Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Underwriter Message

Home schooling is surging, but lax regulation can leave kids vulnerable to abuse

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies. There are plenty of battles raging in public education today over textbooks, treatment of transgender students, equitable funding and more. But there's another trend that's kind of gone under the radar, and that's a surge in parents opting for home-schooling rather than traditional school. Our guest today is Washington Post reporter Peter Jamison, who's led a team of Post reporters looking into the rise of home-schooling. Their analysis found that home-schooling is now America's fastest-growing form of education, expanding more rapidly than public or private schools.

While home-schooling was long dominated by Christian conservatives, the Post found home-schooling parents today are far more diverse and that home-schooling is surging in urban, rural and suburban areas among struggling schools and schools with high graduation rates and test scores. Regulation of home-schooling is up to states. Reporters found it varies widely and is often lax, leading to criticism from some advocates that home-schooled kids are being shortchanged academically and are more vulnerable to child abuse.

Peter Jamison is an enterprise reporter at The Post, where he was part of a team of journalists awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for coverage of the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Before writing for the post, Jamison worked at the Los Angeles Times and the Tampa Bay Times. Peter Jamison, welcome to FRESH AIR.

PETER JAMISON: Thanks for having me.

DAVIES: You know, we - at least I think of home-schooling as kind of rooted mostly among Christian conservatives. But is it true that American home-schooling really began in the '70s and kind of grew out of the counterculture left?

JAMISON: Yeah. That's right. So, you know, home-schooling essentially does begin on the left in the 1960s and 1970s in America. One of the early proponents of home-schooling is a man named John Holt, who develops a concept called unschooling, which is essentially philosophy that seeks to liberate children from any structure of formal education, that, you know, a child should be free to learn what they want when they want to. And Holt, who is someone who himself was educated at Phillips Exeter Academy and Yale, comes to turn against the whole concept of formal education. And this notion is embraced by a lot of parents, as you noted, Dave, on the countercultural left. But what happens is that, beginning in the 1980s, this whole philosophy and this practice is really sort of co-opted and then taken over by people on the right who have, you know, an aversion to public schools specifically for very different reasons.

DAVIES: Right. You know, it's interesting. And I grew up - I went to public schools in South Texas in the early '60s. I didn't know anybody who taught their kid at home. Was it clear back then that it was even legal to keep your child home and teach them yourself?

JAMISON: No. Sometimes in reciting the history of home-schooling, people say that home-schooling was once illegal in much of the country, and in some cases, that was technically true. But really, it's less of a case of home-schooling being illegal in much of the United States by the time it begins to take off widely in the early 1980s so much is that it's just not a concept that's really contemplated by the law in many states.

So the reaction of school district officials and even of police and prosecutors in much of the country when home-schooling really begins to come into its own 40 years ago is to view it - you know, unless a parent happens to have a teaching certificate, if they're certified by their state as a professional educator, anyone else who wants to teach their kids at home - they basically view that as either a form of truancy or as a form of educational neglect, which leads to this whole series of extensive battles in courts and legislatures over the legal status of home-schooling, which is really where this new faction of home-schooling parents and activists on the conservative religious right kind of comes into its own.

DAVIES: Right. You know, we should note that, you know, regulation of education generally is decentralized. I mean, it's done by - the overall rules are set by the 50 states. And then, of course, there are, in most states, hundreds of individual school districts, which promulgate their own policies about it. So it's kind of decentralized. So how did the Christian conservative movement take this on and normalize, if you will, home-schooling?

JAMISON: This was a time when groups like the Moral Majority are beginning to rise to prominence. And for parents who are concerned about what they view as the secularization of American society, a trend that they perceive particularly in what is being taught and sort of the values that are being communicated to children in the public schools - home-schooling becomes a very powerful tool for sort of fighting back against that trend. And you've got parents in this period who have a number of concerns about things that are being communicated in the public schools. This could be anything from the teaching of evolution by natural selection to anything else. But home-schooling is viewed by people on the religious right at this time as sort of a powerful means of shielding their children from, you know, what they believe to be a malign secular influence in the public schools, and that's why it's really adopted by this group. And with their adoption of it is truly the beginning of what we know as the modern home-schooling movement and the kind of energy and activism that really changed the regulatory landscape of home-schooling across the United States.

