Austin Roberts (ornithologist), Genl. Jan Smuts, C Louis Leipoldt (Afrikaans poet), Paul Kruger.
HOMESCHOOLED PERFORMING ARTISTS
It was 1760 when 4-year-old homeschooler Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart learned to play the harpsichord. His father recognized amazing talent when he saw it, so “devoted most of his time to his son’s general and musical education … Wolfgang never attended school.” (World Book Encyclopedia,1986) By the age of 14, he had already created an impressive portfolio of compositions.
Then there’s the king of jazz, Louis Armstrong, born in 1898. Growing up in poverty, Louis was a homeschooler-by-default, working menial jobs and skipping school until “At 13 he was sent to reform school for firing a shot into the New Year’s Day Parade,” reports Webster’s American Biographies(Merriam, 1974). It was “there he found a cornet and taught himself how to play it.”
Child prodigy violinist Yehudi Menuhin (1916-1999) wrote about his homeschooling background in his autobiography, Unfinished Journey: “I went to school for precisely one day at the age of 6, by which time I could read quite well, and write, and calculate a little. My one day was not unhappy but bewildered,” says Yehudi. “Very quietly I sat in the class, the teacher stood at the front and said incomprehensible things for a long time and my attention eventually wandered to the window through which I could see a tree. The tree was the only detail I remembered clearly enough to report at home that afternoon and that was the end of my schooling.”
Not too many folks have missed hearing the voice of LeAnne Rimes, born in 1982 to become the teen-prodigy country singer who came onto the music scene like wildfire just a few years ago. LeAnne “dropped out of school to go on the
road,” reports USA Weekend writer Jennifer Mendelsohn (September 27-29, 1996). “She is homeschooled through Texas Tech University.”
A Few Other Homeschooled Performing Artists:
Irving Berlin -songwriter
Whoopi Goldberg -actress
Hanson -sibling singing group
Jennifer Love Hewitt -actress
Moffatts -Canada’s version of Hanson
Frankie Muniz -actor
HOMESCHOOLED POLITICIANS, STATESMEN, AND JURISTS
I’m not at all surprised that the man who cried “Give me Liberty or give me Death” was homeschooled in his childhood years. Patrick Henry (1736-1799) grew into a revolutionary
leader and skilled orator, but he had “only the scantiest of schooling. His father had given him some fundamental instruction in reading and arithmetic. His lessons took place mainly at home, at odd intervals, depending on the plantation routine. His ‘formal’ education ended when he was 15, after his father had given him a course in Latin, some Greek, and ancient history.” (Henry Meyer, A Son of Thunder: Patrick Henry and the American Republic, University Press of Virginia, 1992)
Homeschooler John Marshall (1755-1835) served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from 1801 until his death. He “grew up on his father’s farm, and had little formal schooling,” states the World Book Encyclopedia, 1986. “Marshall became a lawyer in 1781, after studying law on his own and attending some lectures at William & Mary College.”
Statesman Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) spent 6 months in school when he was 8 years old. After that, it was off to work in his father’s candle and soap shop and his half-
brother’s print shop. His first essays were published when he was 16 years old, and one encyclopedia states he taught himself to read French, Spanish, Italian, and Latin. A strong presence in the early American government, his inventive mind gave us the Franklin stove and bifocals and his civic mind gave us volunteer fire departments and the American Philosophical Society. His last public act was to ask Congress for the abolition of slavery.
Congressman Davy Crockett (1786-1836), better known as a frontiersman, didn’t go to school until he was 13, and then, only for 4 days. “He left school after fighting with another
boy, and ran away from home for 3 years to avoid punishment.” (World Book Encyclopedia, 1986)
A Few Other Homeschooled Politicians, Statesmen, and Jurists:
William Jennings Bryan -orator and statesman
Henry Clay -statesman
Alexander Hamilton -statesman and politician
Sam Houston -lawyer and first president of the Republic of Texas
Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes –jurist
Thomas Paine -political writer during the American Revolution
HOMESCHOOLED US PRESIDENTS
“With little early schooling, he accompanied his father to France at the age of 11, already keeping a journal which developed into one of the most famous of diaries,” says the Dictionary of American Biographies about John Adams, the second president of the United States, who served from 1797 to 1801.
President from 1861 to 1865, Abraham Lincoln “had a few short weeks of schooling under Andrew Crawford. Two years later he attended a school . . . for a few more weeks. After an internship for a year, he picked up a few instructions. These schools were called blab schools . . . all of the students recited aloud together and the master measured their diligence by the volume of the babel. These short intervals marked the end of Lincoln’s formal education,” relates Benjamin Thomas in Abraham Lincoln (Knopf, 1952).
