“Will you home school me?” We could no longer ignore our kindergarden son’s frequently-repeated question. His overcrowded classroom left his harried teacher herding far too many 5 and 6 year olds through activities meant to fill time, rather than educate. I worked at the school as a playground supervisor and was involved with both the parent-teacher association and with a group of moms who gathered in my living room to pray for the staff each week. I was committed to making public education work for our children.
Except it wasn’t working. Both of our kids enrolled in the school were a little frayed and a little bored. I’d taught both of them to read, and regularly worked with them at our kitchen table doing academic enrichment activities. I often felt like I was running an after-hours, parallel universe school in our home.
A couple of other families in our church were home schooling. I met with them to pick their brains, asking questions about socialization, curriculum, laws, and support groups. And then my husband and I headed to a home school conference. We heard a lot about how to teach our children – and we heard some very convincing arguments about why we needed to teach them at home. These reasons included Deuteronomy 6:4-9, public education’s aggressively secular humanist agenda, a conservative (and sometimes revisionist) view of American history, the almost ironclad guarantee of a better educational and spiritual outcome for home schooled kids, and worry about pub school pagan peers possessing an unwelcome host of nasty social and spiritual habits. In varying measures, we shared each of those concerns.
There was one caveat no one mentioned at that event – or any of the many subsequent home schooling conferences we attended during our years of home schooling (1992-2004). It was, perhaps, a truth that should have been self-evident from the intense, sometimes extreme convictions expressed with great confidence by many of the movement’s microphone-holders and authors about everything from dress to diet, from home birth to home business. It was the Great Omission that families considering home schooling desperately need to hear in order to put their journey in a healthy context.This Great Omission? That by making the choice to avoid immersing your child in an environment filled with “pagan” peers, you may well be teaching your child to swim in a pool of a different kind. That pool may be filled with Pharisees – legalistic, fear-driven and reactionary. You will have to deal with one or the other no matter how you train up your children.
Please hear me – not all home schooling families are Pharisees by any stretch of the imagination, any more than public schools are crawling with pagans. However, each academic option’s vociferous spokespeople tend to be the most opinionated ones. When we first began home schooling, we were grateful for the traction we got from the strong convictions of those “leading” the home school movement back then. Home schooling is a trail-less uphill climb. You need some strong convictions to launch into – and continue – that journey. Unfortunately, a good number of people we met during that journey were happy to substitute fear (of all the evils spoken of by the micophone holders) for convictions. I can certainly see places in our journey where we took that shortcut. I grieve the sour effect that Pharisaiism had in our family. It proved to be just as toxic as paganism.
I would home school again in a moment. The benefits far outweigh the liabilities. But I would go in with eyes wide open: our classroom is inside a fallen world, and a number of our fellow students will deal with their brokenness by ignoring God or creating Him in their own image. And I will not be surprised by this, since seeds of both sinful choices – paganism and Pharisaism – reside inside of me.
Parents, what has your experience been with the educational option you’ve chosen for your family?