TTUAC: Michael on Homeschooling (It’s Not Pretty)

To Train Up A Child, chapter 19

We’re nearly finished with this review series of Michael and Debi’s book. We have now reached the chapter titled “Homeschool Makes No Fools.” Remember, the Pearls teach that homeschooling is, for all intents and purposes, mandatory. Here they explain why.

THE SYSTEM

One judge in Nebraska said that the public educational system is preparing the children of America for the year 2000 when we will all merge into the new world order. He went on to say that the children of Christian homeschool families would not fit into that planned system.

Yep, it’s going to be like that.

The biggest issue I have with statements like this is the lack of information that would allow anyone to attempt to verify what the actual statement was, or whether any statement even resembling this was ever made. What judge? What was his name? What kind of judge was he? What was the date? Was this in a decision he made? If so, what was its name? If it was in a comment to the media, where were his comments published, and when? We don’t have information to allow us to actually look this up.

This statement also rather dates the book—it was published in 1994.

Never even consider sending your children to private Christian schools, much less the public automaton factory. Whether a classroom is based completely on Christian education or secular is not the issue (although, we would by far prefer the Christian).

Again, I am not at all surprised.

I have to say, though, after being homeschooled and taught exactly the above about public schools, I’ve been interested to find that the public schools my own children have attended are far less factory-like than I’d expected. Granted, my children are still in elementary school, but there is more flexibility, project-based learning, and embrace of a diversity of academic levels and learning styles in an individual classroom than I’d expected.

God didn’t make teenage boys and girls to sit together in a classroom every day using their brain while real life passes them by.

This is another common claim I’ve seen made by homeschool advocates like the Pearls—particularly those who are working class—and it’s one I find fascinating on an academic level. Compulsory and widespread high school attendance came after compulsory and widespread grade school attendance, and for most of the early history of our country it was assumed that teenagers would work. This changed as the nature of work changed, but there are still points of conflict over various policies, such as vocational high schools.

The argument behind vocational high schools, as I understand it, is that a young person is better off reaching age 18 with a trade internship under her belt and practical experience and training than reaching 18 with a academics-focused high school degree and no plans to attend college. The counterargument, of course, is that not every young person knows when entering high school whether they want to attend college, or what they want to be when they grow up. Attending vocational school can cut off college opportunities, making it difficult for a teenager who might change her mind about what she wants to be when she grows up partway through.

The point to note, here, is that Michael appears to be taking a solid approach against focused academic training for teenagers. While not all teenagers are as equipped for academics as others, we live in a world where many career paths require teenagers to focus on academic learning in preparation for college. You can’t be a nurse, or a teacher, or a scientist without a college degree. Arguing that teens should be focused on real-life on the job training effectively shuts the doors to these careers, and others like them.

The world’s system digs a pit and then creates a myriad of industries to reclaim the tragic lives that fall into it. Classroom education for the young is a pit. The psychiatrists, counselors, social workers, Planned Parenthood, policemen, social manipulators, juvenile courts, drug dealers, penal institutions, and medical doctors stand on the edge of the pit competing for the business generated by the shovels of the National Educational Association.

Well that is an … interesting perspective.

And just in case we weren’t clear about Michael’s emphasis against academics, he adds this:

One warning: There exists a fundamental fault that is telling in the discouragement experienced by many home-school families. The public educational system is based on false premises. Therefore, both its curriculum and its format are in error. The homeschool is not established to duplicate the public school in a private environment; yet most homeschoolers are attempting to do that very thing. The stress on the family attempting to perform for the sake of public image, as well as state required testing, is destructive to a wholesome growth environment.

This reads as an endorsement of educational neglect. Michael makes some interesting assumptions here. When he writes of “stress on the family attempting to perform for the sake of public image” or “state required testing” he doesn’t seem to even consider that that stress could instead result from wanting to make sure you do right by your kids’ education. Are there homeschool families where it’s literally just about image? Certainly. But there are plenty of other homeschool families where it’s actually about making sure to provide children with the academic instruction children of their age ought to receive.

I know this in part because these parents sometimes write to Michael and Debi (or other evangelical leaders), worried that they’re shortchanging their children because their kids can’t read, or do basic sums. They worry that their kids’ education is falling through the cracks because they’re so busy trying to keep food on the table, or care for the next baby. And Michael and Debi (or those other evangelical leaders) tell them not to worry so much about their children’s academic education—it’s their children’s spiritual education that matters.

What about making sure you provide an adequate or excellent academic education because God calls you to excellence? Or so as not to sully their Christian witness? When I was a child my mother used to put bows in our hair and make sure we were all dressed up when we went out, because, she would tell us, we were representing God, and homeschooling, and large families. Why not approach homeschooling with an eye toward academic excellence, instead of this excuse-making for not providing academic instruction at all?

And yet, this is what we get:

Ask yourself and answer the question, “If I did not have to answer to anyone, and I were not controlled by public opinion, what would I desire for my children to learn in their early years?” Keep in mind that specialty disciplines that are necessary for professional employment need not be taught by either the classroom or the homeschool.

