The Golden Age of Homeschooling
by Helen Hegener, publisher of Home Education Magazine
Most homeschoolers; have probably never heard the name Everett Reimer. Over thirty years ago he wrote a book titled School is Dead: Alternatives in Education (Garden City, NY: Anchor, c. 1970). He was noted for penning outrageous lines like "Schools learned long ago that the way to keep children from thinking is to keep them busy." Ivan Illich, a name perhaps more familiar to many, wrote this about Reimer in the introduction to his radical book Deschooling Society (New York: Harper & Row, 1970): "I owe my interest in public education to Everett Reimer. Until we first met in Puerto Rico in 1958, 1 had never questioned the value of extending obligatory schooling to all people. Together we have come to realize that for most men the right to learn is curtailed by the obligation to attend school."
Everett Reimer, who died in 1998, worked with Illich at the Center for Intercultural Studies (CIDOC) in Mexico in the early 1970's, and the two men published separate books about their joint research. Most comprehensive bibliographies on alternative education will include these titles, and the roots of today's homeschooling movement can be traced back to them.
When John Holt's book Teach Your Own: A Hopeful Path for Education (New York: Dell) was published in 1981, it quickly became the front-runner in a then-small selection of books about taking or keeping kids out of school. John Holt wrote to his friend Ivan Illich in 1972: "... In working for the kind of changes we want, for a convivial society and a non-suicidal technology, you and I may have slightly different fiinctions. You may be somewhat more of a prophet and I somewhat more of a tactician ..." (from a speech by Patrick Farenga at Penn. State University, 1977).
Five years later John Holt founded the newsletter Growing Without Schooling, which became a tactical handbook for thousands of families seeking to regain control of their childrens' education.
Around the fall of 1982 my mother gave me two thin copies of Growing Without Schooling along with the original July/August, 1980 Mother Earth News magazine featuring an interview with John Holt. Shortly after that I attended a conference and discovered the works of Dr. Raymond Moore, author - with his wife Dorothy - of the books Homegrown Kids and Homespun Schools (Waco, TX: Word Books. 1981, 1982). By 1983 1 was studying Holt's small newsletter Growing Without Schooling and the Moores' small newsletter The Family Report and by that fall Home Education Magazine was born.
It was a heady time to be homeschooling. As an idea which was just beginning to build momentum, homeschooling found plenty of support and encouragement in the writings of people like John Holt, who advised: "All I am saying in this book can be summed up in two words: Trust Children. Nothing could be more simple, or more difficult. Difficult because to trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves, and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted. (How Children Learn; NY, Dell, 1967).
In Deschooling Society Ivan Illich had written, "The very existence of obligatory schools divides any society into two realms: some time spans and processes and treatments and professions are 'academic' or 'pedagogic,' and others are not. The power of school thus to divide social reality has no boundaries: education becomes unworldly and the world becomes noneducational."
George Leonard exposed the plot in his book Education and Ecstasy (Delacorte, 1968): "Educational institutions were geared to stop learning. Perhaps half of all learning ability was squelched in the earliest elementary grades, where children found out that there exist predetermined and unyielding ,right answers' for everything, that following instructions is what really counts and, most surprisingly, that the whole business of education is mostly dull and painfiil."
These were startling and exciting new ideas, and they fed a hunger for approval, for validation that what we were doing with our children was right and good and worthwhile. It was a little scary to take or keep one's children out of school when sending them was the societal norm. The word 'homeschooling' itself was suspect, a sort of code word for going against the grain, refusing to conform, seeking that almost mythical 'road less travelled by.'
We who identified ourselves as homeschoolers breathed a sigh of relief and collectively sheered when John Holt appeared on the Phil Donohue Show, when Linda Dobson's article was published in Good Housekeeping, when the Colfax boys gained admission to Harvard.
In our book Alternatives in Education (Tonasket, WA. Home Education Press. 1987, 1992) writer and homeschooling father Earl Gary Stevens notes in the Introduction, "There is a mythological golden age of public education in our consciousness, captured in Norman Rockwell paintings, cinema, television, and modern literature, in which the public school is a positive place where the children of our nation come together to learn academics and social skills."
Has homeschooling progressed beyond a similar "golden age," when the term evoked a certain edgy rebelliousness, a commonality of striving for acceptance, seeking approval and validation from society, the media, legislators, and the education -bureaucracy? We sought acceptance for a different way; have we found more than we bargained for in society's embrace? Homeschooling, like public schooling, faces ever-increasing challenges, but the greatest threat to homeschooling may be its own unquestionable success.
The word 'homeschooling' has become a much-sought-after appellation, appearing in advertisements for educational toys, distance learning, computer software, and school district alternative education programs. The term has developed a certain cachet, so it now has a perceived "selling power." But like the word 'organic,' which once meant grown without chemicals and now merely seems to mean grown, the word 'homeschooling' is losing all functional meaning.
In Power For All or For None (1998), a book of essays by Everett Reimer and his daughter Katherine Reimer, a poem by Everett Reimer includes these lines:
Mere words cannot convey the truth
They always miss it, pass it by
Distort it just enough to change
A perfect truth to partial lie.
The perfect truth is that homeschooling works. The partial lie - no, the perfect lie - is that what may come to pass for homeschooling in the years ahead will work as well.


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