During the past two decades, home schooling has emerged as a distinctive social movement in the United States. The purpose of this paper is to present a theoretical framework for analyzing the social movement participation of home schooling parents. Drawing upon concepts developed within both home schooling and social movement literatures, a model is proposed to augment researchers’ understanding of the relationship between participation in movement organizations and membership in the various subgroups that constitute the home schooling population.
Although the home has been the focus of educational activity throughout much of recorded history, home schooling, in its contemporary social context, is a relatively unique and novel phenomenon (Gordon & Gordon, 1990). It embodies two interrelated components: the decision by parents not to educate their children in an institutionalized setting and the decision by parents to educate their children in a home setting. The choice to home school is patently an effort both to resist the imposition of traditional educational norms and to design a different, presumably better mode of educating youth. It is a discrete response and a substantive alternative to the traditionally sanctioned modes of formalized and compulsory education in the United States.
In its present form, however, home schooling is not merely the idiosyncratic action of a few educational mavericks. Especially since the latter part of the 1970s, it has increasingly assumed the form and structure of organized collective action. What began as a relatively private endeavor on the part of a small number of parents has taken on a progressively more public character. This growth has been both accompanied and influenced by the emergent organizational aspects of home schooling.
Given the above characterization, contemporary home schooling can be appropriately framed as a specific instance of: 1) social resistance, a response to institutionalized coercion by the state and ideological domination by civil society; 2) social liberation, an attempt to establish a new way of life that is superior and counter to traditionally sanctioned social formations; 3) social democracy, an effort to actualize self-determination within a pluralistic social framework (Flacks, 1988). More generally, home schooling can be characterized as one of “the range of phenomena lumped together under the heading of social movements” (McAdam, McCarthy, & Zald, 1988, p. 695).
Studies of home schooling often directly or indirectly pose the question, “Why do an increasing number of people choose to home school?” By restricting attention, however, to describing the individual ideological and/or pedagogical motivations of home schooling parents (Pitman, 1986; Wright, 1988), most previous studies stop short of exploring fully the implications of this question. Specifically, there are many parents throughout the United States who hold attitudes identical with or similar to those expressed by home schoolers, yet they do not participate in the home schooling movement (Mayberry, 1989a). Moreover, demographic information available about home schoolers indicates that they do not necessarily possess any uniquely significant characteristics that make them more likely to home school than other members of the general population. Notwithstanding the conclusion that, within the population of home schoolers, some broad categorical groupings are evident (Mayberry, 1989a; Van Galen, 1986), Ray (1989) puts it succinctly: “…the literature suggests home school parents and families are not drastically different from most Americans. They must be different in some way, however, since they are home schoolers” (p. 9).
So the question remains. As a point of departure, Mayberry (1989a) suggests:
a necessary step in answering [the above question] is to direct our attention to how people come to find the meaning systems of certain organizations plausible. . . research needs to examine information networks and appraise their ability to provide families with a plausibility structure which mobilizes entry into the home school camp [and] must assess the degree to which support groups, the media, and the ‘experts’ legitimate home schooling as a viable option for families concerned about the education of their children; that is, the degree to which these resources provide families with a home school plausibility structure that supports their decision must be analyzed. (pp. 197-199)
Implicit in her statement is the observation that it is inadequate to ascribe the decision to home school solely to feelings and attitudes about schooling and schools. Some other factors must be crucial in influencing an increasingly large number of parents to take an action that others who share the same sentiments do not take, an action that can involve considerable legal, financial, and other risks (Shepherd, 1986). Mayberry (1989a) is suggesting that one key to uncovering these factors is to explore the relationship between that action and the collective home schooling movement, particularly its organizational infrastructure.
Although some authors (e.g., Arons, 1983; Knowles, 1988; Shepherd, 1986; Van Galen, 1986) have attempted to situate parental responses within a broader historical and sociological framework, additional research is needed that suggests specific analytical and theoretical perspectives derived from the literature on social movements that can be applied toward a fuller understanding of home schooling (see Bates, 1990; Sexson, 1989, for notable efforts in this direction). Home schooling needs to be approached from a sociological perspective that not only perceives it as a significant social formation, but acknowledges that it constitutes a noteworthy, possibly innovative, social movement. Mayberry (1989a) suggests as much when she asserts that “home schoolers may be one of the most recent social vanguards willing to take significant steps to protect their children from what they believe to be the effects of modernization and secularization on the American family, public education, and the moral fabric of American society” (p. 175).
