Monday, August 4, 2008

Our Decision To Homeschool: A Letter To Family and Friends

The following is a letter I wrote some time ago on behalf of myself and my wife, expressing the why and the what of our decision to homeschool our kids.


Since some of you, our family and friends, have expressed everything from disagreement to mild curiosity at our decision to educate our children at home instead of turning them over to the state or to a state certified agency, we offer the following account of just what it is we are doing and why.

1. Above all else, our decision to homeschool flows out of our commitment to the Lord our God and to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Since the Lord both made and redeemed us, we, together with our children, belong to Him. Since He revealed Himself and His will, we have neither the prerogative nor the desire to turn aside either to the right or to the left. The reasons connected with this are the following:

The Bible recognizes (at least) three governmental institutions: the family, the church, and the state. The onus of educating and bringing up children in the fear and admonition of the Lord belongs to parents. The job of the church is to preach the Gospel, build up believers in the faith, and administer the sacraments (baptism and communion) of the New Covenant. The job of the state is to establish a just civil order and peace in society by punishing criminals and providing for the common defense. Not only does God in the Bible not give such authority or calling to ecclesiastical or civil officers, or to the oversight of those operating in terms of regulations and standards devised by the same, it positively rules it out.

A way of saying this simply is that parents have been given the "rod of instruction/discipline", whereas the Church and the State have been given the "keys of the kingdom" and the "power of the sword", respectively. Christians are called to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's. This does not mean that Caesar (i.e., the State or powers that be) is not under God; rather, it means that the civil magistrates' power and authority are derived and therefore limited to their own God-ordained sphere of action. Beyond this the state may not go, and neither may the individual, the family, or the church encroach upon those things laid to the charge of the state by God. Each institution has its own God-ordained task and authority and is not to usurp that authority which God has reserved to Himself alone, or which He has delegated to another individual or institution. [I know that some unbelievers would scoff at this way of setting things up, but it is ironic, isn't it, that secularists who love flouting and abusing the notion of a "separation of church and state", don't recognize this Christian-borne idea when it is truly in front of them, as it is here?).

2. An additional reason closely related to the above, at least for us as Christian parents concerned about the covenantal nurture of our children, is that the present direction of the state is not neutral regarding the above claims, which would be bad enough in our eyes, but is positively hostile to them.

For those who think that state education is neutral on "religious" matters and only speaks to issues of "secular" concern, a distinction we do not recognize, we would point out that the attempt to be neutral is itself impossible and supremely disobedient. It is impossible, for all reasoning or thinking must begin somewhere, with some fundamental or ultimate starting point, it must proceed according to some method, and it will necessarily be directed to some end or goal. Christians recognize that these things are established and determined for us by God speaking in Scripture, whereas for non-Christians they are thought to be established by some other "god" or by men who fashion themselves to be autonomous. Please observe: grounding these things on the word of some other "god" or that of would-be autonomous man or an institution of men is inconsistent with our conviction that the Biblical God is the true God and that no one can exist or live their lives independently of Him, not even those who blissfully live their lives suppressing this truth. In God we live and move and have our being, for of Him, through Him, and to Him are all things. By Him all things were made and in Him all things subsist.

The attempt to be neutral is also disobedient from the Christian perspective. In the book of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Moses' successor, issued the following directive: "Choose you this day whom you will serve", God or someone/something else. The prophet Elijah said: "Don't waiver between two opinions, if the LORD is God, then serve Him. If Baal [a pagan deity of ANE culture] is God, then serve him." The Lord Jesus said: "No man can serve two masters", and "if you are not with Me, you are against Me". Of course we should not soon forget the words of the (honorary) prophet Bob Dylan:

You may be an ambassador to England or France,
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance,
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world,
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

Furthermore, if the state truly was neutral, it would still be problematic for Christians, for the pursuit of neutrality communicates the notion that God and His Word are irrelevant to (supposedly) secular matters. However, the Bible does not teach the idea that we should compartmentalize segments of reality and knowledge to a neutral, god-irrelevant, zone, for their is no such place in all the world. God created the world, the world of mathematics, history, biology, astronomy, etc. Far from being irrelevant to these subjects, He is the very precondition for them. Further, it is the job of parents to see to it that God's word, which applies to all areas of life, is not only taught but is also reinforced. Attempting to be neutral is not the same as reinforcement.

3. A third reason for choosing to homeschool is that public education is in shambles in America - just witness the many calls for reform and how poorly American education compares to other nations - and the average homeschooled child easily excels children educated by the state. The inescapable fact is that: the state is not called to educate (see point 1 above), and neither is it especially equipped to do so. Over against the State, homeschooling does not require a huge, overgrown, bloated bureaucracy to implement desperately needed changes or make basic decisions, something that is often at the bottom of poor educational approaches, programs, and curriculum, all of which produce the many undesirable outcomes that we could easily list.

For those who do not think that we are personally equipped to teach our children better than the State, you might consider the fact that our children were born to us in the first place, not to the state (contra Plato). If the State was so naturally gifted or designed to do this, then why doesn't the State naturally produce children of its own so that it might educate them? In fact, the State is a poor parent, even when it artificially tries to assume such a role. The public records of State governed orphanages and adoption agencies are there for all to see, in all their ugliness. Just ask those who are on welfare how much they love the state. Even though the State continues to dole out money, it creates more resentment and more poverty among those it supports, all because it discourages hard work and productivity among its faithful "children".

In addition, as homeschoolers we have an abundance of resources available to help us with the subjects we teach. If the day comes that we do not perceive ourselves to be especially well informed in this or that area, there are still ways to competently deal with this, ways that do not flagrantly transgress our fundamental convictions or our parental responsibility to oversee all aspects of the education of our children. For example, many homeschooling families can and sometimes do get together with each other and trade off teaching certain subjects. Other measures are available.

4. A fourth reason for homeschooling is the concern we have to raise children of character, and to instill in our children such social taboos as virtue and a strong sense of morality. Contrary to what is taught and found in public schools, virtue is not vice and morality is not situational or relative. Even if the schools were not set for the dissemination of horrid notions of what ought to pass for good behavior, and they are, they don't have the foggiest notion why anyone ought to be moral in the first place. You simply cannot derive moral obligations from a naturalistic approach to life and the world, which is really what the aforementioned claim to neutrality is brought in to disguise.

In the absence of any foundation for morality, or any clear-minded idea of what is or is not moral, there is no discipline worth speaking of in public schools, and they become nothing more than breeding grounds for bad behavior. Children do not need any help learning bad behavior. Saying "mine" comes naturally; saying "thank you" does not. The former oozes out of them from day one. The latter has to be taught and taught and taught and still it often only comes out begrudgingly. Putting untrained children together to socialize each other only compounds this natural proclivity to sin. The apostle Paul said that bad company corrupts good behavior, something echoed by John Taylor Gatto, who said, "School is a twelve year jail sentence where bad habits are the only curriculum truly learned. I teach school and win awards for doing it. I should know."

5. A fifth and final reason for choosing to homeschool is that homeschoolers achieve what many state schools cannot - a safe learning environment, and that without any need for school police, metal detectors, psychologists, nurses, etc.

We recognize that some of you do not share all or any of the above commitments (esp. the first one), but since we are talking about our decision to homeschool, we think that you will agree that the above (esp. the first one) is more than sufficient to bear the weight of a choice for which we are responsible. 

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