Last weekend I had the pleasure of giving the keynote address to about 2,000 homeschoolers at the CHEA convention in Santa Clara, California. CHEA stands for Christian Home Education Association. It is probably the largest state-wide homeschool association in America. Each July CHEA stages a gigantic convention at Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, which draws about 6,000 attendees. The one in Santa Clara, for homeschoolers in the Bay Area, is smaller, but no less interesting.
Philip Troutt, the intrepid and good-humored president of CHEA, introduced me to the audience, but before he did he asked how many of them were new homeschoolers. A good 40 percent raised their hands. And you will find this to be the case from coast to coast.
People are coming into the homeschool movement in droves for obvious reasons. It has now become abundantly clear to many parents that all this talk about school reform actually has little to do with the kind of real reform that parents want. The Columbine killings have made parents aware of an underlying moral disease that is turning perfectly normal kids into killers. They want out.
Today, it's much easier to get into homeschooling than it was years ago when the movement was in its infancy and the pioneers had to blaze trails. In those days it took strong individuals to make that momentous decision not to send their children to the public schools. There were no support groups or state organizations to smooth the way. Homeschool teaching materials were not available in the variety and abundance they are today. And there were the local and state authorities imposing rules and regulations, sometimes actually removing children from homeschooling parents.
The pioneers suffered as pioneers generally do, but they endured and prevailed and paved the way for the settlers who followed. The settlers created the support groups and state organizations. They were aided by the Home School Legal Defense Association, formed in 1983, which fought to protect their rights in courts all across the nation. The settlers created magazines, wrote curriculum, organized conferences and seminars, and created home businesses to serve homeschoolers. And the state organizations began to hold state conventions. Those early conventions, held in churches, counted their attendees in the hundreds. Today, they are held in large convention centers with thousands in attendance.
Thus, today's new homeschoolers enter a movement that is well organized and already has lobbyists in Congress and in many state legislatures. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal (4/24/00) stated:
Although often portrayed as an isolated fringe group, parents who teach their children at home have become inside-the-Beltway pros, wielding enough clout to help block a Clinton administration bid for national student testing, launch their own political action committee and push their concerns into the midst of this year's presidential race.
Despite relatively small numbers - an estimated million to 1.5 million of the nation's 53 million schoolchildren are taught at home - their ability to overwhelm Congress and state legislatures with phone calls, faxes, e-mails and visits has won them a unique status as educational conscientious objectors, in the form of exemptions from compulsory attendance laws and state tests.
The newcomers are now well protected in court by experienced lawyers who have honed their legal skills over a period of 15 years and know the ins and outs of the legal process. There are a half-dozen homeschool magazines, printed on slick, coated paper with full-color ads. There are catalogs, videos, books, cassette tapes, conventions with dynamic speakers, fascinating narratives telling of the homeschooling experience.
Believe it or not, this is just the beginning! A whole generation of homeschooled children have reached their late teens and early twenties, ready to go out into the world and make a difference. They too will be homeschooling their own children.
Now, quite significantly, there is an movement called Exodus 2000, which openly urges parents to remove their children from the public schools. The organization was founded by Rev. E. Ray Moore Jr., in 1997. Moore believes that parents have got to face the realization that the government is not going to fix the schools. Each effort to fix public education, Moore says, "makes things worse."
The Columbine massacre has also strengthened the Exodus movement. A new video, "Let My Children Go," was produced by Exodus 2000 shortly before the Columbine tragedy. What happened at Columbine merely strengthened the video's message. For information on how to get the video, log on to the organization's website: (no longer available).
Another organization urging an exodus from the public schools is Rescue 2010, sponsored by Citizens for Excellence in Education, whose president, Bob Simonds, spent years trying to reform the public schools. He finally came to the conclusion that true reform would never take place and that, therefore, the wisest course now was to get the children out before further spiritual and moral damage could be done to them. His organization is based in Costa Mesa, California.
The Separation of School and State Alliance (www.sepschool.org), headed by Marshall Fritz and based in Fresno, California, is another organization that seeks to educate the nation on the need to get the government out of the education business. Its conferences draw the cream of conservative intellectuals and activists who now believe that it is government's intrusion in education which has led to its downfall. Privatization is the only logical answer.
And so, the exodus continues, not only physically but also philosophically. More and more Americans have come to the conclusion that the problems that beset the public schools today are the result of a fatal mistake made about 150 years ago when Americans let the government take over education. They now believe that only by restoring educational freedom can education once again begin to function as it should in a free society, whereby the older generation passes on to the younger generation its knowledge, wisdom, and values.