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Why Homeschooling Continues to Grow

by Isabel Lyman - May 16, 2005

Brief overview of the strengths of the modern homeschool movement and why the choice continues to attract families.

For evidence that the homeschooling movement is growing up, look no further than the crowd - and excitement - generated by the National Christian Homeschool Basketball Championships held in Oklahoma City.

The 2004 athletic event - in its thirteenth year - drew 240 teams from 26 states, featured over 600 games, and attracted college coaches eager to scout players.  In attendance was Texan Debbie Verwers, the mother of Stephen Verwers, a homeschool graduate, who currently plays for Colorado State University’s basketball team. Upshot? The extracurricular athletic activities that exist for active home scholars is only one cultural indicator that homeschooling has graduated from its fledgling, countercultural beginnings in the 1970s into a more popular choice.


The early days of homeschooling were not without their own buzz. Grant Colfax's admission into Harvard in 1983 (he was also accepted to Yale) attracted wide attention because he had been homeschooled by his bookish, hard-working mother and father - David and Micki - on a ranch in northern California. The teenager’s acceptance to the venerable New England institution was proof that a schooled-at-home (and homesteading) student could acquire the type of education necessary to gain entrance into one of the most selective schools in the world.

While home education wasn't a new phenomenon, young Colfax, as well as his adventuresome parents, served as the catalysts to awaken a sleeping giant. A generation of baby boomers, who were in the thick of parenting and who were dismayed at the bureaucratic mindset that had overtaken American public education, now had inspiration to take the educational road less traveled. The 'Colfax method' gained even more credibility when Grant's younger (and homeschooled) brothers - Drew and Reed - were subsequently admitted into Harvard.

Twenty years later the electrifying accomplishments of the Colfaxes have been slightly eclipsed by a new generation of homeschoolers, who are also crafting impressive vitae. For instance, when Calvin McCarter, age 10, a homeschooler from Michigan, won the 2002 National Geographic Bee, he became the youngest competitor to ever win the contest. Home scholar Kyle Williams has been a political columnist for WorldNetDaily.com, since he was twelve years old.  After his book Seen and Heard was published, the then 14-year-old Williams weathered a media blitz that included television interviews with Bill O'Reilly, Pat Buchanan, Bill Press, and Judy Woodruff.

Besides winning academic contests and enrolling in Ivy League schools, homeschoolers have been elected to public office, managed successful businesses, played on national sports teams, made a mark in Hollywood, authored popular books, graduated from law schools, and served in the armed forces. They show no signs of resting on their laurels. For its 1999 competition, the National Merit Scholarship Corporation selected 137 homeschoolers as semifinalists, and their numbers have steadily risen each year. In 2004, there were 250 homeschooled students selected as semifinalists.

Given their small numbers, estimated by the U.S. Department of Education at approximately 1.1 million last year, only a cynic would find the achievements of homeschooled students unremarkable.


"Educating children under the supervision of parents instead of school teachers " (p. 1) is how Patricia Lines (1993), a home education researcher, has defined homeschooling. Brian Ray (2003), another veteran researcher, has written: "Some families organize homeschools like a conventional school, with structured daily activities. Others view all of life as an opportunity for learning and use a very flexible schedule. Most families provide educational experiences outside as well as inside the home.”

Homeschooling, like other grass-roots movements of the twentieth century, is largely a middle-American endeavor. Ponder this description of the 'typical' family: "…they are more likely than other students to live with two or more siblings in a two-parent family, with one parent working outside the home. Parents of homeschoolers are, on average, better educated than other parents - a greater percentage have college degrees - though their incomes are about the same. Like most parents, the vast majority of those who homeschool their children earn less than $50,000, and many earn less than $25,000" (“Homeschooling Here to Stay,” 2003).

Many families are "kitchen-table" homeschoolers, which means that a parent, typically the mother, sits at a table or a desk helping the children with their studies. Some home educators think of their endeavor as 'family-schooling' or 'parent-funded' and want the practice to remain wholly independent of government money and control, an issue that is often debated by home education bloggers and activists.

But in an age of unprecedented technological innovation and mobility, one fact is clear: It’s relatively easy and cost-effective for a youngster to bypass institutionalized schooling and receive a well-rounded education.  Online classes, homeschool cooperatives, tutors, internships, volunteer work, travel, home businesses, hobbies, sabbaticals, even the great outdoors - these serve as gateways to the examined, enriched life.


