Reinventing the Schoolroom: Education as Homecoming

by Allan Carlson, Ph.D.

A Family Policy Lecture for the Family Research Council, Washington, DC, 13 February 2003

Partisans of "school choice" were cheered recently by reports of success from an unexpected place: Sweden.  The inaugural issue of School Choice: Issues in Thought, published by the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation, celebrates the results of that Scandinavian land’s 1992 education reform.  The measure requires municipalities to fund independent schools on terms equal to existing state schools.  It also allows parents to choose which school their children will attend.  To qualify for funding, independent schools have to be approved by a National Agency for Education, meet educational standards and targets set by the state system, and be open to all children regardless of their ability, religion, or ethnic origin.  These independent schools cannot charge extra tuition.  Nonetheless, by 2002, the number of such institutions had grown from 122 to 637.  Four percent of primary school children and 5.6 percent of secondary school pupils nationwide were now in independent schools, up from about one percent in the pre-reform period.  The innovation proved to be popular with teachers and apparently had no measurable negative effects on the state schools.[1]

All the same, there are some curiosities about the Swedish results.  To begin with, so-called “confessional” schools played only “a minor part” in the reform, although they were fully eligible to participate.  Some Muslim schools appeared among immigrant communities; but the number of Christian schools--already small--did not grow at all.  Instead, most of the new independent schools were created by for-profit corporations and offered special curricula such as Montessori and Steiner-Waldorf.  In turn, these new schools tended to be located in the more affluent parts of the larger Swedish cities. 

Moreover, although the reform began in 1992 at the initiative of a center-right coalition government, it also won the support of the leadership of the leftist Social Democratic Labor Party, which returned to its traditional political dominance in 1994.  Since 1971, these Social Democrats have pursued a consistent policy aimed at dismantling the family.  The Party has intentionally eliminated the legal, economic and cultural bases for marriage.  It has largely dismantled parental authority and encouraged children’s rights.  The Party's sexual policies favor early experimentation, universal contraception, homosexual rights, and cohabitation.[2]  School choice, it appears, has at least not proven incompatible with this larger social agenda.

Accordingly, the Swedish example usefully clarifies some issues regarding educational reform.  Because of the exercise of a limited consumer choice, the encouragement to a kind of state-funded entrepreneurship, and the lack of any guiding moral vision, the 21st Century Libertarian can celebrate this experiment in “school choice.”  Because the results pose no threat to Sweden’s intentionally post-family social-political order and may actually divert energy from more important issues, the modern Socialist can embrace “school choice” as well.  It appears that only the Social Conservative, normally an advocate for parental authority, is left to ask several nagging questions:  Is shared moral purpose truly no longer possible?  Do not the local community and the inherited culture also have claims on the child?  Are not the family virtues the starting place for real learning?  And:  Might there still be ways to reconcile parental autonomy with communitarian claims? 


I hasten to note that these family- and community-centered questions need not require “the public schools as we know them” as answers.  Indeed, the record of American state education regarding the status and role of the family is fairly dismal, with one remarkable time period as exception.

From the very beginning, public school advocates aimed – as they had to – at undermining and displacing the family as the center of children’s lives.  The most important claim for public education was that only a compulsory system of this sort could unify a scattered and diverse people: the parochial ideas of families obviously stood in the way.  Benjamin Rush, perhaps the most radical of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, urged a politically-charged vision of learning that began by demoting the family:

Our country includes family, friends, and property, and [the state] should be preferred to them all.  Let our pupil be taught to love his family, but let him be taught at the same time that he must forsake and even forget them when the welfare of his country requires it.[3]

Horace Mann of Massachusetts, the acknowledged "father" of the Common Schools in the mid-19th Century, held similar attitudes.  Citing the “neglect,” ignorance, and inefficiencies of families in his state, he underscored the special brutality of what he labeled “monster families,” deemed totally unworthy of their children.  Indeed, Mann linked the “common school” system to a vision of the later welfare state, where government simply assumed the role of parent.  As he wrote in his school report for 1846: “Massachusetts is parental in her government.  More and more, as year after year rolls by, she seeks to substitute prevention for remedy, and rewards for penalties.”[4]

