Opinion: Home Education Comes Full Circle


Mark Twain said, “Don’t let school get in the way of my education.” This is profound. Consider the two issues: schooling and education – the two are not the same. The former is the institutionalized mechanism that is intended to facilitate, or at least encourage, the latter. All too often, this doesn’t work well and in reality, the two are polar opposites. Schooling is about conformity and uniformity to increase community and groupthink, marginalizing individualism. Education on the other hand is about dreams, desires and passions, as individual as the person engaged therein.

In today’s heated public schooling arena we are faced with the epitome of uniformity. With the implementation of Common Core, the prevailing supportive lingo is something like “every school at every grade getting the same level of education and shooting to the same standards.” I ask, “If everyone is getting the same instruction at the same time covering the same information, when do ingenuity, uniqueness and creativity come into play?” Short answer, “It doesn’t!”

Lest we forget, we are a country founded upon rugged individualism, extraordinary creativity and ingenuity. Just consider the life altering innovations created in this country between 1700 and 1900. It’s a fascinating endeavor to undertake because there were a staggering number of innovations. Why? It was the approach to education and the underlying philosophy of individual freedom that permeated this great land. Freedom and liberty truly allow a person to pursue happiness. The sky was the limit to their thoughts and imaginations.

Alexis de Tocqueville clearly captured the American phenomenon in his book “Democracy in America.” He was struck by the high level of common knowledge among the populace all around the country. He was astounded to discover that every citizen and especially children were well versed in the issues of this country’s history, government, politics and the basic doctrines of their religion. In his opinion the children were well equipped for adult life as they could easily have discourse about any of the pertinent topics of the day. (p.327) De Tocqueville’s revelations about America’s magic occurred several decades before compulsory schooling swept this nation.

Compulsory schooling first took hold in Massachusetts in the mid 1800’s. By the early 1900’s it was instituted throughout our land. In just a few generations, we as a people had fallen in love with institutionalism and sold out our individualism. This may seem harsh, but consider that the original intent of schooling was designed to bring the masses into conformity so they could be easily managed during the industrial revolution. Prior to the implementation of mass compulsory schooling, this country boasted a 95-98% literacy rate. The general reading of the common farmer included books like The Last of the Mohicans which college students struggle with today. Where are we now? Reading recovery is one of the biggest issues facing the public schools all across this country. Why Is that?

Here’s a dirty little secret about reading…John Dewey, yes, the father of progressive education introduced a number of destructive measures into the education system. In Dewey’s 1898 essay, The Primary-Education Fetish he reveals his view that the prevailing emphasis on reading literature was overrated. With regard to teaching primary grade students, he writes, “…the pleas for the predominance of learning to read in early school life because of the great importance attaching to literature seems to me a perversion.” I find it intriguing that the Common Core State Standards mandate a 70% decrease in the reading of literature.

The father of the progressive education movement actually set out to limit children’s ability to comprehend what they read along with de-emphasizing rich, quality literature with a high level of vocabulary. He deliberately introduced the ‘Look-Say’ method of teaching reading which had been used for the mentally disabled and deaf. Prior to its introduction, dyslexia did not exist. He fully understood this would dumb down the masses and make them rely upon the ‘experts’, making them easier to manage. They would be less troublesome than the individual who had the ability to fully comprehend what he/she read with the ability to decipher any document or text, not relying on anyone else to explain it. I would highly recommend reading or re-reading Animal Farm by George Orwell, in light of this point alone. You see, John Dewey was trained by individuals who did not agree with the principles of individualism, entrepreneurial spirit or independence. Those sorts of ‘individuals’ possess a form of thinking that makes them difficult to manage.

John D. Rockefeller was an enthusiastic supporter of Dewey’s education philosophy donating three million dollars to the experimental Lincoln School. He also enrolled his four boys there, all of whom graduated with dyslexia and were essentially functioning illiterates. Nelson Rockefeller confessed that reading for him was a “slow and torturous process.”

As we examine the educational front today, the Look-Say method and all its derivatives are still highly problematic. In Maine, our legislators have listened to testimony of ‘evidence based reading programs’ that are highly effective to improve reading in a relatively short time, but the bureaucrats and other “educrats” shut down any opportunity to introduce these effective programs into the teaching colleges. I’ve read a number of testimonials (public record) about teachers who have discovered this ‘amazing new approach’ to reading and are incensed they never learned this in their teaching programs…what is it? Genuine phonetic instruction! (Video) Phonics was the approach used to teach children during the time America had that high literacy rate. For more than a century (1836 to 1960), classic texts such as the McGuffey Readers were the mainstay for effective literacy in grades 1-6. Today, these books are still being used by homeschoolers and elite private schools.

Anyone paying attention should have issue with what is happening in today’s education system. Getting to where we are has been a slow process, and we have reacted to those changes in education much like the frog in a pot of water that is slowly getting hotter.
We just didn’t notice.

Nearly 200 years after de Tocqueville’s visit to our country where he witnessed engaged, intelligent, well informed youngsters, who were educated at home, we are now seeing a resurgence of that same spirit. Home Education is on the rise with compelling evidence of its success. Since 2010, the rate of Home Educated children has increased upwards to 8% nationally. Currently in Maine, well over 5,000 children are educated at home.

Home Education is the most de-centralized approach to education. No one-size fits all! Yet this ‘uncontrolled’ approach to standards, curriculum and assessments has proven to be tremendously successful. According to the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI), homeschoolers outperform traditionally educated students by 15-30% on achievement tests. These families have the liberty to allow their children to ‘shoot for the stars, knowing they might hit the moon.’ Their imagination is their only limitation. Elite universities and colleges have begun to actively recruit homeschoolers because of two major reasons. They are proven, engaged, self-motivated learners. Additionally, since they tend to be very civic minded they are active on campus and are often leaders.

About Heidi Sampson

Rep. Heidi Sampson is serving her second term in the Maine House of Representatives where she represents House District 21: Alfred, Newfield and parts of Limerick, Parsonsfield and Shapleigh. Rep. Sampson is a veteran home educator who is also the first home educator to be appointed to the State Board of Education. She serves on the Maine Legislature's Education and Cultural Affairs Committee and is a frequent speaker around the state on various topics in education.

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