One More Post about Homeschooling

One More Post about Homeschooling September 17, 2012

It’s no surprise to me that I stroked the cat’s fur the wrong way with my two posts about homeschooling over the last couple weeks. It’s not popular to decry a trend that is burgeoning among both right-wing and left-wing Christians. But I, dear reader, stand here in the center and attempt to humbly guard our space. 🙂

But seriously, I know that my posts were provocative. But they weren’t personal. The fact that so many people took them personally makes me think that homeschooling has, for some, become a little too important. That being said, I have listened carefully to the arguments against my posts, and I am aware that my argument has some weak spots. I am also aware that my children have the good fortune of being in a very good school system.

Lots of vitriol has come my way in the comment sections of those posts, as well as on Twitter (Facebook, on the other hand has been relatively silent). There have also been some smart blog responses, and these three stood out to me:

Danielle Shroyer, pastor of Journey in Dallas:

I don’t believe there’s any way anyone can actually choose to opt out of the social contract. They can be bad at it, but they are in it regardless. (Maybe, Tony, your argument would be better served in saying you don’t believe homeschooling produces responsible members of the social contract, or some other value judgment…but good luck getting anyone to agree with that either!) There is no firm boundary between sacred and secular. There is no outside and inside the system. To say that someone who homeschools or sends their child to private school is not an active member of society is beyond silly.

Larry Sanger, co-founder of Wikipedia:

The next issue is more to the point: while we might have an obligation to improve society by being part of it, how far does this obligation extend? If you are in a good position (due to career, physical proximity, or connections of friends and family) to fight drug abuse, should you become an addict and live among addicts? Of course not. But by parity of Tony’s reasoning, one might think so: perhaps, by joining the addicts, I can improve society in profound ways that I could not do from outside the addicted fold. This is speculative, however, and I am sure no one believes any such thing, and certainly no one is obligated to act a certain way due to such speculation. The point is that, clearly, there are lines and standards we are justified in drawing: our obligation to improve society by being part of it does not impose endless requirements on us.

Joy Bennett, of Joy in this Journey:

Based on the posts in question, Tony is not going into the public schools to be the hands and feet of Jesus; his children are. Certainly parents of students have a small presence in the school system; however, if Tony believes he has a God-given obligation to show Christlike compassion in the public schools, shouldn’t he be the one going in? How is his children’s presence in the classroom him being salt and light? A Christian who works in the public schools is showing Christlike compassion, shining God’s light, etc.

In addition, some children are ready to be God’s hands and feet. Some are not.

Please, allow me to respond:

No, I don’t think you should raise your kids among drug addicts because you might help the drug addicts. We have not decided as a society to publicly fund the healing and reparation of all drug addicts. We have, however, decided to publicly and collectively educate our children. When Christians opt out of this collective societal agreement, society is hobbled.

There are many families at my worshipping community who opt out of the system of immunizations that our society requires. They are making a serious misjudgment that weakens our society and is, if I may be so bold, self-centered. I realize that many of you will argue  that your first commitment is to your own children, not to society. Fair enough, but that’s not how I make my determinations — and I don’t think that the two are mutually exclusive. If you repeatedly make decisions that put your family ahead of the other families that surround you, well, I just don’t see how that is following Christ’s example.

Secondly, no, your own personal experience with homeschooling, no matter how positive that may be, does not negate my argument. I realize that many people have many different experiences with homeschooling, but this isn’t about your personal experience.

Think of it this way: tonight on the news, you might see someone interviewed, man-on-the-street style. He’ll say, “Yeah, the economy sucks, because I lost my job last year and haven’t been able to find a new one. Vote Romney!” But you and I both know that one person’s opinion is not a gauge of the health of our society. The economy is judged by meta-trends, not by micro-anecdotes. The same goes for public education.

I’m looking ahead, and I think there will be a huge price to pay if my fellow Christians continue to withdraw their children from public schools. If we abandon that public institution, the toll will be this: in two or three decades, our culture will be less educated and less civil. I can’t imagine any Christian wanting this.

Finally, to Joy’s criticism, let me say this: my children are not my proxies. Their education in public school has necessitated my own involvement in that institution — on the PTA, as a volunteer, and as a generally engaged parent. Sometimes I wonder if homeschooling is a choice that parents make to allow their own adult avoidance of rolling up their sleeves and making public schools better.

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  • “If we abandon that public institution, the toll will be this: in two or three decades, our culture will be less educated and less civil. I can’t imagine any Christian wanting this.” Indeed, any non-Christian either. But that’s a mighty fine-tuned crystal ball you have there. See, when I looked into mine, what I saw was that an ever increasing exodus out of schools put competitive pressure on them to improve. At some point, school boards and state departments of education are going to look at homeschooling as a serious competitor and challenge to public schooling, and they’re going to say, “What can we do that will attract these people back where we can control them more effectively?” (Because, of course, that’s what they care about.) And then they’ll introduce charter schools for homeschoolers, and other such things that might be an improvement over the current situation. Ultimately, homeschooling is an economic force with economic consequences.

    So far from proving your case, Tony, for all that you have said, it might actually be the case that we have a moral obligation to take children from ailing schools, because that would improve educational outcomes and the strength of our civic institutions. I actually believe that.

    Personally, I believe all such matters are extremely murky, even for someone who thinks long and hard about them. And if they are indeed so murky, we are free to make up our own minds and, thank God (if you will), we live in a country that enables us to act freely on our own consciences.

