Recently, a comment made by an acquaintance stoked our conversational fires for quite a while. This mother of two young boys said, with all sincerity, "We use public school as a tool to help teach our children how to interact in the world. But I homeschool in the evenings, since I really have a heart to teach children."
We could understand using public schools as a tool, albeit we would question the wisdom of that decision. However, the thought of homeschooling in the evening in addition to public school gave us pause. We wondered just what she meant. Did she focus on things like character training or Bible lessons that would be neglected in a public school setting? Did she try to engage in conversations or study that would compare and highlight a Biblical worldview versus the secular worldviews to which her children were being exposed? We didn't suppose that she spent those precious hours supplementing the math, history, or grammar lessons that were already an integral part of her children's academic education. The question we kept returning to was, just what does she think homeschooling is, and what is her motivation for doing it?
These are valid questions for all of us to ponder. In fact, many of the homeschoolers we know (ourselves included) typically revisit their purposes and plans for homeschooling in anticipation of each new academic year. When this comment and subsequent conversation were fresh, in fact, we were not far removed from our annual evaluation. So it was easy for us to answer the question, "Why are we homeschooling?" Let's face it, it certainly isn't convenient. Think about all the sacrifices we make to educate our children: very often financial sacrifices, and most certainly a multitude of personal sacrifices. So is it for academics? Character training? To shelter our children from worldly influences? Or is it for the purposes of Biblical instruction? For most of us, it's likely some combination of the above. But if we're honest with ourselves, just which of these drivers would we say is our greatest priority-and more importantly, does our homeschooling lifestyle reflect that assertion?
Almost without exception, the homeschool parents we've talked with all mention issues of peer pressure, secular worldviews, evolution, and the like. The comment we most often hear at the tail end of these discussions (and sometimes spoken a bit self-righteously) is, "Well, that's why we homeschool!" And certainly, sheltering to some degree can be a benefit of homeschooling. We love our children and have their best interests in mind. Teachers, in contrast, are salaried professionals who can never share the affection that we have for our children. More importantly, the public school environment is devoid of (and very often antagonistic to) the faith that we as Christian parents profess.
Sheltering can help us promote a more conservative worldview than is expressed in the public school environment. In particular, by homeschooling we can stand against some of the things that society says is best for our children, especially in terms of gender roles. Our daughters don't necessarily need to have high-powered careers; our sons don't have to go to Ivy League schools and prepare for enslavement in the high-stress corporate world. We don't need to prepare both genders to be able to exchange roles with ease.
As homeschooling parents, we have the privilege of preparing our children to function within their God-given roles when the time comes for them to have a family of their own. Our daughters learn to be loving and competent wives and mothers by helping Mom around the house; likewise, boys should have opportunities to work around the house or with Dad "on the job." Public school "home economics" or shop classes are no substitute for home-based training. Instruction can impart certain skills, but only our modeling and sincere encouragement will enable our children to embrace the traditional Christian lifestyle of faith.
Another benefit of homeschooling is that it provides us, as parents, with a unique opportunity to prepare our children for "real life" by training them in productive labor. This just isn't possible in the traditional public school setting. Let's face it--in life we will labor. How better to ready our children for this challenge than to ask them to share in household work or to encourage them in entrepreneurial ventures?
Yet the most important conclusion we've reached about our schooling objectives reverberated throughout our conversation and re-solidified our commitment to our true priority in homeschooling: not academics, not life skills, not simply "sheltering," but, quite simply, living the Word of God in an authentic and joyful way so that our children will grow up embracing our lifestyle of faith.
While the net result of sheltering our children from some of the adverse philosophies and influences that are found in schools is certainly positive, what will ultimately please God the most is not that we simply remove these influences, but that we proactively equip our children to grow to love Him and abide by His Word. We can shelter our children from all of those "bad" things and still miss the mark if we fail to fill them up with all the good things. Consider the following Scriptures:
And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4, emphasis added)
And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. (Deuteronomy 6:6-7, emphasis added)
Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons' sons. (Deuteronomy 4:9)
These are some of the verses that have directed our planning and preparation for our homeschooling regimen. What impressed us about these commands is that they are not prescriptive of what we keep from our children, but rather descriptive of how we are to actively impart God's Word to our children, both by instruction and by example. These verses (and others like them) should be at the heart of our homeschooling objectives.