Reaching into the twentieth century, we find Woodrow Wilson who, as a boy, “had no systematic early education . . . (but had) contact with cultivated minds and the constant instruction of parents who were devotedly interested in his progress,” explains Ray Stainnard Baker in Woodrow Wilson: Life and Letters. Youth, 1856-1890 (Doubleday, 1927). A young man who didn’t read until he was 11 years old, in part because so many people would read aloud to him the many books in his home, Wilson “impressed people with his individuality,” Baker continues. “They said he was distinctive, different. Later, writers trying to unlock the mystery, used such expressions as ‘baffling, complex, prophetic’ . . . He began early to ‘command his own development.”
The United States has had 43 presidents. A little more than one-third of them, or 17, received the type of education that today we call homeschooling.
A Few Other Homeschooled Presidents:
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
HOMESCHOOLED BUSINESS PEOPLE AND ENTREPRENEURS
Publishing industry history is dotted with homeschoolers. At 15, New York Tribune founder Horace Greeley (1811-1872) wasn’t in school, but apprenticing in a Vermont newspaper
Perhaps you don’t recognize the name Adolph Ochs, but you know the newspaper he started: the New York Times. At the age of 11, Adolph (1858-1935) was an office boy at the Knoxville Chronicle. While he did receive a bit of local schooling, the Dictionary of American Biographies reports that his “parents were good substitutes for a more formal education,” and that he considered the printing office his “high school and university.”
Then there’s Dr. Orison Swett Marden, born in 1850. His mother died when he was 3, his father when he was 7. “His guardian wasted no time in sending him off as a hired boy,”
reports a 1997 editorial in Success magazine. For 10 years, Orison was “regularly whipped, beaten, kicked, cuffed and nearly starved . . . By his teens, he had lived entirely
in the backwoods.” Fate placed in Marden’s path an 1859 book titled Self Help, by Samuel Smiles, a Scot. The book’s true stories about perseverant, energetic, and hard-working boys inspired Marden to vow to “climb out of poverty and become the American Samuel Smiles.” He “wangled his way” into New Hampshire’s Colby Academy and was a wealthy young man by the time he was 32. In 1900, he fulfilled his promise to become the American Samuel Smiles with the first issue of his publication, Success.
Many homeschooling families immediately recognize the bright colors and interesting content of Dorling Kindersley (DK) books, CD-ROMs, videos, and atlases. DK’s founder and chairman, Peter Kindersley, was homeschooled as a child and worked as a book illustrator before hitting the big time as a publisher. His company Web site (www.dklearning.co.uk) boasts a quote from Peter: “The home is the first school, and parents are the first teachers.” He also encourages home business opportunities for DK sales associates.
The business world also has its share of homeschoolers. Bank of America’s founder, Amadeo Giannini (1870-1947), “would have an early supper after school, then bed until
nearly midnight [when] the best part of his life would begin again as he followed his stepfather around . . . asking questions about his business. The boy followed his father around the docks from midnight to seven in the morning . . . At his mother’s insistence, he took a few months’ course in business college, then at 15 decided the schoolroom had given him all he wanted out of it.” (Julian Dana, A.P. Giannini: Giant of the West, Prentice, 1947)
Every day millions of Americans patronize the businesses of not one, but three young men who chose an early end to compulsory school attendance and who thought feeding Americans-quickly-might be a good business idea. Colonel Harland Sanders (1890-1980), whose cartoon image is permanently etched in the minds of television viewers as the white-haired “Duke of Drumsticks” and who started Kentucky Fried Chicken, left school in seventh grade because of family poverty.