    • Jeff

      Sadly, I think it’s more likely in the event of a mass exodus that state ed departments and teachers’ unions would push for legislation to make homeschooling illegal, than that they would attempt to improve the system to attract homeschoolers back.

    • kcar1

      The reasons schools are failing is not lack of motivation or pressure to innovate… The school district I live in is case in point, it has lost thousands of students. First to depopulation — people moved out to the suburbs. Second, to private and more recently charter schools, which, by the way, on average do not preform any better than the public schools they are an alternative to. In fact, the 2 lowest preforming schools in the district boundaries last year were charter schools and they lost their charter.

      What is left is a large school district that has had its primary source of funding, property taxes, gutted and then revenue from the state in the form of per-pupil funding bled off by a proliferation of charter school. And the student body is poorer and blacker, with fewer resources to compensate for all of the loss of resources that middle class families bring the school (time to volunteer, professional expertise, connections and clout with government representatives, kids who are more likely to be prepared to enter kindergarten).

      Oh, it will make them operate more efficiently? Well, they still have all of those buildings, nearly all built before the large population decline, to maintain. They still have to run the buses across the same sized district they always have, maybe even more because they have closed many schools, so kids that could have walked now need a ride. And innovate? Well, when the student body is so mobile – due to poverty and terrible tenants’ rights laws — that some schools have 100% turn over in a year (yes, that means that they end the year with a different class than what they started with — some student moving 2 or 3 or more times to average out those who stay put), how are they supposed to try new things?

      And from the teachers’ and administrators’ perspective, being innovative isn’t incentivized. Now his/her job depends on the test scores of her/his class/school — they can’t risk trying something that may hurt test scores (even if it is better education) because they and their schools are already on the bubble.

      I am terribly sympathetic to parents who choose to home school when their school options are that bleak. We tried charter schools before finding a safe haven in our public school system, so I am making the same choices — how do I balance my responsibility to make sure my children get a good education in a safe environment now and my responsibility to fulfill the social contract and fight for all students getting a good education in a safe environment. Even now that we are in the public school system, I don’t know if we are doing out part — they are in a magnet school so it isn’t as if I am rolling up my sleeves to better the neighborhood school that is failing on so many counts.

      Ultimately, the question of fulfilling social contract regarding education isn’t limited to parents of school-aged children, it may not even be the most important question as to whether they, in their role as parents are fulfilling their part of the social contract (though there is a lot to be said for what the involvement of educated parents with resources does for a school).

      The problem with schools is that we have racial segregation in housing and concentrated poverty and then we fund schools based on where they are. The problem is that we expect schools to compensate for a lack of pre-K education (in the home or out of it), inadequate nutrition, inadequate access to health care and other services, and unstable housing situations.

      There is no amount of education policy reform that is going to fix that. That part of the social contract — making sure that everyone can get an education — is not limited to parents of school-age children.

      • Lori

        Thank you for this comment.

        We live in Detroit. We do not send our oldest to the Detroit public schools, and will not be sending our younger children to them, either. There are many reasons for this, ranging from overcrowding to safety concerns to teaching to tests to the results of the school system that I see teaching at a local university. We homeschooled for several years and now send our oldest to a small, very affordable private school. The impact that my family’s presence in the public school system would be negligible; I have wonderful, dedicated teacher friends who have taught in the DPS system, and even their presence had a negligible impact. However, the impact that the school system would have on my children would be much more significant, and as a parent, I have a responsibility to consider that.

        The thing is, I see people leaving the city for the suburbs so often, and most of the time, wanting better schools for their children is the reason. Sure, the public schools here would do better if everybody who send their children to private school, or homeschooled, or moved to the suburbs to get their child a better education, instead utilized the public school system. But, that is just not happening in the foreseeable future, and I can’t help but think that both the city of Detroit and the schools would be better off if, rather than fleeing for the suburbs once their children were school-aged so they could send their kids to public schools, parents opted to stay in the city and either homeschool or send their kids to private schools. At least they’d still be part of the tax base helping to support the public schools. At least they’d still be part of the community as a whole, if not directly a part of the school community.

        If we felt obligated to send our children to public school, we would not live in Detroit. Either would many of our friends. And, I do think that would be worse for the city, and for the schools, than having people stay and opt out of the public school system.

    • The_L

      “See, when I looked into mine, what I saw was that an ever increasing exodus out of schools put competitive pressure on them to improve. At some point, school boards and state departments of education are going to look at homeschooling as a serious competitor and challenge to public schooling, and they’re going to say, “What can we do that will attract these people back where we can control them more effectively?” (Because, of course, that’s what they care about.) And then they’ll introduce charter schools for homeschoolers, and other such things that might be an improvement over the current situation. Ultimately, homeschooling is an economic force with economic consequences.”

      Right. Because the perpetual CUTS to the funding of schools (which forces teachers making $40k/year to pay for needed classroom supplies out-of-pocket) and the hobbling of good teachers through asinine policies that view “success” as the ability to mindlessly bubble in on standardized tests are just passing trends, and leeching children from the school system is clearly going to fix it all!

      Schools are not businesses. A good school, by definition, engages in practices that are not cost-effective, like a high teacher:student ratio, one-on-one tutoring, and hands-on methods of learning that are far more meaningful than “here, memorize these facts.” This is the same reason why I am so deeply against the trend of privatizing prisons: treating either school or prison like a business makes both less effective in society, and FAR more hellish from the inside.

