Upon opening the January 1993 issue of Gentle Spirit Magazine, readers were greeted with the published letter from a homeschooling mother in New Zealand. It read:

Dear friends in Christ — The Lindsey Family: Isn’t it funny how just by reading about you all, you seem familiar. That’s how it is with folks in the Lord!… We have all come home! For six months I struggled with the idea of homeschooling (I was a teacher!). My dear husband coaxed: ‘Don’t you think we should be?’ That was 15 month ago. I have never had any regret. I just love having my family around…. We have been truly blessed by the encouragement your magazine offers us all. Our home school group (about 12 families) have bought it between us and we just love it…” – Lewis and Jenni Vaughan. Putaruru, New Zealand.

Lewis and Jenni Vaughan, “New Zealand Love Letter,” Gentle Spirit Magazine, January 1993.

Letters were an essential component of the major homeschooling publications during the 1980s-1990s, and the Vaughan family reflected the international scope of the early homeschooling movement. Built upon a tradition of evangelical publishing, homeschooling pioneers created a global web of homeschooling periodicals with the intention to connect, inform, and educate readers. Print networks promoted educational entrepreneurship and offered a marketplace of curricular ideas. Most of all, this network of periodicals was foundational to the formation of the modern homeschooling movement and help explain why millions of parents in the U.S. and abroad turned to educating their own children at home during the Cold War era.

Assessing the Movement

Most studies of the history of home education have approached the topic from a perspective that privileges the American homeschooling experience.[1] Scholarly attempts to capture the movement typically point to its unique American trajectory as a debated symbol of educational freedom and parental rights. More critical analysis of the movement illuminates the problems associated with the religious elements within the movement, such as the extreme ideology of the parents and the peculiar setting in which the movement arose during the 1970s. 

Existing book-length studies on the history of home education are almost exclusively nation-bounded and sociological in approach. Over the past decade scholars have shed light upon the intimate daily lives of homeschooling families to illustrate the variety in home educational practices and motivations. Various sociological monographs by Robert Kunzman, Mitchell Stevens, Joseph Murphy, and Jennifer Lois have examined the leaders, parents, and mothers to portray homeschooling in the United States.[2]

More recent works have begun to uncover specific motivations behind the trend in homeschooling among minority groups, particularly African-American and Muslim communities.4 In Homeschool: An American History, the solitary book-length historical study of homeschooling, Milton Gaither presents a synthesis of the phenomenon in the United States, tracing the evolution of homeschooling practices from the colonial period to the present.[3]

By focusing on homeschooling as a uniquely American phenomenon, scholars have developed a myopic understanding of the appeal of this movement. This paper seeks to advance the history of home education in three ways. First, it suggests a broader perspective on the historic origins and growth of homeschooling by positioning its U.S. development within a global context. Second, it proposes that homeschooling periodicals be viewed not merely as repositories of data but also as an international network that nurtured and fostered the advancement of home education throughout the late twentieth century. Lastly, it suggests that these periodicals were the mechanism by which the home education movement integrated the views of the religious-right and the countercultural-left around the concept of the home as a place for the development of self-sufficiency.

Atlantic Ideas

The baby boomer generation were the first to organize the practice of home education into something that resembled a movement. Post-war prosperity and atomic-age anxiety proved a potent combination for challenging the state’s role in education. American parents grew disillusioned with the state and with experts on raising children and began exploring educational alternatives.5 The Cold War era also had a profound effect on Christian America. Framing the battle between East and West as one between good and evil, with total annihilation at stake, evangelicals framed the international political struggle in Christian terms, thereby permanently entangling American evangelical thought with conservative political ideology.6 America not only saw the rise of the Christian Right dedicated to battling the maleficent forces of communism, but also the spawning of an international mission movement dedicated to addressing the global concerns of racism, poverty, and disease.7