DAVIES: An organization emerges, the Home School Legal Defense Association, which has been around for decades - still around, right? I mean, what was its role in all this?

JAMISON: So HSLDA, the Home School Legal Defense Association, is a group founded in 1983. It took on the cases of parents who found themselves in various forms of legal peril in the early days of home-schooling, when its legality was not well-established, and would take their cases in court, would represent them, give them legal advice on how to deal with local school district officials and local law enforcement officials. But HSLDA comes to embody much grander political ambitions both in home-schooling and in other policy areas as well and plays a very decisive role in sort of changing the regulatory landscape of home-schooling in America. And one of the figures who's very much at the center of that story is a man named Michael Farris, who is one of the co-founders of HSLDA.

DAVIES: Michael Farris is still a very influential figure. I read that he speaks of creating a Joshua generation, in part, through home-schooling. What does he mean?

JAMISON: So Michael Farris is a really fascinating figure, and he is arguably the most prominent and influential leader of the modern home-schooling movement. Farris is an attorney originally from Washington state. He begins his career working for conservative groups such as the Moral Majority and Concerned Women for America. You know, as he comes to the helm of the Home School Legal Defense Association, what's so interesting about him is in Farris' work and in his activism and public statements, you can really perceive the twin ambitions of what is taking shape in this period in the '80s and '90s as the conservative Christian home-schooling movement.

So there is this desire to free home-schooling parents from regulation, really, to the furthest extent possible. You know, I actually recently did an interview with Jim Mason, who's the current president of the Home School Legal Defense Association. I asked him if there had ever been a home-schooling regulation that they had supported, and he said he couldn't think of one. But in addition to that effort to win freedom from regulation for home-schooling parents, there's also sort of repeated attacks on the public schools themselves. So it's not just about fighting for the right of parents to essentially opt out of a public education system which the Home School Legal Defense Association finds many problems with, but Farris and others from the very beginning have ambitions to change what's happening inside the public schools that they're deserting.

DAVIES: And what do they want to change?

JAMISON: So the overall critique of the conservative Christian home-schooling movement of the public education system in America - and, you know, there are many different facets to it. But, you know, if you wanted to summarize it, I think it lies in the conviction among people like Michael Farris - and this is something he himself has stated repeatedly - that there is no values-neutral form of education, that any form of education, you're bringing a child up in certain values, perhaps even certain political beliefs; that this is an unavoidable thing and that if you don't do it with an explicitly religious bent, that what happens is that you are then educating a child with an explicitly secular bent.

And so if education is an inherently values-laden act, which Michael Farris believes it is, then by sending a kid into the public schools, you're sort of turning your child over to a certain secular, liberal form of education and worldview to which people like Farris are very hostile. And this is why a lot of their activism revolves around being able to make choices for children, either to educate them with an explicit religious dimension outside the public schools or to allow more of that into the public schools themselves, you know, in cases where it's not constitutionally problematic.

DAVIES: You and your colleagues have reported that this Home School Legal Defense Association, led by Michael Farris, was effective over decades because they and their followers were passionate, committed and relentless, you know? If they failed in the legislature, came up short one year, they'd be back in the next session. And over time, they had enormous impact, didn't they? How did they change the face of the legal status of home-schooling?

JAMISON: So South Dakota is a great example of the larger trends that you see in home-schooling activism and regulation. So in 1993, South Dakota repeals a law which at that time requires that for home-schooling families, school administrators actually have to make home visits.

This is something that today is really the nightmare scenario for a lot of home-schooling parents when they think of intrusive government regulation. But back then it was considered normal, at least in this state, that a local school administrator or superintendent would actually come to the child's home to, you know, make sure it's a safe environment, make sure that the parents have some idea of what they're doing. But that law is repealed. And then three years after that, home educators in South Dakota are granted greater leeway in selecting the standardized tests they use to assess their children. Again after that, 2011, there's a requirement that home schools receive approval from local school boards in South Dakota that's dropped.

