Last weekend both major homeschool convention companies in the country—Great Homeschool Conventions (GHC) and Teach Them Diligently—held their opening conventions of the 2021 school year. After a year of closures, cancellations (Brennan Dean of GHC was careful to say they “rescheduled” their conventions), and reschedulings, homeschooling was back.
Of course, it never left. The year 2020, or as it’s known in China, the Year of the Virus, caused a wave of new homeschooling. Some of this was predictable, normal growth: parents are increasingly fed up with transgender athletes in their kids’ locker rooms, with anti-Americanism and nation-hate, and with a never-ending torrent of race guilt. (This is soon to be accelerated by the spread of another virus, the 1619 Project Curriculum and the widespread submission to “critical race” nonsense.
Parents fled traditional schools and even private/charter schools. It wasn’t a wave prior to 2020, but the indications of a growing stream were there. The popular curriculum “Classical Conversations” (CC), wherein students simultaneously read works from different disciplines (including our own Patriot’s History of the United States), was up 50% since 2018 according to CC CEO Robert Bortins. The lack of in-person meetings “made it tough,” Bortins noted because CC is such a group-intensive curriculum. Now the company was getting back on track, showing even significant international growth.
But the 2020 lockdowns and obstruction by the teachers’ unions opened the floodgates for homeschooling. David Nunnery, president of “Teach Them Diligently,” first saw this in his vendors' online sales of homeschool curriculum. The 2020 buying season was “very strong” for online exhibitors. Abeka, a K-12 all-everything curriculum vendor had a “record year,” according to representative Nick Stewart. He said the company saw “huge unexpected increases--no way to gauge vs. 2021---but lots of new students including non-Christian.” Classical Conversations’ 2021 online business and enrollments for their CC classes were both up 15% so far this year.
The 2021 conventions, though, would offer a challenge. Many states where conventions are held (Tennessee, Missouri, New York, Ohio, and Arizona, among many others) still either have statewide mask/social distancing mandates, or the cities where the events are held have such mandates. Nunnery’s biggest convention of the year, Nashville, was limited by those mandates. “We had rooms that could hold 2,000 people and were limited to just 200,” he said. City mandates limited the number of customers, meaning his overall numbers were down about 30%. Nunnery found that “20% of my customers won’t come if there is not a mask mandate, 20% won’t come if there is a mandate, and 60% will put up with it either way.” But at GHC’s Greenville Convention, which I attended, and where probably 2/3s to 3/4s of the attendees and vendors did not wear masks, there was an incident where a woman broke down in tears because there was no mask enforcement. (The Greenville Convention Center “recommended” masks but did not enforce the mandate). As Nunnery noted, much of the attitude toward masks depended on where the convention was held. In blue states, especially heavily liberal cities, the Karen Gene is run amok. (I sat next to one such Karen on the plane to Greenville.) In Nashville, police showed up one time from an anonymous complaint about lax mask enforcement, and, Nunnery recalled, a second time the health officials showed up. The Convention went on, but, he said, “I was afraid they were going to shut us down.
“Families were just thankful that they could gather,” he observed. In two days of exhibiting the Wild World of History curriculum, I didn’t receive so much as a comment from anyone about not wearing a mask.
There were fewer exhibitors at both conventions, a trend that has been growing over the last few years with more online sales. Jim Hodges, who has an audiobook business and a regular exhibitor, found that overall conventions he attended were down 30-40% from five years ago, a trend he attributed to the growth of online sales. But this year, many of the major exhibitors, including Rainbow Resources, out of Chicago, was not traveling. At GHC, Brennan Dean applied last year’s registrations and exhibitor fees to 2021's conventions, but still, he noted the hotel count was down, attendance was down, and exhibitors were not traveling.” It was “nerve-wracking.” GHC “didn’t run a clicker” on how many registered attendees actually showed up (having pre-paid), but those who did show up were “bought in.” They strongly supported the vendors. For example, Shiela del Charco at Sonlight Christian Homeschool Curriculum was “surprised with how busy” they were. Sonlight “gave out just about all categories” of its materials and noted there were a “lot of new homeschoolers.”