Concurrently, major structural changes were taking place in the realm of global education. The 1950s witnessed a sharp increase in mass educational systems around the world.8 Critics to compulsory education emerged in the United States, the UK, and other European countries beginning in the 1970s. Published in 1971, Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society challenged western compulsory mass education.9 A staunch critic of compulsory education, British sociologist Roland Meighan advocated for the right to home education in the UK. He achieved immediate global success with his publication of A Sociology of Educating in 1981.10 Scottish educator Alexander Sutherland Neill’s Summerhill school became a model for the free education movement and a shining example of alternative schooling. The American educator John Holt began mailing the newsletter Growing Without Schooling in 1977, publishing his sole book on the topic, Teach Your Own, in 1981. Holt’s ideas on “unschooling” provided the strongest critique yet of public education from the Left.[4]

While these critics of compulsory institutionalized education helped provide alternative options to traditional education in the United States and Britain, the real spark of the homeschooling movement was fostered by entrepreneurial homeschooling families. Over the course of the next two decades, international home education groups emerged, supported by a growing network of national homeschooling associations. Many of these emerging communities were founded by expatriates, as they were typically exempt from national education laws. By the late 1970s homeschooling organizations existed in the UK and the US.11 By the 1990s there were fast-growing homeschooling associations in Africa, South America, Oceania, and Asia.

Global Networks

The American Cold War context alone does not fully account for why families chose homeschooling. After all, why did home education become the preferred option over Christian schooling for millions of American Christians? Why did non-religious parents choose home education over private education? What motivated those outside the US to homeschool? The international network of homeschooling periodicals that sustained the burgeoning movement during the 1970s and 1980s offers an answer to these fundamental questions. The periodicals were produced by pioneering homeschooling families and laid the groundwork for communication and a marketplace of ideas and goods. The international scope of an emerging movement away from institutionalized education and towards home education is encapsulated on the pages of these magazines.

It is no coincidence that the early homeschooling pioneers of publishing were also evangelicals. These families drew upon a rich history of Christian publishing to establish associations and communities through the medium of print. Scholars have long noted the critical role that religious periodicals played in shaping the religious, social, and political landscape of the US.12 Since the eighteenth century, “popular periodicals have been a major means of promoting personal religious commitment and of nurturing individual piety while advancing causes of denominations, new religious movements, and agencies calling for social reform.”13  Aversion to critical engagement with the periodicals has led to the “cherry-picking” of information from these periodicals instead of viewing them as wholly worthy objects of scrutiny. This has been an issue with the study of periodicals and other serials like newspapers in general. In their essay on the rise of periodical studies, Sean Latham and Robert Scholes note the intertextuality inherent in studying periodicals. Historians have, as Latham and Scholes suggest, “often been too quick to see magazines merely as containers of discrete bits of information rather than autonomous objects of study.”14 Periodicals functioned as spaces of collaboration among groups that transcended national borders.


Homeschooling magazines are unique cultural and material objects. They offer new insights into the workings of the movement in its early years. Comprised of lesson plans, news, testimonials, advertisements, legal reports, letters, articles, poetry, and curricula ideas, these texts provide scholars with a rich picture of the people and practice of this movement. As products of consumption, they provide an avenue to understand the ways in which homeschooling literature intertwined with the culture of commerce and the social, political, and cultural events of the Cold War era.

The 1980s saw the rise of nearly a dozen homeschooling magazines that were dedicated to fostering community within the burgeoning movement. The most foundational periodicals included The Teaching Home (1983), Home Education Magazine (1984), Gentle Spirit Magazine (1989), Mary Pride’s Practical Homeschooling (formerly HELP for Growing Families, 1989), Home School Digest (1988), and Homeschooling Today (1992).15 The editors of these publications were explicitly evangelical in their outlook, although the emphasis on faith within the magazines varied. Shared by word-of-mouth, churches, and homeschooling conventions, the magazines became the bedrock of the Christian home school movement. Yet the discourses within the magazines illuminate the degree to which the religious-right’s and countercultural-left’s goals overlapped.[5]

Home Education

An analysis of the earliest and most influential periodicals within the international homeschooling movement illuminates the degree to which homeschooling was an intentional act to reestablish the home as the central place of life for families. Parents were not only concerned with the power of the State to educate their children, but routinely expressed the idea that it was the responsibility of parents to properly educate their children. Thus, the concept of the “home” took preeminence over all else. Gregg Harris, director of Christian Life Workshops, and major figure of the early Christian homeschooling movement wrote “The home is a school. The more truly home-like the home becomes, the more effectively the school of the home will be. Just as the term home school implies, our emphasis should be placed upon the ‘homeishness’ not the ‘schoolishness’ of our approach.”16 While Harris emphasized a strictly biblical understanding of the home, many families regardless of religious orientation came to embrace this argument for home-based education.

