Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Home Ed Apologetics: Some FAQs

While visiting some friends who are planning to home educate (much to the shock of some of their relatives), I was asked to write up a list of frequently asked home education questions to help new home educators with the questions they’ll get. So I asked them to give me all their hardest questions, and this was the list we came up with. This article is, as far as I can remember it, the answers I gave them. 


I hope my home educating readers will find this useful as a crash course in home ed apologetics. It isn't intended to be teaching home educators what their duties are; just helping them think through the tough questions they get.

What about socialisation?

The answer to this question comes in several parts. First, socialisation is very important to home educators. They do not think that socialisation is best gained in a classroom of rowdy, foolish peers (“Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child”; “The companion of fools shall be like them”). Instead, they want to make sure their children get a broad socialisation and will be able to socialise with people of every age, background, and ability. Children who attend schools won’t learn by default to be polite and interact with everyone they meet. They’ll often have trouble interacting with people not their own age and background.

While it is true that home educated children occasionally have trouble interacting with school-attenders their own age, I think this is not usually the fault of the home educated. Rather, school-attenders aren’t used to interacting with people that have nothing in common with them and don’t know what to do. Recently, for example, two little girls attended our church while staying with their grandmother. They were both the same age as my youngest sister, and I was very pleased to see that she had gone over to talk to them and try to make them feel welcome. I was less pleased to observe that neither of them were looking at her, and one of them was texting industriously, while my sister tried in vain to start a conversation. My sister did not persevere; she found someone else of more years and more sense to talk to. During the whole time of after-church fellowship, these two girls stalked silently around the perimeter of the room, looking at the posters on the walls and texting. Now who’s socially inept?

Second, the reason why everyone is so interested in socialisation is that the state school system is founded with one specific aim. That aim is not education. That aim is not character development. That aim is certainly not pursuit of the kingdom of God, and His righteousness. That aim is the production of useful citizens (read John Taylor Gatto’s books and articles, or Susan Wright’s article on Australian schooling, for more info). The production of useful citizens for the good of the state is a recognised process with a technical name. The name of this process is socialisation. Schools produce nothing but socialisation; it is their whole reason for existence. Yet the socialisation they produce is pernicious, simply turning out people who can’t think, who are unwilling to be in any way different. Conformity is the goal. As Christian parents, you have a different goal: holiness, which means to be set apart from the world. “Be not conformed to the world, but be transformed by the power of Christ Jesus.” You are socialising your children to be citizens of a heavenly country. This cannot be done in a public school.

Isn’t home education too hard for a mum?

Home education will be too hard in two circumstances. First, it will be too hard if the mum does not have her husband’s enthusiastic involvement. As my complementarian readers will know, two are better than one. A husband is the leader of his home; he can’t not lead. If he isn’t leading into home education, if it isn’t part of his vision for the family, then the mum won’t be able to keep it up. She isn’t the leader; he is. Now in many circumstances I’ve heard of families where the mum wants to home educate, the dad isn’t so sure, but then after a trial period he becomes so enthused that he decides this is a worthy part of his vision for his family. But for long-term success, a wife must have her husband’s whole-hearted approval and support. In addition, all the most outstanding successes of home education that I’ve heard of are the ones where the father was fully involved with the education and character training of his children. Boys especially have a desperate need for their father's attention. There’s just something powerful about Scriptural patriarchal leadership. And of course, quite apart from that, any subjects the father is able to teach his children does lighten the load on the mother.

Second, home education will be too hard if the mother tries to reproduce a school in her home; with a schoolroom, lots of bookwork, and each child taught different subjects and different grade levels. Most mothers that suffer from homeschool burnout took this approach and found that they were unable to reproduce the work of twenty bureaucrats in a school. On the other hand, mothers who turn their whole lives into a learning experience, teaching multiple children the same subject at the same (advanced) level, teaching maths and fractions through cooking and shopping, and using a streamlined yet powerful teaching method involving plenty of reading together with writing observations on what they have read, achieve far more and have a much more flexible and low-stress schedule. The longer my mother home educates, the less she relies on textbooks, curricula, and lesson plans. 

Interestingly, I’ve heard from lots of mums in really difficult circumstances—chronic illness, special needs children, one brave mum with both—who haven’t found the demands of home education too hard. Some of these mums are the best home educators I’ve ever met, with some of the finest children I’ve ever met…partly because they’ve had to learn to make the most of their time in their difficult circumstances, and partly because they had strong leadership from husbands who knew that their children were their own responsibility; not the mother’s alone.

Will the children be able to get into university?

