Proactive Homeschooling

Editors' Note: This article is part of the Patheos Public Square on Homeschooling and Public Education. Read other perspectives here.

Dr. Robert Kunzman of the School of Education at Indiana University has written a book about homeschooling in the United States titled, Write These Laws On Your Children: Inside the World of Conservative Christian Homeschooling. I have had the great pleasure to read and annotate it as well as to talk with Rob about his experiences with homeschooling. He begins that book with a basic idea that he has distilled into two distinct points on his website: 1) We don't have any comprehensive data about U.S. homeschoolers nationally: total number of homeschoolers, learning outcomes, or anything else, and 2) There is no such thing as a "typical homeschooler."

There are those who homeschool because their children are premiere athletes and a traditional school schedule simply will not accommodate their training needs. There are those who homeschool because they believe there is something directly harmful in the public school systems, whether in the curriculum, culture, or mode of operation. There are those who homeschool because they believe there is something lacking in the public schools, something that can be better presented in a homeschool environment. Some would choose a private school, but prohibitive cost leads them to homeschool. And there are families whose motivations are varied and complex, combining some of those mentioned with still others.

As for homeschooling itself, the experience of it is nearly as varied as the experiences of public and private education. Some homeschools find their length and breadth within one family. Some join with other families in co-ops or with other teachers in tutelage programs. To whatever degree the image of homeschooled children as socially isolated and consuming a narrow academic diet may once have been accurate, and as with most stereotypes it likely never was, the image is a false one today. From the vibrant to the wretched, from the highly engaged to the isolated, there is as wide a range of experiences in homeschooling as there is in public and private education.

Yet it seems the case, and "seems" is an important word, that matters of faith, specifically Christian faith, figure prominently in many homeschools and homeschooling communities. For these families, homeschooling is not a retreat. It is an opportunity to provide the whole picture. They see something lacking in the curricula of other systems that they want their children to understand, something not to be tacked on as an optional activity, but woven throughout a child's studies as an integral part of life.

Consider a school in which it was accepted as foundational that numbers do not exist and any attempts to employ the benefits of a number system or to understand mathematics are purely personal and to be conducted on a child's own time. Such a school would have no clocks with numbers, no numbers over the doors to classrooms, and page numbers in books would certainly be lacking. As absurd as this sounds, such is the public school to many people of faith. God is not a notion to be accepted or discarded at will, but a true and existing being. To take the example of Christianity, he is an eternally existing being in three persons, by whom and for whom all things were made. As absurd as it would be to teach Latin or history or choir or science without numbers, so is it equally absurd to those who take seriously the strong claims of a faith like Christianity, to teach those subjects on the pretense that God does not exist, or if he does, that it is a purely personal and private matter.

Richard John Neuhaus in his book Death On a Friday Afternoon put it rather directly: "If what Christians say about Good Friday is true, then it is, quite simply the truth about everything." Given that many who claim to be Christians believe this is indeed true, then, per Neuhaus, it must extend to how they educate their children.

While homeschooling may well be for some a choice of fear or at least retreat from the hostility of public education, expressed through curriculum and policies that are antithetical to their faith, for many it is an opportunity to tell the whole story, to educate children in the full story of God and humans, one that entails not only God himself, but also all that his people have discovered and created. Such an aim would seek the broadest and deepest possible curriculum, one rich in history but also in science, one steeped in literature and philosophy along with experiment and performance.

I have been fortunate to see precisely this kind of homeschool environment in action, and I know from my conversations with the families who live it that their Christian faith directly informs their choice to homeschool and that their aim is to provide not a narrow education for their children, but to give them an opportunity for the broadest possible learning, one that embraces God and all he has created and inspired.