And then in 2021, you know, amidst this huge surge in home-schooling in the pandemic, you know, this sort of movement to eliminate or reduce regulation in South Dakota really finds its ultimate fulfillment. And legislators eliminate any requirement that children in that state take standardized tests - home-schooled children take standardized tests and submit them to education officials there. So it's kind of a remarkable trend. You can see just between 1993 and 2021, you've gone from a situation where school administrators are actually going into the homes of South Dakota families to a situation in which those families have to provide a one-time notice that they're home-schooling their kids, but otherwise essentially face no oversight at all.

DAVIES: We need to take a break here. Let me reintroduce you. We are speaking with Peter Jamison. He's an enterprise reporter for The Washington Post. He and a team of Post reporters have written stories about the dramatic expansion of home-schooling in the United States. We'll continue our conversation in just a moment. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALLEN TOUSSAINT'S "EGYPTIAN FANTASY")

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and we're speaking with Washington Post enterprise reporter Peter Jamison. He and a team of Post reporters have recently been writing about the dramatic expansion of home-schooling in the United States.

So we were talking about how the Christian conservative movement, for over many years, worked in courts and state legislatures to restrict or remove government regulations on parents who want to do home-schooling. Let's see where we stand today. I mean, every state is a little different, or regulations in states vary. Is it pretty lax? Are there places where, basically, parents can do whatever they want, don't even have to notify a district if they pull their kid out of school?

JAMISON: Yeah, I think the current state of home-schooling regulation in America - and I think both advocates of increasing regulation and advocates of decreasing regulation would probably agree on this - is lax. And there are various dimensions of regulation we could talk about, whether that's ensuring children are free from abuse in home-schooling environments or making sure that they're free from educational neglect, that they're learning and staying on par with their peers in conventional school settings. But if you take one measure, which is just children's academic success, especially when you compare it to the kind of battery of academic assessments that children in traditional schools face in the United States in 2024, it's remarkable how little oversight there is of home-schooled children.

So in a majority of U.S. states, home-schooled kids are not subject to any form of academic assessment. Parents can still assess their kids if they want. They can give them a standardized test and see how they're doing. But in terms of what is actually sent into a local school district or to state officials to ensure that children are progressing, the answer is nothing. And in 11 of those states, parents aren't even required to take the fundamental step of informing anyone that they're home-schooling their kids.

So, you know, if I'm a parent in a state like Texas or Illinois or Connecticut and I decide I want to begin home-schooling, all I have to do is keep my kid home from school. You know, there's no paperwork you're required to file or anything like that. But even in the states that have academic assessments or assessment requirements of some form, it's not at all what people think of in terms of a traditional, rigorous, objective academic testing regimen that you might see in, for instance, a public school.

So what we found in our analysis is that in only three states - New York, Pennsylvania and Hawaii - are all home-schooled children required at some point to submit standardized test results to a government agency. And so in the remaining states that do require some form of assessment, there are a number of different ways you can do it. But, you know, there are various ways for parents to sort of avoid an objective academic assessment of the kind that you might think of with the standardized tests if they want to. They could do a portfolio review, they could submit student work samples. And so, again, even in states where home-schooling academic oversight does exist, it looks very different from what you might imagine based on, you know, the experience of a conventional school setting.

DAVIES: You've also discovered that the composition of parents who are keeping their kids home for their education has changed. It used to be dominated by Christian conservatives. It used to be three-quarters white, even as recently as 2019. That has changed. So, you know, if it's true that Christian conservatives are a smaller percentage of home-schooling families, what have you learned about other motivations for parents who want to keep their kids home and educate them?

JAMISON: So what we found in our survey is a number of motivations that indicate both the diversification of the home-schooling population but also some of the ways in which the debates that we, as a society, are having over what's taught in schools generally are playing out - you know, the ways that's affecting the decisions of parents to home-school. So one thing we heard from a lot of parents - this was actually - you know, nearly half of the parents in our survey said that they felt that local public schools were too influenced by liberal viewpoints. So these are parents who are often reacting against school teachings or school policies on subjects like race or gender, who are deciding, because of that, to home-school.

