As a graduate of home education, and a currently home educating mom, I get many questions regarding its inner workings. I have been approached by a number of people who have an inkling–or maybe even a deep conviction–that they want to pursue it for their family; but it is unfamiliar, scary, or they just don’t have any idea where to begin. Because of this, I see a need for dispelling common myths that surround home education. I will be writing a series of posts in hopes of encouraging those considering, embarking, or well under way in their journey of taking the education of their children into their own hands.
Before I can dive into the specifics and practicalities, I want to zoom out and identify the aims of education, particularly for the Christian. I want to reveal what home education can be (and what it is not).
Certainly the stigma of “homeschooler” exists for a reason, but the outcome of the awkward, naive, over-sheltered, rebellious, or self-righteous kid is not a result of home education itself. In fact, the outcome is not the ultimate aim at all. I want to repeat that, the outcome is not the reason for our choice. As a Christian I am not a Pragmatist, I do not choose paths by whether they will “work”, but whether they fulfill my duty in obeying the God who saved me. We have no crystal ball to determine what our children will be in the future; but this is not fatalism, it is faith. The discipleship of my children is an act of obedience to God’s commands, a submission to his word, and a trust that ultimately their salvation–and future–are in his hands, not mine. I trust that God cares far more for my children than I, and because of this, I want to be faithful to raising them up. They belong to him, not me. My aim is to do all I can to magnify the glory of God to my children in the very short time they are in my home. I want to show them the beauty of the Gospel and how it infiltrates every single corner of our life. Ultimately, I want to be able to say, when my heart ceases beating and I see my God face-to-face, that I gave all in service to him, especially in stewarding the children he gave me. I believe home education is the best way to do this.
Nevertheless, while not guaranteeing certain outcomes, or “saving” our kids, home education, when done well, does not have to be the weird, non-academic disengagement with the world that it is often seen as.
Home education has existed forever. Long before the institutionalization of education and the creation of the modern public school, education was seen as a familial and church community endeavor. Most figures we laud in history were educated at home for most of their adolescence, including–but certainly not limited to–Isaac Newton, Ada Lovelace, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Abraham Lincoln, Blaise Pascal, Claude Monet, Hudson Taylor, Mozart, Beatrix Potter, and Jonathan Edwards. The stigma against home education exists because of the portion of home educators that come from a place of fear and cultish beliefs, but that does not represent the whole (nor even a significant portion). It’s merely an easy straw man fallacy.
Most often people are shocked to learn I was “homeschooled” for the bulk of my education. I often receive comments about my ability to socialize and my success in higher education. My lack of long skirts and abundance of tattoos make people stagger as their stereotypes of the “homeschooled kid” are shattered. The wide range of experiences that marked my childhood are often seen as incommensurable with the fact that I never went to public school. Ironically, these very things are a direct product of my education at home, and the incredulous responses I receive are proof to me that home education is deeply misunderstood by most people.
Home education has the freedom to be whatever parents want to make it. It can be a robust, God-glorifying, well-rounded, community changing, and flourishing method for bringing up children; giving them a foundation like the deep roots of a tree, that as J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, “are not reached by the frost.” It has this freedom because the choices for its direction are held in the hands of the family, not an institution.
Much of the false notions that exist about home education stem from a lack of understanding that school is not synonymous with education.
The British educational philosopher, Charlotte Mason, wrote:
Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.
Home education is not a replication of school in the home. It is discipleship through life lived together. Its goes beyond merely acquiring knowledge for the sake of knowing, acquiring a degree, a quality career, or money. The purpose of education is to know and worship God. To love our Lord with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. With this goal at its heart, education then is about the development of the whole person. The disciplines of mathematics, literacy, the arts, and science, are but a drop in reference to the whole ocean of education, which is the pursuit of truth, beauty, and virtue with the intent of glorifying God in every aspect of our lives.
With that picture of education in our mind our “schooling” at home will look far different than what occurs within the walls of the institution of “school”.
Education takes place within our home, within the framework of our family. Families are not institutions. This is a really good thing. Institutions cannot provide the way a community can, a network does not love the way a family does.
As John Gatto wrote:
By redirecting the focus of our lives from families and communities to institutions and networks, we, in effect, anoint a machine our king.
We need to see our family as a gift in the education of our children, and integral to it. When we educate at home we don’t have to operate within the confines of an institution with regulated hours, grades, or the Procrustean tradition of lopping off the gifts of an individual child to force them into a one-size-fits-all model of learning.