This has to be an endorsement of the trades, because it’s manifestly not true that someone can get the “specialty disciplines that are necessary for professional employment” outside of the classroom or homeschool if one wants to be, say, a nurse, or an accountant, or an engineer, or an occupational therapist—all things I saw graduates of my homeschool community go on to study in college.

Parents, you are wearing yourself out trying to keep up with the Judges. Teach from your heart, not from the John Dewy perspective. Children need a mother who teaches them, not a teacher who doesn’t have the emotional energy to mother them. Young men need a father who teaches them to work, not a father too busy working to teach them.

Ah and there it is—this is a very Michael Pearl perspective. It is also a very rural perspective. This is literally unworkable for a family that lives in the suburbs, with a father who works in an office as an actuary. There are many, many, many professions where a young man can’t just work alongside his father, because his father’s workplace wouldn’t allow it—but then Michael does not appear to have ever worked for anyone, preferring entrepreneurial money-making schemes that by his own admission fail more often than not.

Michael isn’t simply talking about homeschooling, here. He’s also endorsing a particular lifestyle. And if you’re wondering if he’s endorsing child labor, I’ll just point out that homeschooled teenagers, unlike teenagers who attend public school, don’t have certain hours each day cordoned off for academic instruction, which creates a system easily abused by men like Michael—especially when they categorize manual labor as education.

Michael seems to take issue with the very idea of compulsory education itself.

The best schooling for children is a good home life, not a home that is all school. It is a strange perversion to remove a child from that which is natural to life and make of him a professional student. Such accepts the false premise that academic and behavioral education is the foundation of life and society. Order your own life according to God’s perspective. Your children are too valuable for you to compromise.

The problem, again, is that in our society today many professions require a certain level of K-12 education, and many more also require college. If you deprive a child of those things, you effectively shut off those occupations entirely. Michael may want a world where all that’s required for any career is real-world experience and on-the-job training, but we don’t live in that world, and wanting to won’t change that. That is why we have compulsory education in our country—to prepare students to enter our workforce such as it is today.

(Is everything perfect? No, everything is not perfect. Not all schools are equal, and there are reasons to question the relentless march toward universal college attendance in an era when college debt can bury students. But this is not the solution.)

As if to forestall concerns, Michael adds this:

After homeschooling for over sixteen years, we have seen the fruit of our “philosophy” of child rearing. Our oldest just finished her first year in college with a 4. average.

This is so incredibly deceptive. When she was 18, Michael sent his daughter, Rebecca, to Papua New Guinea. After two months there she decided she wanted to be a missionary to isolated tribes there. She wanted to translate the Bible into a new language, a language that did not yet have an alphabet, so she went to Bible college to study linguistics.

Bible colleges, today, are in a state of transition. As more and more students attend accredited colleges, a growing number of Bible colleges have either closed their doors or begun a transition, hiring a growing number of faculty with terminal degrees and seeking accreditation. I don’t know what Bible college Rebecca attended, and it’s not because I haven’t googled for it. As a result, I can’t check it’s admissions standards or accreditations.

Michael’s statement is deceptive for at least two reasons. First, Michael does not let his readers know that his daughter is at a Bible college. This is important because Bible colleges (even today, but more so still in the 1990s) often have different admissions standards than state colleges and private universities. Second, Michael does not say what level of education they actually provided Rebecca. If she attended a college with standards, she didn’t get in because they threw up their hands and said academics didn’t matter.

Several years ago a blogger tried to ascertain whether Rebecca actually translated the Bible into the language of the people she went on to live among, after studying linguistics at Bible college, she was unable to find an answer. Mapping a new language and translating the Bible (would she have started with the original Greek and Hebrew?) are a huge undertaking. Given the lack of boasting of a completed translation on the No Greater Joy website, Rebecca’s ambitions likely never came to fruition.

I’m not trying to rag on Rebecca. I would just like more honesty out of Michael. From what I can see, none of his children ever attended any college or university that wasn’t a Bible college. This is something Michael should make sure his followers know, lest they think, based on statements like Michael’s comment about Rebecca attending college, that following his devil-may-care approach to their children’s education will get their children into an accredited college with a variety of degree options.

If Michael doesn’t think getting your kids into college is a good goal—and honestly, from everything else he’s written I would think that this is the case—he should simply come out and say it, and not try to have it both ways.

 

Michael finishes this section with this:

If you fear your children are too isolated from the world and need what the socialists call “socializing,” then get yourself a TV and sit them down in front of Hollywood about two hours every day. They will soon be a duplicate of the public school, parking lot, backalley morality. Put your children to the breast of Hollywood and they will never be nurtured on the “milk of the word .” Hollywood is a far more effective teacher than you will ever be, and they have an aggressive, appealing agenda.

If you want a child who will integrate into the New World Order and wait his turn in line for condoms, a government funded abortion, sexually transmitted disease treatment, psychological evaluation and a mark on the forehead, then follow the popular guidelines in education, entertainment and discipline, but if you want a son or daughter of God, you will have to do it God’s way.

I … what. Michael would be interested to know, perhaps, that teenagers are having sex at lower rates today than in the past—and yes, that includes public schooled teenagers. Also, there’s no sign yet of the New World Order, but I’ll keep an eye out.

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