This was an historical-descriptive study. Its purpose was to determine the nature of the philosophical ideas that are currently influencing the home schooling movement through a content analysis of a representative sample of books, magazines, workshop materials, and curriculum resources that have been targeted at the home schooling market in recent years. The ideas contained in these materials were analyzed by comparing them with the tenets of four educational philosophies: essentialism, progressivism, perennialism, and existentialism. This report is a summarized version of Hood (1990).1
Some people have consciously chosen, refined, and clarified the beliefs and values which guide their daily activities and constitute their personal philosophies of life. Some have rarely thought about such issues. Others have simply adopted the value systems of their parents without serious examination. Such inattention, however, cannot diminish the pervasive influence these underlying beliefs and assumptions exert on a person’s developing perceptions of the world. In 1950, Brameld, a noted educator, wrote the following:
Philosophy … is inseparable from living experience. However implicit, unexpressed in definite terms our philosophy may be, it is always in the background helping to shape, and being shaped by, the tangible means through which we carry on our day-to-day responsibilities. In every phase of life – material, spiritual, lay, professional – we believe certain things about the activities we perform. And these beliefs, usually to a far greater extent than we realize, not only reflect our day-to-day activities but in turn mold and direct these activities. (Brameld, 1950, p. 31)
Similarly, everyone who is intimately involved with the teaching profession, whether as administrator, classroom teacher, home school parent, or concerned citizen, adheres to certain beliefs and assumptions about the educational process. These underlying educational beliefs, whether clearly defined or not, guide every aspect of an educator’s work, from the selection of broad goals and objectives to minute-by-minute decisions concerning issues such as curriculum selection and methods of teaching.
Because home school parents have consciously turned their backs on conventional school alternatives, most of them are already aware that their beliefs and values are incompatible with those held by many educational professionals. Yet, due to a lack of specific knowledge regarding educational philosophy, some of these parents may have difficulty understanding these differences clearly or communicating their concerns to others.
To date, the majority of studies concerning home education have searched for similarities and central tendencies within the movement. However, a few researchers (Kutter, 1986, 1987; Mayberry, 1988; Pitman, 1986, 1987; Sexson, 1988; Van Galen, 1986) have noted the existence of at least two disparate groups. Kutter (1986, 1987) categorized home schoolers as either “conservative Christian fundamentalists” or “anti-establishment types”. Sexson (1988) divided them into two groups, which she termed “conservative and religious” or “progressive and secular.” Mayberry (1988) broke home schoolers down into four categories, indicating that two of these groups, religious and New Age families, were home schooling for ideological reasons, and the other two groups were doing so due to either academic or sociorelational concerns. Van Galen (1986) also divided the home schoolers into two groups. The “ideologues” were home schooling for ideological reasons of a political nature, whereas the “pedagogues” were doing so for academic or pedagogical reasons. The categories used by these researchers have been based primarily on the participants’ reasons for home schooling. Although such studies have helped to focus attention on the diversity that exists within the movement, they have not recognized the fact that pedagogical or social rationales are also ultimately rooted in ideological or philosophical concerns.
In most cases, these studies have tended to group fundamentalist Christians into a single category regardless of their educational beliefs or practices. There are some Christian home schoolers who have grown uncomfortable with being lumped together with others whose educational ideas they cannot accept. Recently, there has been a rash of letters to the editor of Home Education Magazine which indicates that such dissatisfaction is growing. Some of these parents have been offended when others have actually referred to them as “non-Christians”. One such mother wrote:
I am weary of the “Christian”/”non-Christian” designation of home-schooling groups. . . . Does anyone have any better words to use? I am tired of being called “non-Christian” just because I won’t sign a long list of beliefs and non-beliefs totally unrelated to homeschooling (and sometimes even unrelated to Christianity). (Spurgin, 1989, p. 8)
Other segments of the home schooling population are beginning to make themselves heard as well. Followers of Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, and the New Age movement have written letters to Home Education Magazine and Growing Without Schooling, expressing a variety of concerns. A Buddhist home educator wrote the following:
So far the upset seems to be mostly between families who are homeschooling for religious, Christian reasons and those are homeschooling for other reasons yet who happen to be Christian. I would love to hear from more of the two other groups that must be “out there.” That is, those who are homeschooling for religious/non-Christian reasons and those others who are homeschooling and just happen to be non-Christian. (Tanafon, 1989, p. 9)
Part of the concern which these individuals are expressing stems from the fact that differences in educational philosophy do not always follow the same lines as theological splits. When this is not recognized, difficulties can arise. Members of the same religious community often have trouble understanding why their ideas on educational goals, curriculum choices, and methodologies do not necessarily mesh with those of their associates.
