Why Homeschoolers Don’t Understand “Missional”

As expected, homeschool advocates have turned out in force to defend and justify their decision to homeschool in response to my (provocatively titled) post, “Death to Homeschooling!

Therein, I argued,

So it seems to me that to withdraw my children from public education is to not play my (God-given) role as a missional member of society — like I can’t just choose to withhold my taxes. We give our children all those vaccinations when they’re young not necessarily to protect themfrom polio (since the chances of any one of my children getting it is exceedingly small) but because we live in a society, and part of the contract within the society is that we will never again let polio gain a foothold.

That thinking garnered comments like this one, from Wendy,

That’s a ridiculous article. I have homeschooled for 20 years (26, 24, and 13yr old girls). You DO NOT need to be in the public school to be a witness for Jesus Christ. My girls affected everyone they came into contact with in the neighborhood, township sports, etc. They unashamedly shared Jesus. If you think your kids will have a great influence IN the public schools, think again as your elementary school child has to put a condom on a banana (as the public schooled kids in our neighborhood did). Meanwhile, at home my girls were being given a Godly education – they understand God’s Word, they understand worldviews, they read GOOD books. Invaluable! If you don’t give that to your kids, you will be sorry. I have seen plenty of Christians who think like you do, and their kids are not in a good place now with the Lord. I seriously don’t think you know what you are talking about.

What Wendy and other commenters don’t seem to understand is that, when I use the term “missional,” I don’t mean “sharing Jesus.” At least, I don’t mean it like she means it. I’m not talking about evangelism.

Missional does not mean evangelism. Missional means showing Christlike compassion to other human beings and to all of creation. Here are the two biblical passages that bring me to my definition of missional:

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When Christians Play Well with Others

I’ve got two articles elsewhere today. They carry the same title, but they’re a bit different. One is an OpEd in the Minneapolis StarTribune:

It may have been the jet lag, but a couple of articles in the Sept. 1 Star Tribune rubbed me the wrong way.

After 30 hours of planes, layovers and passport control lines, I’d returned home from Sri Lanka to see headlines and photos of Christians happily worshipping outdoors (“Summer in the Cities: Heavens above“) and Muslim worshippers being suspiciously watched and photographed by their neighbors (“Cities tread warily on holy ground“).

I am a Christian — a Christian theologian, not to put too fine a point on it — so I’m generally sympathetic to my coreligionists. But here’s what was striking: the Lutherans of Burnsville have been worshipping outdoors, unmolested, for four decades. Meanwhile, the Muslims of Bloomington, only seven months in, are under duress because they’re causing traffic problems in the neighborhood.

I visited Sri Lanka, the tropical island that hangs like an earring off the southern tip of India, at the invitation of World Vision. A Christian development and relief organization, World Vision is best known for its child-sponsorship program, and that’s what I was there to see.

The other is an article at Relevant Magazine:

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Death to Homeschooling!

I originally wrote this post in 2005, but it somehow didn’t make the migration from Blogspot to Beliefnet to WordPress to Patheos.

Like many people who have their first child approaching kindergarten age, I have been thinking about all of our options for next year: neighborhood public school, public French immersion, charter school, private school, homeschool.

But it seems to me that if I am truly committed to living a missional life, then I must enroll my kids in the public school. That is, I am committed to living a life fully invested in what I might call the “Jesus Ethic” or the “Kingdom of God Ethic,” and also fully invested in the society — in fact, you might say that I live according to the Kingdom of God for the sake of society.

In his seminal work on education, Democracy and Education (1916), John Dewey made this point. In an increasingly industrial/technological society, Dewey argued, we learn in order that we may be able to learn. In earlier times, one could learn what it means to be a blacksmith, for instance, by apprenticing under a blacksmith; by the end of the apprenticeship, one had learned pretty much all there is to know about making the metal glow red hot, pounding it into a horseshoe, and sticking it into the water (remember seeing that on an elementary school field trip?).

But things change too fast now for that kind of result-oriented education. Now we must learn how to learn so that we can adapt to our ever-changing environment (ever tried to teach your parent or grandparent to use a computer or an iPod?).

Similarly, formal education was formerly for the societal elite. But in a democracy, education is for all, with the understanding that the more educated we all become, the more humane we will be toward one another (this, of course, is open to debate).

So it seems to me that to withdraw my children from public education is to not play my (God-given) role as a missional member of society — like I can’t just choose to withhold my taxes. We give our children all those vaccinations when they’re young not necessarily to protect themfrom polio (since the chances of any one of my children getting it is exceedingly small) but because we live in a society, and part of the contract within the society is that we will never again let polio gain a foothold.

So I can’t think, “I’ll just pull my kids out of the public schools — what difference will one less follower of Jesus make in a school full of hundreds of kids?” I don’t, as a Christian, have the option to “opt out” of the societal contract. Instead, I live under a mandate to be the most involved, missional societal participant that I can be.

And one more thing. Dewey argues strongly that it is in the social environment that a child learns to learn. Here are the brilliant words of one of Dewey’s successors, George Albert Coe,

What education does is, in a word, to bring the child and society together. It increases one’s participation in the common life. It puts the child into possession of the tools of social intercourse, such as language and numbers; opens his eyes to treasures of literature, art, and science that society has gradually accumulated through generations; causes him to appreciate such social organizations as the state, and develops habits appropriate thereto; prepares him to be a producer in some socially valuable field of labor, and evokes an inner control whereby he may judge and guide himself in the interest of social well being.”

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Dems Pushing Their Chips to the Gay Side of the Table

This is in my front yard.

After years of trying to have it both way with LGBT voters — “We support you, but we can’t do it publicly because we’ll never win if we say it out loud” — it seems that the Democrats are going all in on the pro-LGBT vote. Last night was a coming out party of sorts for the DNC:

If there’s one group in the Democratic coalition that can definitely say the past four years have improved its lot, it’s LGBT voters, whose mood was triumphant at the start of the convention. Beyond the affirmation of marriage equality, the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the Obama White House has made a host of executive changes on everything from providing benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees to lifting the travel and immigration ban for people with HIV.

“I remember us being good Democrats … and the party telling us, not yet. Right?” Randi Weingarten, the openly gay president of the American Federation of Teachers, told the crowd as they murmured in agreement. “Well, ‘yet’ has come!” she said to roaring applause.

This is just another sign that the tipping point has been reached. And it is yet again up to congregations and denominations and plain old Christians to decide whether they want to be on the right side or the wrong side of history.


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