The Common School Journal, founded by Mann and colleagues in 1838, featured the deconstruction of family life as one of its regular themes. Passages included:

  • the public schools succeed because “parents, although the most sunken in depravity themselves, welcome the proposals and receive with gratitude the services of …moral philanthropy in behalf of their families”;[5]

  • “[T]hese are …illustrations of the folly of a parent, who interferes with and perplexes a teacher while instructing or training his child”.[6]

  • “the little interests or conveniences of the family” must be subordinate to “the paramount subject” of the school;[7] and

  • “there are many worthless parents.”[8]

Such sentiments spread with public education across the country over the middle decades of the 19th Century.  John Swett, an early superintendent of the California state schools, was blunt in his opinion that the state must supplant the family.  In his 1864 Report to the state legislature, Swett explained that “the child should be taught to consider his instructor … superior to the parent in point of authority.…The vulgar impression that parents have a legal right to dictate to teachers is entirely erroneous.…Parents have no remedy as against the teacher.”[9]

F.W. Parker, the so-called “father of progressive education” and inspiration for John Dewey, told the 1895 convention of the National Education Association (NEA) that “The child is not in school for knowledge.  He is there to live, and to put his life, nurtured in the school, into the community.”  The family home and religious faith simply must give way to a grander vision.  As Parker concluded: “Every school in the land should be a home and heaven for children.”[10]


In fact, there is direct evidence of a strong linkage between the spread of mass state education and the decline of the family.  It comes from the field of demography and uses fertility as a measure of family commitment..

Demographer John Caldwell’s Theory of Fertility Decline appeared in 1982,[11] and represents a provocative attempt to apply anthropological research, primarily in Africa and Australia, across the board.  Caldwell notes, as others have before, that fertility declines only when there is a change in economic relations within the family.  In agrarian societies, for example, children are economic assets and fertility is high while in industrial societies the economic value of the young turns negative and fertility declines.

But in an important turn of the argument, Caldwell emphasizes that it is not the rise of cities or industry, per se, that causes this change in family relations.  Rather, he shows that it is the prior introduction of new ideas through mass state education that stimulates the critical shift in the parent-child relation.  He argues that state-mandated schooling serves as the driving force behind the turn in preference from a large to a small family and the re-engineering of the family into an entity limited in its claims.

Evidence from the United States gives strong support to Caldwell’s emphasis on mass state schooling as a major explanation of family decline.  The steady fall in American fertility between 1850 and 1900 has long puzzled demographers, for throughout this era the U.S. remained predominantly rural and absorbed a steady flow of young immigrants, circumstances normally associated with large families.  Caldwell’s interpreters[12] speculated, though, that the leadership role of the United States in introducing a mass state education system might explain the change.  And indeed, U.S. data from 1871 to 1900 show a remarkably strong negative relationship between the fertility of women and an index of public school growth developed by L.P. Ayres in 1920.  Fertility decline was particularly related to the average number of days that children attended public school in a given year.  Even among rural farming families, where children still held economic value, the negative influence of public schooling on fertility was clear.  Each additional month that rural children spent in school decreased family size in that district by .23 children.  Indeed, we see here how state education quite literally “consumed” children, and weakened families.

Norman Ryder of Princeton University agrees that mass state education disrupts family integrity.[13]  He writes approvingly in The Population Bulletin of the United Nations: “Education of the junior generation is a subversive influence.  Boys who go to school distinguish between what they learn there and what their father can teach them….The reinforcement of the [family] control structure is undermined when the young are trained outside the family for specialized roles in which the father has no competence.”[14]  The broader contest is between the home and the centralizing state for the allegiance of the child.  As Ryder puts it: “Political organizations, like economic organizations, demand loyalty and attempt to neutralize family particularism.  There is a struggle between the family and the State for the minds of the young.” In this struggle, the state school serves as “the chief instrument for teaching [a new] citizenship, in a direct appeal to the children over the heads of their parents.”  The school also serves as the medium for communicating “state morality” and a state mythology designed to displace those of families.[15]

Ryder’s work underscores the vital importance of specific functions to family institutional strength.  For example, when families educate their own children, serve as the focus of religious life, and raise the largest share of their own food, the persons in these families are more likely to fix their first loyalties on the home.  When these functions pass over to rival institutions, families lose these claims and diminish as institutions.  Using solid empirical evidence, then, we actually can indict public education as a direct cause of family decline.


