One of the first things homeschooling parents need to acquire, before buying curriculum or creating a pleasant teaching area in the home, is a homeschooling mindset. Many start out with the idea that they need to outdo the public or private school down the street in matters of learning environment, computers, furniture, and other "outside-school" paraphernalia. While eventually these things will all need to fall into place, without a grounded perspective that establishes the homeschool as a distinct entity, the parents may become sidetracked and their intended results can easily become matters of secondary or tertiary importance.

What exactly is a homeschool mindset? Well, it includes the answers to the following questions:

  • Why am I homeschooling in the first place?
  • How will I measure success or failure? 
  • What is my working definition of "education"? 
  • Who is the authority I will answer to?

To be sure, there are many reasons why parents might decide to take the homeschooling route. However, I recommend that they clearly establish at the outset (possibly putting it in writing) why and how they came to their decision. Whether the reasons were spiritual, physical, emotional, financial, or some combination thereof -- or whether parents choose to homeschool as a response to a problem or to follow through with a particular vision -- creating a de facto "mission statement" will keep them on purpose and on track toward their goal.

Measuring success or failure is a tricky issue because our culture tells us that we need to be specially trained for years and years in order to teach another human being how to read, compute, and study. Yet, many "products" of this conventional "wisdom" can't really read, comprehend, or utilize the subject matter they are fed for 12 long years of schooling. So, it is imperative that parents have a good working definition of education. Webster's 1828 dictionary definition is quite thorough and comprehensive:

The bringing up, as of a child, instruction; formation of manners. Education comprehends all that series of instruction and discipline which is intended to enlighten the understanding, correct the temper, and form the manners and habits of youth, and fit them for usefulness in their future stations. To give children a good education in manners, arts and science, is important; to give them a religious education is indispensable; and an immense responsibility rests on parents and guardians who neglect these duties.

Therefore, an honest evaluation of progress should take into consideration much more than tests results, essay answers, and the like.

Then there is the question of accountability. In other words, where does the "buck" actually stop? Quite apart from the legal requirements of particular states and counties (which are rendering to Caesar what he demands), there is a much higher authority that parents will have to answer to in time and eternity. Their standards must remain high and be in accordance with the law-word of God. Choices of subjects studied, athletic activities pursued, or extracurricular activities ventured into, must all be evaluated in terms of preparing the children for their God-given callings. Parents must remember that it is the Lord God who gave them their children and whose requirement it is to steward their lives in accordance with His will.

Sometimes homeschooling rookies are way too hard on themselves, certain that their students are falling behind and thereby becoming increasingly separated from the "real world." Some longer in the ranks get weary because they lose sight of the original and/or expanded vision of what they are trying to achieve through their homeschool. I like to challenge and encourage homeschooling parents with the perspective: We are living and dealing in the real world. It's those who ignore, forsake, or repudiate the God of the Bible and His requirements for learning and living that are dwelling in a fantasy world. When all is said and done, the "ultimate report card" for parents will be hearing the words of our Savior, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

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Andrea Schwartz is co-director of Friends of Chalcedon. She has been homeschooling her own children since 1983 and has had a number of articles on homeschooling published in various magazines. She continues to advise other homeschooling families in areas of philosophy and curriculum.
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