Teaching Our Kids Religion

by Lana Hope cross posted from her blog Wide Open Ground

In a post the other day, I mentioned that homeschoolers tend to be sheltered from secular ideas – to the extent that homeschool students are often not allowed to disagree with their parents or formulate their own opinions. The post lacked clarity in several areas. I am a graduate student and have been writing extensive term papers this month. So I rushed the post. Quite frankly, if I turned in a paper as undeveloped and unclear as that post, I’d get a bad grade.

I wanted to expand upon a comment that someone left on my blog.

I will present just a couple of thoughts here as a conservative Anglican. One is that at the time of bringing a child for baptism, parents and godparents vow to teach their children the commandments, creeds, and catechism. But at the same time there is a recognition that the child is moving from infancy towards adulthood and will one day be responsible to whether or not they will claim the faith as their own in confirmation, confirmation which is hopefully not pushed so that the one taking the faith is doing something they have chosen and not something expected of them. So I am in agreement with you that children need to have the freedom to think, yet it does seem that forms of instruction are essential to carry out what has been thought of as education in the Christian tradition. I don’t know if my question is clear but is there a way to teach children these forms in giving them a “Christian” education and still be leaving them room to come to their own conclusions? Do you have a sort of balance in mind?

Let’s see how I can explain this.

I place a lot of value in religion. I love traveling and witnessing different religions. I believe that religion creates culture and community. It gives people explanations for metaphysical claims and passes on tradition. I am also a Christian and believe that Jesus is God, that he came to earth, and that he wants to communicate with us. This mean that I want to see God proclaimed and known.

I also see value in knowledge. I study philosophy, but I also have interests in math, languages, anthropology, literature, history, and science. I definitely believe that we can see God in all of these subjects. Sometimes we see him despite of a bad idea. Sometimes we see God because of a good idea. Sometimes we do not readily see God, but I believe that all truth is God’s truth.

But I want to explain how conservative homeschool textbooks go beyond just sharing Jesus with our kids. I went through a number of different curriculum when I was a kid, and I unfortunately no longer remember the details. I encourage you to check out Jonny’s blog as he does scholarly work documenting and providing photos/examples/proof of the lessons in ACE (but his blog includes stories from some of his readers that include other curriculum). I thought I would try to explain a bit of how some conservative homeschool curriculum works, however.

Here’s sort of the difference. In most schools students study history, grammar, science, etc. In our homeschool books, we study Bible and history, Bible and science, Bible and grammar, etc.

My youngest memories revolve the ATIA wisdom booklets. ATIA, now ATI, is a homeschool organization that was led by Bill Gothard. Each month a family goes through a “wisdom booklet.” The wisdom booklets begin with a single scripture verse from Matthew 5-7. After the homeschool students fills out worksheets concerning the scripture verses, which includes dictionary work, a corresponding character lesson, memorization, and similar work, then the student precedes to study. The rest of the wisdom booklet concerns different subjects that correspond to the scripture verse.

Suppose, for example, that the scripture of the month concerned, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Can you think of history, law, or science lessons that might correspond to peace (or a similiar character lesson)? I no longer remember what lessons we learned concerning peacemakers, but this is the general idea. We started with a Bible verse and a corresponding character trait, and everything fit into that Bible verse or character trait.

Other curriculum takes a bit of a different approach. Many of the popular grammar textbooks capitalize on the grammar lessons by including sentences about the Bible or missionary stories. ACE includes Bible verses as part of their tests. In this way, there is no such thing as studying science or studying history. Instead, the student is studying science and the Bible. Or science and history.

This may sound clever and exciting, but sometimes it becomes awkward. What if a student is trying to study for a science test, but spends a significant portion of time studying the Bible verse for the test? In ACE a student must memorize the verse exactly, including the punctuation.

History and science also become twisted in this approach. The textbooks focus on the lesson they want us to learn, at the expense of other facts. Suppose, for example, that we are studying about honor and talk about Victorianism (a big deal in Vision Forum) in the process. The problem is this overlooks the life of the servants and factory workers during this time.

I see the world much differently. I believe that we study, and we find God. The deeper we search, the deeper we encounter truth. But most Christian education companies take a different approach. They believe that we take an idea, and then we force God into it. Why are we putting God into things when his truth is found in everything?

So to answer the question, I definitely believe we can teach our kids the Bible, the creeds, the sacraments, and prayer. I also believe we can teach our kids about God well beyond this – through the way that we encounter God in our lives. However, I do not think we should shelter our kids from ideas or force a Christian interpretation onto something.

Heidegger has an interesting example that might be applicable to this. He talks about how we can build bridges over rivers with no damage to the river, but when we build a dam through it, the river becomes our object. He also talks about animals and how mass farming has treated the animals like objects instead of creatures.

How often do we do this in education? An idea is an idea. Sometimes what homeschoolers do wrong is they do not listen to the idea because they fear it. We can reject ideas that we do not agree with, but we have to listen first. Ideas are not tools; they are here to transform us. But a lot of homeschoolers tell us to hide from ideas. Why? I believe that the truth will stand above the lies, and that we should not fear ideas for this reason.

I hope this helps. Please see this post by Ryan Stollar. He explains this much, much better than me. He’s really brilliant. Also, check out some of Jonny’s archives.

Read everything by Lana Hope!

Lana Hope was homeschooled 1st-12th grade in a small town and rural culture. Involved in ATI, her life growing up was gendered, sheltered, and with a lot of shame and rules in disguise of Biblical principles and character qualities. After college Lana moved to SE Asia and began working with the abused, and upon discovering that the large world is not at all like she had been taught, she finally questioned it all, from Calvinism to the homeschool movement to the foundation of her Christian faith. Today Lana is a Christian Universalist, holds a B.A. in English, and is currently working on a M.A. in philosophy.  She blogs about the struggles she has faced leaving fundamentalism and homeschooling behind and how travel and missions has wrecked her life for good and bad at her blog www.wideopenground.com.

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