The exception to this record came in the early decades of the Twentieth Century.  American family life did show at that time many signs of increasing disorder.  Between 1890 and 1920, the number of divorced Americans rose three-fold.  Meanwhile, the U.S. birthrate fell by about a third.  Alongside the already examined effects of public education on these numbers, there were other new idea systems leveling attacks on the natural family: equity feminism which labeled the mother-at-home as “a parasite on society;” neo-Malthusianism, which linked poverty to fertility, condemned large families, and urged the universal adoption of birth control; and cultural relativism, which held that it was impossible to find common cultural values or a shared “way of life” in the teeming diversity of immigrant America.[16]

Responding to these challenges, there rose what we might call America’s first conscious pro-family movement.  Prominent figures were actually in its ranks, notably President Theodore Roosevelt.  He called “easy divorce… a bane to any nation, a curse to society, a menace to the home, [and] an incitement to married unhappiness, and to immorality.”[17] He argued that no nation could “exist at all” unless its average woman was “the home-keeper, the good wife, and unless she is the mother of a sufficient number of healthy children” to keep the nation “going forward.”[18]

Another family advocate of that era, Frances Kellor, served as director of Americanization Work for The Federal Bureau of Education.  She concluded that the key to turning immigrants into Americans lay within the home.  All women, native born and immigrant alike, had a common identity as nurturers and “a common gift for caring.”  She argued: "If we start with the family and work upward, we get a sound city that will stand the strain of any crisis because its weakest links are strong….Approached from the neighborhood and family and met squarely, the problem of Americanization can be solved adequately.”[19]  National unity, Kellor implied, could be built on “one motherhood from diversely situated women,” with training in homemaking being the “fulcrum” of Americanization.[20]

Meanwhile, Liberty Hyde Bailey, the famed Dean of the College of Agriculture at Cornell University, argued that family renewal required the revitalization of rural life.  Remember that at this time Americans still saw themselves as a farming people.  Dean Bailey argued that, given the low urban birthrates, “the farm home assumes a most important relation to civilization,” furnishing new life for both countryside and city.  “The farm home also carries an obligation to maintain the quality of the population.  It is a preservator of morals."  And yet, Bailey continued, “while the home is the center or pivot of our civilization, it is the last thing to be taught in schools.”[21]  Looking to the cities, the prominent labor activist Florence Kelley agreed: “The schools may truthfully be said actively to divert the little girls from homelife…[offering] wretched preparation for home making.”[22]  Through his position as Chairman of President Roosevelt’s National Commission on Country-Life, Bailey resolved that "the home-making phase of country-life is as important as the field-farming phase” and that the teaching of “home-economics” or “home making” –“the whole round of woman’s work and place” – was essential to rebuilding American families and civilization.[23]

Two major Federal policy actions followed.  The Smith-Lever Act of 1914 created the Extension program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, charged with teaching modern farming techniques to men and boys and homemaking and housekeeping to women and girls.  The Smith-Hughes Act came three years later.  Representing the first Federal program providing direct aid to elementary and secondary schools, Smith-Hughes granted money for teacher training and salaries in the fields of agriculture, the industrial arts, and homemaking.

These innovations fell onto receptive soil.  Despite the centralizing dreams of Horace Mann and his successors, the public schools still showed, circa 1920, a great diversity and a residual, locally grounded social conservatism that welcomed efforts to strengthen families.  Indeed, as late as 1932, there were still 127,531 independent school districts in the U.S.; many of them operating but a single school.  The great push for school consolidation was still to come.  And, of course, the new federal money for teachers was welcomed, too, with little appreciation for the unhealthy precedent being set.