In Australia, absolutely, yes. As more and more adults go back to university for a career change, and as more and more young home educated people hit university age, more and more “back doors” open into university. Despite what the schools tell you, it is possible and it is not hard. Simply look at the university entrance requirements for non-Year-12 leavers. Perhaps it’ll be an Open University subject to prove that you have Year 12 level maths. Perhaps it’ll be a law school admission test. Perhaps it’ll be something even easier. I have a law degree. My brother has a degree in applied technology, and a friend is doing Honours in science. Meanwhile I’ve heard of home educators easily getting into aerospace engineering. And not a day of school between us. Note that some universities are much friendlier to home educators than others, although with the growing numbers of home educators, fewer universities will be able to hold out.

However, I do encourage home educators to think seriously about whether they need to attend university at all. Universities come with all the drawbacks of schools: statist agenda, bad peer pressure, timewasting, an inability to study the things you want to study. While university degrees may still be necessary in some fields (I say may) like medicine or law, the one thing I learned at university was that there’s one thing you should not look for at a university: an education. Accreditation, yes. But knowledge? Education? As far as arts went, university was a step back for me. University prevented my brother from building his website business as fast as he’d have liked, and that business—started when he was 14—was what landed him his fancy marketing job with a major Australian real estate agency. Many home educators I know of made the smart decision and skipped uni altogether. Now they are self-taught entrepreneurs, composers, media professionals, photographers, and what not.

Do you have to be a teacher?

This is not a legal requirement, so far as I am aware, in any of the states or territories of Australia. A teaching degree is certainly no help to the home educating mother. If anything, it’s a hindrance. My mother was a teacher before she began home educating, and she said she never learned anything till she began teaching us. I actually feel more equipped to teach right now, from observing her and other mums and teaching my own siblings, than she was when she began. I’ve also spoken to ex-teachers who assure me that their teacher training put a lot of emphasis on classroom management and raising well-socialised conformists for the state’s benefit…and nothing about teaching children, helping them learn, or keeping them motivated.

Remember, you’re raising citizens of the kingdom of heaven. A teacher’s degree will teach you nothing about that. A teacher’s degree will focus on raising citizens of the messianic state.

Aren’t you sheltering your children?

Short answer: What are they going to accuse us of next…feeding them? Clothing them?

Long answer: If you’re raising little plants, you’re not going to leave them out in the harsh winds, at the mercy of nibbling insects and marsupials. Even if they don’t die, the harsh treatment will leave them stunted for the rest of their lives. Instead, you keep them protected and…yes…sheltered until they are big enough and strong enough to survive on their own. That’s how you grow tall and gracious trees.

There are two mistakes to avoid here. The first mistake is to abandon your children to the mercy of daycare, kindergarten, preschool, and school. To strangers, to hirelings who will desert the flock.
Instead, in Deuteronomy, parents are commanded to teach their children all the commandments of the Lord, when they lie down, rise up, and so on. In Proverbs, the father constantly exhorts his son to give him his heart, to hear his words, to obey the law of his mother, to receive his instruction. The Great Commission tasks us to make disciples of all the nations, teaching them to obey everything that God has commanded. And Paul tells parents to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Finally, the apostle Bob in his epistle to the Equivocators, tells parents not to shelter their children. Not.

This is a serious job. This is not something that parents can or should easily delegate, certainly not to the state schools. Our children’s curriculum is supposed to be the law of God, everything He has commanded us…in other words, everything in the Bible and everything the Bible applies to, which is the whole of life and creation. 

Even the educational methods here are different. We think of education today in the ancient Greek sense, that of a master teacher lecturing and quizzing his students at the special academy. But the Biblical educational model is one of walking side by side; of imitation. “Imitate me,” says Paul, “even as I imitate Christ.” Parents are tasked with being their children’s role models, saying to their children, “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ.” Learning takes place in all places, at all times. It’s a close relationship between parents and children walking together, sitting together, eating together, reading the Word together, and then interpreting the world together in the light of that Word. Fathers interpret the world to their children, talking through all the big issues of life together. And this is not just great for this children, it's also great for the parents, whose ability as teachers depends on their imitation of Christ.

The second mistake to avoid is to try to cocoon your children from all the potentially defiling influences in the world, in the hope that it will save them from the world. And this has been a problem for the home education movement in the past. But these days, more and more people realise that home education is not a recipe for success in the same way that state schools are a recipe for disaster. God saves; educational methods don’t save. And it is terribly short-sighted to try to keep your children ignorant and untouched. What you should be aiming for is innocence, which is quite different—militant innocence, that can be surrounded by evil but not soiled by it. And that requires a special kind of maturity.