Consequently, this paper proposes a theoretical framework for exploring the relationship between the ongoing action of home schooling and participation in the organizational infrastructure of the home schooling movement.
Although McCarthy and Zald (1977) have observed that “there is no clear consensus on the definition of the crucial term social movement” (p. 1218), a satisfactory working definition can be constructed by integrating the three components of shared preference (McCarthy & Zald, 1977, p. 1217), shared action (Turner & Killian, 1987, p. 223), and shared purpose (Gerlach & Hine, 1970, p. xvi) that have been variously identified in the social movement literature, according to whether social-psychological or resource mobilization approaches are emphasized:a social movement is a collective of individuals who share a common preference or desire for some change in the social order, who share in common actions to bring about that change, and who share a belief that those actions will be purposive in bringing about the desired change.
For home schooling parents, the “preference” is to precipitate the alleviation or resolution of grievances (the “purpose”) that they maintain concerning the education of their children, and the “action” consists of constructing
the home schooling “learning/teaching situation” (Ray, 1989). Not only is this considered by parents to be an appropriate response to their grievances, it is also considered to be a “shared” response, to the extent that it is perceived to entail collective behavior. In this sense, therefore, the “movement” can be said to consist of all parents who desire to home school, who have actualized that desire by undertaking home schooling, and who consider themselves to be part of a larger collectivity.
There is a consensus among social movement researchers and theorists that participation is linked, in some form or another, to sets of personal “grievances” on the part of specific individuals within society. The precise cause of such grievances and the function they assume in relation to particular movements is a matter of contention (Fireman & Gamson, 1979), but even those who attribute the least importance to grievances per se (e. g., Jenkins & Perrow, 1977), still recognize that they are a component of any social movement.
In the case of home schooling, grievances assume a variety of forms. Mayberry (1989a) suggests four conceptual models (educational conflict, lifestyle politics, responses to modernization, and responses to secularization) that interpret home schooling to be a “symbolic response” directed toward “sustaining a stable world view and maintaining the symbolic universes that convey meaning and give order to reality” in the face of “an increasingly differentiated, rationalized, and secularized social system” embodied in the “ideologies, values, and practices of public schools” (p. 192). Although she does not make it explicit, it is clear that what home schoolers are symbolically responding to are “grievances,” and that the “meaning” of these symbolic universes is maintained by what she refers to as plausibility structures. Put differently, it is reasonable to construe these models as representing distinct discourses, or what the present paper will refer to as grievance modalities, through which relatively diffuse sets of primarily personal grievances are focused and articulated.
Notwithstanding the “significance of grievances . . . as determinants of participation” (Klandermans, 1984, p. 584), social movement theorists and researchers agree that ongoing movements must have active social movement organizations (SMOs) to mobilize and engage the various actors in the movement. Within home schooling, this organizational infrastructure consists of a wide range of national, state, and regional support groups, legal assistance services, information sources, advocacy publications, and curriculum suppliers. In total, these organizations represent what McCarthy and Zald (1977) refer to as a “social movement industry” and are pivotal in providing the necessary “plausibility structures” to the “diverse and multi-faceted” groups (Mayberry, 1989b, p. 12) that constitute the home schooling population.
In one sense, everyone who home schools is, by definition, a “participant” in the movement, someone who has been mobilized to undertake a particular set of actions. Nonetheless, it is possible to differentiate between various types and levels of participation.
First are those parents who home school, but are unaware of the existence of any form of collectivity. In other words, they regard home schooling as a strictly autonomous act and, at best, might be aware that there exist, by sheer happenstance, some other individuals elsewhere who may also home school. This group constitutes somewhat of an “empty set” (in that their existence is virtually unacknowledged in the literature) and is included only for the sake of taxonomical completeness. Certainly, if they do exist, researchers would be hard pressed to locate and identify them.
