by Carl Watner
from Number 129
I’d like to begin my remarks this afternoon by giving a little historical perspective to homeschooling. I think we often forget that parent-directed education of children was the norm throughout most of American history. In the days before mass public schooling, a large percentage of this country’s children were educated at home, or in private or religiously-affiliated schools chosen and paid for by their parents. The right to home school, to engage a private instructor, or to send a child to a private school all stemmed from the parents’ responsibility to care for and teach their children. 17th and 18th Century colonists and 19th Century pioneers in North America conceived of schooling as an extension of the family, the Church, the apprentice system, rather than as a function of the State. Families simply assumed responsibility for their own and were not required to obtain permission from local governments to educate their children at home, and most would have been incensed at the idea.
All that changed during the 20th Century. Instead of focusing on acceptance of personal and family responsibility, today public education is based on the concept of compulsion. “By means of property taxes, sales taxes,” income taxes, and compulsory attendance laws people are forced to pay for schooling, whether they have children or not, and whether they agree with what children are taught in government schools. Since I accept personal responsibility for my family and children I chose homeschooling long before I was ever married or even met Julie. Both from my own personal experiences in public schools, and from philosophical reflection, I concluded that the government’s public schools were a moral and practical failure, and wanted nothing to do with them
My own disinclination against the public schools came to a head in my 11th year of public schooling. I felt I was being indoctrinated in collectivist and statist ideas. Consequently, I skipped the 12th grade and moved on directly to college. That is why I can truthfully say that I never received a high school diploma. I might add that my experiences in college were no different.
My first exposure to the idea of homeschooling was probably through the books of John Holt, especially his TEACH YOUR OWN, which was published in 1981, and which I first read in 1982. In looking over my copy of this book, just last month, one passage that I had highlighted almost 25 years ago jumped out at me. John Holt wrote that “We can sum up very quickly what people need to teach their own children.” First of all, they have to like them, enjoy their company, their physical presence, their energy, foolishness, and passion. They have to enjoy all their talk and questions, and enjoy equally trying to answer those questions. They have to think of their children as friends, indeed very close friends, have to feel happier when they are near and miss them when they are away. They have to trust them as people, respect their fragile dignity, treat them with courtesy, take them seriously. They have to feel in their own hearts some of their children’s wonder, curiosity, and excitement about the world. And they have to have enough confidence in themselves, skepticism about the experts, and willingness to be different from most people, to take on themselves the responsibility for their children’s learning. [p. 57]
I think that passage speaks eloquently about the relationship Julie and I have had with William and our other children, and it highlights our enjoyment and passion for homeschooling them.
Shortly after William was born at home I wrote an article titled “It’s Only Just a Beginning”: Reflections on Being A New Father. William, as I present you with your homeschool graduation diploma this afternoon, I know you realize you are moving onward in life. In that article I observed that it was my hope that you would learn to think independently and logically, and above all, to act honestly and with integrity. I believe you have accomplished that and I am proud of that accomplishment and everything else you have achieved in your first 18 years of life. In homeschooling you, your mother and I have done our best to arm you with the truth because the truth is the most powerful thing in the world. As I give you this diploma I hope you always cling to the truth and remember that one word of truth outweighs the world. Congratulations William, and keep up the good work!