But what's also very interesting is that we found that roughly 1 in 4 parents are actually choosing to home-school because they feel like their local public schools are too influenced by conservative viewpoints. So, you know, in our reporting, following up with these parents, we find these are often people who live in conservative states - you know, Florida is sort of the paradigmatic example here - where the state legislatures have placed certain restrictions on what can be taught on certain subjects, such as America's history of racism or gender identity, and parents are leaving their public schools out of concern over those new laws.

And this is something that I think is really worth emphasizing because, you know, to someone who studied home-schooling 10 years ago or 20 years ago or even five years ago, the idea that fully a quarter of parents would be choosing to home-school because of a concern about conservative bias in the public schools is, you know, really a remarkable development. And so that's part of what we, you know, have seen in our survey results.

DAVIES: The other thing that you note is that parents who make this decision to home-school don't have to do all of the teaching now maybe compared to parents 20 or 30 years ago. How has that changed?

JAMISON: Yeah, it's changed enormously. And my colleague Laura Meckler, who worked on this series with me, did a great story about this looking at the rise of microschools. For a long time, some form of communal home education has been common. So I think the typical example of this, in years past, was the parent co-op, where if you have a group of home-schooling parents who live in a certain area, maybe one parent is stronger in math, another is stronger in science, another, you know, maybe knows something about literature. They each take turns teaching the kids once a week.

But what we've seen over the last few years is the rise of something that's very different. And these entities - we sort of refer to them with the blanket term microschools - but they often exist in sort of a legal gray area in many states. I mean, in many cases, these are essentially unaccredited and unregulated private schools. But, you know, they're places where - like, one place that Laura visited in New Hampshire - where parents drop their kids off for the day. They study online there kind of under the supervision of someone who's not actually a certified teacher. You know, the technical term this person used to refer to herself is a guide. And they just sort of work on their own, and their parents pick them up later. And it's a very different environment from a typical private school.

But what the rise of organizations like this has done is essentially to remove some of the logistical hurdles for parents who would find home-schooling very challenging in other circumstances. I mean, it's an enormous sacrifice of time and oftentimes an enormous financial sacrifice to home-school in the conventional way that many people think of, where it's a parent sitting at the kitchen table with their child and teaching them things. But the rise of these microschools, some of which are sort of organized and run through very large Airbnb-like companies, has sort of made it possible for parents who work full-time, who oppose their traditional school options for whatever the reason might be, but also don't want to spend all their time teaching their kid at home to have another option.

And so, you know, this is another one of the interesting developments in home-schooling over the last few years is that for many home-schooled children, their parents are no longer their teachers, which, again, was not something that was really contemplated in home-schooling or in the laws governing home-schooling in earlier decades.

DAVIES: We're going to take another break here. Let me reintroduce you. We are speaking with Peter Jamison. He's an enterprise reporter for the Washington Post. He'll be back to discuss the stories he and a team of Post reporters have written on the expansion of home-schooling in America after a short break. I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF AKRON/FAMILY SONG, "EVERYONE IS GUILTY")

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, and we're speaking with Washington Post enterprise reporter Peter Jamison. He and a team from The Post have written a series of stories about the dramatic expansion of home-schooling in the United States. While home-schooling was long dominated by Christian conservatives, The Post reporters found that parents opting for home-schooling are now more diverse and motivated by a variety of factors. Before we begin, I just want to advise our listeners that in our conversation, we will discuss one or two cases of child abuse. We won't dwell on them or - graphically, but be advised that there will be some discussion of a couple of cases.

One of the questions raised about home-schooling is whether students who are taken out of public school are not subject to the same routine checks for child abuse and neglects. You know, the law typically says that there are certain mandated reporters - you know, educators, guidance counselors, doctors - who, if they see a sign of abuse or neglect, are required - legally required to report it. Obviously, a kid in a home setting is different. You wrote about a tragic story of an 11-year-old kid from Michigan named Roman Lopez. You want to just describe what the rules in Michigan were when he was being home-schooled?