The second group are those who are aware of the existence of a collectivity, but do not consider themselves to be members or a part of that group. Taken together, these first two groups represent what are called de facto adherents.
Next, are those who consider themselves a part of the collectivity, and therefore acknowledge membership, but do not participate in any movement organization related activities. They do not read or subscribe to any home schooling publications, do not attend any support group meetings, do not utilize home schooling legal assistance services, do not obtain curriculum materials specifically directed to the home schooling market, and so on. These individuals represent adherents.
The fourth group are those who do participate in movement organization related activities and are referred to as constituents.
The final group, activists, are those who are instrumentally involved in the recruitment activities of movement organizations. In other words, they are engaged in recruiting adherents and constituents from the general population of potential and practicing home schooling parents.
As noted earlier, one of the tasks of a movement organization is to mobilize participation. Participant recruitment and mobilization occur on a variety of levels. For example, they are constituted by attempts to transform de facto adherents into adherents, adherents into constituents, and constituents into activists, with the tacit acknowledgement that all types of participation are required at any given time during the life of the movement. As McCarthy and Zald (1977) have observed, however, it is particularly important to mobilize constituents, because they provide so much of the energy, time, and support that is needed for a movement to grow, survive, and succeed in accomplishing its goals. Therefore, this paper restricts its focus to examining the mobilization, by activists, of only those participants that can be appropriately classified as constituents.
Frame Alignment Processes:
Recruitment and Mobilization
In order to approach the question “How does constituent mobilization occur?” it is appropriate to utilize a set of powerful conceptual tools introduced by Snow, Rochford, Worden, & Benford (1986). Addressing the “issue of support for and participation in social movement organizations,” they “link together social psychological and structural organizational factors in a theoretically informed and empirically grounded fashion…by elaborating what [they] refer to as frame alignment processes.” Borrowing Goffman’s (1974) term, frame, which denotes “schemata of interpretation that enable individuals `to locate, perceive, identify, and label’ occurrences within their life space and the world at large,” they identify four processes that effect a “linkage of the individual and SMO interpretive orientations, such that some set of individual interests, values and beliefs and SMO activities, goals, and ideology are congruent and complementary. “They construe the “various interactive and communicative processes that affect frame alignment” to represent the task of “micromobilization,” or “the range of interactive processes devised and employed by SMOs and their representative actors to mobilize or influence various target groups with respect to the pursuit of collective or common interests” (p. 464).
The four processes that provide the “necessary condition for movement participation, whatever its nature or intensity” are labelled frame bridging, frame amplification, frame extension, and frame transformation.
Frame bridging is the “linkage of two or more ideologically congruent but structurally unconnected frames regarding a particular issue or problem” (p. 467).
Frame amplification is the “clarification and invigoration of an interpretive frame that bears on a particular issue, problem or set of events” (p. 469).
Frame extension occurs when an SMO attempts to “extend the boundaries of its primary framework so as to encompass interests or points of view that are incidental to its primary objectives but of considerable salience to potential adherents” (p. 472).
Frame transformation “redefines activities, events, and biographies that are already meaningful from the standpoint of some primary framework, in terms of another framework, such that they are now ‘seen by the participants to be something quite else'” (p. 474).
Public and Private Spheres
For home schoolers, the “linkage of individual and SMO interpretive orientations” that occurs via the frame alignment process can be described as a wedding of private and public spheres of action (Habermas, 1987). In other words, unlike many other acts directed toward social change, such as an “anti-nuclear” demonstration, home schooling is an “everyday-life” action (Flacks, 1988) which can be undertaken quite autonomously. It is entirely feasible for parents to construct a “learning/teaching situation” at home for their children, without necessarily identifying that action with a larger collectivity. Such an undertaking constitutes a relatively self-sufficient, private action. Yet, the continued growth of the movement requires the actuality of transforming the private “gesture” of home schooling into a public, collective, “symbolic response. “The “task of micromobilization” on the part of home schooling organizations is to effect such a transformation, and the requisite association of private and public spheres is accomplished through the medium of various grievance modalities.