Clearly, the model for family renewal embodied in these federal measures was the breadwinning husband and father operating a small farm or shop or earning a “family wage” in the city and married to a full-time, “home-making” wife and mother.  As Alba Bales of North Dakota State University explained in 1923: “[Young women] must have the training and assurance which will help them see that the house is built right for her as a housekeeper and household manager.”[24]  Efficiency and informed consumption in homemaking would be stressed.  Yet the true spirit of this Federal experiment in family renewal was best captured by two songs found in the Extension Service's 4-H Songbook of 1928.  For boys, “The Plowing Song”:

A growing day in a waking field

And a furrow straight and long

A golden sun and a lifting breeze,

And we follow with a song.

Sons of the soil are we,

Lads of the field and flock.

Turning our sods, asking no odds;

Where is a life so free?

Sons of the soil are we,

Men of the coming years;

Facing the dawn, brain ruling brawn.

Lords of our lands we’ll be!

And for the girls, the song “Dreaming” (here, the third verse):

My home must have its mother,

May I grow sweet and wise;

My home must have its father,

With honor in his eyes;

My home must have its children,

God grant the parents grace –

To keep our home through all the years,

A kindly, happy place.

Again, this was federally-engineered education, circa 1928, a far-cry, say, from the sexually egalitarian spirit of today’s Title IX. Indeed, it almost seems to rise out of an alternate moral universe.  But this family-building experiment worked, at least for a time.  Small-scale family agriculture was not saved, but the ethos of homemaking survived, with a strong influence on the generation coming of age in the 1940’s.  With Federal backing, there was a vast increase in the number of home economics teachers.  Homemaking classes for the girls in food preparation, sewing, and home management grew ubiquitous, in rural and city districts alike.  In 1945, the Future Homemakers of America (FHA) organized and this high-school club soon claimed over 600,000 members.  Home Economics joined Elementary Education as the most popular major for young women in college.  And there were surely results; the marriage boom of the 1940’s and 1950’s, the better known Baby Boom, and the new domesticity of the Suburban Boom all reflected – and at some level may have been stimulated by--this home-building educational work, actively encouraged by Uncle Sam.

But the renewed American family did not last.  While many factors were involved in this failure, one certainly was the political and intellectual collapse of the home economics discipline and of the “homemaker/breadwinner” family model that it sustained.  Amendments in 1963--a critical year in so many ways!--to the old Smith-Hughes Act reduced funding for homemaking and family-life education and required, for the first time, that home ec teachers also train their students for gainful employment outside the home.  Indeed, the spread of feminist ideology soon shook home economics to its core, a shock reflected in the very name of the discipline.  By 1970, five new labels for the relevant school department were in use; by 1990, over seventy-five.  These new names included "human ecology,” “human development” “consumer sciences,” “contemporary living,” and “life studies.”  The only word that never appeared among these innovations was “home,” a concept now fraught with embarrassment.[25]  Congress mercifully killed the Smith-Hughes Act in 1997, its animating spirit long since gone.

Perhaps there were internal weakneses to "home economics" doctrine, as well.  By bringing the logic of industry, of consumerism, and of the quest for efficiency into the family circle, perhaps home economists set in motion processes that eventually undid their own work.


Public education, in any case, eagerly and easily returned to its more natural stance athwart the family.  Title IX of The Education Amendments of 1972 prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex in all programs receiving federal funds, driving a final nail in the coffin of the sexual division of labor that had undergirded the renewed American family.  School consolidation speeded up: there were only 17,995 school districts left by 1990, a decline of 85 percent since 1932.  This loss of local control was complemented by a centralization of power in groups such as the National Education Association, institutions with a special animus toward the family model so recently celebrated.  By the early 1980's, the NEA vigorously attacked "materials that promote sex stereotypes" such as non-employed mothers and breadwinning fathers and affirmed the right of school children "to live in an environment of freely available information, knowledge, and wisdom about sexuality."  Once again, "multiculturalism" must serve as the vehicle for national unity.[26]  More recent resolutions condemn "homophobia," celebrate "reproductive freedom" and "family planning" in the schools, welcome "diverse sexual orientation," and urge the positive portrayal "of the roles and contributions of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people throughout history."[27]  Prominent educators again speak openly and contemptuously about the "racial, religious, ethnic, sexist, and economic stereotyping" that parents presumably give to their children.[28]  The founding spirit of Horace Mann and The Common School Journal hath returned and while it is probably flustered by all the sex talk, this spirit must heartily approve of the fresh verbal flagellations given to parents.

