My wife and I decided a few years ago to homeschool our kids. Since they are very young, we were able to start teaching our first child in kindergarten. We were very excited (and continue to be) to be able to teach our children according to the curriculum, values, and schedule that reflect our family. Well, the first year had its share of triumphs, challenges, and setbacks. As any homeschooling family will tell you, this is par for the course. So this summer we thought it would be encouraging to attend our first homeschooling conference and convention. We hoped to get refreshed, reenergized, network, and research our next year’s curriculum.
One of the things we encountered first-hand during our rookie year is the homeschool culture. My wife had been homeschooled for 2 years as a child, so she already knew about it. My only exposure to homeschool culture growing up was a couple of families in our church, and making some friends in college that had been homeschooled. Nevertheless, these experiences didn’t really expose me to the unique homeschool culture in America. But recently we got a major dose of the radical wing of the movement through one of the keynote addresses at the conference we attended last weekend. The speaker’s name is not important, but his 45-minute message was a glimpse into the worldview of (I fear) many Christian homeschooling families. Here is what I observed:
The Perceived Problem. Everyone acknowledges that the public school system in American needs reforming. It is producing graduates that are less and less prepared for the workforce, college, and the global marketplace. But the message went far beyond that. The speaker asserted that the public school system is working perfectly–just as it was designed to do. In other words, it’s not broken; it’s evil! In a perfect world it wouldn’t even exist. Public schooling was portrayed as useless, enslaving, stupifying, and monopolizing. The funny thing is that EVERYONE in the room (including the speaker) was educated in the public school system! (It didn’t seem to terribly fail us.) We were addressed as refugees and escapees of the system, as the only ones who are enlightened to the nature and purpose of REAL education. It occurs to me that the perceived problem framed in these terms amounts to a harmartiology (doctrine of sin). You’ll see why this is the case.
The Only Solution. So what is the best alternative to educating our children? According to the speaker, it is home-educating your kids. This is apparently obvious, given his examples of historical geniuses who lived during eras without public education (Thomas Jefferson, medieval scholars, etc). He didn’t spend too much time on this subject since he probably assumed that he didn’t need to convert any in the audience since we were all homeschoolers already. But he did say that homeschooling alone would not save our country and Western culture from the dumbing down of public school graduates. He urged us to have lots of babies, to homeschool them all, and to teach our children to have lots of babies and continue the homeschooling tradition. Why? Because we have to outnumber the enemy (those enslaved by the public school system) and take back (redeem?) the culture. Furthermore, we need to be telling our fellow Christians in other churches to homeschool their kids, for this is the only way to achieve our goal. What did he call this homeschool sales pitch to Christians in other churches? Tellingly, “evangelism”! The solution proposed framed in these terms amounts to a soteriology (a doctrine of salvation). The picture should be becoming a little clearer now.
The Utopian Goal. Admittedly, the speaker’s hope for the future was not clearly addressed. Instead he used veiled language to indicate that someday the homeschool movement would be able to produce statesmen, public servants, and a new intelligensia with the ability to think, possess wisdom, skill, and character (unlike those educated in the factory-like, rubber-stamping public schools). Only this will usher in a new golden age for America. Ironically, the speaker never made clear what the future homeschool-educated powerful elite would DO with this hard won influence. In other words, when homeschool graduates take over the power structures of our culture, what do they intend to accomplish with this power? Clearly, the utopian goal framed in these terms amounts to an eschatology (a doctrine of last things or end times).
Just a few thoughts.
First, the disclaimer: the speaker and his worldview do not characterize our family’s values and worldview. My wife and I decided to educate our children ourselves not because we believe the public school system is evil and hopelessly beyond repair. Homeschooling works for us right now because we can teach our children more efficiently and with more individual attention than they could ever get in a classroom full of 30 other kids. Yes, there are things in the public schools that we want to shelter our young children from in the years when their minds are very impressionable, but we don’t think it is impossible to deprogram a child from any undesirable instruction acquired at school. It’s not impossible, just a waste of valuable time if you don’t have to. I suspect that many, many homeschool families are not of the militant variety as well. If we were all likeminded, we wouldn’t need a pep talk at the annual homeschool rally.
Second, the worldview of the speaker is not really true to the Bible. Nowhere does Scripture say that having someone else tutor your children in basic education is wrong. I’m inclined to believe that the institution of public schooling is a common grace in our society (and many other societies as well). Really, can anyone believe after serious reflection that society would be best served if public schooling disappeared next fall? Would every child hence receive a better quality education in expensive private schools, or fledgeling homeschools? Would every family forced to homeschool without the option of public education give as systematic an education to their children as purposeful homeschool families do today? I doubt it. Furthermore, the problem is not bad education, it is bad character (sin). The solution is not homeschooling, it is the gospel of Jesus Christ and participating in the growing kingdom of God. The utopian society is not homeschool grads in power, but the consummation of the kingdom of God which will only occur at the second coming of the Lord in glory. I fear that many in the Christian homeschooling movement have a false understanding of the problem, the solution, and the ultimate goal. And smooth-talking, eloquent, yet misguided speakers that give vision and encouragement to homeschooling parents are not helping build the kingdom of God.
Third, encouraging someone to consider the benefits of homeschooling their children is not “evangelism”. I supposed that if the homeschooling alternative is described as “good news”, then it could VERY loosely be described as a gospel of sorts, but certainly not in any religious sense. I suspect that the speaker was using the term “evangelism” with this loose definition, but without clarification and qualification, talk like this is not very helpful. Dangitbill! Homeschooling is NOT the gospel!