Social Movement Participation: A Collection of Loyalties
Home schooling parents have been differentiated into various subgroups according to demographic and motivational characteristics. One such typology is Mayberry’s (1989a) classification of academic, socio-relational, New Age, and religious home schooling parents. These subgroups can be studied with respect to the particular forms and dynamics that characterize their experience of the frame alignment process. Moreover, the four interpretive models, or grievance modalities, outlined by Mayberry (1989a), provide appropriate bases for analyzing the varying emphases that occur in the frame alignment process for the different groups. Each grievance modality generates a relatively unique “plausibility structure” through which the public “goals, activities, and ideology” of the movement organizations merge with the private “interests, value, and beliefs” of movement members. The remaining section of this paper illustrates the theoretical framework (see Figure 1) that emerges when these various conceptual tools are integrated.
Academic Home Schoolers: Frame Bridging
Diverse factions within society experience discontent and conflict over the educational practices of the traditionally sanctioned American school system. Although these factions are “ideologically congruent,” they are not linked together structurally. In other words, although the substance of their grievances may be similar, there are no readily established communication or information exchange networks that link them together into a single form capable of successfully undertaking collective action. Moreover, the possibility of resolving educational conflict for these factions is not restricted to or necessarily associated with the act of home schooling. Numerous alternatives exist to effect a potentially satisfactory resolution. For example, children can be transferred to different schools or attempts can be made to reform the system through increased funding, greater teacher “accountability,” and more rigid academic standards. Consequently, these factions constitute “unmobilized sentiment pools” (McCarthy, 1986), uncommitted to any particular alternative, who “lack the organizational base for expressing their discontent and for acting in pursuit of their interests” (Snow et al., 1986, p. 467). These
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Figure 1. Wedding of private and public spheres of action via frame alignment.
sentiment pools of parents experiencing “educational conflict” represents a primary source from which academic home schoolers are drawn.
In order to recruit members from this pool, home schooling organizations must present a credible and convincing case that only home schooling can provide a sufficiently acceptable alternative for alleviating grievances. Moreover, the case must be presented, or frames bridged, through direct contact facilitated by structural connections. Such contact is often established and legitimated through the mediation of previously accepted educational “authorities. “
For example, when John Holt began his organization, “Holt Associates,” and his newsletter, Growing Without Schooling, to advocate home schooling, he had already achieved considerable popularity as a school reform activist. He made it abundantly clear that he had abandoned various reform alternatives in favor of the more radical action of home schooling (Holt, 1981). Through his publications and lectures, Holt established the structural connections between his organization and the heretofore unmobilized sentiment pools who were already discontent with the extant educational system, and consequently effected the frame bridging process.
Socio-Relational Home Schoolers: Frame Amplification
The emphasis placed by home schooling organizations upon the “erosion of control” of values exerted by public education is an instance of frame amplification, and is particularly vital in recruiting and mobilizing socio-relational home schoolers. By isolating one highly emotionally charged variable, such as “family unity,” movement activists are able to create a particularly strong link between organizational goals and individual grievances.
The publications of Raymond Moore have been notably effective at frame amplification. In his publications, workshops, and lectures, he emphasizes the threat of “peer dependency” (Moore, 1987) on young children who are exposed to too much socialization away from the family. Moreover, he asserts that the crucial issue for home schoolers is “the determination of ultimate authority and responsibility for the children: Do they belong to the family or to the state?” (p. 3).
The issue of family authority is a “lifestyle politics” question whose significance, on the one hand, is not restricted to educational issues and, on the other hand, is only one of many issues, political or otherwise, that concern both home schooling activists and home schooling parents. Nonetheless, it receives an amplified degree of emphasis by Moore and, because of its very salience as an issue, provides an effective means of linking together individual and organizational interpretive orientations that include other, more general concerns.
New Age Home Schoolers: Frame Extension
Frame extension can be observed in the attempt by home schooling activists to link the threats associated with modernization to the more primary educational concerns of home schooling parents. This is evident in the ways that some home schooling publications, such as the Hegeners’ (1990) Home Education Magazine, associate the act of home schooling with the interests and lifestyles of various alternative, holistic, new-age subgroups within society: “home birthing families, breast feeding mothers, owner homebuilders, and backyard gardeners…these people are not considered the mainstream of our society, rather they are those who’ve taken a different path” (p. 4). This linkage is often accompanied by calls to return to a simpler, more grassroots approach to life where “plain old common sense always seems to win out in the end” (p. 4) in the face of threatening, dehumanizing, technocratic rationalization and bureaucratization.
