As a homeschooled kid born in the 1980s to pioneering parents, I was one of the first guinea pig generations. My friends and peers were steeped in Christian culture — in safe, sheltered, homeschool culture, our own personal circles teaming with prominent authors and leaders — and yet a startling number of my peers no longer embrace Christianity. Some of them picket home education. There’s a whole lot more to be said about that (a lot more) but let’s start here: homeschooling is not a formula to guarantee your child will turn out the way you want. Homeschooling is not a formula for raising Christian kids. Homeschooling is not a formula for raising any particular kind of kid. Homeschooling is simply not a formula.
The truth is, there’s no formula for raising kids. There’s no way to ensure your child will turn into the adult you envision.
There’s no parenting panacea against rebellion.
Let me say that again: there’s no parenting panacea against rebellion. There simply isn’t, no matter how strongly the Christian bookstore tries to sell you one, neatly bound and displayed so enticingly on the eye-catching endcap, and no matter how many conferences try to lure you in with the seven-step parenting workshops guaranteeing trophy children.
This is the whole, terrifying, somber, humbling truth about parenting: there are no guarantees.
(There are no guarantees for earth-side life, even. A wise woman once told me never to forget that children are on loan from God. And it’s profoundly true.)
So if we’re looking for a tidy copy-and-paste template to neatly apply to our lives, one which guarantees a particular outcome, we’re not going to find it in parenting. We’re certainly not going to find it in homeschooling. I emerged from the guinea pig generation, and I’m telling you, conservative homeschooling didn’t work the way the speakers promised.
If we’re looking for that perfect template, we’re not even going to find any such guarantee in the Bible. If there’s anything disappointing about the stories of Biblical men and women — I say this in all reverence — it’s that there are precious few formulas we can glean. It’s true. It’s actually very difficult to create familial formulas (say that ten times fast) based on the examples handed down to us in the Bible. Biblical accounts are wildly diverse, and in all honesty, often nothing short of bizarre — and I say this as a Bible-believing Christian.
So if the Bible isn’t an index of formulas, and there are no guarantees in parenting, how has homeschooling gained a reputation in conservative Christian circles as a way to somehow promise adherence to Christianity and safeguard against rebellion?
In the 90s and 00s, I spent plenty of time observing the homeschool guru circuit from the front lines. (I like to say I’ve seen it all in my time as a homeschool kid: the good, the bad, and a whole lot of ugly.) And the more I watched, the more I saw speakers and authors peddling this idea: homeschooling will save your child from the claws of culture, in a way that other forms of education never will.
As humankind has been drawn toward simple solutions to complex problems since the beginning of time, parents latched on to this idea by the droves.
And as I watched, Christian homeschool families shelled out hard-earned cash for conferences, retreats, and books outlining a path to purity and good character and uprightness. This was a path which often circumvented the radical Jesus, chasing wildly after morality instead — as long as that morality could be modeled inside a controlled homeschool environment.
Religious homeschooling, intended to preserve religion, instead became religion — and morality replaced Christ.
Morality, the homeschool gurus insisted, will make your child perfect. Morality is key. Virtue will save us all. And so, homeschool subculture created a fantastic Morality World, complete with its own literature and curriculum and clubs and dress codes, a sort of monastic exile hyper-focused on creating the outwardly perfect child.
Like I said before, this didn’t work so well. Morality-first education delivered in a sheltered homeschool did not produce the Christ-centered generation the pioneering homeschooling gurus promised us it would. (Imagine that!)
Yet in the thirty years since I entered kindergarten, I still see homeschool celebrities and curriculum companies (and Sunday Schools!) shilling out the idea that morality and good character and wholesomeness is somehow going to change hearts.
Friends, it can’t. It never will. Jesus changes hearts. Character curriculum and good books do not change human nature. Putting morality first is not the path to redemption. Teaching our children more about mimicking a list of admirable traits than about the transforming power of the blood of Jesus is wrong.
What would happen if we turned our eyes to Jesus himself, and not to character education? What would happen if we viewed our role as parents to equip our kids to boldly face the world, not to entirely shelter them from it? What would happen if we embraced the mystery of grace for the earth-shattering wonder that it is, rather than reducing it to human terms and claiming to understand it all? What would happen if we lived the kind of life that Jesus (quite a radical, by the way) was personally calling us to live?
The answer to those questions might not always be found in homeschooling itself. Really.
In fact, I don’t even necessarily see a definitive Biblical mandate to homeschool.
(Yes, I actually just said that.) I can hear the collective screech of proverbial brakes right now. I can hear some of you sputtering. I know I put off a lot of people whenever I say this, but please, hear me out. Don’t close the tab yet.
I support homeschooling. But I do not support homeschool onlyism.
I do not support the idea that if you are a Christian, you are obligated to homeschool.
I educate my own daughter at home, but I didn’t choose this path because I believe it’s the only way to educate. In fact, when I read through the Bible, I see incredible diversity.
Paul was a Roman citizen.
Moses was raised by Egyptian royalty.
