Education, home-schooling, and the vocation of the child

Thanks to Justin Taylor for showing me this article by Christopher O. Tollefsen, Are There Harms of Home Schooling? by Christopher O. Tollefsen, philosophy professor at the University of South Carolina. He takes out some recent academic attacks on homeschooling and builds a case for it based essentially on the doctrine of vocation! Excerpts:

Despite its growing acceptance, homeschooling continues to come under attack by critics who see it as a fringe phenomenon indulged in only by religious extremists and red-state radicals. The latest of these attacks are two recently published academic papers by Robin West and by Martha Fineman that trumpet concerns about the “harms” of allowing a family to educate their children at home.

West and Fineman are guilty of some overly broad generalizations about the inadequacies of home-schooling, and sloppy inferences from what can happen to what should. There is little evidence that home-schooled children are subjected to widespread abuse or neglect, and some evidence that home-schooled children perform as well or better than publicly educated children by a number of measures of assessment. Yet, on the grounds that abuse can happen and occasionally does in the homeschooling environment, Fineman, for example, draws the astonishingly strong conclusion that “public schooling should be universal and mandatory.”

This conclusion rests on the faulty assumption—widely shared amongst liberal theorists of education—that the state is in some way a privileged player in the question of children’s education. According to this view, the state should educate children, and others who claim a right to do so should be subject to special scrutiny or meet a special burden of proof.

One can see how such an assumption might make sense. If children are to be primarily educated into citizenship, then it might seem entirely natural for the state to have the primary responsibility for doing so. And if children are primarily to be educated for autonomy, then removing children from the religiously, morally, and culturally homogeneous environment of the home might be essential. Finally, if children are to be educated with a view to their best interests, and those interests are understood as in tension with the interests of their parents, then again, the state will seem to be the default educator of children.

But are these the ends of children’s education? And should state schooling be the default position against which others are judged? The two questions are, as we have just seen, linked, and they must be addressed together.

Moreover, these questions need to be addressed against the background of what we might call the ontology of children and the family. Is the family a mere aggregate of individuals—spouses, and children—held together, perhaps by common or overlapping interests, but ultimately independent, in their interests and their being, from one another? . . . .

A more adequate picture emerges from a more accurate account of marriage as a comprehensive sharing of lives that extends not just through those immaterial aspects of the spouses’ lives, such as intellect, will, character, and emotion, but penetrates down to the bodily being of the spouses in the act of sexual intercourse. That act of intercourse is, by its nature, ordered to the biological function of reproduction. Thus, children who are born of marriage so understood are the fruit of that parental union, and so themselves in a strong sense new parts of that union. The unity and multiplicity that characterizes the lives of spouses who have become one flesh is thus extended to include the lives of children born (or, I believe, adopted) of that union. . . .

How, then, should the child’s good, which also is the perfection of their parents, be understood?

Children’s education is primarily about their fulfillment, but that fulfillment is and can only be rooted in an orientation towards a life of service to genuine human goods, including the goods of others and service to God. The particular form of life within which each child is called to perform these services is the child’s vocation; the task of education—its primary end—is to enable children to recognize, accept, and pursue that vocation. . . .

Moreover, a child’s developing recognition of his or her vocation—which is the ultimate end of children’s education—is not simply a matter of recognizing the goodness of this or that way of life, for there are many such good ways of life. Additionally, the child must recognize the fittingness of some particular way of life for him or her. The particular way of life to which this child is called is not the same as the life to which that child is called, and the particular shape this a child’s obligations, opportunities, and destiny will take are, in many ways, unique to him or her.

Parents are in a unique position to help children through the years of their formation, in recognizing what they are called to. . . .

Such considerations do not provide an argument against state assistance in children’s education, or even an argument against the existence of state-funded public schools. But they do suggest, I think, a rather strong conclusion: that the option of home-schooling should be the prima facie starting point for parental deliberations about their children’s education. Many parents will, in the course of their deliberations, realize that they are best positioned to pursue, with their children, the ends of education in the home. Others will conscientiously judge that others, in one or other of a variety of possible ways, must be brought on board to assist with the task. But, as the starting point for deliberation in this area, homeschooling, and homeschoolers, should be given considerably more deference, in theory and practice, than recent educational theory suggests.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Joe

    Thanks for sharing this article. Now, just for fun I would like to make the same ridiculous logical jumps as Martha Fineman: because some teachers abuse their students all public schools must be shuttered.

  • Joe

    Thanks for sharing this article. Now, just for fun I would like to make the same ridiculous logical jumps as Martha Fineman: because some teachers abuse their students all public schools must be shuttered.

  • WebMonk

    I’ll do you one better Joe – because some parents abuse their children, all children should be immediately taken away from their parents.

  • WebMonk

    I’ll do you one better Joe – because some parents abuse their children, all children should be immediately taken away from their parents.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    Anybody know what the original articles are? I could not find the exact articles that are being to which the quoted article is responding.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    Anybody know what the original articles are? I could not find the exact articles that are being to which the quoted article is responding.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    excuse me … articles to which the quoted article is responding

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    excuse me … articles to which the quoted article is responding

  • Nemo
  • Nemo
  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    thank you =)

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    thank you =)

  • http://carolmsblog.blogspot.com/ C-Christian Soldier

    Homeschool was our choice..
    I taught school for 10 years….realized that children were passed w/o reading (phonics) -math- & writing -skills—didn’t want that for our child—
    found out about home-education–attended our first CHEA convention-26 years ago–went to listen to a man named Marshall Foster…we realized that WE had been LIED to about the founding of the US…and have been passionate about true history as well as -reading-writing-arithmetic!!
    Joined HSLDA too!!
    C-CS

  • http://carolmsblog.blogspot.com/ C-Christian Soldier

    Homeschool was our choice..
    I taught school for 10 years….realized that children were passed w/o reading (phonics) -math- & writing -skills—didn’t want that for our child—
    found out about home-education–attended our first CHEA convention-26 years ago–went to listen to a man named Marshall Foster…we realized that WE had been LIED to about the founding of the US…and have been passionate about true history as well as -reading-writing-arithmetic!!
    Joined HSLDA too!!
    C-CS


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