      We need more outrage. We need parents storming county and state boards of education. We need parents to actually parent their children, instead of expecting the school to do all the “values” education on top of anything else. Why aren’t we doing these things?

      By the way, as a licensed educator, I am deeply offended by this idea that I somehow want to control anyone’s children. I don’t–the very idea is abhorrent to me. I want to teach kids how to look at data and come to their own conclusions, rather than mindlessly parroting what I or anyone else tells them. I want the next generation of adults to think before they act and to be able to solve their own problems. Controlling them while they’re in school is counterproductive to both of these goals.

      • rm

        Thank you. I am a Christian, and my kids are homeschooled not because I have paranoid beliefs about my neighbors but because they are academically gifted. I also teach in a public school, and I know public education is an irreplaceable good that is under attack. Unfortunately, as we see on this thread, too many Christians have ideas about the purpose, motivation, and power of public schools that are absolutely divorced from anything resembling a faint shadow of reality.

  • If you have kids, you’re already NOT following Christ’s example. Seems to me there’s a reason Jesus encourged his followers not to get married, and to leave their families: probably because He knew full where their priorities would lie.

  • Patrick S

    “We have, however, decided to publicly and collectively educate our children. When Christians opt out of this collective societal agreement, society is hobbled.”

    What about us being hobbled when we educate our children collectively? As a firm believer in public education, I am now struggling with the fact that our schools suck. My first grader last year said “I think we worked harder in the (previous) school in kindergarten than I do in this school in first grade.” I’d say that’s a pretty damning indictment of your average public schools.

    What if taking our kids out of public school’s led to – heaven forbid – a CHANGE in the public schools? I told someone yesterday, I can handle the schools social agenda (green everything, everyone’s equal, macro/Keynesian economics, blah, blah, blah) if they at least get the academics right. But when the school sucks at academics AND drives that social stuff, it is too much work for me to combat both.

    While I could never do it, I sympathize with those who homeschool. My family will likely move our kids to a Catholic school if we ever have the money to do so. So who gets screwed the most by the lousy schools? Once again, the poor. Over and over and over again, we screw the poor to protect the teacher’s union (see: Chicago Teacher Union).

  • Tony,

    First let me say thanks for taking the time to do more than poke at a hornets’ nest. I really appreciate you giving a more nuanced response to those who responded to your post. Your response clarifies your position, but still has some huge assumptions which I previously pointed out that you did not respond to. I hope you’re not just picking the low-hanging fruit to respond to. I think there’s a very interesting substantive discussion to be had around the idea of civic institutions, the common good and how we as Christians should or should not engage them.

    Your biggest assumption is that the public school system is a civic institution and common good that we must at all costs fight for its continued existence and improvement for the good of society. If we, as Christians, do not fight for, strengthen or uphold this institution we are abandoning this society and the common good. That, I take, is your argument in a nutshell. However, not everyone agrees with your assumption. This is the makings of an interesting conversation. Hopefully, you will be open to having this conversation.

    Now, if I believe that abandoning the public school system is the best thing for the common good, then your argument no longer applies to me. If your goal is for people who sympathize with your argument to not pull out of public schools for selfish reasons and therefore to strengthen public schools, then you would have done better to make the case for public schools rather than bashing homeschooling. Not sure yet where your real interest lies. It is after all fun and entertaining to stir up a hornets’ nest and much more boring to actually work towards a better future with people through meaningful dialogue and engagement.

    So, I would like to hear you actually make the case for public schools. I am very aware, since i work in a low-income school district, of the problems our public schools face. I am also aware that abandoning public schools by itself is not a solution. Those who would bear the brunt of the problems would be the same ones that do now, low-income people of color. All this means is that whether or not we save or strengthen public schools we face the same problem, better education for our children and more equality between classes and ethnicities. I would rather help those in poverty and color step outside the civic institutions, because I believe they are actually designed to get the results they are getting. I don’t believe that any amount of strengthening or saving will result in the common good you are hoping for.

    I understand that this is not the argument everyone who disagrees with you is making, but I think it is a valid criticism of your stance and hopefully worth a response.

  • Ken B.

    I didn’t read the comments for the previous two posts, so someone might have expressed the thought I share here earlier. It appears to me that, while Tony is open to abandoning or the church, the public school system for him is a given – almost sacrosanct. Many homeschool families opt for that lifestyle and practice for reasons similar to the ones that many have pursued alternate expressions of the church: the entrenched system no longer does what it set out to do. Why tear down the brick and mortar church in order to be the church, but not the public school in order to educate one’s children?

    • Michelle

      Great point(s)!

      • Paul Osborne

        Ditto. Is Tony Jones supposed to be smart or something? Cuz I ain’t seein’ it.

    • The_L

      Because poor families have parents who work 80 hours per week just to put food on the table.

      Poor families have parents who cannot be around because they have to WORK. Every waking moment, all the time. When the parents are home, they are too exhausted to do any of the work of child-rearing, because that 80 hours/week literally constitutes working yourself to DEATH.

      When your parents cannot be there, you cannot have homeschooling. To end the institution of public school is to say that we want those millions of children, who through no fault of their own were born into poverty, to remain completely illiterate and unable to do simple arithmetic and thus unable to function in society.

      Ending public schooling in our current industrialized society is deep cruelty and the exact opposite of Christian charity.

  • I had a very interesting conversation with a friend about this topic last week. He believes the problems in the public schools would be fixed speedily if everyone had to send their children. When parents who care have a vested interest in something, they don’t tolerate nonsense.

