Tennessee Home Education Association President Claiborne Thornton Talks Home Schooling and Parents’ Worldview

Live from Music Row Tuesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed the president of the Tennessee Home Education Association, Claiborne Thornton in studio to talk about his background and why he chose to home-school his own children in 1981.

Leahy: We are delighted to welcome to our microphones J. Claiborne Thornton III. We call you Claiborne, right?

Thornton: Claiborne works, yes sir.

Leahy: The president of Industrial Environmental Consultants, a Vanderbilt graduate, been an engineering consulting firm for, what, 30 years.

Thornton: Something like that, yes.

Leahy: But you’re here not to talk about your engineering consultants.

Thornton: That’s true.

Leahy: You’re here to talk about the Tennessee Home Education Association, which you are the president of, is that right?

Thornton: That’s correct.

Leahy: Tell us a little bit about the Tennessee Home Education Association and how you got involved in this.

Thornton: The Tennessee Home Education Association was formed to help parents that decided they want to home-school their children to be able to do that. We work with parents all across the state of Tennessee and help them to find all the things that they need to be successful in their home-school experience.

That’s what the Tennessee Home Education Association was formed to do. In order to do that, we’ve decided we need to establish chapters. We have a chapter in Memphis, Jackson, Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, Tri-Cities, Athens. So, we’ve got seven geographic chapters and one statewide chapter for teaching speech and debate.

Leahy: I think I’ve been a judge at those competitions a couple of times.

Thornton: Yes, sir. My wife has conducted those tournaments. Got another one coming up in November. We would love to have you come back and love to have folks from all across your listeners come there to help judge the kids as they are developing those skills of speech and debate.

Leahy: On your website, tnhea.org, it says that your group was started back in, way back in 1984.

Thornton: Yes, sir.

Leahy: Have you been involved with it since then?

Thornton: I’ve been president since then, yes.

Leahy: Are you kidding me?

Thornton: I’m not kidding you. No. It’s a lot of fun. (Chuckles)

Leahy: You’ve been president of this organization for 38 years?

Thornton: Something like that, yes, sir.

Leahy: I have never heard of somebody heading up any nonprofit organization for, I don’t know, more than 10 years. Some people do it longer. You’ve done this for 38 years?

Thornton: A little bit crazy, I guess.

Leahy: I was about to say. (Thornton chuckles) Did you start this?

Thornton: No. We had five families in court in Tennessee for home schooling.

Leahy: So you were in court in a lawsuit?

Thornton: I was not personally, but the three attorneys that were representing those five families called on those of us who were also home-schooling to get together. We had a conference in January of 1984. Dr. Raymond Moore came here to Nashville.

He’s an educational child development specialist. He and his wife both had a doctorate in that area. He’d been on James Hobson’s radio program. That’s how we actually found out about home education, it was through that radio program.

Leahy: When did you start home-schooling your children?

Thornton: In 1981.

Leahy: At that time, you were probably considered kind of a weirdo, right, if you did home schooling?

Thornton: No, I would say not really at all. We didn’t actually know anybody else in the state of Tennessee that was home-schooling when we started.

Leahy: So you weren’t a weirdo.

Thornton: Nobody knew.

Leahy: Nobody’s done it.

Thornton: So it was an unusual thing to launch out on.

Leahy: Notice I said considered, I didn’t say you were because I’m just talking about the public perception. I’m a big fan of home-schooling, of course. Obviously. How old were your kids back then?

Thornton: Our little girl was just getting ready to go into first grade, so she was 6, I think. And our younger son … was 4.

Leahy: Way back then, back in 1981 – that was like 41 years ago. Why did you decide that it was time to take your kids out of K-12 public education back then?

Thornton: Worldview.

Leahy: What were you seeing back then?

Thornton: Everybody’s got a worldview. I’ve got one, my wife’s got one. As close as we are, our worldviews are a little bit different. And then if I take my child and put them in front of another teacher, that teacher’s going to have a different worldview from my wife.

And so what we wanted to do, we felt like that we would have something like a greenhouse. You get a tomato plant established in the greenhouse. You let it grow up until it’s ready to be planted outside, then you take it outside.

We felt like that early training was something that was critical to try to accomplish ourselves. Frankly, we looked at Deuteronomy 6 in the Bible, says that “fathers, train your children.”

Leahy: It doesn’t say fathers, farm out your children to strangers who have a different worldview and let them train them up.

Thornton: I think dads have got the responsibility, and they can delegate that responsibility to a private school. To a public school. That’s their choice of how they do that. But in my case, I wanted to do that in-house.

And my wife, although she at first thought I was a bit nuts because she said, look, I’m an art teacher. I’m an art student. I don’t know how to teach our kids how to read. So we launched into it after a few years.

Leahy: You were working and she did the teaching mostly?

Thornton: For the most part. Yes, exactly.

Leahy: And at that time, was she working outside the house or not?

Thornton: No, she was not.

Leahy: She had some available time to do that, correct?

Thornton: Yes.

Leahy: I tried a period of time to do this when my oldest daughter was, like, in 8th grade. I’m not cut out to be a home-school teacher. (Laughter) It was hard.

Thornton: There’s a significant amount of stress. It’s hard work.

Leahy: We had a family friend who was home-schooling, and I sent out the Bat-Signal: SOS. Help! Help! And so our oldest daughter was home-schooled with them. She had, like, five kids. Great woman. And so she saved the day, because I just didn’t have quite the makeup to do it.

Thornton: Some of it’s makeup and some of it gets down to just your exposure to things that, you know, when it was time to teach our kids Latin, my wife and I couldn’t do that.

So we hired a tutor to do that. When it’s time for our sons and daughter to study piano, hey, we hired someone else to do that because we don’t know how.

Listen to today’s show highlights, including this interview:

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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to The Tennessee Star Reporwith Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “Homeschool” by Andrea Piacquadio.


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