Harland Sanders was 10 years old when Ray Kroc was born in 1902, seemingly to be bored by school. “I liked action . . . I spent a lot of time thinking about things . . . for me, work was play,” he said in his autobiography, Grinding It Out (St. Martins Press, 1977). “My sophomore year in high school passed like a funeral . . . As school ended that spring, the United States entered World War I. I took a job selling coffee beans and novelties door-to-door. I was confident I could make my way in the world and saw no reason to return to school.” This salesman managed to talk his parents into letting him become a Red Cross ambulance driver who was just about to leave for France when the armistice ended the war. “I went marching back home to Chicago,” says Kroc, “wondering what to do next. My parents talked me into
trying school again, but I lasted only one semester. Algebra had not improved in my absence.” Kroc went on to revolutionize fast-food service with his chain of
One more friendly fast-food face left high school after tenth grade. R. David Thomas, better known as Dave Thomas, founded the Wendy’s restaurant chain. Thomas left school because he knew he wanted to be in the restaurant business, and school just wasn’t teaching him what he wanted or needed to know, he explains in his autobiography, Dave’s Way: A New Approach to Old Fashioned Success (Putnam, 1991). In 1993, at the age of 60, Thomas studied for and got his General Equivalency Diploma (GED, equivalent to a high-
A Few Other Homeschooled Business People and Entrepreneurs:
Andrew Carnegie -extremely wealthy steel manufacturer
Soichiro Honda -creator of the Honda automobile company
Jimmy Lai -newspaper publisher; founder of Giordano International Joseph Pulitzer-newspaper publisher, established Pulitzer Prize
HOMESCHOOLED SCIENTISTS AND INVENTORS
The names of many homeschooled inventors are household words: Alexander Graham Bell, Eli Whitney, and Thomas Alva Edison. Edison (1847-1931) is a name homeschoolers seem to throw around more than the others. Maybe it’s because so many homeschoolers can relate to the short Edison school experience. When Mrs. Edison discovered not only that Thomas’
schoolmaster hit his students with a leather strap, but had also called her little boy “addled,” she ended his “formal” education after only three months, bringing him home to an environment where she made sure learning was fun and explorative. (She also furiously informed the schoolmaster that her son had “more sense in his little finger than you have in your entire body.”) Mrs. Edison “bought him books full of experiments. He tested them enthusiastically, trying to prove the author wrong, and it became his life’s passion. As one experiment led to another, he invented the telephone transmitter, stock ticker, mimeograph, phonograph, and perfected the electric
light bulb,” explains Ronald W. Clark in Edison: The Man Who Made the Future (Putnam, 1977).
Another homeschooler-turned-inventor is England’s Michael Faraday (1791-1867) who is best known for work in electrochemistry. Faraday was “a poor boy, who like Tom (Edison) had never gone to school . . . Faraday, like Edison, had been poor and had been self-taught.” (Margaret Cousins, The Story of Thomas A. Edison, Random House, 1965)
Bringing us up to modern times is inventor William Lear (1902-1978), creator of the airplane that bears his name-“a feisty, self-made millionaire who started life with only a grammar school education and a pocket full of tools, and yet produced many inventions,” says
Victor Boesen in They Said It Couldn’t Be Done: The Incredible Story of Bill Lear (Doubleday, 1971). “In high school,” writes Boesen, “Lear corrected a statement his teacher made in electrical class one day, about an experiment with an ammeter. When the teacher challenged him to connect it the way he said was possible and it worked, his teacher told him, ‘Since you’re so smart, you won’t need to come back to this class.'” After his physics and shop teachers did the same, Lear left school altogether.
John James Audubon (1785-1851) was an ornithologist also well known for his artistic talents. Here’s what the Dictionary of American Biographies says about Audubon’s
homeschooling: “His father, occupied with the affairs of the Republic of France, left the supervision of the boy’s studies to the boy’s indulgent stepmother, with the result that the formal schooling was neglected.” Audubon’s own words reveal the direction his education took: “Almost every day instead of going to school, I usually made for the fields where I gathered bird’s nests, eggs, lichens, flowers, and even pebbles.” (Alexander B. Adams, John James Audubon, Putnam, 1966) Later in his life, Audubon cited his only memory of school as the time he got into a fight with a fellow student who hit Audubon with a rock and knocked him unconscious.
A Few Other Homeschooled Scientists and Inventors:
John Moses Browning -firearms inventor and designer
Peter Cooper -invented skyscraper, built first U.S. commercial locomotive Albert Einstein
Oliver Heaviside -physicist and electromagnetism researcher
Elias Howe -invented sewing machine
Cyrus McCormick -invented grain reaper
Guglielmo Marconi -developed radio
Sir Frank Whittle -invented turbo jet engine
Wilbur and Orville Wright -built first successful plane
HOMESCHOOLED VISUAL ARTISTS
One of a whole family of artists, Charles Peale (1741-1827) “received the common rudiments of schooling until his thirteenth birthday, when he was apprenticed to a saddle maker,” according to the Dictionary of American Biographies. Not only was Charles Peale homeschooled, he continued the tradition. “He believed anyone could learn to paint and taught many of his 17 children to paint.” (World Book Encyclopedia, 1986)
Who taught Grandma Moses to paint? She did, and she did it in 1938, the year she turned 78. “Her father, who himself had artistic inclinations, encouraged the girl,” reports James Kallir, author of Grandma Moses:The Artist Behind the Myth (Galerie, 1982). “Mother,”
explains the artist herself, “was more practical, thought I could spend my time in other ways.” And so she did. After “briefly attending a one room district school,” writes Kallir, “she hired out on a neighboring farm at 12, and managed all aspects of the household.”