JAMISON: Yeah. So it's a simple answer - there are none. You know, Michigan is one of the 11 so-called no-notice states in this country where parents are, you know, not even required to tell anyone they're home-schooling, let alone submit to any form of regulation by state officials. And situations of this kind are ones that activists often point to as sort of the worst-case scenarios for what can happen with America's current lack of regulation of home-schooling in many states. And, you know, Roman is, as you said, he was 11 years old when he died. You know, several years before that, he was removed from school by his stepmother, a woman named Lindsay Piper. And Roman and his siblings were home-schooled. Again, because of the rules in Michigan, there was not a requirement to actually fill out any paperwork, submit any instructional plans or even tell anyone that they were home-schooling.

And when you look at his case - and I examined the court documents in this case really extensively, I also spoke to two of Roman's surviving stepbrothers - what they say is that this really was a ruse that their mother employed to prevent the type of scrutiny that would have come in a normal public school setting, that the abuse of Roman - and Roman was subject to very severe forms of abuse including starvation, including close confinement - that these are things that would have been noticed by a teacher. And both of his stepbrothers said this in interviews with me and also in victim impact statements they submitted to the court - that home-schooling was something that essentially, you know, shielded them from the type of scrutiny that could have perhaps not have prevented the abuse in the first place, but at least could have prevented it from escalating to the extent that it did to the point where Roman ultimately was found in a storage container in his family's basement in early 2020, dead.

DAVIES: Right. And his stepmother and father both pled guilty to second-degree murder, right?

JAMISON: His stepmother pleaded no contest to second-degree murder. She's currently serving 15-year to life sentence in state prison in California, which is where they had moved shortly before Roman was murdered. His father has pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.

DAVIES: It is a particularly painful story to read because the other kids at home at time were actually enlisted to join in the abuse of little Roman. And the truth is that although the mom had a lot of kids at home, there was actually literally no home-schooling going on, was there, as far as you could tell?

JAMISON: Yeah. What they said is that for a few weeks, there was sort of a semblance of home-schooling that went on. You know, their mom got them some laptop computers, they signed into some online education programs, but that after a couple of weeks, that pretense of education was completely dropped. And their mom, their ostensible home educator, just sort of lay in bed watching TV crime procedurals all day, and they played Xbox or were kind of left to their own devices. And that's literally what they did for years up until the time Roman was murdered and their situation changed.

But this is an example of, again, the type of worst-case scenario that can unfold in the absence of any home-schooling regulation. And, you know, it's noteworthy, and it's not an accident that this happened in Michigan because, you know, Michigan is a no-notice state, but Michigan is also a state that occupies sort of a special place in the story that the home-schooling movement and home-schooling activists tell about themselves. In 1993, the Michigan State Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional the requirement that only state-certified educators can home-school, and the Home School Legal Defense Association and conservative Christian home-schooling activists generally consider this to really be kind of a milestone moment and arguably the greatest courtroom victory that the movement has had.

DAVIES: Now, there were efforts in the legislature, after some of these earlier cases of child abuse, to change some of the rules that govern home-schooling. And after you wrote your story about the death of Roman Lopez, this 11-year-old boy, there is, again, a renewed push for changing some of the laws that relate to home-schooling. What kind of reaction has it gotten from the home-schooling advocates?

JAMISON: Yeah. So back in 2015, one of the earlier efforts to regulate that you refer to, then Michigan State Representative Stephanie Chang, she attempted to establish what I think many would agree is just a very minimum baseline level of regulation, which is that she proposed a bill requiring that home-schoolers have to register with the state and also, that home-schooled children have to check in, you know, at least twice a year. They have to be seen by some form of mandated reporter of child abuse, whether that's a teacher or a doctor or psychologist.

