- The Washington Times - Monday, June 15, 2009

At 17, home-schooler Tyler Fehrman was the youngest paid member of the John McCain presidential campaign. In the last five years, he’s worked on 18 political campaigns in five states. Now, at 18, he is running for an at-large seat on the Mount Vernon, Ohio, City Council.

“My dream for some day is to be the governor of Ohio,” he said. “But you gotta start somewhere and take it one stage at a time.”

Mr. Fehrman, who finished his schooling in May and plans to attend Mount Vernon Nazarene University this fall, represents the forefront of a growing trend: home-schoolers who are actively involved in politics in their communities.

“I think it’s definitely a growing trend,” Mr. Fehrman said. “Here in Ohio we have a network of about 200 home-schooled students who are avidly active in politics all the time.”

Mr. Fehrman’s circle runs even larger. Brian Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute, said evidence shows that both home-schooling parents and their children are more civically involved than the general populace. His 2004 study of more than 7,000 home-schooled adults showed that home-schoolers were more likely to vote, volunteer for political campaigns, participate in boycotts or write letters to the editor.

Although there is no way to confirm the numbers, Mr. Ray estimates that growing numbers of students — about 2 million — are now learning at home.

Home-school political activism manifests itself in such groups as Christian youth organization Generation Joshua, designed to educate students in civics. Founded in 2004 as an offshoot of the Homeschool Legal Defense Association, the organization now has about 6,000 student members nationwide, an estimated 70 percent of whom are home-educated.

Although Generation Joshua itself is nonpartisan, members often actively campaign for political candidates.

“We consider our mission to be to give the young people the training, knowledge and inspiration to get involved. And then they go and work on the campaigns,” said the director of Generation Joshua, William Estrada, also a lawyer and home-school graduate.

Mr. Estrada recognizes political activism as a growing trend in home schooling, but said it was not necessarily new. Both he and Mr. Ray pointed out that many states still outlawed home education at the birth of the modern home-school movement in the 1980s. This forced home-schooling parents to petition state and local government for the freedom to teach their children.

Mr. Ray said the nature of home schooling also draws parents who are firm in their beliefs.

“Just by choosing home education, they’re, in a sense, activists. It’s not unusual for them to get involved,” he said.

He also noted that although home-schoolers’ beliefs are important to them, those beliefs are not necessarily uniform — home-schoolers could not be characterized as liberal or conservative. The most common thread, Mr. Ray said, was a “classical liberal perspective,” a government-hands-off attitude.

Mr. Fehrman, who calls himself a Reagan conservative, said home schooling not only gave him the flexibility to be heavily involved in campaigns, but also gave his parents the ability to instill in him a strong biblical worldview.

Seventeen-year-old Daniel Oberlander, a home-schooler in Lovettsville, Va., and a member of Generation Joshua, said his parents raised him to care about politics and the right to vote.

He has helped register voters and made calls for political candidates.

On Election Day last year, Mr. Oberlander stood on a street corner with a group of Generation Joshua students, waving McCain signs.

A car drove up to the stoplight. The driver signaled for Mr. Oberlander and his friend to come over.

“Hey, where are all the Obama kids?” the driver asked from his rolled-down window.

Mr. Oberlander’s friend replied: “They probably slept in.”

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