Friday, May 26, 2006

Reprint Article by Deborah Stevenson: "Getting It Out of My System"

Here is a reprint of an article written by Ms. Deborah Stevenson, Attorney at Law, former homeschooling mother, and Director of National Home Education Legal Defense.

I find this article very interesting reading and have permisson from Ms. Stevenson to reprint her piece on my blog. Ms. Stevenson is fonder of NHELD and you may read more about NHELD and find more pieces by Ms. Stevenson on the NHELD website at

As a homeschooler in Connecticut I have had Ms. Stevenson to look up to as a local, experienced homeschooling parent, the writer of newsletter articles, and as a speaker at homeschool support group meetings, homeschooling public outreach events and at local homeschooling conferences. I have met her two children and am very impressed with 'how they turned out' after being homeschooled their entire life. Is it no wonder that I am outspoken, opinionated and stand firm in my philosophies and rights with such a strong person in my community as a role model?

Note: this article was reprinted in its entirety including the links to other sites. I have added the direct link but am leaving the text in its orginal context.



By: Attorney Deborah Stevenson, Executive Director, National Home Education Legal Defense

Nothing makes me angrier than a lie, except when a lie is repeated so often that people believe it to be truth. I’m sick of lies, distorted truth, spin, and revisionist history. Can we just get back to reality? Can we just hold people accountable for their purposeful distortions?

Can we just set the record straight?

The lie that makes me the angriest is the lie that “It’s legal to homeschool “now”.” The implication in that statement is the lie. The implication is that it wasn’t legal to homeschool before, or that homeschooling only became legal in the past 20 years or so. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

What is “homeschooling”? It is the act of parents undertaking their responsibility to instruct their own children. This is the most basic, the most natural, the most instinctive undertaking of the human race. Since the beginning of the human race, whether you accept the scientific view of that man lived as early as seven million years ago or whether you accept the religious view that God created man four or five thousand years ago, the inescapable fact is that parents have instructed their children from the moment of birth to adulthood since the inception of the human race whenever that was. It wasn’t illegal to do so in the beginning, and it’s not illegal to do so now.

What is “new” is the public school system. The first public school in America was established by Puritan settlers in Boston in 1635. It was established by the Reverend John Cotton who wanted to create a school modeled after the Free Grammar School in Boston, England, in which Latin and Greek were taught. The truth is, though, that the opening of that first public school did not automatically mean that the instruction of children by their parents somehow automatically became illegal. Quite the opposite is true.

In the early days in New England, in fact, parents were expected to instruct their children. If parents didn’t instruct their children such that the children became “unruly”, the selectmen of the town could take the child from the parent and place the child, not with government officials, but with another surrogate parent of sorts called a master. It then became the master’s responsibility to instruct the child.

Over time, small public schools were opened, many of which were operated and overseen by ecclesiastical societies. Oversight slowly gave way to oversight by towns and, later, to what we now know as boards of education. At no time during the growth of the public school system, however, did state governments declare the instruction of children by their parents to be illegal.

The popularity of the public school system increased dramatically during the nineteenth century, thanks in large part to Horace Mann. He persuaded the Massachusetts legislature, in fact, to set up a six month minimum school year and led a movement to set up teacher institutions throughout the state. Even while Mann was tending to this task, the Massachusetts legislature at no time declared the instruction of children by their parents to be illegal. It is also curious to note, however, that while persuading the legislature to increase the power of public school, Horace Mann succeeded in his own life without public school. In fact, the so-called “father of American education” was, in effect, largely “homeschooled”. Taught by his parents at first, Mann taught himself by reading at the local library. In fact, he educated himself so well without the benefit of “public school” that he was able to enter college as a sophomore in 1816.

As the public school system grew, legislatures adopted more laws about the system. The law that most people are familiar with that state legislatures adopted is the “compulsory attendance” law. This law has many permutations depending on the state in which it was adopted. Its basic thrust is to tell parents that their children “must attend” public school. Massachusetts was the first state to enact such a law in 1852.
It required children between the ages of eight and fourteen to attend school for at least three months each year.

The compulsory attendance laws, for the most part, initially were adopted during the height of the industrial revolution in the nineteenth century. This was a time when the growth of industry opened new sources of income for families. It was a time when parents allowed their children to work in the factories, instead of on the family farms of yesteryear. For a multitude of reasons, those in power deemed it inherently injurious to the children to work in the factories, and, instead deemed it eminently more important for them to attend public school. By 1918 all states followed suit.

It is important to note that the compulsory attendance laws were aimed at those children who were not being educated by other means. In fact, there were many exemptions to these laws. Most importantly, these laws simply did not apply to those children who were being educated by other means. In other words, the legislatures did not declare education of children by their parents, or by private schools or tutors for that matter, to be illegal.

