Pinpointing the beginning date of homeschooling is actually impossible. Aristotle tutored Alexander the Great ‘at home’ over 2,500 years ago. In fact, until the late 19th century, nearly everyone was ‘homeschooled’. It was only in the second half of the 19th century that states began passing laws compelling parents to send their children to public schools.
But the modern movement can be fairly closely approximated as beginning in the mid-1960s, from three very different sources. John Holt was a counter-culture figure who wrote extensively on education for 20 years. The other major source was the author Raymond Moore, whose concern grew out of his religious views. The third, indirectly, was the novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand, whose ideas gave birth to the modern libertarian movements, of which homeschooling (of one type) is a part.
John Holt coined the term ‘unschooling’, an approach that eschews curricula, schedules and any kind of structured method for educating a child. Seeing that children are naturally curious, and observing that public school more often dampens that spirit than encourages it, he advocated eliminating all structure.
Beginning with his first book, How Children Fail, published in 1964, Holt viewed the public school system as largely authoritarian. Himself an Ivy League graduate and a teacher in alternative schools, he sought at first to reform the public education system. He later came to believe that reform was impossible, given the nature of public schools. In 1977 he founded Growing Without Schooling, a popular bimonthly magazine resource for homeschoolers.
Raymond Moore came at the problem from a very different approach. A devout Christian and an ex-missionary, he saw in the public school system an entire philosophy that taught values opposed to his religion. He believed that education involved more than just providing facts. He saw the violence and other negative aspects of public schools and advocated that parents resume responsibility for their child’s education and, in particular, value instruction.
Though not a writer on education, apart from a few essays, Ayn Rand’s work inspired a great many in the 1960s and later and held similar views about the public education system. Those sympathetic to her views founded a political party that has long been opposed to any form of public, state-sponsored education, particularly if it’s compulsory.
But the libertarians inspired by Rand went beyond this negative. They advocated positive steps to restore to education the focus of educating the individual rational mind possessed by every child. As with every broad movement, individual views differ but the emphasis on individual freedom and the development of rational creativity is central to this branch of the homeschooling movement.
All three of these widely varying starting points grew in tandem throughout the latter half of the 20th century, continuing today. Despite their radically different philosophies all have some things in common. All hold that the public school system has and will continue to fail to deliver quality education in a safe, encouraging environment. All advocate putting the child’s intellectual and moral development at the center of the educational process.
The history of homeschooling demonstrates the success of that point of view, and promises a continued bright future.