Rise of the Homeschool Moms
This article originally appeared on The American Conservative.
Over a year has passed since millions of Americans were thrust into the unfamiliar territory of homeschooling, transforming parents into educators overnight. For many, the role of educator lasted an entire school year in districts across the country, thus turning our collective assumption about homeschooling on its head.
I, too, was plunged into the role of homeschool educator when the pandemic reached my home state of Oregon. I struggled to balance my jobs as freelance writer and college writing instructor with educating a first grader and a fifth grader. Minimal contact with my children’s teachers who were equally unprepared for a global pandemic required patience and flexibility on my part.
Our family survived the spring, but as fall 2020 crept closer, I realized Oregon schools would remain virtual for the foreseeable future. So, I decided to invest in a homeschool curriculum and serve as their primary educator. The decision was a terrifying one. Although I am a teacher by profession, my only classroom experience has been among adults. I felt ill-equipped to teach my own children; still, I joined the throngs of Americans who pulled their kids from traditional school to give homeschooling a try.
Additionally, I signed up for two weekly homeschool cooperatives. These experiences forever changed my perspective on the intelligence and abilities of homeschool parents who provide a top-notch education for their children.
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that homeschooling more than doubled in 2020, and that “those who increased home-schooling spanned across all demographics. Notably, among Black households, the proportion of home-schooling increased slightly more than five-fold, from 3.3 percent to 16.1 percent within a three-to five-month time span.”
These statistics worry some including Elizabeth Bartholet, a Wasserstein public interest professor of law and faculty director of the Law School’s Child Advocacy Program. In June 2020, a Harvard Magazine article quoted Bartholet who claims that “Only about a dozen states have rules about the level of education needed by parents who homeschool.” She adds, “That means, effectively, that people can homeschool who’ve never gone to school themselves, who don’t read or write themselves.” She also asserts that “surveys of homeschoolers show that a majority of such families (by some estimates, up to 90 percent) are driven by conservative Christian beliefs and seek to remove their children from mainstream culture.”
After participating in homeschool co-ops over the past year, I would argue that Bartholet’s assertions couldn’t be less accurate.
According to a 2017 report by the National Center for Education Statistics, “the highest percentage of homeschooled students had parents who said that a concern about the environment of other schools, such as safety, drugs, or negative peer pressure was one reason to homeschool (80 percent).” The next highest percentage of parents surveyed (34 percent) were concerned about the environment of other schools. Seventeen percent reported dissatisfaction with academic instruction at other schools. And 16 percent chose homeschooling to provide religious instruction to their kids.
A study published in 2019 by the same agency shows that in a survey of homeschool parents between 2012 and 2016, the highest number of homeschool educators had a vocational/technical or some college background. The next largest group of homeschool educators possessed a bachelor’s or higher degree. This study suggests that homeschool parents are not the uneducated, survivalist types Bartholet warns of in her article, and while Bartholet’s statement that “people can homeschool who’ve never gone to school themselves, who don’t read or write themselves” is technically possible, statistics do not support her claims.
My involvement with various homeschool communities has exposed me to intelligent and motivated supermoms who miraculously manage to oversee the education of their children while running a household—an impressive feat. Another shocker: not only are these women educated, some even juggle careers in their fields while teaching their kids.
Leila Lopes has four children between the ages of ten and two months old and she recently finished her fourth year homeschooling her oldest two. She is also a registered nurse of 14 years and is specially trained in oncology nursing. She recognizes that her degree and career in healthcare have aided in her homeschool journey, noting, “Anatomy and Physiology is my favorite subject at home. I can share my knowledge as a nurse and help the kids understand how our bodies work. I can share examples of patients I have cared for that have had pathologies of various body systems. I think it helps the kids understand the practical implications of illness or injury to our health and how that plays out in real life.”
Another mother of four, Alex Tarpo, began homeschooling her oldest child, who is seven years old, as a result of the pandemic. Tarpo holds a Bachelor’s of Science and a Doctorate in Physical Therapy and says she recognizes the ways her education and experience have benefitted her in educating her children, but she also finds that being well-rounded not only in knowledge, but also in her faith, makes her a strong educator: “ultimately my science-based knowledge and learned work ethic will help in aiding my children to learn certain subjects and concepts, as well as skills and techniques for success.”
As homeschooling becomes more normalized in American society, parents realize they are already equipped with the tools necessary to teach their children because of their educational background or experience.
Brianne Happel, director of a Classical Conversations homeschool community in Tigard, Oregon, and a decade-long homeschool educator, says she knows homeschool moms who currently work in their degree fields while also homeschooling their kids and that real-world, hands-on experience impacts their educational abilities while teaching their children. She states, [block/]Any experience we have as humans impacts what we impart to others. Our careers, our interactions with neighbors, dealing with our aging parents; we cannot compartmentalize the various circles of our lives; they all intersect. The working homeschool moms I know have to carefully manage their time. They also spend more time experiencing the very thing they are often aspiring to change. They want their children to become adults who can thrive in various situations, who can think for themselves and think well, who love to learn and tackle new challenges.
School districts and teacher unions are beginning to grasp the ramifications of slipping control. Attacks on Christian homeschoolers are on the rise as many families exchange traditional schools for nontraditional education. A Huffington Post article by Senior Editor Rebecca Klein equates Christian homeschoolers with “white Christian nationalists,” claiming language in some curriculum popular among Christian homeschoolers “overlaps with the rhetoric of Christian nationalism, often with overtones of nativism, militarism and racism as well.”
Happel calls these attacks absurd. She notes, “they are trying to evoke an emotional response in their readers based on a false and predetermined view of homeschoolers. There is a substantial and growing population of homeschooling families today, all unique, with vastly different beliefs and reasons for why they homeschool. Sure, there are probably people who fit into their pigeonhole, but there are likely just as many or more of those ‘extreme religious ideologues’ promoting bad ideas in private and government schools alike.” She adds, “I know none of these characters. As a Classical Conversations director, my mission is to help parents educate their children to become life-long learners. To experience the world around them as a classroom where the end of learning could never possibly be reached. Our goal is to teach children how to think, not what to think. Can the government schools today say the same for their educational goals?”
The perception by critics that homeschool parents are uneducated, homogenous extremists was toppled over the past year. In fact, according to Brian D. Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute: “Homeschooling is quickly growing in popularity among minorities. About 41% of homeschool families are non-white/non-Hispanic (i.e., not white/Anglo).”
Although many mothers choose not to work, instead focusing solely on educating their children, the reality is that homeschooling is no longer an either-or situation, nor is it a subpar education mill fabricating miniature white supremacists or Christian nationalists.
Perhaps the truth behind claims made by homeschooling critics like Bartholet and Klein stems from the threat public schools face as parents finally recognize facts. Public schools no longer simply teach reading, writing, and arithmetic. Instead they indoctrinate children through critical race theory and have begun grooming them as early as kindergarten through comprehensive sexual education. Another possible reason for resistance by homeschooling critics results from parents observing firsthand America’s failing public school system, while homeschoolers consistently score higher than their public school counterparts in standardized testing.
While COVID-19 disrupted the lives of millions, it also delivered a surprising blessing. Thanks to the pandemic, the shift from parental observers to at-home educators has illuminated the innate ability of parents to effectively teach their children well and produce a new generation of intelligent, capable human beings. Rather than creating the “white Christian nationalists” and “extreme religious ideologues” that homeschooling opponents desperately fear, parents are taking back control of their children’s education to produce critical thinkers and the future leaders that our country desperately needs.
Kathleen Bustamante is a freelance writer and writing instructor in Portland, Oregon.
Editor's note: this article has been updated since publication.