Pretty much everyone I interviewed at the Greenville GHC convention had the same experience. Hodges said he made his entire convention on Thursday night alone. Nunnery said the Nashville vendors “had an incredible event,” which he attributed in part to the reduced number of vendors. “The money was split differently.” Also, the government stimulus checks had just come out. Unfortunately, both Nashville (for Teach them Diligently) and Greenville (for GHC) may be the high-water mark of conventions this year. In Pennsylvania the Christian Homeschool Education convention was canceled, and Virginia’s homeschool convention was canceled. Dean moved the Midwest Homeschool Convention, his largest with a typical attendance of over 5,000 paid registration, from April 2021 to August in hopes that Governor Mike DeWine might relax some of the requirements. GHC’s California and New York conventions look to struggle, but the Florida, Texas, and Arizona conventions may be down only slightly. Even so, Nunnery plans to restructure his convention business and plans to do only two (down from seven or eight) in 2022. One indicator of the difficulty conventions are having is seen in who the vendors are: there are increasingly more non-curriculum vendors (kitchen appliances, health supplements, and colleges) filling the exhibition halls.
Does that mean homeschooling is declining? Quite the opposite. Prior to the China Virus, the National Homeschool Association estimated that there were about two million students homeschooled. Nunnery, who keeps his own numbers based on “partial” homeschools, where parents may send their kids to a private academy or charter school part-time for either specific classes or athletics, claims the number was closer to five million. He estimates that 8% of all students are currently homeschooled (we at Wild World of History put the number at 5%). As parents have reacted to the China Virus and school shutdowns, the National Homeschool Association says that there are about 10 million homeschoolers. Nunnery thinks the number is closer to 15 million, or 20% of all American students. However, he warned, as soon as public and private schools reopen, the number of new students will drop by as much as 90%. Many parents chose homeschooling as a last desperate option and were never happy with it, he claimed. But homeschooling would retain about 10% of the new students as “stickers”—those who find it more attractive than public schools.
In other words, by the time this shakes out, homeschooling may have risen by 20%, settling at 10 million American students. More than ever, these numbers will include non-traditional homeschoolers, including more liberal families, non-Christian families, and even Muslims. One notable feature in Greenville was the number of booths from colleges and universities: Liberty University, Bob Jones University, Pensacola Christian, and at least a half dozen more. One long-time exhibitor noted that while the state colleges are trying to exclude homeschoolers, most top-flight universities covet them. However, recruiters are not allowed on most campuses, so the next best recruitment environment is the convention circuit.
Why would so many students return to even somewhat limited situations, horrible curricula, and new sexual regulations? There are several answers. First, homeschooling is not easy. Some parents are not equipped to teach their children in some subjects—I know my wife and I happily admitted we could never have taught math to my son! It is hard work. Careful schedules have to be made and kept. Second, and perhaps most important, few parents who previously worked full-time jobs can afford to leave their work and become teachers at home in today's two-income families. Finally, some students easily handle the mental side of courses wherever they were but need more socialization with other children. This is especially true of only children or those born far apart. And on top of all that, parents pay for schools they are now not using.
It seems safe to say that, on the one hand, homeschooling will continue to grow until the government throttles it with the new “inclusion” laws (these are coming). Such laws will require, as part of acknowledging a homeschool education, that courses in “critical race” and transgender inclusion be taught and that all language be “inclusive.” Such laws are already being drafted. Until then, homeschooling will grow, and educational sales online will grow while conventions continue to shrink. Perhaps the biggest remaining question is, “How long will even the reluctant public school parents continue to put up with gender nonsense, self-hating curricula in the major fields of study, and falling performance standards of public schools?”
The China Virus has already started the attack on private schools with an article in the Atlantic, “Private schools have Become Truly Obscene,” lamenting the fact that New York private schools are actually meeting in person while public schools are still incapacitated by Governor Cuomo (“Nipplepin Venthoarder”) and Mayor Bill de Blasio. Private schools are the canary in the coal mine for homeschoolers: once they are gone, homeschooling can be all but wiped out.