Daniel got his education from the Babylonians.
Rather than only one template for life, I instead see examples of God’s glory shining through impossible situations (and, let’s be real, there are some impossibly odd people in the Bible, too.) I don’t see a formula. If anything, I see God going out of His way to make a point about there being no such thing as a catch-all formula.
The Bible’s not big on catch-all formulas.
Even when it comes to marriage — a topic that’s specifically addressed in the Bible, unlike homeschooling — the examples are wildly divergent. We all know the story of Ruth, right?  Ruth was told to wear perfume, wait until Boaz had drunk plenty, then go into his room, uncover his feet, and lie down. (I’m still waiting for the wholesome Ruth Generation movement to show up at courtship seminars across the country.)
And then there’s Isaac and Rebekah . Rebekah watered his camels, and then when Isaac gave her a nose ring and some other bling, she knew he was the one. (Yes, a ring for her nose. Not ear. The Hebrew word נֶזֶם refers to a nose jewel.)
Go back a little further, and we have Adam and Eve. What can we find in this account to boil down into a family-based formula that’ll sell well at homeschool conferences and Christian bookstores? They were naked, she was made from a rib, and then one son murdered the other. Hardly an example of marriage and family life that will top the Christian self-help charts.
You might still be reeling from my insinuation that homeschooling isn’t addressed in the Bible. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean we are to live so apathetically hands-off that our children run wild, adrift with no moral compass. When I read the Bible, I clearly see the mandate for Christian parents to instruct children in the ways of God. There’s no arguing this: we should teach our children the things of God and our Biblical heritage. The Bible commands us to. So don’t misunderstand me: I’m not speaking against raising children in a Christian home. I’m not saying to stop instructing your kids in the foundational tenets of Christianity. I’m just saying modern Western homeschooling, as it’s represented in the modern homeschool movement, is not the only way to educate kids. (I still love Jesus; I’m just not a legalist when it comes to what kind of school Christians should use.)
I’ve been in the homeschool subculture for a long time, and sometimes the subculture needs a few reminders: Jesus’ power is not stopped by brick-and-mortar school doors. He doesn’t limit his salvation to only those kids whose parents homeschool them. He transcends centuries and languages and continents. Homeschooling is not an essential tenet of Jesus-based doctrine and theology.
We can’t have a conversation about education and Christianity without mentioning Deuteronomy chapter six. Verses five through nine talk about instructing our kids in the ways of faith; we’re told to do this “when you are at home and when you are on the road…on the doorposts of your house and on your [city] gates.” 
In other words, everywhere.
Not just at home.
Not just in a bubble of our own constructing.
Not just in a shelter we’ve fashioned with our own hands.
Everywhere, without fear.
The truth is, I often detect an element of fear in the homeschool subculture’s insistence that all Christian parents must homeschool. I can understand that. I see the ideals running through public school education, and I know they’re often counter to Biblical convictions.
I get that.
But when I look at the Bible, I see repeated rebukes against fear. I also see God taking broken situations like Joseph’s or Daniel’s — stories full of pain and desolation, and certainly full of the secular culture of the day — and using these situations to glorify His name in mighty, mighty ways.
Look at John 11:4 — it’s God who was glorified.
“These things happened that God might be glorified.” That’s the goal of what we do. He’s the point of how we live.
Not that homeschooling might be glorified, but that God might be glorified.
Not that our particular flavor of homeschooling might be seen as superior, but that God might be glorified.
Not that our parenting might be held up as an example of excellence, but that God might be glorified.
Not that we might get the credit, but that God might be glorified.
And God is not limited by environment. He can work mightily in a lion’s den, a virgin’s womb, a donkey’s mouth, a public school classroom, a broken home, or a homeschool living room.
It’s not about our formulas and styles and philosophies.
It’s all about Jesus.
So go forward fearlessly. Live wildly and bravely, the way God wants you to, not the way the parenting gurus and bestselling authors tell you to.
“Abraham believed God,” Andrée Seu Peterson wrote, “not what well-meaning pastors or little old ladies told him about God.”
Now go, live fearlessly!
18 thoughts on “Christian Homeschooling is not a Formula for Success”
Thanks you for you post! We definitely live in fear when we see the world in logic and causality instead of relationship and persons. When we see the world as if I do this then this will happen, we start to live in fear instead of living in the relationship and freedom Jesus gave us and letting that spread to others by loving, relating, teaching, and encouraging each other.
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Yes! We don’t live in a vacuum of definitive formulas, but in a dynamic, people-filled world. And God has not given us the spirit of fear.
Great post, and I think much-needed in today’s age of people striving to find the “perfect” education system for their kids. My sister and I were raised in a Christian home, but went to public school for our entire childhoods (and public school in a not-so-nice or safe part of town, too). We survived, and are both still growing spiritually, loving Jesus, and she’s raising her kids in a Christian home. I also had several homeschooled friends as I was growing up; some of them are doing well and raising their kids in a similar manner, and a few others went through a period of rebellion and sin (and some are still living that way). God gave us all free will; and as much as we wish we could “make” our kids or other people do what is best for them, if they choose another path, then all we can do is pray for Jesus to move on their spirit. If God himself has chosen not to interfere with our gift of free will, then we certainly can’t do anything about it, either.
