Thursday, December 14, 2006

New Lumps in School (or not). Part I

Tim Challies has launched a couple of posts into the home school / public school debate (post 1, post 2). I don’t agree with some of his observations, but they are personal and he’s entitled to his opinion. Instead of leaving a comment at his busy blog, I thought I would jot down some thoughts on homeschooling here in the obscurity of my little ol’ blog. This is not a direct response to Tim’s posts, but my own personal reflections on this contentious issue (goodness knows, you only have to say the word “homeschool” and someone is offended). Tim is a thoughtful guy and I am certainly not offended by what he posted, but he did get me thinking about why we homeschool.

As a pastor, I have often said that I do not prescribe schooling methods to families in my church. What I do insist upon, however, is Christian parents’ responsibility for the education of their children. Sorting out what is best for individual families is complicated. Parents need to study this issue before they make a decision. There is wisdom in many counselors and there are countless variables that parents have to consider.

So, I present, in no particular order, some thoughts.

First, I wish people would avoid using anecdotal evidence as if their examples were argument stoppers. Anecdotal evidence has its place as long as people admit that they are giving one-off illustrations. An extreme, fictitious example of this is, “My sister-in-law’s second cousin had a neighbor that beat his kids and cheated on his taxes and they were homeschoolers.” A less extreme but more common example is, “I went to public school and I turned out okay” (I used to use that one). The right response to those arguments is, “So what?” This complaint applies to Christian school, homeschool and public school arguments. I’ve heard red herrings from all three camps.

We need to humbly admit that none of us are perfect. We will change our minds on some aspects of our children’s education, we will have some regrets, and we will have some successes. There is a way of engaging this conversation that comes across as unnecessarily judgmental. We can also admit that there are pitfalls to each approach:

  • Homeschool parents can fall short by plugging their kids into a do it yourself, paint by numbers approach and fail to plan adequately for their children’s education.
  • Christian school parents might fail to be involved in their children’s education thinking, “I’ve done my duty – I pay the tuition. They’re getting a Christian education.”
  • Public school parents may buy into the pragmatism that says that education is all about preparing for a job rather than building lives and molding hearts.

I imagine we could make long lists of the pitfalls and opportunities of each approach. What matters is that we get involved in the training and development of our children in a prayerful, thoughtful, holistic way.

There is no “one size fits all” education model for all or even most families. This applies to homeschool approaches, different school district philosophies, student learning styles, and the differences between parents, teachers, schools, communities and many other variables.

There is so much that could be said about each of these situational issues. Too often criticisms are made from a particular context. For example (caution: anecdote ahead), we were talking to a family at Bible camp and they were surprised that we home schooled. As we got into the conversation, we found out that they live in a nice little suburban neighborhood with a little friendly public school. The principal and several of the teachers went to their church and the school had an open-door policy towards the parents. Sweet. More power to them (we would still homeschool in that community, but that’s another story). These parents hadn’t really considered that Christian parents in different districts and different communities might have different experiences with the public school system.

Ultimately, as we assess our options, we must ask the question: “What is the goal of our children’s education?” If we stop at the question, “What are the benefits of homeschooling?” (or of sending our kids to a public or Christian school) we will miss the more important consideration of equipping our children for life-long learning and Christian discernment. We ought to be training them to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

I remember that when I was in Bible College I came across a few enthusiastic young Christians who thought that spending all the time and money on post-secondary education was a criminal waste. Would it not be far better to get on with the work of winning the world to Christ right away? I hope we can all see through the faulty logic of that perspective. Likewise, if we have a short-term view on school years or put secondary issues in the primary place, we will not be effective in the formative years with our children. First and second things and a long-range perspective – that’s the subject of my next post.

So, with this introduction, I admit that I haven’t said much. I hope you’ll be back for part two where I begin to really sink my teeth into the topic of why the Stauffer family home schools. I’ll probably get myself into trouble if I haven’t done so already.


Kim said...

Bravo, Terry! Excellent post.

I particularly like your reference to education being about the shaping of the character as opposed to simply being a means to an end.

I also like your focus on the principle of what the goal of education is rather than dwelling on the issue "to homeschool or not to homeschool."

Looking forward to the next post.

Clint said...

Excellent analysis. Exposing anecdotal evidence in this debate is helpful and needed (As in most debates).

I look forward to seeing your analysis of first, second things and the big picture.

Isn't that what the Church needs in great measure for a lot of issues?

Blessings brother,

BugBlaster said...

Good post. Measured thoughtfulness!

4given said...

I found you off of Kim's blog.

I wrote a post today called Homeschool or DIE??? that pretty much came to the same conclusion yours did. We homeschool our 6 children.

Well said, by the way. I agree with the bug man... "measured thoughtfulness"

Press on in HIS truth and HIS love for HIS glory,

Anonymous said...

very interesting post! I agree with you Terry, wholeheartedly. The issue of educating kids is a big one and there is a place for each service. Homeschooling is by far the one that, if done properly, takes the most committment. It is no easy row to hoe. God bless you in your efforts.

Ian said...

This was a brilliant post. Thank you for taking the time to write it. I hope many read it (and your next, if it's of the same calibre!).