The growth of the movement has created a virtual explosion of books, magazines, workshops, and curriculum resources targeted at the home schooling market. The people behind the proliferation of these materials come from a wide variety of philosophical backgrounds themselves. Their educational assumptions are not always clarified or stated explicitly in these materials, although their spiritual beliefs often are explained. Such materials are then often sorted into rather simplistic categories as either “Christian” or “non-Christian” in origin. Yet many of the products coming from the “non-Christian” organizations appeal to some of the Christians in the movement, who may have difficulty explaining their preferences to their peers.
This study was needed, therefore, for several reasons. Previous research has tended to group individuals or families on the basis of their rationales for home schooling without seriously examining the presence of differing educational beliefs and practices within such categories. One desirable outcome of this study would be the provision of an improved base for further research concerning this diversity. In the absence of true understanding, future educational decisions and policies are likely to be based on either misinformation, or on reactions to the ideas of whichever groups or individuals are most vocal in a given area. Furthermore, if the various philosophies feeding into the movement can be explained, it may help the home schoolers to understand some of the conflicts that have been developing within the movement itself and to defend their educational ideas to others. In addition, such knowledge will enable them to become informed consumers of home school materials, capable of choosing curriculum materials and developing methodologies which are consistent with both their spiritual and educational beliefs.
This was a historical-descriptive study, which utilized the technique of content analysis. Prior to beginning the analysis itself, a sentence outline was constructed of the main tenets of four educational philosophies: essentialism, progressivism, perennialism, and existentialism. These outlines (which are included in the appendices of Hood, 1990) were used to guide the analysis. The outlines addressed the beliefs connected with each educational philosophy on such topics as assumptions concerning education and the learning process, goals for society and the individual, and ideas about the relationship between teachers and learners. The outlines also addressed the types of curricula and methodologies advocated. These outlines were reviewed by a panel of educational faculty members who were familiar with the philosophies in question before the actual study began.
During the selection procedure, a telephone survey was conducted of a number of home school leaders and book distributors. These individuals were asked for suggestions to help ensure that the materials chosen were actually being used by home school families. Information was also obtained from several national magazines, such as Growing Without Schooling, Home Education Magazine, and The Teaching Home. These magazines contained book lists and advertisements for curriculum resources, as well as announcements of upcoming workshops.
During the preliminary phases of the research, four groups of authors and workshop leaders who appeared to line up with the four philosophies in question were tentatively identified for purposes of further analysis. They were:
1. the influence of Gregg Harris, the editors of The Teaching Home, and the publishers of structured curriculum packages, such as Bob Jones University and Abeka Books, who appeared to adhere primarily to essentialist beliefs and practices;
2. the influence of Dr. Raymond Moore and his wife, Dorothy Moore, who appeared to adhere primarily to progressive beliefs and practices;
3. the influence of Charlotte Mason, Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, and the founders and directors of Child Light, who appeared to adhere primarily to perennialist beliefs and practices; and
4. the influence of John Holt, Holt Associates, and the editorial staff of Growing Without Schooling, who appeared to adhere primarily to existentialist beliefs and practices.
Within these four areas, all home education materials written by each major author were read and analyzed. These materials included books, workshop materials, selected curriculum resources, and three years of past issues of Growing Without Schooling and The Teaching Home.
The analysis itself was conducted by using the headings from the outlines to organize the ideas contained in the materials. For example, one heading was “Perennialism: Goals of Education for the Individual”. Under this heading was an outline of the ideas of perennialist educators concerning such goals. This information was noted on the outside of a file folder, and as the home school materials were analyzed, any notes that suggested agreement with these goals on the part of an individual or group were appropriately classified. Throughout, an emphasis was placed on developing a complete, accurate picture of the underlying philosophical ideas of the various authors and groups, rather than on creating simplistic categories and trying to make the authors fit into them.
The original research hypothesis held that an examination of the influences found in these four educational philosophies would provide a basis for better understanding the diversity of beliefs, attitudes, methods, and materials found within the home school population. This hypothesis was confirmed. However, no attempt was made to formulate a system of discrete categorization for home school families. Such categorization would have been difficult, if not impossible, to achieve, because many individuals have been exposed to multiple influences and have developed personal belief systems which can best be described as eclectic.