The home was a site that was both “natural” and “industrial.” Discourses of the “home” positioned the family as a well-managed corporation with the father as CEO and mother as COO. “The home-like home functions as a headquarters for pursuing the family’s corporate and individual goals” wrote Harris.[6] The children were employees and budding entrepreneurs. The periodicals frequently pushed the idea of home industry as vital to home education. Proponents like Deb Deffinbaugh, co-owner of the home school supply company Timberdoodle, claimed that building and running a home business involved the testing and refining of many character qualities, the advancement of vital skills such as reading, writing, and math, and the cultivation of knowledge in the field of geography and history. Most importantly, “instead of just learning to work for others, he will be developing the skills to work for himself – skills that will last a lifetime.”19 Such description of the family suggests that evangelical homeschooling might accurately be viewed as a potent form of what Timothy E.O. Gloege termed “corporate evangelicalism.”20 The focus on individual freedom and corporate responsibility would come to define the home in homeschooling families to the present.

Discourses of the “home” positioned the family as a well-managed corporation with the father as CEO and mother as COO. Periodicals frequently pushed the idea of home industry as vital to home education.

The concept of the home was built on the idea of family self-sufficiency. This concept appealed to Christian and non-religious families as a way to avoid the corrupting influences of modern society. The magazines offered a combination of educational materials and articles on self-sufficient living. This made sense on a practical level, when the finances of the family were often limited to a single (typically the father’s) income. Yet the goal was the self-sufficient family, free from the corrupting influence of corporate hierarchies. Institutionalization was viewed as a corrupting influence on the family unit, and therefore editors advocated homeschooling, financial self-sufficiency, and naturalist living.

A truly home-like home has some essence of the family-team concept. In a home-like home the family is working together toward worthy goals within and without… The home-like home functions as a headquarters for pursuing the family’s corporate and individual goals.

Gregg Harris, “The Home-Like Home School,” The Teaching Home Feb/March, 1984

The self-sufficiency ideal found appeal amongst religious-right and the countercultural-left when applied to education. John Holt, the father of unschooling, was regularly discussed and held up as a potential model. Holt’s ideas of free-form education were regularly adopted by evangelicals, although some had reservations. “Holt’s humanistic premise, that if you leave a child alone he will learn what he needs to know, is not consistent with God’s command for parents to train their children in his ways. However, much of Holt’s writings are beneficial to the Christian home educator” wrote the editors of The Teaching Home.21 Discourses on the meaning of home as the “natural” place of growth and learning flow throughout the pages of the magazines. Authors wrote of the home as the only natural place for real education to take place. Drawing from liberal critics of mass education, authors attacked public education as unnatural and destructive to children.

Global Appeal

The message of self-sufficient education proved popular to homeschooling families around the world. Expatriates comprised a substantial number of contributors to homeschooling periodicals, particularly missionary parents and military families. In 1984 Sue Welch, editor of The Teaching Home, reported receiving letters from Japan, Germany, Brazil, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, England, Thailand, Australia, Zambia, and France.22 “Blessings from Saudi Arabia! Just wanted to thank you for your magazine. It just keeps getting better and better. I have found no Gentle Spirits here in Saudi, but maybe a few will spring up before we leave here! Praise the Lord I am able to get Gentle Spirit and Teaching Home into the country by courier. Getting Gentle Spirit is the monthly boost I need to keep me going here or anywhere”23 wrote a homeschooling mother from Saudi Arabia. Reflecting on her decision to start the publication Above Rubies, Nancy Campbell explained “I was feeling, I guess as most mothers do today the pressure of feminism and humanism all around me in the media, in the education system, and I didn’t feel that there was any encouragement to mothers who are at home. And I felt this burden to get a magazine out that would keep coming to encourage women and affirm their high calling of motherhood.”24 Originally from New Zealand, Campbell arrived in Tennessee in 1991 after living ten years in Australia.25 Her ministry was international from its inception and her magazine soon reached a far-spread international readership. This international focus was encouraged via child pen pal groups and published letters.

