Skipping School: Homeschooling in Los Angeles County, 1950-2010

Doctoral Dissertation


America is a nation of schools. In a country famous for its early establishment of free schooling, American schools have historically provided foundational shared experiences for children, socializing them into American cultures and economies while also preparing them for intellectual adulthood. Yet in the 1950s, a small number of American parents began to reject normative schooling in favor of teaching their children themselves, an approach that had been out of favor for decades. To most Americans, the idea of a home school seemed oxymoronic, but twenty years later more than ten thousand American children were enrolled in such schools, and by 1999 the number had
reached 850,000. By 2010, that number had once again doubled; in that year, roughly 1 out of every 25 American students was a homeschooler. In other words, thanks to homeschooling, on average every American school classroom is missing one student. Such astonishing growth inspires questions relevant to the larger history of American society. Given that the idea that defines homeschooling – that schooling belongs at home instead of in an institution – stands in clear opposition to most modern schooling, how and why did contemporary homeschooling begin and then, eventually, thrive? Why are two million American children now going to “school” out of the sight and (largely) the control of the American public? This dissertation seeks to answer these questions through an in-depth analysis of the history of homeschooling between 1950 and 2010, focusing on a case study of Los Angeles County. Drawing on both archival sources and oral history, I argue that the history of homeschooling highlights an increasing loss of public confidence in institutions, a loss that occurred as parents lost most of their ability to influence the local schools upon which both the public good and the private good of families and children relied. Homeschooling came to thrive not just because homeschoolers avoided schools but because they addressed the tension between family rights and the public good by creating ways to provide a responsible education – one that the public would eventually partially accept – under parental, rather than institutional, control.


Attribute NameValues
  • etd-04052015-160005

Author Dixie Dillon Lane
Advisor John McGreevy
Contributor John McGreevy, Committee Chair
Contributor Christian Smith, Committee Member
Contributor Jon Coleman, Committee Member
Contributor Mark Noll, Committee Member
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline History
Degree Name PhD
Defense Date
  • 2015-04-07

Submission Date 2015-04-05
  • United States of America

  • education

  • twentieth century

  • California

  • Southern California

  • home school

  • alternative education

  • history of education

  • private school

  • public school

  • institution

  • history of schooling

  • University of Notre Dame

  • English

Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

Departments and Units


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