Home Schooling--Going Back to the Future
- 2002 17 May
At the beginning of the 21st century there is truly an exciting phenomenon occurring in American society: home schooling. As sociologist Peter Berger accurately observes, evangelicals (and Christian home schoolers) generally subscribe to two strongly held propositions: that a return to Christian values is necessary if the moral confusion of our time is to be overcome, and that the Enlightenment is to be blamed for much of the confusion of our time.
In fact, I believe that Christian home schooling, along with other strains of Evangelicalism, is one of the most potent anti-Enlightenment movements in world history. I most assuredly did not say "anti-intellectual." Christian home schoolers argue that the excessives of Enlightenment rationalism have sabotaged the certitude of classicism and Christian theism that so strongly influenced Western culture long before the formidable onslaught of the likes of David Hume.
The fact is, too, that Christian home schoolers are quickly filling the ranks of Evangelical Christianity. Higher test scores and functional family units are only two reasons that home schoolers are capturing the elite culture of America.
The Washington Post in 1993 coyly observed that evangelicals are "largely poor, uneducated and easy to command." And, among our own, evangelical professor Mark Noll unkindly observed, "The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind." Indeed. Not any more. Today, more than ever, in the garb of Christian home schooling, Evangelicalism has gained new life.
By sidestepping the Enlightenment, Christian home schooling has opened up a whole new arena for debate. While conceding that faith is not a makeshift bridge to overcome some Kierkegaardian gap between beliefs and evidence, home schooling posits that it still is important that we look beyond our experience for reality. Human needs and aspirations are greater than the world can satisfy, so it is reasonable to look elsewhere for that satisfaction. Worth is the highest and best reality (a decidedly anti-Enlightenment notion) and its genesis and maintenance come exclusively from relationship with God alone. Home schooling families, with their sacrificial love of one another and their extravagant gift of time to one another, offer a radical path into this new way of looking at reality.
Christian home schooling, then, moves backward in time, far back in time, when intellectualism was not separate from religion. It blows the claims of the Enlightenment to bits. Home schooling has brought back stability into the lives of countless millions of Americans when the majority of Americans are living in a context of clashing reactivities, where (as Kenneth J. Gergen explains) the very ground of meaning, the foundations and structures of thought, language, and social discourse are up for grabs. Where the very concepts of personhood, spirituality, truth, integrity, and objectivity are all being demolished, breaking up, giving way. And home schoolers do it the old fashioned way: parents stay home and love their kids and in the process lay their lives down for all of our futures.
Home schooling. Millions strong. Unpretentious to a fault, this new cultural revolution is inviting Americans back to traditional truths that have been with us always and pointing us to others that need to be rediscovered.
Home schooling has invited Americans to a comfortable marriage of intellectualism and transcendentalism that fares our culture and our nation well in the years ahead. In that sense, then, perhaps home-schooling families are the new patriots, the hope for our weary nation and our dysfunctional culture. We shall see.
Dr. James Stobaugh is the president of For Such a Time as This Ministries. He received his B. A. cum laude from Vanderbilt University (1974), M.A., Rutgers University (1978), M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary (1983), was a Merrill Fellow at Harvard University (1990, and obtained his D. Min. from Gordon Conwell Seminary (1997). Jim has also coached SAT prep for 20 years. Jim and Karen Stobaugh have four home educated children. Jim has written the well received SAT and College Preparation Course for the Christian Student (1998), as well as a 10 volume Critical Thinking Literary series. Jim and Karen reside in Hollsopple, PA.