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Home Schools and the Tea Party

Written by Gary North on October 17, 2012

Gary North’s Reality Check

I have just read the best article in National Review that I can remember in the last 40 years. Of course, this is not saying a great deal, because I stopped reading National Review about 40 years ago. I used to write for it occasionally. My introduction to the magazine was in the fall of 1959, when I was a freshman at Pomona College. I read it faithfully for about five years, and intermittently until the early 1970s. After that, my interests shifted.

The article I refer to has a great title: “The Last Radicals.” It was written by Kevin D. Williamson. It begins with this paragraph.

There is exactly one authentically radical social movement of any real significance in the United States, and it is not Occupy, the Tea Party, or the Ron Paul faction. It is homeschoolers, who, by the simple act of instructing their children at home, pose an intellectual, moral, and political challenge to the government-monopoly schools, which are one of our most fundamental institutions and one of our most dysfunctional. Like all radical movements, homeschoolers drive the establishment bats.

I think this assessment is correct. Homeschooling now qualifies as a movement. It is certainly radical, in that it has taken a public stand, with money on the line, against the public schools.

It stands against the only American institution that can legitimately claim for itself this unique position: it is the only established church in the nation. It has a self-accredited, self-screened priesthood, as every church must. It has a theology. Its theology is messianic: salvation through knowledge. But this knowledge must be screened and shaped in order to bring forth its socially healing power.

Massachusetts was the last state to abolish tax funding of churches. That was in 1832. In 1837, the state created the nation’s first state board of education. It was run by one of the crucial figures in American history, the Unitarian lawyer Horace Mann. He believed that the public schools should perform much the same function that the established Congregational churches had performed for two centuries in Massachusetts. The schools would produce what the churches had failed to produce, a new humanity. They would transform sin-bound man by means of education.

This outlook is what R. J. Rushdoony called the messianic character of American education, which is the title of his 1963 book. The book is a detailed study of the two dozen major theorists of American progressive education. In that book, he observed that the public school system is America’s only established church. In the same year, liberal historian Sidney E. Mead made the same observation in his book, The Lively Experiment. Rushdoony opposed this established church, while Mead was its acolyte.

Rushdoony became one of the major spokesmen of the homeschooling movement in the mid-1980s. He testified repeatedly in court cases where the state had brought charges against homeschooling families.


In 1987, he testified in the case of Leeper v. Arlington. A group of homeschooling families sued the city of Arlington, Texas. There were over 1,000 districts in Texas. They won. Their attorney said in 2011, “After the victory that God gave us in that case, the prosecutions [of homeschoolers] stopped in all the other forty-nine states.”

Sharpe brought in Rushdoony as an expert witness. “His testimony was way beyond anything I’d hoped for. It was one of the few times in my career that I ever saw a witness destroy the attorney who was trying to examine him.”

Sharpe took a unique approach. He believed that a 1915 Texas law had established parents’ legal right to teach their children at home. The 1915 law was a compulsory schooling law. It exempted private school students. From 1900 to 1920, 60% of Texas families home schooled their children. This had to be the frame of reference for the law’s exemption, not tuition-funded schools.

In his court testimony, Rushdoony made a crucial point: homeschooling was an old tradition long before the formation of the United States.

The basic form of education in much of the colonial period as well as for a long time thereafter was the home school. In the Massachusetts Bay Colony there was an attempt to limit colonization to townships to keep the population concentrated. Some of those did have formal schools in the form of a building where all of the children came. But apart from that, it was private or home schools that prevailed in most of the colonies. There was a limited amount among the wealthy southerners of tutorial schooling, but for the most part it was home schooling. This continued for a good many years thereafter in much of the United States, particularly on the frontier.

There was another major factor. It came out under cross-examination.

You must realize that it was only with the depression that we had in most states compulsory attendance to high school, and it was, I believe, with the depression of the 1930’s that they began to extend compulsory attendance laws through the eighth grade. Prior to that, if you gained reading, writing and arithmetic essentially in the first three or four grades, it was held that you were schooled.

Americans today think that the existing educational system, K-12, has been around for a century. It has, but hardly anyone went through this entire system prior to World War I, and those who did were generally urban residents.


It is common for every radical movement to appeal back to an earlier era in which its first principles were widely accepted and adhered to. That, surely, was the rhetoric of the American Revolutionaries, 1770-76. They claimed the ancient rights of Englishmen. That did not make them any less revolutionary in the early 1770s.

(For the rest of the article, click the link.)

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17 thoughts on “Home Schools and the Tea Party

  1. Spikeygrrl says:

    Too bad Mr. North doesn't read National Review far more often; it might do his pedestrian, lowest-common-denominator writing style a world of good!

    Even though no one reader is likely to agree without reservation with ALL the positions and policy prescriptions presented in its pages, NR remains the most consistently literate, informative, and FUN journal of conservative published in America today.