We also noted that these passages do not reflect the compartmentalized academic curriculum that is common to schools and all too willingly emulated by many homeschooling parents. As a result, we have decided to move away from curricula and toward a life-skills oriented "program" of doing life together with God's Word at the center. Yes, we still use textbooks. Yes, we still have certain times that are set aside for "schoolwork." Yes, we want our children to achieve a certain academic standard. However, what we do not want is to end up sacrificing our children's character and their spiritual health on the altar of academic excellence.
Likely, all of us as Christian homeschoolers pay some lip service to offering our children a spiritual education. When we began to honestly assess our homeschooling materials and methods, however, we didn't like how we measured up, and we were forced to make some changes. Looking introspectively at what we'd been doing during the previous year, we found that we had, more and more frequently, simply brought some element of Bible teaching into our home education rather than integrating academics into our everyday Biblical living. It wasn't that our children's spiritual growth and faith were not important; in fact, we would have said they were essential. However, the curriculum approach to education had truly trapped us into a more rigid academic focus.
Thus, another change we've made is to not have a "Bible curriculum." While we will occasionally use Bible study materials or take part in a group study, that's not our typical method of growing in God's Word. We read the Bible daily (both independently and as a family); we seek God in prayer for guidance and direction in our reading; we delve deeper by using concordances and dictionaries; we challenge each other with thoughts and questions; we enjoy speaking and living God's Word to the best of our ability. This is what we want for our children. We don't want our children's faith to become just another academic subject, or something to check off in a daily assignment book. We want it to be what they live and breathe.
The question we've returned to again and again is the same one that we challenge you to consider afresh today: "Why do we homeschool?" Our short answer? It's the only way we can do what God asks of us, which is imparting His Word to our children all day long! We feel that, Biblically, it's our responsibility to do this, and it's just not possible to accomplish this successfully in a public school paradigm. God wants us to homeschool so that we can teach His Word and raise our children in a lifestyle of authentic faith. All else is secondary. And it isn't a part-time endeavor. The Word must be both taught and lived in order for it to travel the 18 inches from the mind to the heart.
This active instruction in God's Word must move beyond the academic if it is to be effective. It is through "doing life" in an authentic way that challenges and conflicts emerge. And it is only through these trials that we have the opportunity to make our Biblical instruction real (see, for example, James 1:2-4). There is no better way to prepare our children to succeed in this world than to impart to them a solid, Biblical character.
Our answer to the question, "Why homeschool?" is indeed significant, but even more indicative of our true priorities is how we homeschool and how we're living out the beliefs we profess. It may be that we clearly see both the academic and "sheltering" benefits of homeschooling; as a result, these become emphasized because they provide obvious goals and measurable results. However, if we neglect the essential element of constantly immersing our children in the Word of God and a lifestyle of faith, they may suffer the consequences of a misapplied focus.
God cares little if our children score well on their SATs or go to an Ivy League school. He wants their hearts and minds to be centered on Him. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't properly prepare our children to be functional adults, or even that we should restrict them from experiencing success in a higher learning environment. However, it does mean that we can't neglect the essential element of everyday Biblical living as we pursue the academic and social aspects that can often become the focus of our homeschooling.
We would challenge all of us, then, to re-examine both why and how we homeschool, and to be mindful of God's heart for all of our families on this homeschooling journey:
I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old: Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done. For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments: And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not stedfast with God (Psalm 78:2-8).
Our job is not just to prepare our children to compete academically or to fulfill a job description that might be a part of their future. Our job is to live the Word of God and teach the Word of God. Sheltering helps in this endeavor. Providing opportunities for meaningful labor and preparing our children to function in their God-given roles as wives or husbands is also significant. But it is being God-centered in all of our doings that is of utmost importance if we are truly seeking to fulfill the Biblical objectives of homeschooling.
*This article first published August 10, 2007.
Marc and Cynthia Carrier are authors and speakers. Together they have written The Values-Driven Family. The Carriers have been featured on Concerned Women for America, SRN News, LeSea's The Harvest Show television program, and numerous other radio programs and publications. The Carriers homeschool their five children (with number six due in August) in rural Indiana. For more information or to purchase a book, visit www.valuesdrivenfamily.com.