In eleven year old JoEll Perry’s world, there’s no such thing as a snow day. So while you might find some of her middle school friends staring intently at the bottom of a television screen in eager anticipation for a school delay or cancellation notice, such drama does not exist in the Perry home. Not only are snow days irrelevant, the sometimes difficult decision finding the right outfit to wear to school or the occasional scramble to get out the door in time to catch the bus are also no cause for concern. How can this be? JoEll is one of approximately 14,000 students in the state of Iowa that can spell the name of their school in just four letters: h-o-m-e. Unlike other children in the Union Community School District who make their way to a school building in La Porte City or Dysart, JoEll’s journey to her institution of learning consists of navigating the steps to the basement of her home, where a room has been specially outfitted and designated as “school.” It’s a trip she sometimes makes, believe it or not, in her pajamas.
Lest you get the idea that school in the Perry home is some kind of vacation paradise, a closer look reveals a family committed to the home school lifestyle. For the Perrys, it’s a choice that requires structure and discipline, rooted in a strong faith and the belief that their family life is richer because of it.
There are several reasons why families choose to homeschool their children. Some can be traced back to the origins of the modern homeschool movement dating back to the 1960s.
Political Reasons to Homeschool
At a time when society began to question authority and the “establishment,” school reformers in the 1960s and 1970s postulated the idea that the role of education is more a function of community than institution. One of the early reasons for choosing to homeschool was political, tied to the belief that the institution of public education in America did not serve all students equally because of differences in social class. Those who believed the nation’s education system reinforced the notion that “the rich get richer while the poor get poorer” cited the 1955 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education as evidence that “separate but equal” schools were, in fact, inherently unequal. Many families who chose to homeschool in the 1960s did so in isolation, as very few had legal freedom to support their efforts. Compulsory education laws made truancy a crime and many states aggressively pursued the prosecution of parents who did not comply with the law. In 1977, John Holt, an educator and author of Instead of Education, created the nation’s first newsletter devoted to homeschooling. He called it Growing Without Schooling and with it, proponents of homeschooling had a vehicle of communication and collaboration that served as the framework for the modern movement’s initial support system.
Religious Reasons to Homeschool
As the widely scattered and under the radar homeschoolers began to connect and collaborate with one another, it soon became apparent that strong religious beliefs were another reason families rejected public education. In 1983, The Teaching Home, a magazine devoted to evangelical home schooling, made its debut. Greg Harris, the publisher, believed that home schooling could lead to a renewal of traditional Christian family living.
Also in 1983, the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) was formed by attorneys Michael P. Farris and J. Michael Smith. This organization took on the challenge to make home schooling legal in all 50 states. By 1989, only three states continued to reject homeschooling- Michigan, North Dakota and Iowa.
In the state of Iowa, compulsory school attendance between the ages of six and sixteen is mandated by law. Using September 15 as the cutoff date, all children between those ages must be enrolled in an accredited public or private school, or utilize a legally defined alternative. Prior to 2013, legally defined alternatives to school in Iowa were somewhat limited. In fact, as recent as 1990, it was still a crime to home school children in the state of Iowa. At that time, the prevailing opinion as to the merits of homeschooling was best summarized by Kathy Collins, an attorney for the Iowa Departrment of Education, who in 1987 wrote:
“Children are not chattel; they are not personal property. They are not “owned” by their parents, nor do they “belong” to the state. The Christian fundamentalists who want the freedom to indoctrinate their children with religious education do not understand that the law that prevents them from legally teaching their kids prevents someone else from abusing theirs.
Compulsory attendance laws are protectionist in nature. Their purpose is twofold: to protect the state by ensuring a properly educated citizenry; to protect the children by ensuring that their labor is spent attaining an education. Any law that would allow Christians to teach their children without oversight or interference from the state would also allow parents with less worthy motives to lock their children in a closet, use them to babysit for younger siblings, or have them work twelve hours a day in the family hardware store. Opening the door for the lamb allows the lion to enter as well….
It has taken nearly two centuries to enact the many legal protections existing today for children. Abrogating the state’s compulsory-attendance laws, or weakening them by allowing parents to teach children at home, is no less than a giant genuflection backward. The precarious balance of parents’ rights versus children’s rights should never be struck in favor of the parents. While the Religious Right carries the Christian flag into battle, the state must steadfastly hold high the banner of the child.”
When the Iowa Legislature passed a home school law in 1991, Michigan was the only remaining state in the union to prohibit home education by anyone other than a certified teacher. Two years later, the Michigan Legislature relented and homeschooling was finally legal in all 50 states.
Educational Reasons to Homeschool
While Iowa has long enjoyed an excellent reputation as a state that ranks among the best in the nation for providing a quality education, such is not the case in other parts of the country. As educational resources have become more readily available to the general public, parents dissatisfied with the quality of education provided by their local schools have made the choice to go it alone. In some cases, the choice to homeschool is based on teaching methods. Others choose to provide home instruction for the educational benefits they can provide in a one-on-one or very small group setting. Such an environment, they point out, allows a student to progress at a faster rate because there are no delays waiting for 20 other students in a classroom to grasp the concept. The argument, they reason, also holds true in reverse. At home there is less pressure and stress on a student who can focus on their own learning rather than worry they are the last one in a room full of their peers to “get it.”
Financial Reasons to Homeschool
For some, the choice to homeschool is a financial one, particularly in cases where parents reject the public school system. Families in search of an alternative to public school often look to employ the services of a private or parochial school. Unfortunately, the benefits of private education can also carry a higher price tag than families are able or willing to pay.
Social Reasons to Homeschool
Societal trends also play a part in the decision to homeschool. In 1999, the senseless murder of twelve students and a teacher at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado shocked the nation. Sadly, similar events of school violence are a source of grave concern for parents who worry for their children’s safety. Following the Columbine incident, the Christian Home Educators of Colorado organization was swamped with inquiries from parents interested in learning more about homeschooling.
Fifteen years and dozens of school shootings around the country later, school violence, peer pressure and bullying are very much at the forefront of educational concerns schools are responding to. As much time, effort and dollars are spent developing community response plans to curb potential violent incidents in schools, some parents wonder if homeschooling is a better, and safer, option for their children.
In September 2103, a new school year dawned for Veronica and Rodney Perry of rural La Porte City, the sixth year of schooling their daughter, JoEll, at home. As strong advocates for the right to homeschool, their decision to educate her at home has been a rewarding one, an experience they would not trade for any other. The educational journey the Perrys have taken as a family is a story that speaks to the joys and benefits of mom, dad and daughter learning together at home. It’s also a tale about the unrelenting effort to remain focused on school, complete with a chapter devoted to fundamental lifestyle changes the family has made to ensure its success.