The History of Home Education

By Peter Olsen, Age 12

Homeschooling is the earliest form of education, having been around as long as civilization itself. Famous people throughout history were homeschooled as children. They include: Joan of Arc, Leonardo da Vinci, Wolfgang Mozart, Felix Mendelssohn, Claude Monet, William Penn, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Orville and Wilbur Wright, Abe Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Robert E. Lee, Douglas MacArthur, George Patton, Winston Churchill, C.S. Lewis, Hans Christian Anderson, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Agatha Christie, Charlie Chaplin, and many more.

In American Colonial days there were no public schools. It was perfectly normal for children to learn at home. Many of America’s founding fathers – such as Ben Franklin, George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Patrick Henry, and John Paul Jones – were homeschooled. Children who lived on southern plantations were often instructed by private tutors.

Quakers and other religious groups were the first to start their own church schools. The push for government-controlled public education came about in the 1830's-40's. Massachusetts began forced schooling in 1852. Mandatory schooling gradually spread outward from there. However, home education persisted throughout the 19th century.

The state of Arizona where I live has the oldest homeschool law in the nation. Homeschooling in Arizona has been legal ever since it became a state in 1912. The history of home education in Arizona goes back to territorial days. School buildings were few and far between on the vast western frontier. So it was common for a child at that time and place to be educated at home. Henry Ashurst, the first senator from the state of Arizona, was homeschooled on his family’s ranch.

During the first half of the 20th century, government schools became a means of insuring that all children would become good American citizens. By the 1960’s and 1970’s, public schools were playing such a major role in the American way of life that anyone who didn’t like the school system – such as John Holt - was shrugged off as being a radical hippie.

Because of the “separation of church and state,” all references to religion were being removed from public schools. In the early 1980’s, parents who wanted to make sure their children received biblically-based instruction started taking them out of the public schools. Some put their children in Christian schools and others began homeschooling them.

Michael P. Farris and J. Michael Smith founded the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) in 1983. By 1987 they had brought homeschooling into every state, although it took eleven years to make home education legal in all of the fifty states.

In the 1990’s, homeschooling really became popular. There are now over a million homeschoolers in the United States, and homeschoolers live in other countries as well. Homeschoolers come from all religions and ethnic backgrounds. They live in the country, city, suburbs, and small towns.

Education has changed a lot over the course of history, and homeschooling has come a long way. Nowadays education is a big business, yet at the same time the modern homeschooling movement is taking us back to our educational roots.


Gatto, John Taylor. The Underground History of American Education. (Oxford, NY: Oxford Village Press, 2000.)

Gorder, Cheryl. Home Schools: An Alternative. (Mesa, AZ: Blue Bird Publishing, 1996.)

Klicka, Christopher. Home Schooling: The Right Choice. (Sisters, OR: Loyal Publishing, 1995.)

Lewis, Tom. “From Trauma to Triumph: Our Arizona Home School Roots.” (Arizona Families For Home Education, Phoenix, AZ: July 21, 2001.)

Scarlata, Robin. What Your Child Needs to Know When. (Woodbridge, VA: Heart of Wisdom Publishing, 2000.)

Sparks, George F., editor. A Many Colored Toga: The Diary of Henry Fountain Ashurst. (Tucson, Arizona: The University of Arizona Press, 1962.)

Stevens, Mitchell L. Kingdom of Children: Culture and Controversy in the Homeschool-ing Movement. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001.)

Voigt, Brian. “Home School Legal Defense Association: The Guardian of Home Schoolers Liberty.” (Casa Grande, AZ: The Casa Grande Times, July 8, 2001.)

P.S. I've been learning about the history of homeschooling from my mom. She's writing a book on the history of home education in Arizona. So luckily all of the references I needed were sitting around our house! ~Peter

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