    I’m not sure it’s that easy. Change is difficult, and elected officials, unions, and state funding structures complicate matters even more. We chose to move to a school district with an excellent special needs program years ago. So in a sense, we’re voting with our tax dollars, in addition to the work we do with our kids’ teachers, PTO, administration, etc. But our state legislators have refused to fix our state’s wretched school funding fiasco. Meanwhile, neighboring school districts are in academic emergency, people can’t sell their homes to move to better schools, and many find their only affordable option is to homeschool until the situation improves or they can move.

    All that to say that I appreciate this more nuanced response. It’s a complicated issue that requires careful thought.

    • Being in Baltimore City (the state of our education system is well known across the nation) and having moved into the city intentionally with our 5 children, I can, with experience at my back, safely say, there is not an easy answer. While I agree with Tony’s broad brush stoke that says, “As believers we should be injecting ourselves into the society around us,” it’s not always easy, nor is every kid the right kid for the school. Every year is different for each kid and my husband and I constantly have an ear to the heart of God for direction. One year we had everyone in a city public school, where there was a 3rd grade stabbing in my son’s class. We sought the Lord and He said, “Trust their safety to me.” We did. We grew. Then they were in a city charter school where they were the 10% minority, both by race and socio economic standards. I served on the board. We were there for three years. I loved it! But the 4 hours in the car daily to make it happen was not kind on our family. We pulled three out and the other two continued in public city high school. Three are currently homeschooled. Just this year, my 8th grader wanted to go back to school. We found one, we met with the principal, we took him in on day 1…we left with an uneasy feeling. He came home that day and said, “I’m not going back. The teacher’s are great. I like what the school is doing. But, the kids are out of control. He witnessed a fight at lunch and a day of disrespect and abuse towards the teacher.” We brought him back home. It’s not his job to take an entire culture on. Inner city Baltimore beats to a strong drum.
      I can speak for my city, it’s not going to happen over night. There are decades of brokenness to address. My family can’t fix it. Only Jesus can. So we look to Him daily to find out what He would require of us. We look to Him for strategy. Who knows, maybe He’ll have us walk around the city 7 times, or dip into a pool repeatedly. I just have to be obedient with what He’s given me to do. As I think we all do. There’s not one way to “fix” society. We serve a creative God who gives us creative ways to be His hands and feet.

  • Simon

    Thanks for posting and interacting with the more moderate among your readers. I have two points.

    1. It seems odd that you are referring only to “homeschoolers” when it would appear that your argument would equally apply to those who choose private schools as well. Is there a distinction between a parent that homeschools and one that pays for a private school?

    2. Your position on homeschooling seems disconnected from your typical voice as an emergent thought leader. You argue so eloquently that authority within the church is located in individuals, who are associating in different ways that may totally circumvent traditional bureaucratic structures. I am often encouraged by your optimism in the face of very disruptive technology in the ecclesiastical context. Do I understand your worldview correctly: “’The Church is Flat,’ but don’t mess with the historic public school system. You may not opt out of that, because it would be unmissional and bad for America’s social contract to use different tools to educate children?”

    Can’t we reimagine education in America, just as we reimagine faith? I assume your answer would be yes.


    As a “humble guardian of the center space,” would you allow homeschoolers to join the conversation without “death threats” on your blog?

  • My “social contract” is not whatever “society” tells me I ought to do (immunize, send my kids to government-mandated schools, vote, etc.), but to improve society by imaging Christ to all around me. My family’s purpose is the same. I’m neither for nor against homeschooling, private school, or government schools. For me it’s about each child’s opportunities to image God to the rest of the world.

    I would challenge the assumption that “we decided to collectively educate our children.” Whatever is decided collectively (however you want to define that phrase) is not always right. Maybe government schools are legit, but this point isn’t on that level, but on the point of decision-making. I’m guessing, Tony, that you do believe in conscientious objection, no? If “we collectively decided to go to war with _____” would you not support non-participation?

    In short, homeschoolers, as I see them, are conscientious objectors to a social institution they believe is wrong for them for a variety of reasons. Some of it is institutionalization, others is indoctrination, and for others it is completely a misunderstanding. We are currently sending our kids to an Anabaptist school so they are not indoctrinated into worshiping the flag or our country, both which stand against many Kingdom viewpoints.

  • Evelyn

    Sending your children to public school and being involved is a form of ministry. Christian homeschooling them is a form of self-aggrandizement. I could use the same arguments against evangelizing Christians as to why I don’t want to join their churches as they are using to promote their own homeschooling.

    I’m not against homeschooling as I think people should be free to choose how they educate their children but at the same time, I think people should be free to choose their own ministries. It would be nice if people who call themselves “Christians” could acknowledge forms of ministry outside of attending/contributing to their churches and refrain from calling those of us who choose to serve society in different ways “in league with the devil” simply because we don’t buy into >their< way of expressing "Christ-like" values.

  • I wonder if it would be more constructive and more interesting (but less provocative; is that the rub?) Tony, for you to examine the reasons WHY people feel homeschooling is their best (or only) choice.

    An analogy: people often screech about “unassisted homebirthers” as crazy, reckless, dangerous folks. Is it not more interesting (and useful) to ask “what is happening in the hospital (and in the culture) that people feel that birthing at home, alone, is preferable to birthing in a hospital?”

