From the introduction of Homeschool: an American History, we read "This book presents a history of education in the home in the United States. It is not just a history of the modern homeschool movement, though that movement plays a key role in the more recent history of education at home. It is a history of how the use of the home to educate children has changed and how it has remained the same from colonial times to the present." One of the author's goals is to clear up two major misconceptions about the history of homeschooling: that homeschooling has always existed, and that the homeschool movement was largely the result of specific homeschool pioneers.
Homeschool is indeed a history of American homeschooling, from 1600 to the present. There are eight chapters, and their titles are: The Family State (1600-1776), The Family Nation (1776-1860), The Eclipse of the Fireside (1865-1930), Why Homeschooling Happened (1945-1990), Three Homeschooling Pioneers, The Changing of the Guard (1983-1998), Making It Legal, and Homeschooling and the Return of Domestic Education (1998-2008).
In chapter 1, The Family State (1600-1776), the author details how the pilgrims had a goal of building a family state, how laws were made giving parents the responsibility for educating their children, how this responsibility shifted from the father to the mother, and how the catechism was a primary education tool.
Chapter 2, The Family Nation (1776-1860), discusses why public school came into being, and the Eclipse of the Fireside, 1865-1930 (chapter 3), shows how education moved from home to schools.
In Why Homeschooling Happened, 1945-1990 (chapter 4), the author discusses how the reactionary thinking and independence of the 60's and 70's fed the homeschool movement. He also describes the dichotomy (conservative and liberal) of the homeschool community. I found his generalizations a bit far-fetched and stereotypical. Maybe it's because I wasn't an adult during that time period, but we've certainly grown into a more diverse population. It is dangerous to assume that certain child-rearing beliefs necessarily correspond to specific parenting styles or dietary or dress preferences or to assume that one such belief in any one of these categories means that family has "the whole bag" of them.
Mr. Gaither also talks about how the anti Judeo-Christian actions of the state schools (school prayer, for example) caused an increase in private schools and how this further lead to an increase in the homeschool option.
Chapter 5, Three Homeschool Pioneers, covers John Holt, Raymond and Dorothy Moore, and Rousas J. Rushdoony in detail.
The Changing of the Guard, 1983-1998 (chapter 6), talks about the grassroots movement in homeschooling and the importance of the support groups that started at this time. A distinction is made between conservative Protestants and all the others who were homeschooling. The author dubs them "closed communion" and "open communion" homeschoolers in an attempt to communicate how receptive they were to outsiders to their particular communities, especially in regard to seminars and conferences.
Here again, I found some offensive generalizations and pigeon-holing of homeschoolers. This quote in particular bothers me: " If the public stereotype of the homeschooling family is that of the firm but gentle patriarch, the Titus 2 mom shrouded in a loose-fitting jumper and headcovering, the quiver-full of obedient stairstep children dressed in matching homespun, we have Bill Gothard to thank as much as anyone." Aside from the questionable conclusion that Bill Gothard is partly responsible for these trends, I wonder if Mr. Gaither is completely oblivious to his fairly accurate but probably offensive description of a family homeschool publishing company that goes by the name of the Biblical reference he cited.
In the 7th chapter, Making it Legal, Milton Gaither approaches the topic both nationally and at the state level. Now that, since the mid 90's, homeschool is "legal and popular" in all fifty states, he tends to downplay the Providential reasons for this in favor of societal trends and responses to homeschoolers themselves.
Throughout the book, the author uses the term "homeschooling" and the two words "home schooling" in two different ways. He uses the word homeschooling to describe "a deliberate rejection of and alternative to institutional schooling." On the other hand, education that took or takes place at home as perhaps a norm is referred to as "home schooling."
The final chapter, Homeschooling and the Return of Domestic Education (1998-2008), the author says, "demographic and commercial trends in 'homeschooling' that are leading us back to 'home schooling' not as a gesture of protest but because it makes sense." According to his stats, 70% of homeschoolers do so for non-religious reasons. "In short, home education is now being done by so many different kinds of people for so many different reasons that it no longer makes much sense to speak of it as a movement or even a set of movements. For an increasing number of Americans, it's just one option among many to consider, for a few months or for a lifetime."
While the book intends to put homeschooling in a larger perspective and present it as an outgrowth or reaction to public school, I found it to be more of a history of United States education in general, and as such it was most enlightening.
I realize that the author cannot cover everything and everyone, but I was quite surprised that there is no mention made in the book of the classical method of teaching either as a standard practice in public education of the past or in terms of its resurgence in popularity in the homeschool realm. I was equally surprised to find no mention of Charlotte Mason and her educational methods which continue to be one of the major homeschool philosophies today.
I wonder who the intended audience of this book is. Historians? Homeschool parents? Educators in general? College students majoring in education? The book reads like a thesis. Certainly it is written with an adult reader in mind. It is not for homeschooling per se, in that it is not curriculum.
Homeschool is not a light read. It is also a long book, with 226 pages (not including the extensive notes and the index) with small type. Each page contains roughly 380 words. I appreciated the research the author did, as evidenced by all the notes. Rather than group them together at the end of the book, I would rather they had been at the end of each corresponding chapter for easier reference.
I would like to know more about the author. Yes, he is Associate Professor of Education at Messiah College. Yes, he and his wife have four children. But what prompted him to write this book? And is he a homeschooling parent? I would like to know more about his personal story.
The unfamiliar vocabulary (hagiography, prolegomena, irenic, animus, distopian, polemics) may be problematic to some readers. The author's use of such words is ironic in the light of this quote from the introduction, "many professional historians do wish their work, often of the highest quality, could be made more accessible to the general reader. That is one of the goals of this book."
If you want to know the extensive historical background of homeschooling, yes, I recommend this book. I don't believe there is another book covering the history of homeschooling, especially in so much depth, available.