The magazines ultimately had the effect of creating community for an international population of disparate families dedicated to the pursuit of home education. The Teaching Home became extremely popular among homeschooling families, reaching a readership of 34,000 in 1994.26 Moreover, it provided a template for evangelical homeschooling periodicals for years to come. Cheryl Lindsey’s Gentle Spirit Magazine had a subscription base of 50,000 by 1994. By 1998 Mary Pride’s Practical Homeschooling reported a subscription rate of 100,000.28 The magazine has adopted “Home School World” as the title for its official website. Above Rubies still enjoys an annual circulation of over 160,000 to over 100 countries worldwide.29

Global Trajectory & Concluding Thoughts

Over the past thirty years, global homeschooling has grown substantially due to increased awareness, technological advancements, and legal victories. Nations with little government oversight of education have understandably seen the most growth. Homeschoolers were early adopters of the use of the internet, and while many of the major publications are still in print, many converted to digital format. The advent of the internet also led to the explosion in online-based umbrella schools that enrolled homeschooling students from countries around the world. The Home School Legal Defense Association meanwhile proved instrumental in challenging national laws against homeschooling and arguing for parental rights.30 A more comprehensive understanding of the universal appeal of home education is needed to address the challenges associated with homeschooling in the twenty-first century. The drawbacks of this trend have not yet been adequately studied, and more research is needed to determine how students of the homeschooling movement have fared upon reaching adulthood and starting families of their own. Ultimately, public educators and administrators must grapple with an increasing trend in individualized schooling and privatization as parents and students seek more non-traditional options for education that allows student greater freedom and self-directed study.  

[1] I am defining “homeschooling” here as the deliberate choice by parents to educate their children at home out of reasons other than simple pragmatism. For overviews of the history of homeschooling in the U.S. see: James C. Carper, “Pluralism to Establishment to Dissent: The Religious and Educational Context of Home Schooling,” Peabody Journal of Education 75, no. 1/2 (2000); “Home Schooling, History, and Historians: The Past as Present,” highschooljour The High School Journal 75, no. 4 (1992); J. Gary Knowles, Stacey E. Marlow, and James A. Muchmore, “From Pedagogy to Ideology: Origins and Phases of Home Education in the United States, 1970-1990,” American Journal of Education 100, no. 2 (1992); Ryan McIlhenny, “The Austin Tea Party: Homeschooling Controversy in Texas, 1986-1994,” Religion & Education 30, no. 2 (2003).

3 Robert Kunzman, Write These Laws on Your Children : Inside the World of Conservative Christian Homeschooling (Boston, Mass.: Beacon Press, 2009); Mitchell Stevens, Kingdom of Children : Culture and Controversy in the Homeschooling Movement (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009); Joseph Murphy, Homeschooling in America : Capturing and Assessing the Movement (New York, NY: SkyHorse Pub., 2014); Jennifer Lois, Home Is Where the School Is : The Logic of Homeschooling and the Emotional Labor of Mothering (New York: New York University Press, 2013).

4 Grace Llewellyn, Freedom Challenge : African American Homeschoolers (Eugene, Ore.: Lowry House, 1996); Brian Ray, “African American Homeschool Parents Motivations for Homeschooling and Their Black Childrens Academic Achievement,” Journal of School Choice Journal of School Choice 9, no. 1 (2015); Martinez Priscilla, “Muslim Homeschooling,”  (2009).

[3] Milton Gaither, Homeschool : An American History (New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).

5 Patrick Farenga, “John Holt and the Origins of Contemporary Homeschooling,” Paths of Learning: Options for Families & Communities 1, no. 1 (1999).

