by Anthony Jones, Emerging Leaders Council
I’ll admit it: I used to subscribe to modern culture’s distorted prejudice against homeschooling.
I used to believe that homeschooling was a relic of the past, merely for socially awkward children whose families had an elitist grudge against the state. Now that my prejudices have been replaced with the dangerous combination of facts and real-life experience, I realize that my former beliefs could not have been farther from the truth.
Let’s begin with the facts. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the percentage of U.S. households with school-aged children which reported homeschooling has hovered around 3.3% for most of the last decade. Like many statistics, this one underwent an unexpected change once the COVID-19 pandemic led to nationwide lockdowns. In the survey conducted at the end of April 2020, the month immediately following school lockdowns, the national homeschooling rate jumped to around 5.4%. By the fall of 2020, it had increased to 11.1%. In other words, the number of homeschooling families in America more than doubled in less than a year.
This phenomenon is unprecedented in recent history and reaches beyond any racial divides. In fact, Black or African American households saw a fivefold increase in homeschooling, from 3.3% in the spring of 2020 to 16.1% in the fall.
The homeschooling boom testifies to the growing desire among families for expanded educational options. School lockdowns during the past two years allowed many parents to have a greater role in and understanding of their children’s education. As a result, public school enrollment fell 3% between 2019 and 2020. Many families withdrew children from public education and signed them up for alternatives such as charter schools, private schools, or homeschooling.
Although most public schools have moved back to in-person education, the downward trend in public school enrollment has persisted. According to new research from NPR, most school districts experienced another decline in enrollment in the fall of 2021.
Alternative educational models, such as homeschooling, work alongside public schools to provide families with greater flexibility. Since every child is unique, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to education. On the contrary, every child deserves a chance to succeed and find the right fit for a learning environment.
During my time at Wyoming Catholic College, I became friends with several men and women who had been homeschooled their entire lives. They bore witness to the immense good that the educational option made possible. Unlike my preconceptions, these students were intelligent and engaging, with a deep love of learning and family. They had benefited from the availability of robust educational choices in their home states.
Recent months have further testified that educational alternatives are essential to parents as well. Flexible options empower parents to exercise their natural right to freely direct the upbringing of their children. When Terry McAuliffe ran for governor of Virginia earlier this fall and stated, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach,” parents were rightly outraged.
In this age of continual government overreach, parents want more freedom to raise their children, not less. As Antoinette Hesford, a homeschool mom of three, recently expressed, “I loved that homeschooling provided me with education for the individual. We didn’t have to conform to the zeitgeist.”
I am certainly grateful for what I learned throughout my 13 years of public education in Fairfax County, Virginia, but it needn’t be considered the route for everyone. Instead of lambasting homeschooling and calling for a “presumptive ban” on the practice, civic and state institutions should affirm parents in their roles and give them resources to parent more effectively.
As president Reagan famously observed, “If the family goes, so goes our civilization.” Now is the time to boldly strengthen families, especially in their efforts to educate the next generation of Americans.