Now, again, for comparison's sake, a child who attends a public or private school, they interact every day of the school year with a mandated reporter in the form of teachers and school officials. What you saw in response to that effort in 2015 was really characteristic of how home-schooling activists, at least in the past, respond to any efforts to reregulate home-schooling or rollback the absence of regulation that they've established. Chang's office got hundreds of calls, angry home-schoolers began showing up to her fellow legislators' constituent coffee hours, and the bill never got a hearing in committee. So, as you said, you know, Michigan is now contemplating some form of home-schooling regulation again. This comes after both our story on Roman Lopez, also after the attorney general in Michigan, Dana Nessel, announced charges against foster parents who she said were using - or taking advantage of the state's lax home-schooling regulations to abuse their children. There's not a bill yet in that state, so we don't know what it's going to look like. But already, home-schooling activists are mobilizing in opposition to it, essentially trying to do the same thing over again that they did in 2015. So the Home School Legal Defense Association has put out an alert to its members saying that they need to talk to their legislators to oppose this bill. They provided talking points about why efforts to register home-schoolers will not succeed in preventing child abuse. And I think, you know, what we're going to see in Michigan, if and when a bill is introduced this session, is really kind of an early test case for what efforts to regulate home-schooling might look like and how they might fare with this dramatically expanded and sort of demographically more diverse home-schooling population.

So, you know, the big question will be, now that home-schooling is, again, more diverse, not as dominated by conservative Christian activists who are sort of inherently opposed to government regulation of home-schooling - will efforts to regulate be potentially more successful? Could there even be home-schoolers who, themselves, welcome efforts to regulate, saying, you know, hey. It's not a big deal if I have to tell someone once a year I'm home-schooling my kid or have to take him to see a doctor twice a year just to show that they've been seen by an adult outside their household who can confirm they're not being abused.

DAVIES: We're speaking with Peter Jamison He is an enterprise reporter for The Washington Post. We'll continue our conversation after this short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLOWBERN'S "WHEN WAR WAS KING")

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and we're speaking with Peter Jamison. He's an enterprise reporter for The Washington Post. He led a team of reporters who are looking into the dramatic expansion of home-schooling in the United States.

You know, you have a lengthy story about a couple in Virginia - the Bealls, Aaron and Christina Beall - who decided to send their 6-year-old daughter to public school even though they themselves had grown up being home-schooled in a conservative Christian family. Tell us a bit about their background and the kind of educational environment they grew up in and expected to raise their kids in.

JAMISON: So Aaron and Christina really grew up at kind of the white-hot core of the conservative Christian home-schooling movement, and they both grew up in conservative evangelical families. Christina attended Patrick Henry College, which is a college founded by Michael Farris, specifically catering to the home-schooling population. Aaron did not actually attend college. But they both came from a background which home-schooling was practiced as a way of life and in which it was never really thought about that they would do anything other than home-school their kids. And, you know, to kind of get the sense of the magnitude of their decision ultimately not to home-school - you know, one thing that Aaron told me is that he thought it was actually harder to tell his parents that he wasn't home-schooling than it was to tell them that he'd become an atheist when he had to convey that news to them.

But Aaron and Christina - their reevaluation of home-schooling was part of sort of a broader reevaluation of the religious beliefs with which they've been raised. But they, for a number of reasons, were having some issues with how home-schooling was going for one of their children - their daughter, Aimee. And they live in Round Hill, Va., near a very reputable public elementary school. And they just sort of decided, after kind of much soul-searching and much discussion, that they would try sending her there for a year to see how it went. And that decision sort of led to this complete reevaluation of everything they'd been raised to believe.

You know, they'd been taught that public schools are terrible places, places children should not enter, where, you know, kids are bullied or sexually assaulted or where there's explicit anti-Christian teaching. And what they found is that their daughter actually really thrived in this environment and that none of the kind of more exaggerated fears that had been conveyed to them when they were children about the public education system were actually true. And so they're now sending all three of their school-aged children - they have a fourth who's not school age yet - to the public school. And that's caused them both to kind of embrace public education but also to kind of reevaluate and think much more critically and have much more kind of a negative perspective on their own upbringing and the conservative Christian home-schooling movement.

DAVIES: It's interesting that kind of the seeds of doubt, at least as I read the story, in part involved them being schooled in using corporal punishment to raise their kids - pretty detailed instructions about that - which they rebelled at. Was that sort of what began to unravel their commitment to the way of life that they'd known?