    • also, if you are going to reference these “collective and societal agreements,” it might be useful to examine how those “agreements” emerged, and by whom and for whom they were developed, and by whom and for whom they have been entered into. In other words, people opt out all the time. Are you leveling the same charge against people who place their children in quality private schools? Is not targeting homeschoolers, then, rather classist of you?

    • The_L

      From kindergarten through 9th grade, I went to private schools using the A Beka curriculum. In math and reading, I agree that I was better-educated than the average American at the time.

      But in all other respects, I was horribly sub-par. History? I wasn’t taught anything about actual people’s motivations. (Remember, somebody elected Hitler into office. It is our duty to know why, so that we don’t elect another Hitler.) Everything was viewed as a simplistic and fallacious “God vs. Satan” battle, rather than acknowledging that Divine involvement in history is probably a lot more subtle than that.

      Science? Imagine going to a public school, where everyone else knows exactly how natural selection works, and not knowing what that is. I’m not talking about abiogenesis, or the formation of the solar system, or “where did the first life forms come from?” I’m talking just about natural selection, itself. Which I didn’t learn until college. Meanwhile, most children are learning this sort of thing in 6th grade.

      Etiquette? I learned a form of it that is at least 70 years out of date. A form of etiquette in which you write physical, mailed letters for everything. A form of etiquette that doesn’t explain courteous online interaction, or email (both of which were becoming common when I started high school), or how to politely end a phone call with someone you’d rather not talk to.

      Typing? Manual or electric typewriter? (My first computer course was on Apple IIe’s. In 1993. My second computer course was nothing more than “How To Use PowerPoint.”)

    • The_L

      Forgot sex ed. At 10 years old, I learned from my mother that something called “sex” makes babies. I also learned that a man and a woman were involved–somehow. I had no clue which parts of the man and woman were involved, but guessed that it may have something to do with the groin area.

      The anatomy of my own reproductive system–what can and cannot make me pregnant, how and why I menstruate–was never once mentioned in a single school building I ever attended. I only know how my own body works because Mom bought me a book about it.

      Then in 11th grade at public school, I had to go to a safe-sex information session. (This wasn’t “Hey kids, go have sex!” It was “Abstinence is your safest bet, but if you still really want to have sex, then make sure you do this stuff!”) It was assumed that we knew all about the reproductive anatomy of both sexes. We got pamphlets that said things like “If you don’t have a condom, DON’T HAVE SEX. You could get AIDS,” and “You can’t tell if someone has an STD just by looking at them!” and “No means NO!” We got nothing on what sex is, because it was assumed that everyone who wasn’t already having sex had at least learned the basics in another class.

      I wasn’t aware gay people existed until I started having classes with them in public school. I wasn’t aware that some people in the United States are members of religions other than Christianity, until I started having classes with them in public schools. I had no way to cope with the fact that these people existed in my town. I consider this to be an equally bad thing–kids should know that there are other folks out there who are different from them.

  • I agree with your criticism and your challenge to live out your Christian life in public school but I would like to take it one step further. Many people make their decision about where to live because of the school district being “good”. As a teacher in an urban public school, I think it is our duty as Christians not only to attend public school, but to seek out blighted communities without “good” schools and send our children there. Since schools are funded off of local property values in my state the more people want to live in a school district the higher the value of property. Conversely “bad” school districts have poorer residents with less valuable property. This is a way we can live out our Christianity beyond attending your local public school. Intentionally live in an area where your presence will uplift the community.

  • Keith Rowley

    See Tony, you are fully capable of making a logical argument for what you believe that does not include insulting those who dissagree with you. 🙂 Isn’t this a better way to have a conversation?

    The above was meant to be gently teasing and not insulting. Tony and I have gone back and forth on twitter over the tone he chooses to use in some of his posts and my contention that he is unnecessarily insulting toward those he dissagrees with at times.

  • Keith Rowley

    So I should intentionally move to a school district where my children will get a sub par education because this will be good for society? Wowzer!

    I think a lot of this discussion hinges on the question of what duty do we have to our children/family vs to society. Homeschoolers like me say family HAS to come first

    • How do bad schools become good schools if people of means remove themselves from communities with bad schools? I think intentionally placing your children in a neighborhood schol while supporting them and teaching many of the things they will not get at school outside the school day will improve your community. I think that is a noble goal.

      • vandelay

        Is your understanding of the social contract that it requires one to prioritize society ahead of family?

  • It is interesting to me that you center your debate around involvement in an implied social contract (I pay taxes that support schools; i.e. I have entered into a contract with a nation who has decided to publicly school it’s children, therefore I must send my children to public school). First of all, one of the things that makes our nation great is the fact that one cannot be penalized for inactivity (as articulated quite well by John Roberts’ decision paper on the PP/ACA: “Construing the Commerce Clause to permit Congress to regulate
    individuals precisely because they are doing nothing would open a new and potentially vast domain to congressional authority. Congress already possesses expansive power to regulate what people do. Upholding the Affordable Care Act under the Commerce Clause would give Congress the same license to regulate what people do not do.” We currently have the freedom to “opt out” of all kinds of things. Abstaining from public school does not mean I have broken a social contract – it means that I choose to fulfill it in alternative ways.

    Secondly, how many homeschoolers make the decision to school their children so because of what their children would be exposed to in school, and how many do so to better their child’s education? Aren’t there other ways to actively engage in non-secular culture without sacrificing the one thing that may determine the amount of reach our children will have as adults, when their fully formed brains will make them excellent ambassadors for Christ? My children participate in all kinds of community programs and events – moreso than most publicly schooled children because they have all day to do it and no homework at night to preclude it. Is it any more valuable to evangelize in one’s peer group than it is to be involved in a community service group that visits elders during school hours to feed and converse with them?

