My parents started home educating me in the early '90s, when the movement was still in its first generation. We were 'movement' home educators, doing it not as a choice among equally valid choices, but because we knew it could offer us something no school could: high consistency with Biblical commands to parents to teach their own children.
Yet, by my late teens, I had somehow swallowed a certain definition of home education success. Success meant knowing more than the school children. I was already teaching grammar and literature to my peers when they called for assignment help and I simply couldn't imagine living the intellectually-stunted life of the public-schooled. To me, not being able to read Shakespeare easily was like missing a head.
Over the next few years, I began to be really challenged about this rather stuck-up viewpoint. As I and the little home educators I played with grew older, I began to realise that character was better than facts and wisdom better than trivia.
As I look around me today, I still see home educators paranoid that their children should be academically irreproachable. Some of them opt to shoot the moon with a classical education, others feel safer with a school-at-home package. But at the same time I see more and more parents realising that academics is not all there is; that academics is not the chief end of education.
RC Sproul Jr's book is thus a timely reminder of what academics is for. We have been treating it as an end, but it is really a means. The aim is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever; the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. Instead of teaching academics here and a bit of religion there, says Sproul, we should start with the fear of the Lord and go on to knowledge as a means to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. The educational commands in Scripture are heavily weighted towards teaching children to know and use the law-word of God. The periodic table doesn't even get a mention.
One might commit the opposite error and say that academics is not important, but this is not what either Scripture or Sproul teaches. Sproul even admits to teaching his children Latin and phonics and buying textbooks. I happen to know that he's written articles for classical-school-curriculum-catalogues. That's not what he's saying.
In Scripture, we are told that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Yet Solomon, the wisest man till Christ, was learned in just about everything one could be learned in--from great literature to natural science. If there had been a periodic table back then, he'd have known it backwards. The fear of the Lord, I am convinced, will ultimately result in a formidable standard of academic excellence.
But, says Sproul, let's not sacrifice the commands of God and our children to the gods of academe. Are you qualified to teach? If you have children, he says, the answer is yes. Just as if you are married, you are qualified to lead. The command to teach one's children is foundational to Christian living. If you have 'em, you teach 'em. Even if you can't hold a pencil and never read a word in your life.
This is a hard thing for us to swallow, after a century of compulsory state schooling. However, side-stepping for a moment the fact that no if any parents in the home-ed world are utterly illiterate, consider this: If God thought you weren't competent to teach your children, He'd have given them to someone else. Like a husband that won't lead, incompetence is not a license to quit trying. It is a command to get whatever it is you need to teach your children. At the very least this would include a Bible and the ability to read it (Christianity has always been a formidable force for literacy, given its emphasis on the Word). And once you can read, you can learn anything.
Learning--of any kind--is a spiritual discipline, argues Donald Whitney in his book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. We have turned it into a way to prove that we can do the school thing at home better than the schools. And it's the wrong aim.
Sproul's thesis is one that needs to be heard by as many home educators as possible. However I do think you need to read the book with the tacit understanding that Sproul does, in fact, value academics. He just doesn't idolise it.