What Would a Pluralist Say About Homeschooling?
- Brian D. Ray, Ph.D. National Home Education Research Institute
- 2013 31 May
An academic author’s argument might sound good at first. He might pull you right in. Terms used by thinker-writers, such as good society, pluralism, and parental choice, are engaging or at least appear benign. And you might hear one write something that really draws you in, such as "...A truly good education system will...honour the deeply-held commitments of the parents whose children are being educated.”1
And then the author, such as academic fellow Ashley Berner at the University of Virginia, continues by laying out a perfectly accurate claim like the following:
In fact, most U.S. citizens continue to think of their public schools as somehow ideologically neutral. This is simply inaccurate. Education, like all human endeavours, is shot through with belief and longing, with affirmations about what matters and what does not. (page 76)
Berner, in her piece titled “Making Space for Civilization: Educational Pluralism,” has just articulated something you know to be true and that leaders in the Christian home-education movement have been trying to get across to fellow believers for three decades. In fact, non-Christian home educators have been trying to convey the same thing. Now you are tracking with this academic and are ready to jump onto her wagon and recommend her article to policymakers and others.
But wait a minute, slow down, and carefully consider her next few steps.
Berner does a decent job of addressing three of the four main questions she posits about education: What is the aim of education? What is the nature of the child? What is the role of the teacher? But when she gets to the fourth and final question, Who has ultimate authority?, her argument breaks down as she reveals, unwittingly or not, some fundamental presuppositions and her worldview.
Academic Berner suddenly leaps to an unfounded claim. She asks, “Who decides [about a child’s education]?” Her answer?
When honest brokers disagree, who adjudicates? A good society in the twenty-first century must, it seems to me, find a way to embrace educational pluralism. That is, the State should establish certain standards which even strong disagreement may not overrule. These could include compulsory education up to age sixteen or seventeen; a strong curriculum that insures literacy and numeracy in the early years and that builds up the intellectual, emotional, physical, and even spiritual sensibilities of every child until graduation; a plan to sponsor individual interests, particularly at the upper grade levels; an agreement to promote civic and moral duty; the provision of adequate facilities and staff training across the system. Each of these components, of course, deserves its own essay! (page 76)
Hold on! Please define “good society,” Ms. Berner. And why did you pull, out of thin air, the position that the State should hold the position of god over the education of children? Why did you begin with the presupposition that the State has first and final authority over children’s education and upbringing? Why not the church (or synagogue or mosque or soccer team)? Why not the parents? Why not the child? Why not some invisible cosmic force? What happened to freedom and limiting the power of the State?
Why did you not clearly lay out your worldview’s relevant building blocks for us on this question, the one about authority over a child’s teaching, training, and indoctrination?
Berner’s worldview assumes that the State has a claim on children. From a statist perspective, the State does. From a scripturalist perspective, it does not.2 Christians should know that God gives the duty and authority over a child’s education (e.g., discipleship, nurturing, training, schooling) to his or her parents, with the father leading. Statism assumes that the State has a claim over a child’s education in order to control what the State thinks is best for “the people” who comprise the State. Scripturalism gives the State no claim over the teaching, training, and indoctrination of children. Scripturalism gives the State the duty and power to punish anyone who would harm a child, not the power to control a child’s education.
It appeared that at the beginning of her article Ashley Berner might lay out a good argument for educational freedom in free nations, but the astute reader is quickly disappointed. It could be that Ms. Berner does not even know what she did. She failed to ground her flow of logic and conclusions in an explicitly articulated worldview. It appears she came down on the side of statism. She clearly rejected Biblical scripturalism in the flow of her paragraphs and in her final conclusions.
I suppose Berner’s final sentence makes her educational god about as clear as possible: “The good society should make space for conflicting ideals within the parameters of civic accountability.” (page 78)
In other words, what is done about a child’s education should ultimately be under government authority—simply put, the State—and not under parents who are providentially placed by God. She is saying, whether aware of it not, a child’s education is, in the end, of, to, and for the State, not to the glory of God under the direction of parents. In the end, statism allows for some parental influence but not truly free, parent-run, home-based education.
Beware, readers, of the bait. Look for a clear line that demarcates the presuppositions and worldview of an author. If you are Christian, you must compare it all to the Word of God. There is no other proper way.
1. Berner, Ashley. (2011). “Making Space for Civilization: Educational Pluralism.” Comment Magazine, Fall 2011, 74–78, pages 74–75.
Brian D. Ray, Ph.D., is president of the National Home Education Research Institute, a nonprofit research and education organization. Dr. Ray often serves as an expert witness in courts, testifies to legislatures, and is interviewed by the media. Brian is married to Betsy and they have eight children and four grandchildren.
Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the April 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.
Publication date: May 31, 2013