In this week-long Homeschool blog series, we highlight the history, philosophies, myths, and policies related to homeschooling, one of the important options for education in Ohio. An estimated 25,000 students are educated at home in Ohio, part of the more than 1.5 million homeschool students throughout the country.
Homeschooling is an option that many families now take for granted as part of the school choice landscape. But it hasn’t always been so clear.
Mark and Diane Stevenson of the Christian Home Educators Stark County Association began educating their children at home 25 years ago when homeschool families faced obstacles beyond just developing their yearly educational plans. Here we interview Mark to find out more about the long road it took to make it clear that families have the right to educate their children themselves.
Mark, thank you for joining us.
Thanks for having me.
How did you and your wife first learn about the option of homeschooling?
Around 1985, we heard Raymond and Dorothy Moore on Focus on the Family’s radio program with James Dobson. They had written a series of books aimed at the concept of homeschooling. We took interest at that point and started to explore the possibilities. At that time, we had two children and not a single friend or family member that homeschooled.
At that time, 25 years ago, what supports were in place for families and what, if any, support from the state?
We felt alone at first until we found a support group. Then we found our place in everything. We were able to connect with families that decided to do the same thing!
Believe it or not, families’ legal right to homeschool their children were being challenged by their local school districts. In 1987, the Schmidt Family in Columbiana County had to go to court to defend their right to educate their children themselves. At that time, they sort of “won” their case, which meant that they were allowed to continue homeschooling but they had to pay hundreds of dollars in fines for each child. Homeschool families across the state collected funds to help the Schmidts pay their fines. In 1988, a family in Toledo actually faced jail time for their decision to homeschool until local media began to spotlight their case and the judge relented.
Wow, that is unbelievable that a family would have to pay the state for the right to educate their own children at the same time they were saving the state money! What happened next?
In 1988, in part because of these attacks on homeschool families, the State Board of Education realized they needed to begin creating a framework for the growing homeschool movement. They commissioned a 19-member “Citizen’s Advisory Committee to Study Home Based Education” to develop a means of “fair and equitable” treatment of all Ohio home educators. For the homeschool community, it was important that the committee recognize that while the state needed to ensure that children are provided the necessary educational opportunities, they didn’t necessarily need to be educated in any particular manner or place. Discussion among committee members was intense and contentious.
The result was a new process adopted by the Ohio Department of Education that required families to notify their local district superintendents of their intention to homeschool. The process that was agreed upon is still in place today and allows homeschool families the flexibility they need to educate their children in the manner they think is best.
Now that homeschooling is firmly established as an option for parents, have you found it growing in popularity?
Actually, it has grown exponentially. It is popular, in many ways. It almost has a counter-cultural feeling. Like, here’s our family doing the “great adventure.” Well, okay, not every day is like that in homeschooling. Most days can be rewarding when you see that “aha” moment in your own child. And then, there are days when it’s like trudging through sludge to convey a concept. But in the end analysis, homeschooling parents realize this sacrifice of time and effort will only be there in this fashion for a set number of years, and then the child will fly the nest and start their own family.
However, leaders in our movement still need to be vigilant. The pioneers of the movement made many sacrifices, which need to be reiterated to and remembered by today’s families. It takes diligence to maintain our freedom to home educate without state interference, and that’s why homeschoolers continue to be engaged in politics and elections.
Mark, thank you so much for sharing these insights! As families continue to fight for their ability to choose the best environment for their children, the example of the homeschool community is heartening.