    Thirdly, you make the assumption that homeschooling is by and large a Christian phenomenon. In my community, there are three large (200+ families) homeschooling groups that are secular, 1 that is universalist. There are only 2 small Christian homeschool groups, 1 with under 20 members and 1 with about 100. I would argue that both Christians and non-Christians are voting with their feet and choosing different educational options for their children because of their disappointment in the shortcomings of the public system.

    • Evelyn

      “one of the things that makes our nation great is the fact that one cannot be penalized for inactivity”

      The last time I checked, it is illegal to not educate your children.

      • vandelay

        The inactivity referred to is not sending one’s child to public school, not depriving them of education full stop. You’re conflating public education with education.

      • Inactivity as in not enrolling your child in a public school.

  • I’m a publicly trained teacher who will be homeschooling my kids. It’s something I pray about and seek wisdom in and have conviction about, as you do about public schools. It’s not because I don’t want to help public schools, that’s one of the reasons my decision wavers at moments. But because I believe God has equipped me to teach my kids spiritually and academically. Parenting can be competitive and judgmental enough without arguments like these. As parents we should have the freedom to choose public, private, or homeschooling considering the needs of our kids and without concern of how others see it, and just learn to support each other in the choices we make.

  • vandelay

    If anything you’ve just obscured your argument even further with this post. It seems like you’re having trouble deciding whether you’re arguing that homeschooling is anti-missional or anti-social contract, and you’re confusing your arguments between the two. I trust you understand that they are not synonymous.

    For instance, remaining ignorant of politics and casting uninformed votes can make you a bad citizen who fails to live up to the social contract, but does not necessarily mean that you are not living a missional life.

    And here:

    “No, I don’t think you should raise your kids among drug addicts because you might help the drug addicts. We have not decided as a society to publicly fund the healing and reparation of all drug addicts.”

    What if the government decided to fully fund drug rehabilitation programs? Should you then raise your kids among drug addicts in order to count yourself among the missional? And what if the government rescinded that decision one year later. Would missional living no longer require living amongst addicts?

    In what situation could Christians judge for themselves that a government policy is unworthy of their active support, despite it’s status as being part of the social contract?

    Do you beleive homeschooling is a sin?

    At this point though I can really only ask questions because your position is so muddled. I definitely agree that your argument has “weak spots” but until you give this some more thought and arrive at a clear position, you’re basically in Not Even Wrong territory.

  • Keith Rowley

    I love how so much of the pushback here comes in the form of questions. It seems Tony has not sufficiently clearly communicated the reasons for his opinion even now. Many of these questions are intelligent and thoughtful attempts to understand Tony’s position and few if any could be called “rabid” or “irrational”.

  • “Death to home schooling” isn’t personal?

    Maybe not to you, but it surely is to those who have experience with it.

  • M R

    We homeschool. Believe it or not, it’s because our family is following the Spirit’s conviction.

    I’m pretty sure my kids aren’t sheltered from opportunities to love the unlovely. In fact, they get hands-on practice that they wouldn’t have if they were operating under the more rigid schedule of a classroom education.

    But the issue I’m more interested in is this question of whether we are supposed to endanger our children for the sake of the Gospel. Yes, plenty of missionaries do so. We are all called to lay down our lives for those around us.

    Two of the houses abutting mine have bed bugs. One house also has a leaking roof and a hole in the bathroom floor where one of the household members fell through due to it being rotted from the rain and damp. The other home houses a registered sex offender.

    Do you know how hard I have wrestled with how involved we should be in these neighbors’ lives? I have three small kids. Is it not my duty to protect them? Even if that means limiting contact with the neighbors? If we get bed bugs, my husband loses his “livelihood” (we are stateside missionaries to adult foster care homes by bringing weekly Christian worship services to these mentally and physically impaired residents who can’t attend a local church building). My husband is already battling a chronic illness that is slowly stealing his ability to walk independently. We are living on sub-poverty salary. And yet I feel that maybe we aren’t doing enough to reach our neighbors.

    Homeschooling is providing my kids with precious time with Daddy that they wouldn’t have otherwise. A chance to soak up memories of a daddy who can still stumble around on his own two feet. They have the opportunity to visit the AFC homes with him.

    A public school classroom is a somewhat limited venue for sharing one’s faith. Yes, relationships can be built further outside the classroom. But that’s true of homeschoolers who venture into their communities day in and day out and try to make a difference.

    I’m still really hung up on not wanting to invite my neighbors into my home, though. I don’t want bed bugs here, truth be told. I’m not willing to suffer that much for the Gospel, I guess. 🙁

  • of course christians cannot advocate a total retreat from public schools, but that doesn’t make public school the right choice for every kid or family. i am a big proponent of public schooling, but i recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all way to educate, and a family can live missionally wherever God calls them. blanket statements are unhelpful, and schooling is personal, just like children’s unique needs and situations.

  • I think homeschooling is probably the most liberatory space for black kids growing up in a school system that is basically preparation for prison. So, yeah, social contract doesn’t mean much if the contract is you don’t really have possibilities outside of being ascribed criminality.

  • Annnnndddd, where is Tony? Do you reply to reader’s comments, Tony? I’m curious how you’d respond to the many questions asked in these.

