A homeschooler’s history of homeschooling


This extremely popular homeschooling resource clearinghouse is run by a twice-married, very smart and career-oriented work-at-home mother who had two children about 15 years apart (one from each marriage, she is still in her second marriage) and homeschooled the second one starting when he was about 9 or 10.   That was around the time she figured out how to work from home in a very specialized way that allowed her a lot of free time and flexibility in home educating her son.

I put all that intro out there because most of the homeschool resources people still use now in 2015 come from these older people (mostly women) who were very diverse in their backgrounds and generally very brainy and immensely intellectually talented types who wanted to have kids anyway.

That page contains a very interesting piece of homeschooling history, the recollections and documentation of the conservative Christian homeschooling wing of homeschooling by Cheryl Seelhoff, whose divorce and adultery caused some major rifts within that community (which as you’ll learn from the history was really many little sub-communities who were openly inspired by the Amish and Mennonites and who often wouldn’t even let remarried people into their homeschool circles or home church circles, much less a woman who was at-fault in the classic sense for her divorce).  She herself is an interesting figure in homeschool history, as someone who provided a lot of resources and support even after she received ostracism from so many other homeschool big names.

The direct links to Seelhoff’s history are below, they are pdf scans, but quite readable and high quality.








There are several very interesting books about the history and evolution of homeschooling, links to which can be found at the site of this homeschool researcher who wrote one of the most comprehensive ones.  Yep, there’s academic research on homeschoolers, quite a lot of it, some of it pretty high quality.

Anyway Seelhoff’s  history basically shows that the Superwife thing has been going on for a really long time among conservatives, as the mothers were expected to bake, can, garden, make their own clothes and those of their daughters (for modesty), homeschool, and be constantly pregnant or hoping to be while dad earned an income, but usually not a high one.  The major differences between these 1980s and 1990s homespun jumper folks and modern conservative Christian homeschoolers doing that is that the 1980s and 1990s folks mostly did bother to live near enough to each other to provide direct encouragement and support via numerous home churches.  And in what might unkindly be thought of as a kind of pyramidism, and more kindly as a conscious networking before internet, they often had “home businesses” selling each other “home-centered living” and “home schooling” lifestyle magazines, newsletters and curriculum, along with various Christian literature about how Biblical various practices were or weren’t.

Everything old is, as ever, new again.


25 thoughts on “A homeschooler’s history of homeschooling

  1. I like to say there’s nothing new under the sun. The pendulum keeps swinging, and we keep thinking every angle is a brand new one despite the fact they’ve always been there.


  2. When you told me about this stuff and said it was about the “history of homeschooling” I thought you were talking about 100-150 years ago at least. I remember this era and plenty of these people are still walking around – I can actually literally walk to a church full of them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • And yet people are completely unaware of this total recent history. Basically a variation of what I talk about on this blog has already been tried and it resulted in a bunch of SJW children running something called “Homeschoolers Anonymous”.


  3. You know, I read a bit of these last night, and the thing I find interesting is that in our homeschool circle (where some women where pants, some cut their hair, some stop after 3 kids and have no compulsion about admitting they drink the occasional cocktail), there is much more community, sanity, and offers of help when it is needed. The women with 6, 8, 10 kids and long hair feel at home as well.

    Imperfect though we may be (mostly because there are a lot of husbands not into the fringe extreme stuff), there is a true hunger for living righteously and loving without hypocrisy. I’ll take this over the overtly piety and pretentiousness any day of the week.

    That was a wealth. Thanks for sharing it.


    • there are a lot of husbands not into the fringe extreme stuff

      I find that very interesting. I was always under the impression husbands were the ones pushing for these kinds of lifestyles, aka the fringe. What’s considered “fringe extreme”? It seems the definition changes depending on who you talk to.


      • Several million people showed up for Bill Gothard’s ATI stuff, Seelhoff mentions some numbers north of 2 million. No gender breakdown, but I somehow doubt it was all wives attending.

        It’s a tricky thing, you really have to look at women canning, cooking, cleaning, child-caring, sewing, homesteading, homeschooling and constantly getting pregnant (by unwilling husbands, presumably?) and I guess for some of them it was a control thing, but that’s pretty far to go to be the stealth head of household, is all I’m saying.

        I have heard fairly often the response that this was mostly driven by women , but it’s such a great deal for the men even scaled back that it’s hard to see how “the neck turning the head” would be happening a majority of the time, or even a significant minority of the time in that setting.


      • Well that’s the thing. It’s very easy to get caught up in the notion that most of these are just put upon women whose husbands *make* them do all this stuff. That hasn’t been my experience as I witness it.