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I love hearing your background! And this is such an excellent point –> “If God himself has chosen not to interfere with our gift of free will, then we certainly can’t do anything about it, either.”
This is such a great article! So many parents want to shelter their children rather than equip them to deal with the real world. There is no perfect education method.
What I love about the homeschoolers I’ve encountered in the library is their love of learning. That usually begins with the parents. I see homeschoolers excited about reading and learning..
I was in a friend’s house recently and her son’s book was sitting wide open in front of the toilet. I was an adult before I discovered how much fun learning could be.
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Yes! Learning is a lifestyle, while school is something you have to get through. And in so many homeschool families, the focus is on learning, not simply school.
Interesting and enjoyable post! I am from California and grew up going to public school and then private school for high school and am now homeschooling my son. We now live in the “Bible Belt.” Something I have noticed is that with some moms that have many children sometimes that youngest ones don’t read until they are older than usual. I guess its all about balancing out priorities….for some keeping them at home with the family might be more important. But I met a woman recently who put her youngest in public school because she didn’t have time to teach them, and it seemed like a great option and a great act of humility. Personally, I think there are definitely some lines that, when crossed, may imply some moral imperative for Christians to homeschool. For example, I read a statistic somewhere that in California a 5th grade boy has a 100% chance of seeing pornography at school. I think it is worth doing all we can to keep our children from that. I also think that when books about “non-traditional families” (you know what I mean) and children that have had sex change operations become required reading for early elementary, Christians should bail if financially feasible. But I know even then, there are some who would say they should stay…..
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You make some very good points here — and I too, have chosen homeschooling. But I do also have on my heart those who, because of their personal family situation, are unable to choose private or homeschool options. I believe God gives a measure of grace in those circumstances.
Agreed. Also, if everyone bails from public school, who is going to be a light to the kids there?
God convicted me personally to homeschool. I believe it was an answer to prayer, to help my kids and I be closer and to do His will fit our lives. I personally went to public school. I hated it. But I turned out ok. And to some degree I was a light to the people there so If someone is wondering whether or not to homeschool, I’d say pray sincerely about it. The lord will let you know if it’s for you. It certainly isn’t fir the faint of heart.
I enjoyed reading your article. My husband was a homeschooled kid in that “pioneer” generation and I went to public school throughout. I agree that homeschool is not the only way, but it’s interesting how life experience really shapes our perspectives. My husband encourages homeschooling but is much more flippant about it…saying things like “whenever the kids want to go to ‘school school’ just let them!”…But I, having spent 12 years in public education in the 90s and 00s am not nearly as flippant as he. I experienced so many horrific, sad, and illegal things as early as elementary school and I personally can’t imagine sending my tiny ones into that den of lions. I don’t intend to shelter them, but I do want to help guard their hearts at young foundation ages. And sadly, my experience is closer to the norm than the exception. So it’s interesting how our upbringing shapes our current views. I believe Jesus can (and does!) shine in the darkest places, but I think it’s exceedingly difficult for young children to escape the public school system with their souls in tact, especially with the darkness that’s deliberately pushed on them.
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Courtney, great perspective! Certainly I support homeschooling (I homeschool!) and I do not argue with you regarding the agenda present there, yet I also believe that God gives a measure of grace to those who because of family dynamics and financial situations must send their children to public school.
This is a great article about the dangers of Christians getting legalistic about homeschooling. You’re right – Christ is not limited by any situation, no matter how evil. And we need to be careful how confident we become about our works.
That said, I grew up in the public school system and I could also write many negative things about it and I saw many lose their faith that way. For myself, I chose to homeschool because I couldn’t in good conscience place my special charges from God under the teaching of anyone who might “cause them to stumble.” But I know their salvation is a working of the Holy Spirit. I simply feel called to do my part, but I see it equally as obedience on my part as trying to produce an “effect” in my children. We may consider Christian school at some point too.
This was an interesting article. Maybe I have a different idea of “character training”, but most parents try to instill good character. Many people, Christian or not, want their children to grow up to be “decent human beings” (to use a term that would apply also to anyone of any belief or lack thereof). I was went to Public school and have serious psychological scares from those years of hell on earth so to speak. Yet, that isn’t why I homeschool. I know a lot of homeschool mothers and none of them are unaware of the fact that they are raising sinners. I do think maybe some people think if they homeschool, they can keep little Johnny from becoming “like the world”. But from my experience around other mothers, those people aren’t the majority of modern day homeschoolers. I definitely do not think every Christian should homeschool. There are plenty of situations where it’s not feasible. The one thing I do agree with in this article is that there is a lot of fear in the modern day church and we must fix our eyes on Jesus and not be afraid!
Blessings to you
Also yes, there are typos in my post.