    • Tom Estes

      He usually only goes after the low-hanging fruit. I’ve never seen him respond to rational or Biblical critique of his opinion.

      • vandelay

        That’s good to know. No need to waste anymore time here then.

  • There’s another facet to all this that may/may not have been brought up; I haven’t read through all the comments:

    The quality of American public schools. No, not charter/private schools. The public ones where most American kids go to learn. While I agree with Tony in his essential premise, I can’t blame a family that doesn’t want their kids involved in schooling that doesn’t necessarily educate so much as teach how to take a test.

  • Paul W

    The basic premise is off base. There is nothing about homeschooling that represents or necessitates a radical break with social norms, societal structures or the public interest within the implied social contract we all live within.

    Home based education is just one just one of many alternatives society recognizes for the education of our youth. Within homeschooling there are varieties of religious and nonreligious interests as well as a range of philosophical and pedagogical approaches. The students are overwhelmingly involved in social activities with peers while the parents are fully engaged in the communal interest of education.

    Non-public schooling and home based education are important components of the State’s approach to ensure that its youth is educated. Such education is recognized, sanctioned, legislated, and regulated by the State. It can hardly be considered a withdrawal from our collective societal agreement to educate our young by choosing between the various State legitimized alternatives.

    Home based schooling is quite simply one aspect of the State’s overall commitment to education; it is one of our societal structures; and it is a community recognized and legitimate way to live out the social contract within society.

  • Scott Gay

    I say it again(public school teacher for 35 years here)—-Tony is wrong on two fronts. Homeschooling is a part of the social contract. Public schools, even ones he calls good, are not good.
    Public schools are an experiment in liberal moral priorities, Piaget’s philosophy, Dewey’s functional psychology. Not that the liberal morals are wrong—-extremely needed and helpful- but without the other moral foundations as a balance the inevitable trajectory is betrayal, subversion, and degradation(see Jonanthan Haidt). Piaget’s influence isn’t known by most, but his answer to the fact that his reasearch was seriously flawed, was that us others didn’t understand the outcomes his methods sought. We are reaping his outcomes. Dewey’s pragmaticism has been outmoded by the positive psychological school.
    The position that homeschooling as a trend is not centrist does not have weaknesses. It actually brings to mind that the strangest thing to see is an aged progressive. I have no idea if Keith Rowley thinks this is inbounds, or if those that think of themselves as centrist on this issue even know from where the strangest thing is inspired.

  • Tom Estes

    I don’t have a social contract, I have a contract with God, which states that I do what He says. The Word of God tells me to raise my children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, which is impossible to do in a government school that teaches darwinism and sex to kids who have even reached puberty.

    This is why people homeschool, or put their kids into Christian schools, because they want them in a Christian environment. The reason so many of you don’t like that line of thinking is because you probably are not saved.

  • Tony won’t hear your dispatches from the homeschooling front. The call that education is flat won’t gain traction. Ask, seek, and knock, Tony won’t hear the ‘other’…

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  • “Sometimes I wonder if homeschooling is a choice that parents make to allow their own adult avoidance of rolling up their sleeves and making public schools better.”
    I think that it is wonderful that you feel so passionate about being an example for Christ in the public school. I feel this same passion for girls in the sex slave industry and the orphan. Because of that, I roll my sleeves up to do what I can to help. Mentoring girls that have been set free, adopting, helping foster parents find respite, etc.
    I am assuming that you are coming from a sincere place making this statement. Please know that not all are called to walk in the same mission fields. If I were called to the schools in this season of my life, I would be there. I was a public school teacher for many years, and it was my heart. But God has called me into different work at this point. Sadly, I cannot do all the good things I would love to do. My calling is to be obedient to what Christ has set for me from the foundations of the earth.
    And yeah, one of those things He has called me to do is homeschool my children. It is not easy. It is an act of living sacrificially every day.

  • T. Webb

    Tony, when I opt out (sending my kids to a private school where they’ll actually learn something and not be a moron like their dad), the kids in public school get the benefits of the many thousands of dollars in property taxes I pay to the schools. My kids don’t get any of that benefit. I’m _helping_ the public schools and teacher unions.

    • Joy_F

      THat you don’t choose to take advantage of the educational system in your area is your choice, however you still reap the benefits of having other people’s kids in public school all day. In countries where education is not free, I have seen children roaming the streets breaking into houses, stealing things from people and shops, vandalizing etc. sure this happens somewhat in the US but by the very nature of school and kids being in it and expected to do work eight hours of the day it eliminates a lot of this. You also have adults with enough education to work at McDonalds, and get your burgers for you. Your taxes keep you in a fairly civilized society, and are going to good use. If you don’t like paying them, you are free to go live in the Congo or another libertarian society and be on the run as much as you would like.

  • Sam Hamilton

    Folks should check out Alan Jacobs well-reasoned response to Jones:

    “I’m shocked!, shocked! that people have taken this personally!” Oh please…

  • Angie

    Some bloggers could really benefit from a good course in logic preferably at a home school dining table. BTW, I don’t intend that to be taken personally.

  • Virgil

    These arguments are little more than an appeal to authority, especially to John Dewey, this figment of Tony’s imagination he calls the “social contract” and the wonderful beauty that is the soul and mind of Tony Jones.

    I assume from these arguments that Tony went to public school, not because he writes in defense of public schools, but because his logic is so faulty. Only a mind trained in public schools, could lay this kind of folly in the public square and imagine it deserves serious consideration.