        Sure, there are some instances (particularly in the more cloistered communities) where the husband is driving this. But yeah, TPC, from what I have seen, there is A LOT of this stuff where the women ARE doing this stuff against what their husbands would prefer. It’s not just presumably. It is, especially when you’re dealing with families in metropolitan areas. Some husbands are being dragged along by their wives refusal to limit children, her obsession with eating the right, most pure foods, and her desire to homeschool.

        Don’t take this as my attempt to dismiss the real cases like Gothard, Phillips et. al, but they truly are a minority of those cases.

        My experience was that when I decided that dresses, no TV and eating the “right” way was the more holy way, my husband (who has a dominant personality) but the kabash on that an right quick. He refused to let me take our older kids out of public school and homeschool them but heartily supported -and still does- the homeschooling of our younger children.

        And when I talk to the wives in our homeschool group (and it’s a very big group) a common refrain I hear is that their husbands won’t get with the most pious program already.

        Just based on that (which is informal and anecdotal), it tells me that more of this is wives leading from the neck that we might realize.


  4. I should add (rushing, sorry), that even with the 2 million mentioned in TPC’s comment you have to stop and figure that homeschooling is much bigger than the people who show up at those sorts of events.

    Of course the number say only 2 million KIDS are being homeschooled in the U.S. so I question that 2 million number anyway. Nevertheless, I strongly suspect that those long hair, canning, baby popping, submissive types are a distinct minority of homeschoolers. Just the number of fathers I see bringing their kids to certain activities (because mom is working part time) indicates that while that fringe component is real, and they probably represented the majority of homeschoolers in the late 80’s early 90’s, it’s just not the reality of homeschooling in 2015.

    *My definition of “fringe”: no limiting of family size, no wifely counsel allowed, making from scratch and growing all food as a matter of principle, homeschool-or-die, denim jumper/long dresses uniform as the definition of modesty with the attendant demand to sew all your won clothes, stay at home daughters, etc.


    • No: There are 1,773,000 homeschoolers accounted for as of 2012. I rounded up to 2,000,000 to factor in the unaccounted for although I’m sure there aren’t 1/4 million unaccounted for homeschoolers. Now, these numbers are held up as evidence of the exploding numbers of homeschoolers.

      There is no way I’ll believe that 2 million families showed up at anything for for Bill Gothard 20 or so years ago. I get and agree with the gist of some of Mrs. Seelhoff’s complaints. I get and agree with much of the latest post on Homeschooler’s Anonymous about the over emphasis on keeping control of your kids. These are valid issues and I am not denying that there are some women (perhaps even a good number) being pressed under the weight of these ideologies.

      But they don’t represent the mainstream of Americna homeschooling now. Just like wives lead either overtly or from the neck in the vast majority of Christian homes, the same is true of homeschool families for the most part.

      What was typical in the 80’s is just not representative of things today. This is another one of those cases where people drag real problems from the past which have been largely eliminated and hold them up as a reality for a plurality of people.

      Not you, TPC. I mean the overarching wing of the anti-homeschool, anti-submission crowd.


      • According to homeschool research (a whole field of academic study, go figure), the 2 million number has been around for many, many years without really budging. Which is itself an interesting data point.

        Current homeschooling, mainstream homeschooling has other problems, notably a lack of academic rigor because the average IQ is much closer to 100 for the however many people homeschooling these days than when it was more fringey.


  5. Ooops. that 1/4 million was a mistake. I’m sure there are probably 25,000 -50,000 or so unaccounted for homeschoolers today. I doubt more than that though.


  6. I’m starting to feel like I’m beating a dead horse, particularly since I plan on putting our kids in private school as soon as we get done with college in 2 years if I can afford it, LOL. I call myself “the reluctant homeschooler”, so don’t misunderstand my motivation here. From Seelhoff:

    “In 1969 there were 4,000 [attendees at Bill Gothard seminars];
    1971, 12,000; 1972 over 128,000, including 13,000 [at one
    time] in the Seattle coliseum; in 1973 more than 200,000.”… In
    1976 alone, Gothard held 32 seminars at $45 per attendee. It was
    not unusual for Gothard to pack out auditoriums with capacities
    of 8,000 to 20,000 people. “

    Not that sounds infinitely more accurate and believable. Another thing I like to say is that 90% favorable odds sounds great unless you find yourself in the 10%. My sympathies to the women in the 10% of oppressed and beaten down “traditional” homeschool wives.

    Sincerely, they do need help and real community. I just think biases and what not need to be taken into consideration and we also have to consider the numbers of women (I actually had a long dialog with one at Lori Alexander’s blog recently) who get little serotonin and dopamine hits at the notion that their labors and martyrdom make them most holy among women, and they often don’t need their husband’s demands to embrace that mindset.


  7. Elspeth, if +/- 2 million single income familes weren’t showing up for API, then how come Bill Gothard never had to get a real job? Considering the amount of money sloshing around in that organization that sounds like a plausible number over the entire life of the organization.


