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Countercultural Education: Why We Chose to Homeschool

My biological family heritage includes a long line of educators: professors, principals, and public school teachers. In fact, I had never even heard of the concept of homeschooling when I became a parent. But once my child was approaching “school age,” I started noticing the fruits of the educational system.

When our oldest child was four, we moved from Florida to California. We knew California was considered more “progressive,” but we were surprised to find that the liberal teachings were not only overt in the public system, but also in the private “Christian” sector. We put our child in a very expensive private Christian school for kindergarten, because that’s the only model we knew. However, instead of being encouraged and strengthened in his spiritual and academic walk, we found our kindergartner coming home with all kinds of liberal, anti-male philosophies. And, for the first time in his life, he didn’t seem to like learning. We were stunned.

When I met with the teacher to discuss my observations, I realized that this well-meaning young woman, all of 23 years old and not yet a parent herself, had just graduated from a secular university, and she was teaching the children out of what she knew, her worldview. Later, we also learned that the school was struggling with high rates of promiscuity and drug dealing, which wasn’t exactly the fruit I was looking for in my children. So, it was clearly time for a change of course.

Someone told us about a then-new program called charter schools. In this particular program, students learned at home under the tutelage of a parent, who followed a state-directed plan of education. Parents were free to bring children in for weekly classes, which were offered two days a week, for supplemental learning. Parents were also free to choose their own curricula—with one exception: It could not contain any Christian references. When I met with the “education specialist” in the charter, she explained that the Department of Education prohibits teaching from a “sectarian” point of view during school hours (8am to 4pm). I looked on the Department of Education’s website to verify, and she was correct; it was right there, plainly stated. If I wanted to try to sprinkle in some Christian teaching at the end of the day when everyone was exhausted, that would be just fine, but I wasn’t allowed to teach academic subjects through the lens of a Christian worldview.

I showed her one of the literature curricula I had been considering, and she seemed conflicted. “The content is great,” she said, “don’t get me wrong. But the name of this curriculum has the word ‘son’ in it, and that word, the way it’s used here, stands for a Christian deity, so we can’t accept that.” I remained silent, completely in shock of what I was hearing. She went on: “Now, if you want to cut out the word ‘son’ before you turn in your reports, that might work.”

I wish I were making this up.

And the writing curricula I liked? “We can’t cover that one because it contains a prayer by Abraham Lincoln,” the educational specialist said. “If they take out the prayer, well, then maybe we could use it.”

So, in this system, I was allowed to teach my child at home, which was terrific, but I was only allowed to teach from a secular viewpoint—in my own home. Clearly, the charter option was not going to work for us.

Just as we were trying to decide what on earth we were going to do, we met a woman from church whose children really stood out to me. They all seemed to genuinely like each other (and their parents!). They were smart and confident. When I spoke to them, they looked me in the eye. They were able to connect well with both children and adults. They were godly, loving, intelligent, compassionate, and socially mature. Wow. We wanted that fruit in our children’s lives, so I asked the mom her secret. “Homeschooling,” she said.

I literally had no idea what she meant.

But thus began my journey into the realm of home education. In the 13 years that my husband and I have spent educating our own children, we have reaped a harvest of incredible fruit: compassionate, intelligent children who love God, their parents, and one another—a Luke 1:17 model. It has been an adventure beyond imagination.

A Brief Overview of the Homeschool Movement

Homeschooling is the fastest growing movement in US education, both because of the dissatisfaction with the traditional system and the success of the homeschool model. As you'll see in some of the studies mentioned herein, homeschoolers are now outperforming their traditionally-schooled counterparts on standardized tests by 37 points on average, regardless of the level of education achieved by the parent doing the homeschooling. In our "expert everything" culture, this is a befuddling statistic for traditional educators (of which I am one!).

More important than the academic success, however, is the character growth that is modeled in a homeschool environment, where children are mentored by their parents rather than by their peers. Since the introduction of the Values Clarification Movement in the 1960s, the United States has seen a steady decline of the moral output in its youngest citizens (I have written about this movement extensively in my book Emerge—see the Books tab for more info). The US is now a world leader is youth homicide, youth suicide, youth drug abuse, and STD rates (8,000 US teens contract an STD every day in the US). Little wonder, truly, when 55 million children are taught daily in the public sector that they have no purpose, no destiny, and no reason for hope or joy. Romans 1:20 tells us that God’s nature is evidenced in the created realm—that we can learn of God’s character and qualities through studying his world; however, the traditional model has purposefully dissected Christianity from the foundations of learning, leaving behind a heartless, sterile, disingenuous model of academia.