However compelling the appeals, these lifestyle interests remain somewhat incidental to home schooling per se. Certainly, the primary objective for most home schoolers is not to resist modernization or to “return to the land,” in contrast to more specifically educational objectives. Nonetheless, by extending the boundaries of home schooling to embrace these secondary interests, home schooling organizations are better able to effectively recruit and mobilize prospective New Age constituents.
Religious Home Schoolers: Frame Transformation
For many people in the United States, the primary framework through which they experience the world is Christian fundamentalism. When home schooling activists successfully persuade Christians that traditional education in the United States is inimical and/or hostile to their world view, they have effected frame transformation. Historically, there is no hard and fast separation between the concept of public education and Christianity (Cremin, 1980). But contemporary Christians who are dismayed over the current state of public compulsory education are ripe for perceiving such a rift, articulated as the war between “secular humanism” and “the will of God.” Such claims as that of Blumenfeld (1984), that the National Education Association represents an elaborate conspiracy against Christianity, or of Rodman (1990), that “To Dewey, the group sets the norms; we are to walk after the norm-setter. But as Christians we must reject this pluralism of truth and walk by the standards of God’s absolute law-word” (p. 25),effectively transform what are initially framed as grievances and complaints about schools into ontological and eschatological issues concerning “good” and “evil.”
Movement Growth and Continuation
Once effective recruitment occurs through these various frame alignment processes, adherents are readily mobilized to continue offering support to home schooling organizations. Because they have been provided with a satisfactory discourse through which their grievances can be articulated and an interpretive frame or “plausibility structure” that gives enhanced meaning to their actions, it is to the benefit of home schooling parents to continue to acquire the support that the organizations supply. For example, academic home schoolers will attempt to keep abreast of innovative curricular and pedagogical strategies. Socio-relational home schoolers will benefit from the positive peer socialization that local support groups can offer for their children. New-age home schoolers will want to avail themselves of products and strategies that make it easier to pursue a simpler, less demanding way of life. Christian home schoolers will continue to benefit from the “community of God’s people” represented by publications like The Teaching Home and organizations such as the “Christian Home Educators Association of California.”
In other words, because the grievances of particular groups have been successfully articulated through the frame alignment process by different home schooling organizations, it becomes imperative that home schoolers maintain the resulting plausibility structures that give meaning to their actions. It is in this way that home schooling progressively takes on the character of a public, “symbolic response,” rather than a private, idiosyncratic action, a character evidenced by the growing number of appeals for movement unity appearing in letters from home schoolers in, for example, Growing Without Schooling, The Teaching Home, and Home Education Magazine. Moreover, as the various organizations within the home schooling movement receive additional support and continue to expand, due to increased constituent participation, they are able to reenact the frame alignment process by reaching out to larger and more divergent sentiment pools. Thus, the home schooling movement increasingly comes to represent a “collection of loyalties” (Wisconsin Parents Association, 1990), people with an array of diverse interests, values, and beliefs who nonetheless are able to converge in a collective enterprise.
This paper has presented a theoretical framework for analyzing the movement participation of various subgroups within the home schooling population. By integrating concepts drawn from both home schooling and social movement literatures, a framework emerged that interprets home schooling movement participation to be a wedding of diverse private and publics spheres of action, a “collection of loyalties,” brought about by frame alignment processes and mediated by distinct grievance modalities. The resultant plausibility structures provide enhanced meaning to the act of home schooling, and transform it from an idiosyncratic gesture into a symbolic response of organized collective action. This process of recruitment and mobilization helps to explain how some members of the general population turn to home schooling as a means of alleviating personal grievances, as well as why the home schooling movement has evidenced such a notable growth during the past two decades. Further research is needed to explore the implications of this theoretical framework and to establish empirical links with specific samples of home schooling parents.
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