Here’s what the goal of home education should be: Equipping your children to go into the world as mighty warriors of the Kingdom of God. By sheltering them from the world while they’re young, by walking with them, by teaching them how to evaluate the false worldviews around them, by showing them what the Christian life looks like when lived by mature adults, you’ll raise them into that militant innocence that does not merely remain clean from evil but destroys it. By raising children that don’t care about the influence of peers, you’ll raise children that want to influence others, stirring them up to love and good works. Of course, none of this happens automatically; you have to look your children square in the face and say, “So tell me, who have you been discipling lately? Have you been thinking about the will of God in your life? How is He calling you to build His kingdom?”

Consider these two scenarios. The unsheltered young man, sent to school all his life, finally gets sent off to university. He’s never been equipped with a solid and intellectually robust worldview, so his faith begins to disintegrate under the attacks of his professors. His father has never talked to him about women, he’s never been asked to think about marriage, what kind of woman he needs to marry, and how he should be praying for her and keeping himself for her. So when a pretty, charming girl turns up, he doesn’t know enough not to hurt her or be hurt by her. 

But the “sheltered” young man, the young man who’s walked with his father all his life, who has Proverbs memorised (and written on his heart), who has learned to love both his parents and the standards his parents imposed; the man who knows about women because his father has told him, because they’ve searched the Scriptures, because the young man has been taught what to value and look for—that young man, by the grace of God, won’t be distracted by the counterfeits, because he can see clearly. Because he knows why men are attracted to women, he can move intentionally towards matrimony with one woman rather than fumbling towards happiness with a succession of women. He knows what the issues at stake are, and he’s ready to choose wisely because he’s learned wisdom and maturity from his father. 

Why are there home educating failures?

This is a really, really good question. First, let’s define terms.

A failure is a child that isn’t an effective warrior of Christ. By the Great Commission’s standard, a child-raising success is a child that grows up to obey what Christ has commanded. Full stop. And here’s something really important that I discovered only recently. Home education is not, and should not, be about academics. While academics is important, and the Bible encourages it, and I believe a rigorous education in worldview, philosophy, and cultural discernment is essential to any effective warrior of Christ, the bottom line is not academics. The bottom line is holiness. Becoming like Christ. Developing the fruits of the Spirit. Getting wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and discretion. Aiming at maturity, not perpetual childhood.

This is something that Christians knew for centuries. George Grant says that education is repentance. In other words, education is a process of repenting of foolishness, and learning wisdom; repenting of ignorance, and learning knowledge. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,” the Proverbs say: there can be no knowledge, no education, without the fear of the Lord. So first of all, teach your children to fear the Lord—and teach them knowledge in that context. Charlotte Mason says that education is training the affections. This also is true. As sinners, we all have disordered affections: we love ourselves, we love idols, we love all sorts of things. Christian education means learning to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength; and our neighbour as ourselves. Worldview discernment is an exercise in learning to love what gives glory to God, rather than being taken in by surface beauty and charm, or surface common-sense. Jane Austen, in Mansfield Park, defines education as knowing yourself: knowing, specifically, how sinful, weak, or inconsistent you are, and repenting of it. 

So even if your child somehow finishes his home education with only an average academic education…as long as he has a solid grasp of the Christian worldview, wisdom in the Biblical sense, and the knowledge of his responsibility to continue improving his mind through the discipline of study…you’ve succeeded: success is obedience, and gaining the fear of the Lord through faithful character training is the first duty of Christian education. (Seriously, it’s all in Proverbs. Go and memorise it!)

So what kind of failure is there?

There’s the kind of failure that fails to produce Christians. There’s the kind of failure that only produces wimpy Christians unready to face the world. There’s the kind of failure that results in bad academics. There’s the kind of failure that results in smart children who are rude, shy, or otherwise self-centred. And yes, all these things are failures…but these failures can’t be attributed to home education as a method.

No: the failure is the result of sin. Sin in the child’s life, and—this is where it gets daunting—sin in the parents’ lives. If it’s sin in the child’s life, then sometimes that’s the result of sin in the parents’ lives, but it’s also possible for there to be sin in the child’s life alone, because human hearts are not naturally regenerate and God holds everyone responsible for his own sin. That said, God does promise multigenerational blessings to faithful parents; and often the sins of children grew out of the sins of the parents. 

So what can we do, as parents? Clearly: repent, and beg God to give you the gift of a heart with His commandments written upon it. Remind yourself of the Gospel: He can change us. It is only by His mercy that we are capable of even the smallest act of grace. 

