Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Volume 16, Issue 3: Childer
Parents or Social Engineers?

Douglas Wilson

Americans love fads, and when it comes to ideological fads we are no different. Of course, fads involve changing—first this way, and then that. While it does not follow from this that all change is the necessary result of faddishness, we should remember that fads do introduce change, often in the form of the sudden, impulsive lurch.

If a man wanted to plant a vegetable garden using the latest fad fertilizer, he is risking nothing more than next year's supply of cabbages. But if he wants to try the latest thing in ecology-friendly house-building, and forgoes the concrete in building his foundation, then his house will fall down in the storm, and great will be the fall of it (Matt. 7: 27). Moving upward, an even greater risk with fad-dabbling occurs when a man's children are involved. And yet many parents will try any new thing with their children, as though they were just so many cabbages.
But children are not at all like cabbages. If something does not work out, it is not possible to try something else next spring, starting the whole thing over. Of course it is possible to change whatever it is you are doing with them, but what you did is forever part of that child's story.
The first five years of a child's life are foundational. And if a child doesn't learn to read properly at the appropriate age, he will likely struggle with that problem for the rest of his life. The elementary years of a child's education are crucial—a host of prerequisites are established, without which a child will spend a good deal of the rest of his education in a state of bewilderment.

This is often granted in principle. "Yes, of course, prerequisites are necessary. Yes, of course, the early years are important." And so on. But then the means selected by many parents to impart what everyone acknowledges as necessary are often nothing more than some bright ideas cooked up by some fad-monger the day before yesterday. Lord Falklands once articulated the heart of conservatism when he said that when it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change. This principle is a wise one when it comes to bringing up children. If we are resolved to do something "different" with our kids, then we should have well-grounded reasons for doing so. And that ground is the ground of Scripture.

When Christian parents en masse began pulling their children out of the secular, government schools, they were certainly doing something "different." That was not how they had been brought up. Many times the difference was so stark that other members of the family thought they had lost their minds. The public schools were the American way, and so on. But given what Scripture teaches about the necessity of Christian education, this was a necessary change. It was often the same with home schooling as a choice. There were no godly schools available, or there were other pressing reasons that made home schooling a necessary choice.

But fads intrude wherever we go. Home schooling is not a necessary choice because schools as an institution are somehow "a Prussian invention from the nineteenth century designed to lead children into atheism." Rather, institutional schools have been used as an instrument of nurture by covenant parents since Ezra came back with the rest of the Jews from Babylon, and they have been used this way down to the present. That is approximately two thousand five hundred years of covenant history, and leave it to American Christians to not know anything about it. We drink grape juice in communion services too. Schools are no fad; they are not some recent innovation. It is in the highest degree likely that Jesus, and all His apostles, went to such covenant schools.

Nevertheless, in periods of decline and deformation in a culture, schools necessarily participate in this decline. And it is in such situations that godly parents will educate their children at home rather than turn them over to someone else (who wants the corruption to be accomplished with greater ease at some central location). But the problem in this scenario is the corruption, not the fact that the corruption was being adminstered by a hired teacher at a school. [Emphasis added. CG] If we found out that the au pair was poisoning the children's breakfast porridge, we should remonstrate with her over the poison, not over the fact that she had been hired to help with the kids.

Home schooling is often a godly choice, and in our day it is frequently the only godly choice. But homeschooling when pursued as an ideological fad is nevertheless extremely dangerous. Whenever there is a commitment to any ideological fad, the scriptural, historical, and educational facts do not matter anymore. The modern experiment on the children must continue, and all in the name of what seemed like a good idea at the time.

The tragedy is that the results of what happens whenever unteachable people set themselves up as teachers is entirely predictable, and can plainly be seen twenty years later as their former pupils struggle with the simplest of tasks. And few things are more offensive than to see the old and proud rob the young and helpless.

Cheryl adds:

Homeschooling has been on my mind a lot of late, mostly because I am still trying to organize and sort through what I am doing this year. Yesterday was a horrible day full of stress and high drama as I coped with laundry from the weekend, 7 kids coming at me from all directions with various problems, a 2 year old who insists on being in the middle of the table and coloring on everything the moment your back is turned, and trying to prepare for a business meeting in the evening. I also had to nip into town to bring a hawk with a broken wing to an animal shelter, pick up a Beta called Alpha for Hannah, buy a rabbit for Ben for his 4-H project, and take two kids to the chiropracter. I no sooner got home then I had to get ready for the evening and then left, not to return until around 11:00. I am tired and it is only Tuesday.

But I digress...

I was cheered to find the above article on homeschooling in the recent on-line version of Credenda Agenda. Why? Because it recognizes that schools are not bad per se [ per se -- Etymology: Latin, by, of, or in itself1 : inherently, strictly, or by operation of statute, constitutional provision or doctrine, or case law].

What this means is that when the millenium hits and reformation abounds, the public schools will likely be places that we can send our children without fear of moral indoctrination of anti-scriptural notions. This means that multitudes of mothers who have no aptitude for teaching academics will no longer spend the better part of their children's lives in guilt and fear that they are not doing a good enough job at teaching them.

As it is now, if a family tosses in the towel on homeschooling after giving it a go for a few years and sends her children to any school (even a private Christian school), it is generally considered to be a moral failing on the part of the mother. Dad's are generally excused from the blame because they work. Mothers, on the other hand, are expected to not only cope with the bodily weaknesses of pregnancy, childbearing, nursing and dealing with infants and toddlers, but do this while teaching several olders grades, preparing homecooked meals frugally from scratch, and keeping the house in order and the laundry caught up. In effect, she ends up doing two full time jobs at the same time and is expected to do a good job of both of them simultaneously. While responsibility for education rightly belongs to both parents, in practical terms this usually means that the weight of it falls on the mother's shoulders. If men won't do 50% of the housework, is it any surprise that they don't do much or any of the schooling?

Many women do an admirable job of dealing with having a large family, running a home, homeschooling and even having a business on the side. Such women are worthy of emulation. But not all women are so gifted and we need to remember that and bear with one another's weaknesses. If a family ends up sending their kids back to school, it is usually a cry for help or the result of cries for help going unheeded by any but the statists.

Independance in the homeschool can be a bad thing. It is a heavy and weighty responsibility to determine the educational direction of a home and see that it is carried out. One of the things that is usually lacking is feedback. Kids who don't get feedback on their schoolwork tend to become unmotivated because no one seems to care if the work is right or wrong. Likewise, mothers who have no feedback can become unmotivated. Accountability is a good thing. And if Dad isn't able to provide it, maybe the Church ought to look at doing so.

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