But is not "school choice," via tax credits, vouchers, and charter schools, the logical response?  As a step in challenging the existing centralized monopoly, "school choice" initiatives could have a positive effect.  But, particularly for people of religious faith, there are haunting voices posing those deeper questions touching on educational purpose, the claims of culture and community, and the values which must bind a people together.  The Kentucky poet, novelist, and essayist Wendell Berry points to the strange values of modern education:

According to the new norm, the child's destiny is not to succeed the parents, but to outmode them….The schools are no longer oriented to a cultural inheritance that it is their duty to pass on unimpaired, but to the career, which is to say the future of the child….He or she is educated to leave home and earn money in a provisional future that has nothing to do with place or community….It is no wonder that, under these circumstances, 'educators' tend to look upon parents as bad influences and wish to take the children away from home as soon as possible.  And many parents, in truth, are now finding their children an encumbrance at home, where there is no useful work for them to do, and are glad enough to turn them over to the state for the use of the future.[29]

These are the symptoms of a pervasive homelessness, one vastly broader in scope than the "homeless problem" normally discussed in the media and one deserving our close attention.  The Christian scholars Steven Bouma-Prediger and Brian Walsh emphasize that true education "must engender an ethos of intimacy and affection," one rooted in a geographically defined community such as village or neighborhood, where "for the sake of Christian discipleship, we must secede from the empire that has rendered us homeless."[30]  Social analyst Bryce Christensen describes home as "a place sanctified by the abiding ties of wedlock, parenthood, and family obligation; a place demanding sacrifice and devotion but promising loving care and warm acceptance," a place anchored in turn in a specific geographic locale.[31]  And nature educator Wes Jackson asks whether schools ought now be offering a new major in "homecoming."[32] 


Moving beyond the strict mechanics of "school choice," what might contemporary education for "home building" and "homecoming" look like? 

The first principle is that all true and lasting efforts must flow from the primal or natural social units: families; villages; neighborhoods; faith communities.  An effective long term "education in homecoming" cannot be imposed from the top, down.  This was the mistake of the Smith-Hughes Act.  Federally-directed mass education in "industrialized breadwinning" for the boys and "commercialized homemaking" for the girls showed impressive results for a generation; but then crumbled swiftly from internal deficiencies and external ideological challenges.  True "education in homecoming" will instead flow upward from the familial and spiritual foundations of the good society.

Similarly, "national unity" will not be won by the imposition from above of a new cultural ideology of either "multiculturalism" or some reminted version of Anglo-Saxon "Americanism."  For the whole of the last century, the effective unifying metaphors of "the American Way of life" have come instead from the discovery of common affection for marriage, family, and place: affections that transcend religious and ethnic divisions; and affections that also grow from the family home as the cell of society.[33]

Allow me to illustrate this big idea with a little story.  Several years ago, I participated in a debate over children's issues on Wisconsin Public Radio, and at one point noted something positive about homeschooling.  Another panelist, a professor of Social Work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, responded sternly.  Given all the new immigrants coming to America, she said, only the public schools could craft a necessary degree of public unity.  "It was the values found in the McGuffey Readers that unified this nation," she concluded.  With the gleam of the successful trapper in my eye, I responded: "If you can show me one public schoolroom in this state where the McGuffey Readers are used today, I will concede your point.  But I know that you cannot.  For you see, the state of Wisconsin's education regulations specifically ban the McGuffey Readers from use, because of their moralistic content.  However, I could show you dozens, even hundreds, of homeschool classrooms in Wisconsin where McGuffey is alive, well, and in use."  Unlike the state schools, you see, these homes were--and are--still building respect for a unifying public morality.

