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The rise of homeschooling and classical education

Adeline A. Allen | Millennial parents make sure their children are immersed in the true, the good, and the beautiful

A homeschooling family gathers around the kitchen counter for a lesson in their home in Vermont. Associated Press/Photo by Charles Krupa

The rise of homeschooling and classical education
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As a child growing up during the 18th century in the Caribbean and by no means wealthy, Alexander Hamilton had a number of books. One of which seems to have been Plutarch’s Lives. Judging from Hamilton’s writings from his youth onward, Plutarch helped form the man he became.

The kind of education that would have students read Plutarch has long fallen by the wayside in mainstream American schools—but, thankfully, not in all schools.

Homeschooling has been on the rise in the United States for decades. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the trend, and during the 2020-2021 academic year, 11 percent of American children were homeschooled—nearly double the figure recorded at the beginning of the pandemic. And that’s the number of children who were actually homeschooled, not those who were taking part in “virtual learning” from home through their public or private schools.

And who are these parents who homeschool their children? Millennials. If Alexander Hamilton grew up lacking in luxuries but blessed with Plutarch, millennials were raised in materially well-off America but impoverished in their knowledge of Western heritage and bereft of its inheritance.

Mark Bauerlein discusses this sad state in his books The Dumbest Generation and The Dumbest Generation Grows Up. Rather than being given their rightful heritage, millennials, for the most part, got handed a mess of pottage—a thin gruel of deconstruction and politically correct multiculturalism. And now? To so many of millennials’ children, an even worse thing is given: a pot of message—the woke message (or perhaps more accurately, the woke religion).

Thankfully, there is a renaissance of classical education happening in our country. Some of it occurs in private and charter schools. Some of it, though, takes place in the living rooms, kitchens, and children’s bedroom floors all across America—that is, in the home, with homeschooling.

Millennials may have been cheated out of their rightful heritage, but perhaps a sizeable portion of their children won’t be.

The word tradition comes from the Latin tradere, which means to hand over or hand down. If much of education is about tradition, well, what is it we ought to hand down?

Moses taught the children of Israel to know the Lord (“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!”) and to love Him with all their heart and soul and might. Next, he told them to teach their children diligently of the Lord and His ways—to “talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.”

Deep calls unto deep. Human beings have a natural hunger for the deep things of God, some of which can be found in the true, the good, and the beautiful so grandly worked out in Western thought. It seems we could trace at least some of the current rise of classical education in homeschooling (and other schools) to millennials, now parents, trying to recapture and preserve the Western tradition, with all its riches of the true, the good, and the beautiful—for their own children.

Of course, the Western tradition is also laden with the riches of the Judeo-Christian heritage. It makes sense for parents who would like to train up their children in the ways of the Lord—to hand down that faith and tradition to their children—to teach them classically. And it makes sense for parents who would like to do this to do it in the home, where so much formation takes place. There is a happy harmony to be found in such education of the handing down of the faith that was once delivered unto the saints, together with the pursuit to be fully human, free and virtuous and flourishing—toward the beholding face-to-face the love that moves the sun and moon and stars.

Tradition is not the worship of ashes but the preservation of fire, it has been said. In that spirit, it is delightful to see one popular classical Christian homeschool curriculum assign to students Plutarch’s Lives—as early as the fourth grade. It also assigns The Pilgrim’s Progress in second grade. May each little Christian studying with that curriculum grow in virtue in his pilgrimage to the Celestial City.

Millennials may have been cheated out of their rightful heritage, but perhaps a sizeable portion of their children won’t be. The landscape of the Western world has been looking pretty desolate, but perhaps, Lord-willing, it shall not always be so. Perhaps some green growth is sprouting up even now, with the children whose generation is called—of all monikers!—Generation Alpha. Perhaps it is as St. Benedict said: “Always, we begin again.”

Adeline A. Allen

Adeline A. Allen is an associate professor of law at Trinity Law School.


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