One young Floridian - Jonathan Lord - has successfully combined several of these opportunities. The St. Petersburg Times reports, "Besides learning at home, Jonathan now takes math through a private tutor, creative writing classes at the co-op, chemistry through homeschooling classes offered at the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa, and dual-enrollment classes in English and Spanish at Pasco-Hernando Community College" (Miller, 2003).

Other enterprising teens have used the flexibility of schedule to pursue extracurricular pursuits that range from the flashy to the altruistic. Emoly West, a homeschool graduate and college freshman, will be competing in this year‘s Miss Oklahoma competition. She has used past pageant prize winnings to pay for college tuition.  At 17, Iowa homeschooler Kelby Fujan, passed the written test to obtain his airplane pilot's license while accruing almost 50 college credits. Sam Goodman, a young teen-aged homeschooler from Indiana, regularly volunteers at a community food bank and has earned an award for his service.

In contrast to public school students, who are grouped by age and not ability, who are expected to arrive and depart at particular times, and who are labeled “learning disabled” regardless of potential, homeschoolers can receive their instruction in a highly-individualized fashion, often beginning at an early age. Their parents have a clear idea where their interests lie and the style of learning most suited to them, without being hampered with worries about bullies, politicized curriculum, teachers’ union squabbles, or the air quality of the buildings.

Parents and students with a bent toward high achievement at the tertiary level have even come to view homeschooling as a ticket to success in college. Writing in Signatures, a publication of Anderson University, Maryann Koopman (2003) reports that the Indiana school admits a "fair number of homeschoolers each year." Jim King , director of admissions at Anderson, offers this: " ... homeschooled students are better prepared for the 'independent learning' atmosphere of college than the typical school student ...." (Koopman, 2003).

While these heartwarming stories have, no doubt, nudged families toward the school-free lifestyle, my own analysis of 300 newspaper and magazine articles revealed that the top four reasons to homeschool were dissatisfaction with the public schools, the desire to freely impart religious values, academic excellence, and the opportunity to build stronger family bonds. Those findings coincide with the reasons advanced by the National Home Education Research Institute, which includes “controlled and positive peer social interactions, quality academics, alternative approaches to teaching and learning, and the safety (e.g., physical, drug-related, psychological, emotional, and sexual) of children and youth (Ray, 2000).       

When it’s all said - and by now a countless number of articles, commentaries, and research papers have been written about homeschooling - perhaps the greatest lesson to be learned is how important the concept of liberty is to the delivery of education. Parents must have opportunity to do what is right by their children and not be limited by geographic location, punitive state laws, or societal prejudices. When freedom and choice peacefully exist, students thrive, and, ultimately, society benefits. As Dr. Lines (2000) has stated, "The hard evidence suggests that the vast majority of homeschooling families are more active in civic affairs than public school families."

It will be interesting to observe, in the coming years, what a generation of such civic-minded homeschooled individuals bring to the education reform debate.


Homescholing is here to stay. (2001, August 20). CBSnews.com. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/

Koopman, M. (2003). Homeschoolers pass the test and the torch. Signatures.
Retrieved from http://www.anderson.edu/.

Lines, P.M. (1993). Homeschooling: private choices and public obligations.
U.S. Department of Education, Office of Research.

Lines, P.M. (2000). Homeschooling comes of age. Discovery Institute. Retrieved from http://www.discovery.org/.

Miller, M. (2003). Homeschooling: drop the stereotypes. St. Petersburg Times.
Retrieved from http://www.sptimes.com.

Ray, B.D. (2000). Fact sheet IIb. National Home Education Research Institute.
Retrieved from http://www.nheri.org/.

Ray, B.D. (2003). Home schooling. World Book Online Americas Edition. Retrieved from http://aolsvc.worldbook.com/ar?/co/ar260563.htm.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: May 16, 2005
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11878, Date Accessed: 1/26/2022 12:05:18 PM

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About the Author
  • Isabel Lyman

    E-mail Author
    ISABEL LYMAN is a longtime homeschool parent (of two grown sons), and graduate of Florida State, Syracuse University, and the Universidad de San Jose, Costa Rica. Her articles on home education have appeared in the following publications: Wall Street Journal, Investor's Business Daily, Dallas Morning News, Boston Herald, Los Angeles Daily Journal, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and Daily Oklahoman. She is also the author of The Homeschooling Revolution. Please see: http://edchat.blogspot.com/ for more homeschool information.
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