Homeschooling

Christian Homeschooling is not a Formula for Success

Christian Homeschooling is not a Formula for SuccessAs 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? [1] 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 [2]. 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.” [3]

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!

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