The following sections contain condensed, summarized statements of the major findings of the study. The corresponding chapters of Hood (1990) contain introductory sections explaining the various philosophies and their influence on the home school movement, as well as providing specific supporting data for the assertions which follow.
The strongest essentialist influence was found in the work of Gregg Harris and in the majority of articles published in The Teaching Home. While it is not the intention of the researcher to label anyone, including these authors, the majority of their educational beliefs were closely aligned with essentialist doctrine. Their ideas concerning educational goals, curriculum content, methods of teaching, evaluating, and disciplining students, and the nature of the relationship between teachers and students were all in basic agreement with those of essentialist educators.
One of the primary goals of essentialism is the preservation of traditional values and a democratic way of life. The term itself is derived from the belief that these educators know, without question, what knowledge and skills are most essential for students to acquire in order to become adequately prepared for adult life. The teachers are viewed as authority figures, and a high priority is placed on the value of hard work and obedience on the part of the students. An orderly environment is considered mandatory. The curriculum tends to be highly structured and subject-centered. The planning and instruction are the responsibility of the teachers (or home school parents), who are advised to prepare scrupulously in advance of the actual instruction. Textbooks are generally considered to be mainstays of the curriculum. Evaluation often is done through objective testing procedures, and a variety of motivational techniques are used, including grades and awards.
The educational ideas associated with progressivism are rooted in the philosophy of pragmatism, which originated in America in the 1870s. An informal organization known as “The Metaphysical Club” was formed during those years, in order to provide a forum for discussing Darwin’s theory of evolution and its potential applications to other fields of study (Wiener, 1972). Heavily influenced by evolutionary theory, the pragmatic philosophers in this club focused their attention on the importance of change, adaptation, and growth, and on the interrelationship of individuals and their social and physical environments. Truth was viewed in a flexible manner, and was defined in terms of its consequences. Morality was no longer based on the authority of family, custom, or religion. Rather, individuals were encouraged to question and challenge established norms and to grapple with moral questions in the context of specific situations. In this way, it was hoped that they would learn to predict the potential consequences of their actions and to develop a feeling of social responsibility for their behavior.
Such pragmatic ideas were developed and applied to the field of education through the efforts of John Dewey and his disciples. Despite the fact that the progressive education movement was a complex phenomenon, which attracted people with a wide variety of religious views, people have tended to view Dewey as the founder of progressivism. Many home educators believe, correctly or incorrectly, that his ideas are still a dominant force in today’s public school system. Pointing to the fact that Dewey signed the first Humanist Manifesto (1933), they view him as an atheist, and some have cited his influence as a rationale for the removal of children from the public schools (Harris, 1988).
Although all home educators do not necessarily equate progressivism with atheism, this study found little support among home schoolers for the underlying philosophical belief system which is typically associated with progressivism. However, some of the methods and materials associated with progressivism have been adopted by certain home school parents. Many of these materials and methods have gained prominence through the work of Dr. Raymond Moore. Again, it is not the intention of the researcher to label Dr. Moore as a “progressive” educator. However, he has demonstrated his agreement with many of the curriculum suggestions and methodologies associated with this educational philosophy. These areas of agreement include his research-based findings concerning readiness, his advocacy of unit instruction and experiential learning, and his inclusion of students as participants in the processes of planning and evaluation. However, the fact that Dr. Moore has repeatedly indicated in his various books and articles that he adheres to a traditional Christian value system makes it clear that he does not share the underlying pragmatic philosophical ideas associated with some of the founders of progressivism.
Educators who adhere to perennialist ideals believe in the existence of absolute values, which are timeless and exist in all cultures. They therefore advocate the use of a single, classical curriculum for all students, which emphasizes the presentation of traditional ideas. The home school movement has been introduced to perennialism primarily through the efforts of two organizations, “Child Light” and “The Charlotte Mason Research and Supply Company,” which are both attempting to revive the ideas of Charlotte Mason, an English educator.
Like other perennialists, Charlotte Mason wanted to introduce her students to the great ideas of western civilization and to improve society by providing a broad, liberal education to every person. Her curriculum exposed the students to great literature, music, and art. Teachers were viewed as authority figures, but an equal respect for the students was emphasized. The instructional role of the teacher was down played and students were placed in direct contact with the best minds in all fields of endeavors. Evaluation typically was accomplished through the use of oral or written compositions, rather than through objective testing procedures.