Mrs. Wright intended her son to be an architect even before he was born, and hung engravings of cathedrals over the bed of young Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959). The boy’s early years were nomadic, as his father moved the family from place to place in search of a better job. By the time Frank was 11, he had lived in six towns and four states. “In his early teens, he worked summers to supplement family income, and when his parents divorced he left high school to take a job,” reveals Richard C.Twombly in Frank Lloyd Wright: His Life and Architecture (Wiley, 1979). “He started college, but after two unproductive semesters, he moved to Chicago where he worked for three employers in a year. Despite . . . lack of
formal training, Wright, by his mid-twenties, had acquired the social and architectural credentials necessary to become an upper middle class professional.”
Photographer and conservationist Ansel Adams (1902-1984) grew up in the days when children like him were simply called “fidgety,” rather than receiving the label of ADD (attention deficit disorder) or other learning disability. When Ansel’s father saw that his son wasn’t adjusting well to a school environment, he pulled him out of school to teach him at home. “The next years were extremely fruitful,” says writer Theresa Amabile. “Learning experiences were always tapped into the young boy’s intrinsic interests, and ranged from playing the piano to visiting an exposition.” (Growing Up Creative, Creative Education Foundation, 1992) Adams best summarizes his own homeschooling, and his father’s role in it: “I am certain he established the positive direction of my life that otherwise, given my native hyperactivity, could have been confused and catastrophic. I trace who I am and the direction of my development to those years of growing up in our house on the dune, propelled especially by an internal spark, tenderly kept alive and glowing, by my father.” (Growing Up Creative)
A Few Other Homeschooled Artists:
Leonardo Da Vinci
I can just imagine Nobel Prize-winning George Bernard Shaw telling an elegant crowd assembled to partake of his brand of wisdom, “My schooling not only failed to teach me what it professed to be teaching, but prevented me from being educated to an extent which infuriates me when I think of all I might have learned at home by myself.” (Archibald Henderson, George Bernard Shaw: Man of the Century, Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1956)
Shaw may not have learned at home, but many other writers of note did, including Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Robert Frost (1874-1963) who showed early signs of a phenomenon related to compulsory school attendance, which is still common today. “On the first day of school, when Robbi made the strange journey, he felt unpleasantly lost before he had even reached the school, and the day was not half over when someone pushed him too high and too long on a backyard swing, with the result that he was sick to his stomach,” explains biographer Lawrence Thomas in Robert Frost-Early Years (Henry Holt, 1982). “A further agony occurred when the omnibus driver on the home journey had so much difficulty
finding Robbi’s house that the boy wept for fear he would never see his mother again.”
The next day, while getting ready for school, he developed a severe stomach pain, and was permitted to stay at home. Since it worked well the first time, little Robbi used the same tactic over and over again. “His first day of kindergarten was his last . . . Such schoolwork as he could be persuaded to do – and it was not much – he completed at home.” Frost went on to pass a high school entrance exam without any prior formal preparation.
Robert Frost was only a 1-year-old toddler when Samuel Clemens (1835-1910), pen name Mark Twain, was born. In one of his biographies about Clemens, Albert Bigalow Paine states, “He detested school as he detested nothing else on earth, even going to church.” (Mark Twain, A Biography: Vol. 1, Harper & Bros., 1912) Paine provides a bit more detail in Boys Life of Mark Twain (Harper & Bros., 1915-1916). Sam’s father died when he was 11 years old. “Leading him into the room where his father lay, his mother said some comforting words, and asked him to make her a promise,” Paine explains. “He flung himself into her arms, sobbing: ‘I will promise anything if you won’t make me go to school! Anything!’ After a moment his mother said, ‘No, Sammy, you need not go to school any more. Only promise me to be a better boy. Promise not to break my heart!'”
The biography notes for her novel Death Comes for the Archbishop reveal that Willa Cather (1873-1947) left Virginia society with her family as an 8 year-old to live on a Nebraska ranch. Here “she spent most of her time riding about on her pony, visiting her foreign-born neighbors.” When she eventually entered high school, she “had read many of the English classics with her two grandmothers, and had learned Latin.”