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  • Kayla

    I understand Tony’s concerns about homeschooling in general. He makes several good points, especially about the tendency to respond to his arguments with personal, particular narratives rather than with equally generalized arguments. However, I would be interested in hearing what his opinion would be on homeschooling in particular cases – are there instances where homeschooling is better for the child and society, or does every instance of homeschooling fall into the traps he pointed out?

  • Will

    I was home schooled before I came to high school. Homeschooling is the biggest mistake that my parents could make. I had to learn how to get along with people, how to survive bullying, and learn that not all people believe there is a god. The kids who have learned at home may have some things over public schools, but what about making friends and going out with people? All you have at home is your family. No one new. Do you want your kids to grow up knowing how the world is from their room or right on the front step of society. Home schooling IS bad for society.

    • Simply Taunya

      NO NO NO Will…homeschooling is NOT bad for society. What IS bad for society is parents who lock themselves and their children in their houses and pretend that the world doesn’t exist. You cannot equate the two worlds.

      Just because there are horrible homeschool parents doesn’t make homeschooling horrible.
      Just because there are horrible public schools doesn’t make public school horrible.

      You should take a class on Critical Thinking…oh wait, our country decided that shouldn’t happen until College writing.

      I am a homeschooler. My kids have friends. They don’t “go out” because at 14, 11 and 10 they don’t need to focus on sex and relationships. Actually their exposure to “other” people has INCREASED by taking them out of the school…not DECREASED.

      As far as Tony’s posts…I’m still reading through them. I will say that society has a responsibility to make sure all children are educated. But when the parents are willing to take that responsibility on themselves, they should be encouraged, not vilified.

      Honestly, if you are not a Christian, why the heck do you feel offended that your child is not going to be influenced daily by my child and our value system…because they are educated at home? The argument gives the appearance that you are not concerned about “social good” but about wiping out Christianity.

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  • Joy_F

    “Sometimes I wonder if homeschooling is a choice that parents make to allow their own adult avoidance of rolling up their sleeves and making public schools better.”

    ^ yes, a thousand times over, thank you for this!

  • Scott Keen

    My son’s physical,emotional and intellectual well-being comes before the needs of society. Society is sick and I don’t want that sickness rubbing off on my son. I don’t want him exposed to drugs,fags,and pedophiles until he is able to think independently and make his own choices.He needs to learn to question everything,including his parents. Obviously the poster of this blog has never read Thoreau or Rousseau,or John Holt.

    • The_Clay_Jar

      “Fags?” Really? Way to show Christ’a love there.

      Public schooling teaches the open-mindedness that is necessary to function in life.

      • Scott Keen

        Did I say I was a Christian? Or did you just jump to an idiotic conclusion? Possibly the latter,I think.

        • The_Clay_Jar

          I apologize for the generalization. To be fair though, the only homeschoolers I know (and I know quite a few) are conservative Christian families. And your bigoted statements about the LGBT community don’t help, honestly.

      • Scott Keen

        Obviously your “public education” failed to teach you to think outside the box. To say that I must be a Christian because I refuse to put my son in the miasmas of failure and degeneracy (A.K.A. “public schools”) shows a lack of logical thinking on your part.

      • Scott Keen

        How many parents of kids who were killed at school now wish they had chosen to home-educate or send their kids to private schools? Is a career and materialist desires so important that one must risk their child’s life to achieve personal and material satisfaction? The children who have been killed in schools over the years were failed by their parents.These parents failed at their jobs of protecting and nurturing their children.I realize that is a very cold and politically incorrect statement,but the reality is that truth is often cold,harsh, and politically incorrect.

        • The_Clay_Jar

          Your children are far more likely to be killed driving a car than in a school shooting, but you let them drive anyway, right? The reality is that public schools are not as dangerous as the homeschooling world would have you believe.

  • Scott Keen

    While home education may seem “selfish” isn’t the essence of capitalism selfishness? Damn right I’m selfish. I am very jealous of who puts what information into my son’s young and impressionable mind. The pedophiles of public education and the queers of GLAAD can peddle their garbage somewhere else. Keep it away from my son.

  • M.Schultz

    Interestingly weird arguments. This is an old thread. However, I will comment on it anyhow because that’s how I roll.

    I think you, Mr. Public Schooler, are socially irresponsible by negating your god-given responsibility to educate your children by sending your children to a broken system that is contributing to filling this country with a copious amount of broken people. A sub-par education is not a good choice for society. People who don’t know how to solve problems (i.e. ,kids going into college who know had to add, subtract and multiply but don’t know how to do a word problem), kids who don’t know how to socialize properly (hence, the school shootings, bullying, drug problems, gang problems, ), or think for themselves, (hence, the people who vote for politicians and when asked what that politician’s platform is, cannot tell you a single thing).

    Also, I think you are making very poor vaccination decisions that are bad for society. It’s been proven that many of the diseases are being spread by the vaccinated. How dare you think of only yourself and make such a selfish decision! Very selfish indeed.

    (P.S. – Are you pro-choice or pro-life? I’m guessing by your shallow arguments, you are pro-choice. I’m wondering how pro-choicers justify advocating mandatory vaccinations for people. After all, it’s OUR bodies and OUR children’s bodies. What right does ANYONE have forcing a vaccination into OUR body?)

  • lauren koch

    What you said is so true! I was home schooled as a child and I begged to go out. My mother did want me to because she thought it would be more work for her.

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