The influence of perennialism on the home school movement is somewhat limited, but appears to be a growing force. Those home schoolers who have been influenced by the writings of the Child Light Organization, or by Mason’s books themselves, have begun to focus more and more on the provision of a broad, liberal education to all students, and on the use of high quality literature, art, and music in the curriculum. Although some of Mason’s followers have been exposed to a variety of philosophical influences, and appear to have diluted or altered some of her original suggestions, the re-publication of her books has ensured that this philosophy will continue to have an impact.
Existentialist beliefs extend to all of life, rather than focusing specifically on educational concerns. Existentialists are loosely divided into two camps, depending on whether or not they believe in God. While both groups resist attempts at labeling or categorizing, they share several characteristics.
The emphasis throughout existentialist thought is on the individual and his or her relationship to the world and to other people. Theistic existentialists tend to emphasize the development of a personal relationship with God, and often avoid involvement with religious institutions. Both camps agree that people should strive to become “authentic” through relating to each other in an honest, direct manner, demonstrating a willingness to make difficult personal choices, and accepting the consequences of their decisions and actions.
When these themes are translated into educational practice, several important developments occur. An emphasis is placed on the right of individual learners to enter into authentic relationships with their parents, teachers, and fellow students; to choose their own curricula; and to retain their individuality by avoiding exposure to measurement devices and labels.
Within the home school movement, the strongest existentialist influence is found among followers of the late John Holt. In home school families which lean towards existentialism, the students are encouraged to take responsibility for their own learning, and to develop a variety of skills that will help them become self-reliant individuals. The curriculum is freely chosen by the individual, and parents often participate in the learning experience by sharing their own individual interests with the children. As facilitators of learning, these parents often spend minimal time in advance preparation for instruction. Rather, they allow learning situations to develop more or less spontaneously, and expand on the students’ own interests by helping them to map out individual plans and locate necessary information. Physical and temporal flexibility is generally stressed, and most external forms of motivation are avoided, as are the use of tests, measuring devices, labels, and grades.
The major conclusions of the study were as follows:
1. All four educational philosophies have exerted an impact on the home school movement.
2. Home school advocates and parents are a heterogeneous group of educators who possess a wide variety of educational beliefs and assumptions.
3. These disparate educational beliefs and assumptions do not necessarily coincide with the religious affiliations or beliefs held by the participants.
4. These beliefs are translated into educational practice through the adoption of a wide variety of curriculum materials and methods of instruction, evaluation, and discipline.
5. Discrete categorization of home school advocates or parents is difficult to achieve because many of them have been exposed to multiple influences and have adopted a set of beliefs and techniques that can best be described as eclectic.
6. Despite this difficulty, it was possible to analyze the educational beliefs of individuals and groups within the movement, and to demonstrate the ways in which differing educational beliefs and assumptions affected choices of curriculum materials, methods of working with children, and attitudes towards the possible development of cooperative ventures with the public school system.
Implications and Recommendations
Several implications can be drawn based upon the conclusions presented. They are directed at three groups of people: researchers, educational policy makers, and participants in the home school movement itself.
Up to this point, those researchers who have examined the diversity within the home school movement have tended to divide them into categories based primarily on their reasons for home schooling. Future researchers may find it more instructive and potentially more valid to focus on the educational philosophies and specific practices of the families involved in a study. Because of the wide variety in beliefs, assumptions, curriculum materials, and methodologies used, it is also particularly important either to locate an unbiased sample, or to limit research conclusions to a specific subpopulation of home educators. In the past, samples drawn from such lists as Holt’s Growing Without Schooling directory or the files of the Hewitt Research Foundation, which has previously been associated with Moore, have tended to generate samples that possessed biases towards particular educational philosophies.
As statewide registration of home educators becomes more widespread, it may become possible to avoid using the lists of specific organizations to obtain adequate samples for future survey research. When unbiased samples become available, attempts could be made to discover the proportions of participants in the movement who have been influenced by each educational philosophy. Again, researchers should proceed cautiously in this area, recognizing the inherent difficulty in formulating discrete systems of categorization.
Qualitative studies could also be conducted to compare or contrast the beliefs and practices of small groups of home school families with a variety of educational beliefs and practices. Longitudinal studies might attempt to determine how the beliefs and practices of home educators evolve over time, and to determine whether or not parents tend to alter any of their beliefs, attitudes, or practices as they become more knowledgeable and experienced in the field.
