In 1982 Ronald Reagan was in his first term as U.S. president, gas was a $1.30 a gallon, a letter cost 20 cents to mail and Susan Beatty was fretting over the academic needs of her eighth-grade son, who was struggling with school.
So, she did something radical for the times, she became a—shhhhh—homeschooler.
"People thought we were a little crazy," Beatty said of an idea that was almost as alien then as the 1982 price tag of $83,900 for a house is to us today.
"It's much more successful (now). Twenty-five years ago it was much more radical," she said, recalling how friends and church leaders were amazed that homeschooling was even legal.
Today, homeschooling is not only legal, but it is also booming.
Dr. Brian D. Ray, founder and president of the National Home Education Research Institute, estimates there were 1.9 to 2.4 million primary- and secondary-age children being schooled at home in 2005-06. In addition, the National Center for Education Statistics estimates that the number of children in homeschool programs increased 29 percent from 1999 to 2003. The Homeschool Legal Defense Association, which provides legal and lobby support for the movement, said the number of homeschoolers is among the fastest growing segments in education with a 7 percent to 15 percent increase annually, a statistic confirmed by Ray.
In California, Beatty estimates there are 138,000 to 210,000 children involved in homeschooling, about 2 percent to 3 percent of school-age children. Ray said he believes the number is even higher, between 200,000 to 280,000 homeschoolers during the 2005-2006 school year.
Because of the independent nature of homeschooling, getting definitive numbers is difficult.
"We simply don't know exactly how many there are," Beatty said.
Although religion is one of the major reasons parents choose the homeschool route, it's not the only reason. School safety, liberal coursework and quality of public education can be factors.
The demographics of participants are also varied. Income, race, political affiliation and the education level of parents do not appear to impact the decision for alternative education, according to research released last year by Ray.
One underlying thread, however, is the academic achievements of homeschoolers. According to Ray, home-educated students generally score 15 to 30 percentile points higher than their public-school peers, regardless of parental education or household income.
While the current research is impressive, none of it was available two decades ago when Beatty was searching for a way to motivate her school-wary son. Her life vest came while listening to a 1982 Focus on the Family radio broadcast featuring Dr. Raymond Moore, long considered the father of the modern homeschooling movement. Moore died July 13 at age 91.
During the interview with Dr. James Dobson, Moore was discussing burnout among young teens.
"He was describing my son," she said.
Heartened by what she heard, Beatty went to her Bible and began researching the concept.
"Scripture has a lot to say, even more than what I thought Scriptures said, about how they are to be raised," Beatty said, adding that the sacred text clearly mandates that parents are to raise their children in the ways of the Lord.
"In public school its not an option to give a biblical or Christian education," she said.
Although uncertain of her own ability to teach, she put aside her journalism training and went to work at home. It was a transition, she said, that was counter to a culture that was pushing women into workplace independence.
"You were pretty much locked into it," she said. "You were told not to waste your time as a wife and homemaker. Make use of your education for more important things."
As the teacher, Beatty also found herself the student as she tried to track down resources to help in her home-based school. Sensing she was not alone, Beatty co-founded the Christian Home Educators Association, which assists homeschool parents. The group, based in Norwalk, Calif., held its 24th annual convention in July, drawing several thousand people.
Since the founding of CHEA, there has been what Ray called a snowball effect as other organizations have formed and experts widely estimate that the homeschool industry generates $650 million in sales annually.
"The technology is sort of taking several straws off of the camel's back," Ray said.
Like Beatty, John and Laura Wojnicki were familiar with the raised eyebrows that came with their disclosure of teaching their four children at home.
"It was definitely radical," he said. "Laura and I were one of two families that we knew of that were homeschooling.
"We were trying to find other families that were homeschooling and hence the concept of support groups for homeschooling was started.
The couple became involved with Christian Family Schools, a support and resource network for parents in San Diego, Calkf., which was launched in 1983. At least a dozen groups meet regularly to assist with the educational process, arrange field trips and couples' fellowships, said Wojnicki, who now serves as chairman of the organization. More than 1,200 families subscribe to the group's bimonthly newsletter.
"It's a sharing of resources and a discussion of who is doing what," he said.
"I think, probably, all of this stuff existed already, but there wasn't a marketing arena for homeschoolers," he said.
Over the years, Wojnicki said homeschooling has evolved into a mainstream alternative that is yielding strong results.
"It's no longer looked at as a strange thing, or something a few people are doing for whatever reason," he said. "It's a viable option for families in the schooling of their children.
"It's the fruit of those early generations. Those kids that came out of the first generation who did not come out as whackos."
His own children, now grown, are following the tradition with Wojnicki's grandchildren.
While academics is often stressed in public discussion of homeschooling, Wojnicki said he believes one of the best benefits is the ability to focus on character building, something he said is sorely lacking in public schools. Stereotypes that homeschoolers are intellectual nerds, he said, can minimize the whole package that often makes up today's homeschooling.
"Sometimes that even pigeonholes homeschoolers into being intellectuals and heavily academic-based, but it was far more important that they would develop character in their children, traits that would be attractive to society," the administrator said.
Relating to Christ
Mbuyi Khuzadi knew he wanted to homeschool his children even before he met and married his wife, Mong-Tham. His belief has only intensified as public schools have evolved away from the basics to more socialized teachings. The concept of universal preschool has also cemented his concern.
"Our role as parents is to preserve the relationship with Christ with the children, to help them learn about Christ and to accept him," Khuzadi, the father of six, said. "When you have the state taking them at age 4, keeping them all day and saying you can't talk about religious issues, that's not possible.
"It's a social indoctrination program. When you have a 4-year-old they believe everything they are told."
The Khuzadis are founders of Exploring Homeschooling, a ministry that promotes the movement. The ministry is endorsed by Charles and Kathy Lowers, who founded Considering Homeschooling five years ago, but moved out of California earlier this year. Exploring Homeschooling has taken up the Lowers' cause.
The name change, he said, reflects their new focus.
"We decided to make a clean start," he said. "We wanted to be something that was indicative of the type of people we are trying to serve.
"In our constituency, most of the people we talk to are Christians and they are conservative Christians. The movement of the public education system away from Judeo-Christian values, flies in the face of the values most Christian conservatives have."
Khuzadi is adamant that Christian parents cannot rely on a weekly church service to counter the weeklong liberal messages that emanate from public schools.
"In our neck of the woods, the legislation that is occurring and the blatant inclusion of anti-Christian values is not only problematic, they are also unacceptable to most Christian parents," he said.
"When you take 40 hours a week for 12 years with a certain worldview, the one hour a week isn't going to do it.
"The experiment has been done and it has failed. The result is the social elite that says they know more about social development instead of a parent like myself, has proven not to be true."
Ray, who monitors the movement nationwide, agrees.
"It appears in terms of philosophical worldviews that motivate so many of the legislators— so anti-biblical, that's got to motivate more and more people to get out of the government-run education," he said.