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The History of Homeschooling in MN

Public education, as it exists today, is not the fixture of Americana that you might think. Many older Americans, especially from rural areas, remember the one-room schoolhouses where siblings attended side-by-side. Only in more recent generations did schools begin to segregate by age and to bus children in from surrounding areas. Adults born even in the early 60's can possibly remember the era before "kindergarten" was part of the school system. Even today, state education laws do not apply to children under the age of seven years. Most parents don't realize that kindergarten (and first grade) is not mandatory. It is simply by social custom that 5 and 6 year olds are sent off to school in this state.

"Homeschooling" is older than the first colonies and was a vital part of the westward movement for pioneering families in our country's history. Only settlements of some size built schools and hired teachers. "Teacher", in those pioneering days, meant someone who had completed 8th grade and had taken the teacher exams.

The current homeschooling movement in Minnesota began at least by the early 80's. At that time, the only "legal" homeschoolers were licensed teachers. In June 1982, the Minnesota Department of Education reported that approximately 1000 children in the state were being home educated. Many more "illegally" homeschooled "below the radar" of their school district.

In those early days, homeschoolers across the country were reluctant to organize or join statewide support groups. They feared that such an affiliation would draw unwanted attention from their state governments and school districts. Raymond and Dorothy Moore urged homeschoolers to stand together or risk getting picked off one by one.

Late in 1983, Wisconsin's Supreme Court ruled that the state's attendance law was unconstitutional, finding it to be "impermissibly vague". This allowed many homeschoolers to avoid prosecution there. At the same time, Montana laws specifically permitted homeschooling -- requiring certain courses to be taught but allowing parents to choose the materials, with no testing requirement. Organized homeschoolers in Minnesota believed all parents should have the right to choose homeschooling, and not just for "religious reasons".

In January 1984, the Minnesota Supreme Court had become involved in two Homeschooling cases. In one case, the mother of three children had been charged and found guilty of homeschooling without a teaching license. She lost her case in the first round, as well as the appeal. The other case involved a family who had won their first round "on religious grounds", but the school district continued to appeal. These families would spend almost three years battling the courts and their school districts. Other districts were paying close attention. If the high court ruled for the districts, homeschoolers across the state could face prosecution. In the end, the Supreme Court ruled that the Minnesota law was unconstitutional. The legislature now had one year to revise the law. Homeschoolers mobilized to ensure their input would be heard as these new laws were drafted.

By the year 2000, over 15,000 children were reportedly homeschooled in Minnesota. This is a fairly conservative figure, tracked by the MN Dept. of Children, Families & Learning. This figure only takes into account registered homeschoolers between the ages of 7 and 16. Local and regional homeschool support groups are now commonplace and MN businesses are beginning to target the homeschool population with some of their marketing dollars.

The average "man-on-the-street", who in the mid 1990's was likely to have "heard" of homeschooling, is now just as likely to know someone who homeschools -- a neighbor, niece, friend, or someone in his close circle of family and friends. The public is largely aware that you don't have to be a teacher to homeschool your children, but it is commonly assumed that materials are provided by the school district. The general public worries about "socialization" issues and is comforted that MN requires annual testing of homeschoolers.

In recent years, the line between homeschooling and public schools have blurred with online schools, charter options, parttime attendance and distance learning. Parents have more choices than ever before and navigating those choices can be daunting. Only with solid information and resources can we expect parents to choose the best educational option for each of their children. It a dialogue that will continue.

The future of homeschooling will depend on homeschoolers themselves. As the state struggles to reform public schools, the education laws come under scrutiny. This brings the potential for changes that will impact homeschooling as well. We need to be diligent in the defense of our right to homeschool and a parent's right to choose. We must also be committed to our support of each other regardless of our different approaches, motivations or beliefs. Go forward as ambassadors of homeschooling, paving the way for homeschoolers of the future.

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