Indeed, the most obvious path toward education as homecoming lies in these home schools.  Here we find families engaged in a fundamental revolution, recovering a vital family function lost to the aggressive state a century-and-a-half earlier.  With over two-million children now involved, homeschool families are reinventing American education.  The direct effects are becoming well known, and are broadly impressive.  In grades one through four, according to a University of Maryland study, median test scores for homeschooled children are a full grade above those of public and private school students.  By grade eight, the median scores of homeschoolers are almost four grade equivalents above those of their peers in public and private schools.[34]  The domination of national spelling and geography bees by homeschoolers in recent years testifies as well to the ability of family-centered education to motivate extraordinary individual accomplishment.

Relative to homecoming, though, the more important traits of homeschooling may be the social and familial.  Simply put, home education empowers "homemaking" families.  According to one recent survey, over 97 percent of homeschool students had parents who were married, compared to a 72 percent figure nationwide.  Sixty-two percent of homeschooling families had three-or-more children, compared to a mere 20 percent of the nationwide sample.  A full third (33.5 percent) of homeschooled families actually had four-or-more children, over against six percent nationwide.  Meanwhile, 77 percent of homeschooling mothers did not work for pay, compared to only 30 percent nationwide.  And of the 23 percent of homeschooling mothers who did work, the vast majority (86.3 percent) did so only part-time.  These are clearly home-building women and child rich families.[35]

How might public policy encourage home education?  Home schooling is now legal, with varying degrees of regulation, in all fifty states.  The model statute may be Alaska's, where the state's Compulsory Education Law simply and fully exempts from coverage any child who "is being educated in the child's home by a parent or legal guardian."[36]  This freedom precludes registration, reporting, or curricular requirements.  In Illinois, homeschoolers can claim an Education Tax Credit of 20 percent on educational expenses, up to $250 per student.  Reflecting the same principle, tax-free Federal education savings accounts and proposed education tax credits should be made larger still and available for all learning expenses, not just tuition.

Private and religious schools can also be centers for education as homecoming.  The key here is deep parental involvement in the operation of the schools.  The best ones are those built on a clear--and usually religious--moral vision and on the work, sacrifice, and treasure of parents and students.  While acknowledging the potential of universal state vouchers to advance "school choice," I am still wary of them for two reasons.  First, the potential for regulatory intrusion by state authorities here is real.  Relative to the goal of "homecoming," this could take the form of anti-family gender-role engineering (perhaps under the broad spirit of Title IX) that would undermine effective "homebuilding."  Second, the availability of vouchers would lessen

--perhaps dramatically--the spirit of family sacrifice and the personal parental involvement which animate the best independent schools.

Instead, I would urge the steady expansion of general child-sensitive tax measures, such as the personal exemption and the child tax credit on the federal income tax.  As a minimum, the child exemption and the child tax credit should each be doubled; for real tax equity, they should then be doubled again.  To give "choice" to families with relatively little income and tax liability, the expanded child tax credit could be made fully refundable. 

In addition, a strong case can be made for treating all educational expenses as tax deductible.  Investments in physical capital by businesses currently enjoy favored treatment under tax policy: deductibility in some cases; generous depreciation tables in others.  As an investment in human capital, educational costs should logically enjoy similar treatment: full deductibility. 

This focus on tax benefits would prevent regulatory intrusion and spare independent schools from the loss of their peculiar and --I believe--necessary energy.

What then about the public schools, which still embrace the great majority of American children?  Here, I craft a still greater dream and return to a recommendation I first made twenty years ago: We should move toward a "radical deconsolidation of the public system, down even to the single-school level," which would weaken "bureaucratic and union strangleholds on the schools and so return them to [real] community control, where parental and neighborhood moral judgements could again play a role."[37] This goal or process would rest on the finding, phrased in Bill Kauffman's words, that "every promise of the consolidationists is, at best, an exaggeration, at worst, a lie."[38] Not efficiency, nor improved outcomes, nor greater social equity have been gained.  Moving beyond "charter schools," this deconsolidationist approach would come full circle and reground tax-supported schools in their places, their neighborhoods.  Each school would have its own elected governing board, and its own tax levy.  Where the economic circumstances of a school district were inadequate, a state education board could make a supplemental grant out of general revenues.  High school districts could draw students from several independent primary districts. 