Perhaps it makes you uncomfortable to think learning can take place without proof, or obvious sign posts like seated children or a lecture. This is likely because you too have been conditioned to think this way. It takes practice and intentionality to gain the sight necessary to recognize the many facets of learning. To see that our success isn’t measured by an A on a worksheet takes concentrated effort on our part. Even though the bulk of research tells us otherwise, we still cling to the notion that without a standardized test to prove it to us, learning must not have happened.
But we can learn to shift our thinking, and if we want to be faithful to the education of our children, we have to escape the machinery that doesn’t recognize the whole person, nor the God who made them. We have to note that relationships are as important as the curriculum on the table, character development must be integral, and God must be center of all. This ought to be the aim of our day.
When people ask me what our day looks like it is a difficult question to answer, mainly because our “school” day looks like life. We have organic conversations about mathematics as we look at a tree and my son inquires about its height, so we figure it out together. I ask questions about syllables and poetry while we wait in the doctor’s office for a well-check. In our studies of architectural history, we note Jesus’ words on foundations, or the repeated folly of mankind who builds temples, when we know “God does not dwell in temples built by man”. We discuss worldview, ethics, ideology, and the evolution of fairy tales and legends after watching Disney’s Robin Hood, and Cinderella. Learning is constant in our home, and it all centers around the theme that God is supreme over all things. Intellectual curiosity and academic rigor are important not in themselves, but because they are among the many ways we come to know God better, and are awed by his character. When we acknowledge him in our learning it becomes natural to see his hand in all the disciplines. We see him weaving his redemption through history, despite humanity’s idolatry and failure. Questions like “will this be on the test?” never occur because we seek to learn and think, not to simply answer someone else’s questions, or to pass a test. We work to know, that we might better live in this world under God’s authority.
Thus there are no lines between the disciplines of what is commonly seen as “school work” and faith. God’s sovereignty is over all subjects, whether addition or world religions.
The institution of school operates as though learning occurs within a classroom, during school hours, Monday through Friday. Outside of this learning stops. Learning is aimed at passing standardized tests, giving the teacher the answer they seek, and graduating. Faith is compartmentalized as a home or church affair. Math is just math. Reading is just reading. The sacred and the secular don’t touch.
But as Alistair McGrath writes:
God is not found in the gaps and recesses of the world. God is the one who gives meaning to the whole universe, who alone is able to explain why there is anything at all and to explain what it means.
Math is never just math. Math is the language that God created to describe the universe. It is an ordered, logical, and beautiful language that preaches to his character.
Reading is never just reading. As Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote:
I read for hope.
Reading is a vehicle for discovery, understanding, and ultimately for knowing God through the very means he chose to reveal himself: the written Word.
A Christian never just does math, or just reads. Just as we eat and drink for God’s glory, so too we do math and read, and learn history and do chemistry experiments for the glory of God.
School separates these things. Education doesn’t have to. In fact, if it is true education, it won’t.
As my seven-year-old sadly noted after learning about Einstein, “he denied God? Even after learning about all those amazing and beautiful things. So everything he learned did him no good when he died.”
May we commit ourselves to discipling our children with the aim of reaching the deepest recesses of their hearts, to never approach learning without remembering why we learn in the first place. May we point to God, our Creator and Redeemer, through all the disciplines. May we begin our days as Bach began his manuscripts with the words Jesu Juva–Jesus Help! And may we end our days the way he ended his masterpieces, Soli Deo Gloria–To the glory of God alone.
Edited to add:
I have received a few comments about the historical figures I named as those who were home educated for all, or a significant part, of their adolescence. I intentionally chose a diversity of figures, from different countries, socieconomic status, and even educational styles. Some of them attended public schools eventually and partially, like Newton, who attended public and private schools–though not until age 12, and he was considered a woeful student, it wasn’t until he was back at home, due to the outbreak of the bubonic plague, that he made his discoveries in physics and calculus. Others were not educated traditionally, but were self-taught and learned through life experience, like Lincoln, whose mother taught him to read and he sought to learn while also working for his father but for intermittent bouts in formal “school” (numbering only 12 months total). Others were wealthy and had tutors, which again, is my point. Home education has the flexibility to be all of these things. I used them as illustration, not to say that these individuals were educated solely at home, nor the way I personally educate, but that none of them needed the public institution of school to be the successful, contributive members of society that they were.