  2. The best writing ever in the NR was Florence King's, but she's too politically incorrect for that rag now.

  3. Spikeygrrl says:

    Danno: Of course we ALL mourn WFB. I also mourn John Derbyshire's abrupt ouster — wasn't THAT a dust-up! — but when I REALLY fret are those times an issue is a few days late and I must postpone my bi-monthly dose of Mark Steyn, Rob Long, Jonah Goldberg, and Ramesh Ponnuru 🙂

    I'm also a big fan of the movie reviews. Surprisingly often they're not at all what you'd expect from a magazine today's functional illiterates too often dismiss as quaint and stodgy.

  4. Texas Chris says:

    "Conservative" isn't what it used to be, then.

  5. Spikeygrrl says:

    Texas Chris: My error; should have read "conservative opinion." My apologies.

  6. It's just a neo-con rag now. What a waste of time.

  7. Phillip the Bruce says:

    Why are all the comments here about NR, and how good it is or isn't or used to be? What about the subject of this article – Home Schools?
    Most of the complaints I have heard about home schooling are not about insufficient education – that has been settled. Now it's mostly if not all about failures of "socialization." Even some of my own family members, public educators in previous generations, echo it. But have you ever watched a group of GIC (government indoctrination center) students interact with others of different ages, e.g.? Often you won't, because it just doesn't happen. They are so used to being segregated by age, they don't think they can relate to others outside their group. Home schoolers as a rule are just the opposite. I know many home schooled teenagers who can relate well with anyone from pre-schoolers (including their siblings) to adults including grandparents.
    Regarding the one progressive's lament that homeschooling would result in a decreased tax base for the States, I say "Let it be so!"

  8. "Quaint and stodgy"? The phrase "neo" comes to mind when I think of the NR today. Buckley must be spinning in his grave at warp speed over the Stalinist-style takeover and purges at his magazine. Steyn and Goldberg are just your run-of-the-mill neocon apologists and propagandists for unending war and imperialism. Long and Ponnuru I don't know, but in order to stay on the NR masthead they've probably had to compromise whatever principles they had beyond recognition.

  9. well, in homeschooling children get to study traditional subjects and not necessarily some teachers beliefs or politics. I see nothing wrong with that. Right now schools are sorely lacking in teaching good citizenship and pride in country. However, I do think its a matter of choice.

  10. Atilla the hungry says:

    Re: I believe the portion of the article titled LIBERALS VS. HOME SCHOOLING contains a typo. Regarding New York's mayor,
    isn't more appropriate to refer to him as Nanny Bloomerberg?

  11. Spikeygrrl says:

    Danno, are you suggesting that "neo-conservatives" are not….errr, "REAL conservatives" however you define that?

    No wonder we never win elections any more. At least liberals/progressives know how to pull together when it counts rather than ripping each other to bloody shreds over minor doctrinal differences.

  12. Spikeygrrl says:

    Phillip wrote: "Why are all the comments here about NR, and how good it is or isn't or used to be? What about the subject of this article – Home Schools?"

    Because NR's excellent piece on home schooling speaks for itself.

  13. "…minor doctrinal differences"?

    You've got to be kidding. If you can't tell the difference between a sheep and a wolf you're beyond help.

  14. Spikeygrrl says:

    Danno: You can keep your reactionary notions of "sheep" and "wolves." I consider anyone who favors greater individual liberty and smaller government to be a conservative for all practical contemporary purposes — that is, standing IN DIRECT OPPOSITION to the liberal/progressive Nanny State vision. In my humble personal opinion — your mileage, as always,may vary — until you and your ilk can do the same, we'll keep losing elections.

    Time enough to quibble over line items when AND ONLY WHEN we have the Nanny Staters definitively on the run. Hey, in a perfect world I'd be voting for Gary Johnson this cycle…but surely even YOU can realize that in this crucial election cycle the perfect is the enemy of the good…?

  15. Scott Todd says:

    Sunday school was started to give an education to people who couldn't attend school due to work obligations. Perhaps the modern day incarnation should be shifted to teaching what kids trapped in government schools won't learn in the classroom. Not everyone is capable of home schooling.

  16. libertylouis says:

    At this time HomeSchooling is the BEST Education you can give a Child BUT just wait, that will be change to very soon cause you have to Buy the Books and that's where the DANGER comes in and they have to take the same TEST as all other schools. Currently, a friend of mine has her own small private School and she has NEVER taken a Penny from the Government for 33 years, so she is O.K. at this time to PROTECT these kids from RUSSIA and CHINA MODEL Education. But she knows very well, the Government will be coming after her sooner than later and she is DETERMINE to FIGHT it's UNCONSTITUTIONAL. So find a School like hers for your Children – That DOESN'T Take MONEY from the Government. It's OUR Country's last HOPE for our Kids – but probably not for long.

  17. libertylouis says:

    You can find her WEBSITE fighting for THE CONSTITUTION here: http://www.meetup.com/thepeoplellc/ (it's NEW on 'meetup' – in a week or so will have a lot more on it from their 'other' Website: Goggle: ThePeopleLLC.com' . she is trying VERY Hard to inform Teachers, parents of the WHOLE Picture of what OUR Government is doing to Education and Our Country. She FIGHTS at the Capital in Baton Rouge and WINS a lot.