But I just want to mention one sin that usually doesn’t fail to bear fruit, and that is fathers neglecting their duties as fathers. Sending your children to school is one easy way for a father to neglect his duty…but, there are plenty of home educating dads that are detached from their children’s lives, neglecting their children just as badly. Girls need fathers to give them lots of attention, to keep them from looking for it elsewhere. That’s important enough; but sons—sons need fathers like fish need water, like humans need air. Victoria Botkin has observed that in many home educating families, the girls mature much earlier than the boys, because while the girls have an excellent role model in their mother, the father isn’t giving or can't give the boys the amount of attention and instruction they so badly need. For this reason, many more home educating dads have tried to set up home businesses so that they can be employing, working with, and providing role models for their sons. But if that’s not your situation, don’t despair—a faithful father with a day job is perfectly capable of discipling and mentoring his sons, as long as he remembers to make it a priority—and perhaps the sons can be apprenticed to fathers who do have the time.

But what if the children are weird? Socially inept? Different?

The first thing to know is that if education is training in holiness, then your children certainly will be different—and trust me, you want it that way. That is the very definition of holiness: to be set apart, distinct. Schoolchildren and home educated children who long to fit in with schoolchildren are notable by their vapidity, their lack of serious commitment, their “coolness”, their gigglesome idiocy. By contrast, a young man who longs to take his place among the great men of the faith will know how to crack a joke, relax, and recreate…but he’ll always be trying to edify those around him; he’ll know what it’s like to “pray without ceasing”; he’ll be the first person his friends think of when the fruits of the Spirit are listed.

That said, if you raise your children in your own family, you will develop a distinctive family culture which will probably look a little different from the culture around you. Suppose one of the parents, for example, is from overseas and has a different accent: the children will end up with a hybrid accent that will make them sound different. At social gatherings, your children will tend to “hang out” together, because they’re each other’s best friends. They’ll have in-jokes. They’ll have a shared cultural identity. And again, this can be a wonderful and lovely thing…or it can result in arrogance and a clique just as bad as any other. 

But in such circumstances, with children who are cliquish, socially inept, rude, or shy, that is very simply a sin in them, which is to be repented of and mended like all their other faults. Children should be encouraged in every situation to find someone to talk to, to learn from, to encourage, and to edify. Remember that your children (and you yourself) are ambassadors of Christ and His Kingdom, and every action of theirs is a reflection on Him. Teach them that. Teach them that they have a King to represent. Teach them that they must love others enough to put them at their ease, to have good manners, to make conversation with anyone. Give them a high standard, and be amazed as they live up to it. Posture, bearing, dress, manners—all of it is a function of their status as representatives of Christ and of Christendom. Think of this Biblically. Having weird hobbies or family in-jokes isn’t a sin…but failing to put the Kingdom of God and the dominion of Christ first sure is. Bad dress sense isn’t a sin…but it could be a slur on the Bride of Christ, who will be glorious without spot or wrinkle, and it’s certainly not very loving to the people who have to look at you!

In Conclusion

Home education isn’t just about home education—or at least, it shouldn’t be. It’s about repentance; it’s about character training; it’s about the getting of wisdom; it’s about learning to obey all the things Christ commanded; it’s about glorifying God and enjoying Him forever.

5 comments:

Seeker158 said...

This is a really thought-provoking article, and I'm glad I read it.

I agree that it is the role of both parents to raise their children in ways that result in godly children, but I also think that it's possible to do that in public schools as well. I went to public school my whole life (although in the US, not Australia) and still feel equipped to do things like resist peer pressure and think for myself. I also know many others who are as well. I think there are also benefits to growing up interacting with non-Christians in meaningful ways.

Suzannah said...

Thanks for the thoughtful comment :).

I do believe that it's possible for children to go through public school and come out somewhat intact as far as faith, relationship with family members, and academics goes.

However, in my experience, public school simply handicaps what the parents are trying to do at home. They have to undo the secular statist worldview, they have to work very hard building relationships that have been devalued by the school peer system, and the academic standard makes me weep.

And of course, home educators who live fruitful lives in the community are going to have heaps of opportunities to interact with non-Christians, and in ways that are incredibly meaningful! Home ed families I know have ministered to all kinds of people from prostitutes to politicians (insert joke about repeating myself), from immigrants to university students.

I can understand that it is possible to raise godly and effective children while sending them to school every day, just like I can understand that one can run in 4-inch heels. The question is why one would hamper oneself like that if one wasn't forced to. :)

Lady Bibliophile said...

What a refreshing post to read--I like this perspective on homeschooling. It's one I myself am slowly developing, though I'm not able to put it into words so cohesively as you are!
I really appreciated your points on socialization, homeschooling for mothers, and sheltering children. I never thougth of the real meaning of the word "socialization"--and I doubt most of our critics have either. :)
And militant innocence. That is a very important thing, one which our parents grounded us in.

I would add something that one dad mentioned who went to public school: "By the grace of God, I was brought through with my faith intact. But just because He gave me that grace doesn't mean I will presume upon it by sending my children through the same dangers."

Caleb said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Caleb said...

Excellent post. Very well thought out. Good job.

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