    • Over the life of the organization sure, You Know Who. I’m not arguing that Gothard didn’t have enough of a following to make a living. My pastor doesn’t work either (he lives quite well), and we have nowhere near the following of ATI and similar organizations. I was questioning the number as a single event occurrence.

      Also (I’m including your second comment in this reply), I have no doubt that the problems are real in certain segments and areas. My problem is with associating them with homeschooling. The homeschooling is an ancillary of these people, not their primary identifying characteristic. That’s more true now than ever before.

      Where we live, Christian homeschooling looks absolutely nothing like that, and the numbers down here are growing at a rate that is alarming many of the smaller school districts. And while there are many Christians in the number, most are not driven primarily by a desire to disconnect from the culture, but because they want their kids to have better quality education. In fact, most switch to public schools at the high school level because the instruction is more tailored to the kids’ strengths and weaknesses and the child is old enough to make right decisions.

      Lastly, as one who is quite well acquainted with people in fringe religions with pretty strict or weird beliefs/standards I know for a fact that there are plenty of people like this who want not to be bothered with the trouble to homeschool. My argument here is not with the problem of religious abuse or oppression. I don’t for a minute doubt their reality, although I doubt their veracity as a matter of course.

      My point is that right now, at this particular juncture, to draw a causal line between these things and homeschooling isn’t a valid line to draw. Surely we all recognize that abuse of authority and/or power (religious or otherwise) isn’t even close to relegated solely to the homeschool realm. If it were such that the proportional percentage of abused wives/children and children with poor education were heavily lopsided in favor of children who are NOT homeschooled, I might be more convinced. But as it were…


  8. Also the problems have absolutely not been eliminated, again, I can literally walk to a church down the street and see them on display. I can drive to half a dozen churches in a 25 mile radius and see congregations full of them as well. And this is a very underpopulated area. Places like Texas it’s beyond belief.

    Now the problems have morphed – in the second generation there are way more non-working males and breadwinning wives for example – but the basic programming is the same. I’m happy to say that online, the efforts of our hostess and people like her seem to be having an effect. When women have breakdowns online, they are *much* more likely to get good, practical advice than they are to be told to pray harder and submit more – but the people I see irl aren’t online.


    • You Know Who said:

      “Now the problems have morphed – in the second generation there are way more non-working males and breadwinning wives for example”

      To what do you attribute that?


  9. oh lol it’s my turn to misread. You weren’t asking why I say it, you were asking why do I think it. I think if you allow men to ride on female labor they will, every time. Helen Andelin was nearly 100% right about everything, and especially this.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. YKW,

    I have some thoughts on why that might be, but it would just be guesswork, rather than actual personal observation, so I was hoping for a theory. Here are some things that come to mind:

    –At lower socioeconomic levels, women work harder than men do, both at home and at work.
    –Having heavier responsibilities at home as a teenager in a traditional home produces a better work ethic among young women than among young men. (There are lots of traditional female tasks all day long–the traditional male tasks are more episodic, so in a home with a strictly traditional division of labor and dad gone all day, teenage boys are able to slack.)
    –It’s common for men to feel that work outside their profession or outside their area of interest is beneath them. That feeling is less common among women.

    Although there’s a lot of mockery of the extremes of high-intensity, hands-on parenthood, the more I think about it, the more I feel that that may just be what is necessary to launch boys into productive adult middle class lives.


  11. I’m not seeing it. Slacker males offloading their work on women are all over the class structure. The big class difference is that lower class males don’t have jobs at all, but professional class males have cool jobs, while their wives make the real money and do ALL the domestic work.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Slacker males offloading their work on women are all over the class structure. The big class difference is that lower class males don’t have jobs at all, but professional class males have cool jobs, while their wives make the real money and do ALL the domestic work.”

      That’s interesting.

      There is such a thing as the slacker husband of professional wife, now that you mention it. (I talked to a professional woman some years back, who after a few glasses of wine, was pouring her heart out about her husband’s repeatedly failing business ventures. That wasn’t slacking, exactly, though–if he’d only stayed home and slacked, the family would have been much better off financially.)

      There is an income distinction, I think–when you can afford a cleaning lady and occasional meals out, a spouse’s domestic failings are less irritating.

      (TPC–I think the subject of spectacularly failing at entrepreneurship is a subject that you may want to tackle, as it directly relates to the ability to support a family, and there’s a lot of happy-talk about being in business for yourself. The last few years, I’ve been noting what a small percentage of people that are drawn to entrepreneurship are actually capable of making a reasonable living at it. I’ve only belatedly realized that I grew up in that family–my dad always had several small irons in the fire, but at least when I was a kid, they never added up to an income that would allow my mom to buy us kids shoes. My family only really crossed over into being middle-middle class when my mom, my sister and I started working in a family business. That was a big lightbulb moment when I finally figured that out a few years back.)

      Liked by 1 person

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