It might surprise some who know me to learn this, but I’m not a sold-out homeschool type. As much as wifey and I are enjoying homeschooling our kids, our preference would be for them to be in school. But that would only be under certain more ideal conditions, which we are not yet operating under, so we continue happily homeschooling away.
I mention this to let you know that this is not some sort of homeschool-or-die apologia.
I have a homeschooling pedigree, having been educated at home myself from the seventh grade on. I am part of the first generation of homeschoolers large enough to be noticed when they went to college, got married, had kids, and started educating them. I was only the second homeschooler to be accepted into the University of Florida. At the time, very few schools had any policies or standards for accepting us. UF decided that Robert (the first homeschooler accepted) and I should take a bunch of subject-specific SAT IIs, a very stop-gap policy that I’m sure has been changed by now. Within a few years I knew several other students who had been homeschooled, many of whom I had known when I was still in high school (my dad was a professor at UF, so I went to high school in the university’s home town).
So I’m part of the first mainstreamed generation. I’m also part of the last generation whose parents wondered and stressed about legalities, when homeschooling was very marginalized. Sure, today social workers still occasionally and usually illegally get in someone’s face, or homeschoolers deal with overregulation there or intrusive policies here. But there were still few enough of us out there back then that when a school board or social worker got offended that homeschoolers even existed, those people might think they could persecute and harass us without anybody important caring. The whole thing felt much more…guerrilla.
I don’t know what books my mom was reading in 1991, but they must have been pretty weird, since the year we started homeschooling was the same year we stopped eating wheat and moved to Berkeley. Strange times.
Like a lot of parents then, my parents were reacting. It’s a very positive thing that more and more parents are choosing to homeschool proactively. Although opting out is still a very large part of the culture today, opting in to homeschooling instead of opting out of state school is becoming the paradigm. And that’s helpful; it is always better to be formulating philosophies and making practical decisions based on positive frameworks.
My parents were Christians, but they did not believe I need a “Christian education”. They reacted to a dismaying experience, and since they had recently been exposed to the idea, the possibility, of homeschooling, they decided to give it a try.
I had attended school in Brazil from kindergarten to sixth grade. Most of those years I went to private schools, which would have been the norm for people in my class, with one year (I suspect my father was having a hard time financially) in state school. In 1989/90 we moved from Brazil to Edmonton, Alberta, a large city in western Canada. My parents were absolutely scandalized by the way the kids in our church treated their parents; it was common for Canadian parents to be held hostage by teenagers threatening to call social services, since their version of DSS would remove children at their own request with no questions asked. And they couldn’t believe the stories I told them of my first year in a North American junior high. I was as shocked as they, but even so, I liked the school. I learned to play football, joined chess club, and was on a basketball team for the first time in my life. I was very disoriented, but even then I could see that I had never been surrounded by as much depravity as I was in that seventh grade. Drugs, bullying, sex, suicides.
My parents reacted. When we moved the next year to Berkeley, California, they decided to homeschool us. They made the decision because they wanted to keep us away from bad stuff, from sin and sinful patterns. They knew we were vulnerable to be influenced, and they decided to put us in a safer place.
All of which was good and laudable. And those are reason enough for me not to let my kids into a state school, if the state schools I were around were like that. But here in the Bible belt they’re often not.
I think that many of the homeschoolers who are homeschool-only-do-or-die are reacting. Yes, I’m generalizing. Don’t get your prairie petticoats in a twist, just keep reading.
Reactions can’t endure; they are at best short-term solutions. Positive otherness is what is needed when considering how most Americans view education and its problems.
Have you opted out of state school until it’s fixed? Until there’s less violence, or they permit the teaching of Creationism? Or have you opted out of state school because it’s wrong? Because there’s a better other?
Our decision to homeschool, even if homeschooling is not our top choice, is a proactive one. It’s a positive choice based on our resources and recourses.
Much of it is about legitimate authority. And on a deeper level, it’s about what it means to be human. Yes, it’s that fundamental, because raising and educating your child are the same thing. There’s no separating them. And when you raise a human, you’re making a human.
Education is teleological. It’s in the word, boys and girls. Educare. To lead out. To lead toward. To lead forth. If you’re educating a kid, you’re taking him somewhere, you’re making him something. If you’re the state you’re making him a citizen. A productive member of society. A worker. That is the state’s highest aspiration for your child. Surely that is not yours.
Of the three spheres of human authority, a Christian might argue about whether education fall under the purview of the church or of the family. All parents ought to be aware of what they’re doing and where they’re placing authority when they choose how to educate their kids. The family would attempt to lead a child to be a faithful son. The church would want to make citizens of heaven, of the City of God. But the City of Man makes Citizens of Man.
I have counseled against being reactionary instead of positive and constructive. But the state of educational philosophy and application is so debased that any path we take will be limited in the good it can do. Building a wall when you’re holding a spear in one hand and a trowel in the other will slow down work significantly.
I believe in community life. And I won’t punch you if you say “it takes a village”. I’ll only punch you if you say “it takes a village” and you mean “it takes the State”. I’m not giving up any of my joyous responsibility over my children, but just as I share my life with my brothers and sisters in Christ, I can share my children. We are a family. Which is why we would prefer to have our kids in a good Christian school, preferably one run by our church.
Alas, we haven’t the funds. Meanwhile, homeschooling is great. God has given us all the tools, starting with the little humans themselves, to make Big Humans. To make Men With Chests. He asked us to do the job. And by his grace, we will.
The question we must always have before us is: what are we doing? Whatever your choices in education might be, the answer should be, “Making children of God”.