Homeschooling wasn’t always as accepted as it is today.
Zan Tyler has stories about parents who tried to keep it a secret. Some pulled down their blinds and didn’t let their kids outside during the day. One family bought Catholic school uniforms for their children to wear out and about, as if they had been pulled from school for a doctor’s appointment. Another family would pile their kids in the car in the morning and drive off as if they were going school, only to have the kids duck down for the trip back home where they were really being schooled.
Tyler has her own remarkable story. In 1984, when she set out to homeschool her oldest child who was a struggling reader, she was threatened with jail by the South Carolina superintendent of education. The late Sen. Strom Thurmond personally intervened on her behalf and cleared the way.
It was a pivotal moment in a journey that Tyler never could have imagined as a young woman, when she was determined not to have children or be a teacher. She had studied economics in college and was planning on law school. But then she married and started a family. When a friend suggested she homeschool her son to give him the help he needed, Tyler was stunned.
“This idea was so radical to me,” Tyler said during a presentation Saturday at the Teach Them Diligently homeschool convention in Nashville.
Tyler associated homeschooling with a group of people she heard about in the backwoods of Mississippi who taught their children at home and bartered instead of using money. But she investigated the idea and began to believe it might work for her family. With the support of her husband, Joe, she ended up homeschooling all three of her children and while she never did attend law school, she became a well-known advocate for the rights of homeschooling families across the country. Today she is an acquisitions editor and speaker for Apologia Educational Ministries. She continues to live in her home state of South Carolina.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, there were around 1.8 million homeschooled students in 2012, an increase from 850,000 in 1999, the first year estimates were reported. The percentage increase went from 1.7 percent of the school-age population in 1999 to 3.4 percent in 2012. A survey showed that parents were homeschooling to provide religious and moral instruction and because of concerns about the environment and academics at traditional schools.
For Tyler, imparting moral and biblical wisdom became an important part of her own homeschool curriculum. She had grown up in the church, but was surprised to learn later the extent to which the Bible influenced academic life in early America. At the convention on Saturday, she shared with her audience some guidelines from Harvard University in 1646 that referred to Jesus Christ as the foundation of knowledge and learning.
“We have a rich heritage that we have lost,” Tyler said.
Tyler said homeschooling parents and advocates need to be alert for changes that might threaten their rights. Homeschooling parents today have “amazing freedom” but “all of this can change on a dime,” she said. She exhorted listeners to push back against government overreach wherever it exists.
“God is the author of our freedom,” she said. “Our government is to protect it, not violate it.”