The use of busing and magnet schools to prevent or reverse racial segregation would admittedly come to an end under this approach.  However, recent reports from the Civil Rights Project of Harvard University have found American schools more segregated in 2002 than they were thirty years earlier when court-ordered busing first came into its own.[39]  Hundreds of billions of dollars have been squandered in this campaign. It is time to end this wasteful, fruitless, and degrading exercise in social engineering and turn instead to building viable neighborhoods resting on good local schools. 

Most importantly, these neighborhood, village, or township schools would be "open."  Like a community college, they would offer their learning and extracurricular opportunities to all students in the district, but would compel none.  Some families might choose a complete school day; others just a science or math class; still others, only choir or the soccer team.  The local school would have a strong incentive to serve the neighborhood and its inhabitants, rather than to force them along a one-curriculum-fits-all path.  Once again, school boards could be expected to reflect and respect neighborhood values and sensibilities.  The school should become the focus and pride of the neighborhood, village, or township, so helping to unite all people--public schoolers, private schoolers, home schoolers, and the childless alike-- with their special place on earth.  For those relatively rare cases of complete parental abdication of educational responsibility, "child neglect" laws would come into play.  In all these ways, parental autonomy would finally be reconciled with the claims of local culture and community.  And by building on strengthened families and neighborhoods, we would be crafting the greater strength of the nation.

These are, I believe, the ways of achieving a true homecoming for America's schools, families, and children.


[1]   Fredrik Bergstrom and F. Mikael Sandstrom, “School Choice Works! The Case of Sweden,” School Choice: Issues in Thought 1 (Dec. 2002): 1-26.

[2]  See: Allan Carlson, The Swedish Experiment in Family Politics: The Myrdals and the Interwar Population Crisis (New Brunswick, NJ:  Transaction, 1990): chapter 7; and David Popenoe, Disturbing the Nest: Family Change and Decline in Modern Societies (New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 1988).

[3]  Benjamin Rush, “Plan for the Establishment of Public Schools [1786],” reprinted in Frederick Rudolph, ed., Essays on Education in the Early Republic (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1965): 14.

[4]  See: Horace Mann, “Challenges to a New Age [1845],” in Lewis Filler, ed., Horace Mann on the Crisis of Education (Yellow Springs, OH: The Antioch Press, 1965): 86; and Horace Mann, “The Ground of the Free School System [1846],” in Old South Leaflets No. 109 (Boston, MA:  Old  South Meeting House, 1902): 12-18.

[5]  Dr. Chalmers, “The Power of Education,” The Common School Journal 3 (September 1, 1841): 269.

[6]  “Duty of Parents to Cooperate with Teachers,” The Common School Journal 8 (August 1, 1846): 226.

[7]  Horace Mann, “Fourth Annual Report of the Secretary of the Board of Education,” The Common School Journal 3 (December 1, 1841): 359.

[8]  “Extract from the Christian Review for March, 1841,” The Common School Journal 3 (May 1, 1841): 143.

[9]  John Swett, History of the Public School System of California (San Francisco: Bancroft, 1876): 115.

[10]  Francis Wayland Parker, “Response,” N.E.A. Journal, 1895, p. 62; in Rousas John Rushdoony, The Messianic Character of American Education (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1963): 104. 

[11]  John C. Caldwell, Theory of Fertility Decline (New York: Academic Press, 1982): particularly chapters 4 and 10.

[12]  Avery M. Guest and Stewart E. Tolnay, “Children’s Roles and Fertility: Late Nineteenth Century United States,” Social Science History 7 (1983): 355-80.

[13]  Norman Ryder, “Fertility and Family Structure,” Population Bulletin of the United Nations 15 (1983): 18-32.

[14]  Ryder, “Fertility and Family Structure,” p.29.

[15]  Ibid., pp.29-30.