Today, most states still have “compulsory attendance laws”. BUT THAT DOES NOT NECESSARILY MEAN THAT IT WAS EVER ILLEGAL FOR PARENTS TO INSTRUCT THEIR OWN CHILDREN. THE TRUTH IS, IT WAS NEVER “ILLEGAL” FOR PARENTS TO INSTRUCT THEIR OWN CHILDREN. Can we please stop perpetuating the lie that it was illegal?

It is the development of this “new” public school system that, in part, has fueled the lie. The public school system has become so huge and so powerful that it dominates the public’s thinking. It is also the agenda of some to perpetuate the lie. The lie benefits different groups such as the established public school system or established organizations purporting to “assist” parents fearful of the public school system taking their rights away.

What is true is that many states did, and still do, impose government regulations on how and when parents instruct their children. It is unfortunate that the government imposes any regulations on parents who instruct their own children. It is my belief, however, that one of the reasons why the government has been successful in adopting regulations affecting the right of parents to instruct their children is because the lie that it was illegal for parents to homeschool in the first place has been perpetuated for so long.

From this lie flows a host of issues. For example, if you believe the lie that it was illegal for parents to instruct their children, it follows that parents would have to seek “permission” from the government in order to do so. If you believe the lie, it follows that parents would be fearful that they would not receive that “permission.” If you believe the lie, it follows that parents would be grateful when the government magnanimously grants that “permission”. If you believe the lie, it follows that parents are more apt to see “regulation” of parental instruction by the government as a matter of course. After all, if the government has the “authority” to grant “permission” to parents to instruct, certainly the government has the “authority” to impose “regulation” of parents’ ability to instruct, and it is reasonable for the government to do so.

Armed with the facts, armed with the truth, however, parents can begin to realize that, in reality, the government never did have the “authority” to declare the right of parents to instruct their children as illegal, and it’s a safe bet that the government in your state never did declare the right of parents to instruct their children as illegal.

Don’t take my word for it, however, look it up for yourself. Investigate what your state’s history really is regarding the right of parents to instruct their own children. Get copies of the laws. Trace them from the beginning of your state to the present. Then spread the word to every parent in your state. Don’t be fooled by lies. Don’t be duped by spin. Never be intimidated by anyone. There is no need to be afraid. You will know the truth, and you will be able to defend the truth whenever necessary for your sake, and for the sake of your children.

Permission is granted by the author to reprint this article in its entirety as long as no changes are made to its contents. For more information please contact: , or visit

Deborah Stevenson, mother of two grown children, Samantha and Cassandra, realized that homeschooling is what all parents do from the time children are born, and that it was a natural thing to continue to do so. So she did.

Deborah became involved in legal work as a result of homeschooling her children. She became involved in protecting her right to homeschool as a parent before she began attending law school. She homeschooled, as well as drove her children to college, where they took courses during the day, and went to law school at night. She currently practices Education law and Appellate law privately in addition to working as Executive Director of NHELD, LLC.

Ms. Stevenson formed Connecticut Citizens to Uphold the Right to Educate (C.U.R.E.) in 1989 in order to assist all parents in the state to retain their right to instruct their children at home without government interference. Because she believed in the tenth amendment's provision that all powers not specifically granted to the federal government belong to the states and to the people, C.U.R.E. remained a state organization protecting the rights of citizens in the state. It was not until 2003, when Deborah realized that there was a continuing effort by another organization to actively promote the adoption of federal regulation of homeschooling, when she decided to form National Home Education Legal Defense. A national organization was necessary in order to inform and assist parents in all states in halting federal regulation and retaining authority in the states to instruct their children in freedom.

Deborah has no background in public education. She does have an extensive background in home education, having taught both her children since birth at home.

Ms. Stevenson also has an extensive background as a public speaker. She spent ten years as a reporter interviewing all sorts of interesting people from parents to Presidents. She also hosted many radio programs on a variety of topics throughout her ten year career. As a parent and an advocate, Deborah has been the guest on many radio and television programs throughout Connecticut and the country. She has also conducted many workshops on homeschooling and the law.

You can find articles that Ms. Stevenson has published in Home Education Magazine, Family Times, and on NHELD, LLC's website, www.NHELD,, to name a few.

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Lauri said...

Thank you for posting this! I was homeschooled since 2nd grade and my 8 younger siblings - all their lives. I've graduated college along with my sister. Homeschool students do better in college because they are used to being self-motived in my opinion. And for many other reasons, I hope to homeschool my future kids God willing. Granted I want my kids to be involved in sports, church, and other social events. . . I was not very social and I'm doing fine. . . I think :)

Jen said...

Great article! I agree that, as a parent, I do not need to seek the permission of the State in matters of my children's education. Don't even get me started.

I surfed in from the Homeschooling Carnival.