When the modern homeschooling movement started to emerge in the 1970s, many jurisdictions considered it a crime to teach your children at home. Today homeschooling is lawful in every state, albeit with different degrees of restrictions. That’s one of the great victories for educational choice, and its impact is only increasing. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of homeschooled childrenhas grown from 850,000 in 1999, when the center started to count them, to 1,770,000 in 2011, the last year for which it has done a tally.
We’re long past the days when the stereotypical homeschooler was a hippie or a fundamentalist. They’re still there, but they’ve been joined by many members of the American mainstream.
Here’s an artifact from the days when homeschooling still seemed novel and strange. It’s a 1981 episode of Donahue, and the guests include two homeschooling families and John Holt, a fervent critic of institutional education. Back then, if Holt’s estimate on the show is accurate, there were only about 10,000 homeschooling families in the U.S. (That’s families, not students. But even if each of those families had a dozen kids, it would still be a big jump from there to 1999’s numbers.)
The audience greets the guests with a mixture of interest, skepticism, and sheer fascination. (One woman accuses one of the families of operating a commune.) Phil Donahue, as always, has a ball hopping around and playing devil’s advocate. And the video includes the ads from when the program first aired, so you’ll also get to see spots for everything from The Muppet Show to the Barnum & Bailey circus (RIP):