[16]  Regarding the latter, see: Horace Kallen, “Democracy versus the Melting Pot. Part I,” pp.192-93; and “Part II,” pp.217-20; in The Nation 106 (Feb. 18 and Feb. 25, 1915).

[17]  Theodore Roosevelt, The Works of Theodore Roosevelt: Memorial Edition (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1924): Vol. XVIII, p. 231; and Vol. XXII, p. 594.

[18]  Theodore Roosevelt, Works, Vol. XVII, p. 228.

[19]  Frances A. Kellor, Neighborhood Americanization : A Discussion of the Alien in a New Country and of the Native American in His Home Country.  An address to the Colony Club in New York City, Feb. 8, 1918; in Wisconsin State Historical Society Pamphlet Collection, # 54-997.

[20]  From Gwendoyln Mink, The Wages of Motherhood: Inequality in the Welfare State, 1917-1942 (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1994): 9, 25.

[21]  Liberty Hyde Bailey, The Training of Farmers  (New York: The Century Co., 1909): 71,238.

[22]  In Molly Ladd-Taylor, Mother-Work: Women, Child Welfare, and the State, 1890-1930 (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1994): 100.

[23]  Liberty Hyde Bailey, The Country-Life Movement in the United States (New York: The Macmillion Co., [1911] 1920): 63-65, 93-95.

[24]  “History of Alba Bales House,”at http://www.lib.ndsu.nodak.edu/archives/ndsubuildings/Alba.Bales/Alba BalesHistory.html

[25]  E. Haley, R.S. Peggram, and C.J. Ley, “Enhancing Program Viability,” Journal of Home Economics 85 (Fall 1993).

[26]  "NEA Resolutions," Today's Edcuation (1982-83 Annual): 151-87. 

[27]  "Resolutions of the National Education Association Concerning Sexual Diversity Orientation" at http://www.afaga.org/NEA.htm; and "Some NEA Resolutions Passed at 2002 Convention in Dallas," at http://www.eagleforum.org/educate/2002/aug02/NEA-Resolutions.shtml.

[28]  See: Robert S. Wicks, Morality and the Schools (Washington, DC: Council for Basic Education, 1981): 7.

[29]  Wendell Berry, What Are People For? (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1990): 162-64.

[30]  Steven Bouma-Prediger and Brian Walsh, "Education for Homelessness or Homemaking?  The Christian College in a Postmodern Culture," a paper presented at the conference, "Christian Scholarship--for What?," Calvin College, September 28, 2001, pp. 17-18.

[31]  Bryce Christensen, "Homeless in America," The Family in America 17 (Jan. 2003): 2.

[32]  Wes Jackson, Becoming Native to This Place (Washington, DC: Counterpoint, 1996): 97.

[33]  This is the theme of my forthcoming book:  Allan Carlson, The 'American Way': Family and Community in the Shaping of the American Identity (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2003).

[34]  Lawrence M. Rudner, "Scholastic Achievement and Demographic Characteristics of Home School Students in 1998," Education Policy Analysis Archives 7 (23 Mar. 1999): 19.

[35]  Rudner, "Scholastic Achievement and Demographic Characteristics of Home School Students in 1998," pp. 7-8, 12.

[36]  Alaska State Education Statute, Chapter 14.30 Pupils and Educational Programs for Pupils.  Article 01. Compulsory Education Sec. 14.30.010. Adopted September 7, 1997.

[37]  Allan C. Carlson, "The Rotting Core of the American Experiment…And a Possible Cure," Persuasion at Work 4 (Dec. 1983): 5.

[38]  Bill Kauffman, "Weatherbeaten Shacks, Ignorant Parents: What's Behind School Consolidation?" The Family in America 10 (April 1996): 5.

[39]  Gary Orfield, "Schools More Separate: Consequences of a Decade of Resegregation," The Civil Rights Project of Harvard University, 17 July 2001; and Gary Orfield, Erica Frankenberg, and Chungmei Lee, "A Multiracial Society with Segregated Schools: Are We Losing the Dream?" The Civil Rights Project of Harvard University, 20 Feb. 2003.