legal Defense Association website at www.hslda.org .

Copyright 2006 Michael J. McHugh

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Biography Information:
This column is written by the staff at Christian Liberty Academy in Arlington Heights, Illinois. As a pioneer in the homeschool movement, Christian Liberty ministries has been operating a full service, K-12 home school program for over thirty years and a Christian textbook ministry (Christian Liberty Press), since 1985. The mission of Christian Liberty is to provide parents with quality, affordable educational products and services that will enable them to teach their children in the home and to train their children to serve Christ in every area of life. A more extensive explanation of the CLASS home school program can be obtained at www.homeschools.org.
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