Donald Drumf* recently made a small percentage of the U.S. population very happy (and no, it is not the group you are thinking of). In a speech at the Value’s Voters Summit Drumf talked about freedom of choice in education, a topic that is surprisingly not as terrible as the subjects of most of his other speeches. In this speech he mentioned homeschooling arguing, “School choice means that parents can homeschool their children. 100%.” Since the Party Convention in 2016, this is the first time a Presidential candidate has mentioned homeschooling and the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), as one of the nations largest homeschool organizations, is understandably excited. They said: “While HSLDA has not endorsed any party or candidate in the 2016 Presidential election, it is encouraging to see a presidential candidate from one of the nation’s major political parties speak out in favor of homeschool freedom.”
But why would Drumf bother spending time mentioning homeschoolers (apart from maybe running out of ways to compare essential policy decisions to eating candy)?
Although, the homeschool community is small, it is quickly growing. It is estimated that there are 1.8 million homeschool students (although the exact number is hard to pinpoint because of the patchwork of education regulations) which is double the number of homeschool students just 10 years ago. Don’t let the their small size fool you, homeschoolers can get stuff done. I have already shared about my experience where hundreds of us descended on the Nebraska State Capital like vengeful swarm of tucked in polos and ankle length jean skirts. Granted, the bill was a terrible law anyway, but the sheer presence of all of these citizens standing in opposition was enough for the bill to die in committee.
This kind of zealous political force is very appealing to a candidate like Drumf and by simply mentioning homeschoolers he might have won over some of them who were on the fence. This is exemplified by HSLDA rather positive post about him. In fact, despite the appearance of neutrality on the issue, HSLDA has done a good job of highlighting who they think you should vote for. Although they don’t “endorse” Drumf, Will Estrada (HSLDA’s Director of Federal Relations) did endorse Ted Cruz during the primaries and HSLDA posted a negative article targeting Hillary Clinton .
This is not the only way that HSLDA has become unusually politically active for an organization that just began as a way to provide affordable legal advice for homeschool parents. In many cases, they have lobbied against laws that would protect children from child abuse and fought against same-sex marriage (which, as you may have noticed, has nothing to do with homeschooling).
Although this behavior may seem like a bizarre shift from their original mission, it makes sense when you understand the history of the homeschool movement. A more comprehensive history was done by Homeschoolers Anonymous, but basically homeschooling started out as religious movement in response to the perceived secularization of the public school system. Even though homeschooling has been happening for decades, it wasn’t fully legalized in all 50 states until 1992. Even when my parents began homeschooling me in 1996, I remember my mom being afraid for us to play outside during school hours for fear someone would call CPS. Because of the difficult start of the homeschool movement, homeschoolers were set in opposition to the government and forced to fight hard for the rights to educate their children, creating a foundation of political activism. Once homeschooling was legal, that energy had to be turned somewhere and for many that was the wider realm of politics.
Growing up in the homeschool community, I remember politics being woven into the structure of the community. I watched the political debates, stayed up late on election night, did cold calls, and even drove from Nebraska to Kansas to canvass for a candidate. Being politically active was almost as important as going to church on Sunday. It is the religious undertones of much of the homeschool community that continues to propel this political activity forward.
The National Center for Education Statistics explains that in 1999, 49 percent of homeschool parents chose homeschooling because they wanted to provide a better education for their children and only 38 percent cited religious reasons. But in 2003, the number of parents citing religious reasons shot up to 72 percent. They see homeschooling as their moral obligation because they need to train the next generation to take back the country from those who have “corrupted” it through secularization.Thus, the community became politically active and remains active to this day. One organization that targets teenagers called Generation Joshua argues that “We, as Christians, are called to be good stewards of our family, our community, and our nation. Generation Joshua provides opportunities for youth to be good stewards in their communities.”
This politically charged, tight knit community could be valuable to Drumf as he marches towards election day. Even though the homeschool community is unlikely to tip the scales on their own on election day, they could shift some momentum his way, making that little shout out in his speech more significant that just one blip in a discussion about education.
Apparently Trump has decided to double down on the homeschool thing: “Mike Pence has promised home-school advocates that a President Donald [Drumpf] would be their ‘champion’ in the White House.”
* Please watch John Oliver’s discussion about the Presidential Candidate’s last name. This explains some of the reason’s why I chose not to use it. Also, it just sounds funnier.