Several implications can be drawn that would affect educational policy makers. If it is true that home educators are a diverse group, that fact should be recognized when drawing up legislation and setting policies regarding the supervision of home school parents. Several alternative means of curriculum design and evaluation should be allowable under state law in order to avoid requiring families to abandon their educational beliefs in order to avoid prosecution. Any criteria used for evaluation should be sufficiently broad to ensure that different approaches can be judged appropriately.
Policy makers and educators should also be aware that different home educators may have a variety of reasons for choosing the home school alternative, and may differ in their attitudes towards public education. In some cases, it may be in the best interests of both public educators and home educators to work together to design and develop a variety of cooperative programs. In other cases, the home educators may prefer to have minimal contact with the public school system. In these cases, private schools may desire to serve the families involved in some mutually beneficial manner.
Finally, it is important for policy makers to recognize that no single individual, group, or organization, either on a local or a national level, can possibly hope to represent the views of all home educators adequately. Whenever policy decisions are made, it is important to include representatives of the home school movement in the planning process in order to ensure that decisions are fair and plans are feasible. However, the views of minorities within the movement should be given consideration and the concerns of those individuals or groups who are most noticeable or vocal in a given area should not be allowed to dominate the discussion completely.
Home educators may find it helpful to recognize that religious convictions, while important, do not always mesh neatly with educational beliefs. Perhaps this realization may help ease some of the tensions that currently exist within the movement among participants with the same religious beliefs who disagree over educational matters. If educational differences can be recognized outside the context of specific religious beliefs, it may help the various segments of the movement to understand some of their disagreements and enable them to work cooperatively in those areas where unity is desirable.
Researchers, educational policy makers, and home educators are cautioned to avoid using the results of this study for the purpose of categorizing and labeling themselves and others. For the purposes of analysis, several generalizations were made concerning the various philosophies. The fact that a parent or an author was referred to in this paper or quoted in a particular chapter of Hood (1990) does not necessarily mean that he or she is in general agreement with all the points discussed in that chapter. However, understanding some of these influences may prove helpful when parents are attempting to formulate their own philosophies of education. This, in turn, may prove to be helpful when they are choosing curriculum materials, planning instruction, and communicating their needs to legislators and educational authorities.
Brameld, T. (1950). Patterns of educational philosophy. New York: World Book.
Harris, G. (1988). The Christian home school. Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt.
Hood, M. K. (1990). Contemporary philosophical influences on the home-schooling movement. Doctoral (Ph.D.) dissertation, University of Alabama, Birmingham. (University Microfilm Order No. 9114878)
Humanist Manifestos I and II. (1933, 1973). Buffalo, NY: Prometheus.
Kutter, P. O. (1986). The home-schooling movement in central Kentucky. Unpublished educational specialist thesis, Eastern Kentucky University, Richmond.
Kutter, P. O. (1987). The home schooling movement in central Kentucky. Home School Researcher, 3(4), 1-3.
Mayberry, M. (1988). Doing it their way: A study of Oregon’s home schoolers. (Doctoral dissertation, University of Oregon). Dissertation Abstracts International. 49, 3875A.
Pitman, M. A. (1986). Home schooling: A review of the literature. Journal of Thought, 21(4), 10-24.
Pitman, M. A. (1987). Compulsory education and home schooling: Truancy or prophecy? Education and Urban Society, 19, 280-289.
Sexson, B. L. (1988). Home schooling: A socio-educational analysis of an emergent cultural shift in consciousness (Doctoral dissertation, Oklahoma State University). Dissertation Abstracts International, 49, 2991A.
Spurgin, J. (1989, September/October). Statement of faith [Letter to the editor]. Home Education Magazine, pp. 8-10.
Tanafon, C. (1989, November/December). Forum on diversity [Letter to the editor]. Home Education Magazine, pp. 9-10.
Van Galen, J. A. (1986). Schooling in private: A study of home education. Dissertation Abstracts International, 47, 1683A. (University Microfilms No. 8618399)
Wiener, P. P. (1972). Evolution and the founders of pragmatism. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.
1 A copy of the complete dissertation can be obtained through interlibrary loan, by sending a $30.00 check for an unbound copy to the author at the address above, or ordering it from University Microfilms Order No. 9114878.