As a teacher in the traditional system for 20 years, I would say that the homeschooling process is counterintuitive to almost everything I learned in my undergraduate studies. The model I was taught in Instructional Design 101 was based on the failed pedagogical approach used in the traditional system of education, an ideology launched in the bygone Industrial Era. The homeschooling model is actually more akin to what we use in graduate level studies, which are based on an androgogical (adult learning) rather than pedagogical approaches. In my opinion, the works of Vygotsky, who wrote extensively on scaffolding and the apprenticeship model, best explain the success of homeschooling in general, providing a framework for teaching the homeschool demographic. It’s a mentor model. Homeschooling has, I believe, made me a better college professor, as I’ve learned to draw knowledge out of students, to help them become more self-directed in their own learning process.

The traditional worm-dispensing ideology places the responsibility on the teacher, whereas the homeschool model places the responsibility on the learner, fanning the flame of learning that Yeats inspired in his well-known quote: “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” Students are far more effective as lifelong learners when they are driven by intrinsic rather than extrinsic motivation. Though government schools defend their "commitment" to lifelong learning, the truth is that most students in the traditional system are often simply surviving school, not thriving in it. They have come to despise learning, not crave it.

A few years back, a Newsweek article studied public school culture and found that by the age of 7, most boys say they “hate” school. Little wonder, really, when they are forced to sit still in a chair for hours on end, taught by anti-Christian and/or feminist ideologies, and squeezed into an educational model that is proving less and less effective each decade. America is currently at the lowest rung on the global ladder in academia. It was just a few short years ago when Bill Gates actually requested permission from the government to hire more foreign workers—because Americans simply weren’t “smart enough” to fulfill the intellectual needs of the job.

Plato once said the two most important questions for every culture to consider were these: Who teaches the children, and what are they taught? To answer that question in good conscience, we must consider both the heart of the teacher and the heart of the subject. These are the foundations upon which Christian homeschooling is built.

History of The Homeschool Movement

Prior to the Industrial Era, most children were educated at home. Family life was built around the context of transmitting the values and the craft of the family to the next generation. In the Industrial Era, however, people were viewed as commodities in a larger machine, resulting in the growth of schools that would train students in a “factory model” of education. A one-size-fits-all modality of academic instruction became the norm, and this trend has continued to the present day.

Though the industrial system took students out of the home, for many years, these public school systems did continue to replicate (at least in some form) the values of a Christian culture. Children were taught to read with Bible verses. Disciplinary action supported a biblical model. The school culture supported and reflected the values of the family. My grandmother taught in this model for 50 years. Her public school prayer books and hymn books paint a very different picture of life as a teacher in the 1930s to 1950s in America.

However, in the 1960s, an educational strategy called the Values Clarification Movement (VCM) swept through the public system and stripped schools of their foundation in classic Christian education. Teachers were no longer allowed to speak of morality. Reading primers that once taught children through principles of Christianity, such as McGuffey’s reader, “in Adam’s fall, we sinned all” were silenced. Prayers were removed from books and classrooms, and history that once reflected the faith of our nation’s founders was scrubbed clean of any Christian principles. The early Christian foundations in the school system gave way over time to the pull of secular humanism, and gradually, God was completely and intentionally dissected from the academic sphere.

The Fruit of a Godless Education System

Harvard University, the first college American, was founded by Pilgrims in 1636 with a very specific goal in mind: To establish an educational system for the next generation that would prevent the teachings of Scripture from being passed along to an illiterate population. In other words, they wanted to protect and preserve the truth of God’s word for generations to come. How tragically far the modern day education system has fallen from that initial objective!

Today, significant challenges face the public education system in the US. Since the introduction of the Values Clarification Movement in the 1960s and 70s, the United States has seen a steady decline of the moral output of its youngest citizens. The US is now a world leader in youth homicide, youth suicide, self-injury, prescription drug abuse, and sexually transmitted disease (8,000 US teens contract an STD every day in the US), teen pregnancy, cohabitation, and desertion of the faith. A few of these sobering statistics follow: