A staunch advocate for homeschooling, Zan Tyler helps others learn ropes

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--The first time Zan Tyler heard about homeschooling she felt the "walls cave in" around her.

Visiting in a prayer partner's home in the early 1980s in Columbia, S.C., Tyler mentioned she was concerned about her son's frustrating year of kindergarten at a local private school.

Her friend suggested that Tyler think about teaching him at home because not all children are ready for first grade at age 5.

"I could feel the walls just start caving in," recalls Tyler, now working as homeschool resource and media consultant for Broadman & Holman, the trade book division of LifeWay Christian Resources. "The idea was so stifling, so awful -- I had never heard of such a crazy thing!"

Tyler could hardly wait to leave the house when her friend told her she was planning to teach her own children at home.

"In 1984, nobody homeschooled," Tyler said. "It was just something that was unheard of."

Times have changed.

A May 2002 Gallup Poll reported that national acceptance of teaching children at the kitchen table is steadily growing. In 1985, only 16 percent of Americans thought homeschooling was "good." In 1988, that percentage rose to 28; in 1997, 36 percent; and in 2001, those who said teaching children at home was good reached 41 percent.

In 1999, about 850,000 students in America were taught at home, according to U.S. Department of Education figures. In 2001-2002, that number was between 1.6 and 2 million, according to National Home Education Research Institute figures.

Tyler promised her friend she would read the book "Homegrown Kids" by Raymond Moore. The book, she said, changed her outlook on homeschooling and ultimately her life. But it would take several months before Tyler would acknowledge it.

Struggling with the call she felt God was placing on her to homeschool, Tyler tried to ignore it. She marched Ty, her 6-year-old, to the local public elementary school where she easily enrolled him in a kindergarten class scheduled to begin in the fall.

"I felt like a monkey was off my back," Tyler said.

When it was time for students to receive their enrollment packets, Ty's never arrived. Tyler called the school principal and learned her son must enroll in first grade -- 6-year-olds were no longer eligible for kindergarten, he said.

Tyler's former high school principal, now a friend of the family, was serving as associate superintendent in her school district. Tyler called him for assistance. Surprised by his refusal to help and trying to bluff him, Tyler threw out her trump card.

"I told him that I would just have to homeschool Ty," she recounted. To her amazement, the school official offered no objection.

That was the moment of truth for Tyler.

Twenty years later, the mother of three has served as a lobbyist, political strategist and media spokesperson for homeschooling families. She has seen both defeats and victories in the legislative process for giving parents the choice to teach their own children.

Working from her South Carolina home, Tyler is now sharing those experiences as a homeschool resource and media consultant for Broadman & Holman. Her job is to help B&H increase its visibility in the homeschool market by signing up authors of homeschool books and by serving as the online homeschool editor for www.lifeway.com/homeschool.

Broadman & Holman has jumped into the homeschool market with both feet. Currently, they publish about a dozen books on homeschooling, including one curriculum piece.

Back in 1984, Tyler said, "If parents did homeschool, they didn't talk about it. They were scared they'd be arrested or sued by their local school boards."

In fact, Tyler was threatened with jail in the early years of her fight for more homeschool freedoms.

When Tyler showed the South Carolina superintendent of education the extensive application she filled out to receive permission to homeschool and explained her dilemma to him, he said, "You realize I can put you in jail for truancy, don't you?"

Tyler replied: "You'll just have to put me in jail then."

Tyler soon discovered she lived in a state with one of the strictest homeschool policies in the country. She and her husband, Joe, joined other parents to pursue legislative action to reduce the number of restrictions forced on parents who homeschooled.

Years and expenses mounted as the group fought such policies as requiring the teaching parent to hold a four-year college degree and having to use only textbooks approved by the South Carolina Board of Education, thus prohibiting the use of any Christian curriculum.

In 1990, the Tylers founded the South Carolina Association of Independent Homeschools (SCAIHS), a group they hoped would become an independent accreditation organization for homeschools, thereby doing away with a requirement for homeschooling parents to be approved by their local school district.

Two years later, through a series of hard-fought court battles and several answered prayers, the group got its wish.

On April 2, 1992, the South Carolina General Assembly passed legislation naming the South Carolina Association of Independent Home Schools (SCAIHS) an alternate accreditation source for homeschooling parents. Membership in and continuing compliance with the academic standards of SCAIHS exempted the homeschool parents from state requirements.

This was the first time in the history of the nation a private organization was named in a state statute and given power equal to local school boards in approving and monitoring homeschool programs, Tyler said. SCAIHS has grown from two employees and 120 families to 18 employees and more than 1,300 families.

"Homeschooling is an extremely powerful method of discipleship and is overwhelming in terms of academic success," Tyler said. "The only explanation for victories we've had is God's blessing. Homeschooling parents earnestly desire to teach their children to view all of life from a scriptural perspective -- to train their children to be Christians who can effectively engage their world and culture for Christ."

LifeWay Christian Resources will offer a Homeschool Family Vacation at both of their Ridgecrest, N.C., and Glorieta, N.M., conference centers this summer in August. For more information, contact (615) 251-2065 or visit www.lifeway.com/conferencecenters


(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: ZAN TYLER.

Download Story