A turn-of-the-century English mother, Clara Christie, believed that children shouldn’t read until they were 8 years old because it was better for both eyes and brain. Her homeschooling daughter, Agatha Christie couldn’t wait, however, and “by the time she was 5, Agatha had taught herself to read by puzzling out a text that had often been told aloud to her . . . She had mastered reading by matching meaning to the appearance of entire words rather than by single letter . . . her spelling was always of the hit and miss sort,” writes Janet Morgan in Agatha Christie (Knopf, 1985). Agatha Christie (1890-1976) went on to spend only a couple of years in high school before becoming a world-renowned mystery writer.
Today, a homeschooler is the editor of the highly respected magazine National Review and has served for decades as a witty and respected voice of conservatism, both in print and television media. His name is William F. Buckley, Jr. (born 1925), and in 1993 he wrote in his syndicated column, “On the Right”: “I am myself a product of homeschooling [until age 15]. There were ten of us and life at home was as ‘Life with Father’ in the famous play, the father in question with a mad-dog enthusiasm for learning everything from Latin to how to construct ship models inside glass bottles.” Willliam’s father, Will Buckley, Sr., preferred private tutors to sending his children to local schools. Other children in the neighborhood joined the Buckley offspring in the tutoring classroom. By the time they reached age
13, all the Buckley children were fluent in French, Spanish, and English. (John B. Judis, “Famous Home Schoolers,” The Greenhouse Report, October, 1990)
A Few Other Homeschooled Writers:
Laura Ingalls Wilder
A FEW MORE HOMESCHOOLED WOMEN OF NOTE
It’s interesting to see how many firsts, founders, feminists, and reformers appear when we visit historical women homeschoolers.
For starters, there’s Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906), the reformer and women’s rights leader. Susan could read and write at age 3. She went to a district school for a time before leaving it for the school her father created in their home for his own and neighbors’ children. Early in her adult life, she spent a bit of time teaching in this school herself.
Homeschooler Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) was born in the same year as Susan B. Anthony. She did not attend school and was taught at home, predominantly by her father. At 34 years of age, Nightingale became a nurse to British troops during the war with Russia, and went on to found the nursing profession as a result of her work.
Another homeschooled woman, Dr. Mary Walker (1832-1919), was a Civil War physician. The United States presented her a Congressional Medal of Honor in 1865; Dr. Walker was the only Civil War woman to receive one. How did this woman who became a woman’s right advocate and physician spend her school years? “Her early education was obtained in the school conducted by her father, mother, and sisters on the family farm,” explains the Dictionary of American Biographies. “She acquired the ambition to study medicine from her father. The rest of society disapproved of her ambition, her dress (trousers), and her doing man’s work.”
In the case of homeschooler Mary D. Leakey (1913-1996), her childhood is described as “a bit odd.”(Lisa A. Lambert, Pioneers: The Leakeys, The Rourke Book Co., 1993) Mary grew
up traveling through Europe as her father, a landscape artist, looked for scenes to paint. After her father died, Mary and her mother returned to England where Mary was put into school
for the first time. “She did not adjust well to the restrictions of life at the different schools she briefly attended,” writes biographer Lisa Lambert. “At one school, she ate soap so that she would appear to be ‘foaming at the mouth,’ and on another occasion she deliberately caused an explosion in chemistry class. After expulsion from two schools, Mary was educated at home by her mother or tutors.” Mary grew up to become a well-known “fossil hunter,” and, with her husband, Richard Leakey, made major contributions to our understanding of early human ancestors. On December 9, 1996, the day Mary Leakey passed away, National Public Radio reviewed her accomplishments. After Richard Potts, director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Human Origins project, recited a most impressive list, reporter Charlayne Hunter-Gault asked him, “And yet she never-she wasn’t a trained scientist, was she?” Potts replied, “No, but she always had a great love for the origin of things, for discoveries about pre-history, and also for drawing, drawing of stone artifacts, of cave paintings, which she greatly admired and enjoyed work on in East Africa, and that gave her a tremendous degree of skill in observation and in detail.”
A Few Other Homeschooled Women of Note:
Abigail Adams -distinguished and influential first lady; wife of U.S. President John Adams; mother of President John Quincy Adams
Elizabeth Blackwell -the first woman in the U.S. to receive a medical degree
Jill Ker Conway -historian and first woman president of Smith College
Gloria Steinem -founder and long-time editor of Ms. magazine
Frances E. C. Willard -educator, temperance leader, and suffragist