JAMISON: That was a very large part of it, yeah. I - you know, Aaron and Christina - and again, for them, corporal punishment was, as they described it to me, sort of an integral aspect of their experience as children and their educational experience to some extent as well. But, you know, they described for me - and Christina Beall has actually - she saves a lot of things, and she saved some documents that she showed me, one of which was a worksheet that she and Aaron got at a parenting seminar they attended, actually, before they were married. But, you know, this says something about how they conceived their family life before they got married - that they attended a seminar on parenting and marriage at a church. And one of the kind of instructional units was about how to hit your children. You know, it cited biblical verses in support of corporal punishment, on the use of the rod and breaking the child's will.

And there's this sort of remarkable back-and-forth they have that was captured and that I could see years later because they were writing notes to each other in the margins of this worksheet, you know, literally about how to beat your children, saying, you know, I'm not sure I can do this. It sounds like being a parent - you have to be very stern and harsh, and I don't know if I want to follow through with this. And I think certainly for Aaron this played a big part - I mean, for both of them eventually, but probably more so for Aaron at first, this played a big part in their reevaluation of their own childhoods - is that when it came time for them to do to their kids what had been done to them - you know, essentially, when it came time to hit their children as they've been taught they should - he found he couldn't do it. And so, yeah, as you put it, you know, that sort of is the first tug at this thread that ultimately unravels his entire way of looking at the universe and his place in it.

DAVIES: You know, most of the stories in this series that you and your colleagues have written are about the movement toward home-schooling, more people adopting it. The Bealls here are exactly the opposite. They're abandoning home-schooling and sending their kids to public school and feeling good about it. Are they representative of a trend of evangelical Christians abandoning home-schooling?

JAMISON: They are representative of a trend. I think there's no question of that. And you can see this in, you know, some figures from popular culture like Ginger Duggar, who was home-schooled under very controversial - the teachings of a very controversial figure named Bill Gothard in the conservative Christian home-schooling movement. It's difficult to assess how large that trend is. The voices of these children are certainly numerous and powerful. The sole organization that exists to lobby on behalf of home-schooled children and for increased home-school regulation nationally today is called the coalition for Responsible Home Education. That was actually founded by home-schooling alumni who came out of families like Christina and Aaron Beall and came out of the conservative Christian home-schooling movement.

But I think regardless of how many of these kids there are, one reason we did a story that extensive about Aaron and Christina is that I think the voices of these kids should be accorded a certain amount of weight because this is really - these now-young adults who are in their, you know, late 20s, 30s, early 40s - this is sort of the first generation to come of age within the American home-schooling movement.

DAVIES: When you say the kids in this case, you're referring to the parents, right? They were kids who were home-schooled and grew up to be these parents.

JAMISON: Yeah, yeah. So, yeah, they're kids who are now parents. And this is really - you know, I don't want to describe them in this sort of clinical sense, but these are sort of kind of the first people who can - they're like the early results of America's nationwide experiment in home education. So, you know, this is the first generation of now-matured adults who can reflect back on their home-schooling experience and what it meant for them, what it meant for their lives, what it meant for their, you know, educational and professional prospects. So I think the perspectives of those children who have now become adults are very important.

And, you know, it's worth saying that they're not all negative. You know, I mean, there are many people who, unlike Christina and Aaron, felt that they had very positive home-schooling experiences, have gone on to tremendous success in whatever field they chose, in many cases may have even chosen to stay and perpetuate the conservative Christian home-schooling movement. But whatever their point of view, I think that generation of home-schoolers and its perspective on home-schooling is very important, as home-schooling is now embraced much more widely across the United States.

DAVIES: Well, Peter Jamison, thanks so much for speaking with us.

JAMISON: Thanks for having me.

DAVIES: Peter Jamison is an enterprise reporter for The Washington Post. You can find the stories he and a team of Post reporters have written on home-schooling on the Post's website. Coming up, we remember Pulitzer Prize-winning TV critic Tom Shales. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOMMASO-RAVA QUARTET'S "L'AVVENTURA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Dave Davies is a guest host for NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross.