Homeschooling – From Borderline Illegal to Now COVID-19 Mandated.

Written by Sharon Hillestad

Who would have predicted that there could be a time when parents would be forced to homeschool their children such as we are seeing in April 2020 with the COVID-19 quarantine.

That certainly never occurred to those of us homeschooling in the 70s and 80s when doing so meant you could be arrested or fined. Back then, social services even threatened to put the home educated children into foster homes. Many people thought dire consequences awaited those who did not spend six hours a day in school.

Those were exciting times. We not only had to dodge the law, but we also had to jerry-rig the curriculum. Fortunately, there were two major authorities, John Holt and Dr. Raymond Moore, who helped legitimize the movement.

John Holt wrote 13 books about improving schools that were available in libraries in 1979. I was reading one of those books when I discovered that he was an advocate for homeschooling parents. Later, in 1981, he authored Teach Your Own and in it, he reprinted my letter to him describing how I worked with the school district to remove my son from school. I also wrote about our first three days of homeschooling:

It was a great adjustment for me as I found myself being a “classroom teacher,” trying to implement the schedule and “get through” the subjects. By the third day, my son protested vigorously. I then decided that the schedule and the plans were mostly for the benefit of the administrators and probably had little bearing on what my son would eventually learn.

–Excerpt from my letter on page 87 of Teach Your Own by John Holt

So for the next six years, my son studied whatever and whenever he wanted to learn.

“John Holt was featured in the Hastings Gazette weekly paper in 1981 when he spoke to a group of homeschoolers at the Hillestad home.”

Working with John Holt

John Holt was my mentor. He unofficially appointed me as the contact person for homeschoolers in Minnesota. We were the one and only homeschooling family in Hastings, but there were at least 50 homeschooling families in the state.

Parents expressed various reasons for wanting to take their kids out of school. The major one was that they were dissatisfied with the education their children received. Interestingly enough, I met a lot of teachers who were homeschooling their children. I had been an elementary teacher as well before starting a family.

I couldn’t agree more with John Holt who stated, “Since compulsory school attendance laws force teachers to do police work and so prevent them from doing real teaching, it would be in their best interests, as well as those of parents and children, to have those laws repealed, or at least greatly modified.” This was written in 1981.

Since then, teachers have lost even more control over curriculum, schedules, and testing. The number of homeschooling families was close to two million even before the quarantine.

Now nearly all parents have total responsibility for their children’s education. Of course, the libraries are closed as are other educational establishments. But there is a plethora of curriculum online. There are teachers for hire via zoom and seasoned homeschoolers willing to help whether you are in this for the short run or if you decide to try it for a year or two.

In either case – welcome to the club. Homeschoolers are everywhere.