6 For more on Christianity and the Cold War, see: M. Lahr Angela, Millennial Dreams and Apocalyptic Nightmares : The Cold War Origins of Political Evangelicalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007)., David S. Foglesong, The American Mission and the “Evil Empire” : The Crusade for a “Free Russia” since 1881 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007)., Mark Edwards, “”God Has Chosen Us”: Re-Membering Christian Realism, Rescuing Christendom, and the Contest of Responsibilities During the Cold War,” Diplomatic History 33, no. 1 (2009). Jonathan P. Herzog, Spiritual-Industrial Complex America’s Religious Battle against Communism in the Early Cold War (2014).

7 Andrew Preston, “Peripheral Visions: American Mainline Protestants and the Global Cold War,” http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14682745.2012.707648  (22 Feb 2013 2013).https://doi.org/Cold War History, Vol. 13, No. 1, February 2013, pp. 109–130.

8 John W. Meyer et al., “World Expansion of Mass Education, 1870-1980,” Sociology of Education 65, no. 2 (1992).https://doi.org/10.2307/2112679.

9 Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society (London: Calder & Boyars, 1971).

10 Peter Humphreys, “Roland Meighan Obituary,” The Guardian, April 8, 2014 2014.

[4] Farenga.

11 “History,” Education Otherwise, accessed 10/20, 2018, https://www.educationotherwise.org/index.php/about-eo/history (Education Otherwise (EO) was formed by a small group of parents in 1977 and has evolved into a large self-help organisation which offers support and information to members. We take our name from the Education Act, which states that parents are responsible for their children’s education, “either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.”).

12 P. Mark Fackler and Charles H. Lippy, Popular Religious Magazines of the United States. (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995); Candy Gunther Brown, The Word in the World: Evangelical Writing, Publishing, and Reading in America, 1789-1880. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004); James H. Moorehead, “The Millennium and the Media” in Communication and Change in American Religious History. Leonard I. Sweet, Ed., (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1993)

13 Ken Waters, “Vibrant, but Invisible : A Study of Contemporary Religious Periodicals,” Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 78, no. 2 (2001). 307. See also: Mark Fackler and Charles H. Lippy, Popular Religious Magazines of the United States (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995).

14 Sean Latham and Robert Scholes, “The Rise of Periodical Studies”. PMLA. 121, no. 2 (2006): 517-531. 517.

15 Others include No Greater Joy, Patriarch, Quit You like Men, Sarah’s Promise, SALT Magazine, and The Old Schoolhouse.

[5] For more on the common heritage of countercultural movements and evangelicals, see: Preston Shires, Hippies of the Religious Right (Waco, Tex.: Baylor Univ. Press, 2007).

16 Gregg Harris, “The “Home-Like” Home School,” The Teaching Home, February/March, 1984 1984.

[6] .

19 Deb Deffinbaugh, “Is a Home Industry Vital to Home Education?,” The Teaching Home, June/July 1986 1986., 9.

20 Timothy E. W. Gloege, Guaranteed Pure : The Moody Bible Institute, Business, and the Making of Modern Evangelicalism (2015).

21 Ed. Sue Welch, “John Holt Dies of Cancer at 62,” The Teaching Home, October/November 1985 1985., 6.

22 Sue Welch, “Home Schoolers Report from New Zealand,” The Teaching Home, August/September 1984 1984., 3.

23 Anne Blackwelder, “Blessings from Saudi Arabia!,” Gentle Spirit Magazine, November 1992 1992.

24 Interview with Nancy Campbell, “The Above Rubies Ministry, An Overview in Video,” Aboverubies.org. http://aboverubies.org/index.php/home/about-ar-ministry-videos, Accessed October 5th, 2017.

25 Nancy Campbell, “Who are the Campbells?” http://aboverubies.org/index.php/component/content/article?id=546. Updated July 2013. Accessed October 10, 2017.

26 Gaither, 157; Stevens, 119.

28 Isabel Lyman, “Homeschooling: Back to the Future?,” Policy Analysis  (1998-01-07 1998)., 8.

29 “Above Rubies Ministry Overview,” 2018, accessed 10/21, 2018, https://aboverubies.org/~aboverub/index.php/home/ministry-overview.

30 For more on the rise of the HSLDA, see my talk at the American Historical Association, 2019.

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