Monday, October 4, 2010

Education: Three Points to Consider

My wise brother has pointed out that there are really three separate questions to consider when thinking about the education of our children, and that when people discuss the subject, the three questions sometimes get muddled together, when they really ought to be kept separate.

So here are the three questions.  What do you think?

1. Should the education of our children be explicitly Christian?  As a sort of sub-question, one might consider, can an education really be neutral?
2.  Can a child be taught as well by his parents as by a professional teacher?
3.  The question of influence: does the child influence the school, or the school the child?

In case you couldn't guess, my answers would be:
1. Yes, and no.
2. Yes.
3. The school influences the child.

What do you think? 


  1. Agreed, barring providential hindrances.

  2. Sharon,
    I would probably agree, but would add something to question two. I'm sure that not everyone who decides to homeschool can quite teach as well as a professional, but I'm sure those parents would be aware of that. Because of the answer to question three- that the school influences the child (in a negative way), some would choose to homeschool their children regardless. Not to make light of education at all, but the children's souls are more important than a good education to some homeschoolers.
    I hope that made sense.

  3. I agree, Hayley, that not every parent can teach as well as a professional. But I think that kids are generally going to thrive academically with one-on-one instruction from a tutor/parent who knows them well and is personally invested in their education, even if that tutor/parent is not a gifted teacher.

    And there are soooo many resources available to assist the homeschooling parent, everything from step-by-step teachers' manuals to co-op classes or even video school. So I don't think it's usually necessary to sacrifice a good education for the sake of our children's souls.

  4. Excellent post. Especially the third question/answer.

    By the way, the site, has many excellent tutorials on a variety of subjects. Lots of free quizzes too. Wish it was around when I was in school.

    Of course, I've only looked around briefly, so I'm not necessarily endorsing everything on the site.

  5. Yes, there are so many resources available! It is very nice to know that most of the time, even if the parents are not very educated themselves, they can provide a good enough education for their children. Perhaps then, the second question could be worded "Can a child be taught as well at home as at school?" :)


  6. Whoa! "...for the sake of our children's souls"

    What do you think might happen to children's souls if you choose not to homeschool?

  7. Any thoughts on the three questions listed above, Catherine?

  8. My answers are,
    1) It depends.
    2) It depends.
    3) It depends.

    I'm still interested to know what is achieved, or not, for a child's soul, by the method their parents choose for their education.

    I'm also still interested in the two outstanding points on the 'being FP' thread, where the discussion won't be able to proceed until you clarify your position on these two counts.

  9. Cath, I'm not Sharon, but I do think you are getting slightly hyper-Calvinistic in your thinking.

    We cannot save our children; we can't convert them; we can't ultimately affect what happens to their souls.

    But that is not the issue. We are called to do what is our duty, not to look to see if we can affect the outcome. Our children's minds will be harmed, and often their bodies too, if we expose them to certain things/ places/ situations /relationships.

    We are instructed to train our children's hearts and minds and habits. Nowhere in this do we think we are going to save their souls.

    Only God can do that. And if he does, it is despite our efforts, not because of them.

    There is a post at which explains how a friend of mind came to home educate.

    I don't know what would have happened to my children's souls if they'd gone to Godless schools. I do have a good idea of what would have happened to their hearts, minds and bodies (and it wouldn't have been good). And I realise that their world view would have been formed very differently.

    It is a serious responsibility to take care of our children's minds and bodies, rather than handing them over to a state baby-sitter. And most home ed moms would agree that weare very imperfect in how we perform our duties.


  10. Hi again - just to go back to your three questions

    (1) I am not sure. I think infant Maths is pretty morally neutral. As is handwriting, punctuation, spelling etc.

    Obviously as children get older, education becomes more tied to a world view. But initially, some things are just things; 2+2=4, no matter what our religion.

    I am not a fan of Maths workbooks which have a scripture verse at the top of each page. Rev K Watkins did an interesting review of the ACE system yrs ago. I don't have it to hand right now, but one thing he did say was that he was concerned about the trivialisation of scripture.

    Yes, God is involved in all we do; but there is no such thing - er in the UK at least - as Christian plumbing; Christian supermarkets; or Christian furniture. Some things are just things.

    So the answer to Q1 is, in my experience, "maybe, some parts, in some ways an education can be morally neutra. But there is no way a whole education of a child from 4 - 16 can be achieved in a morally neutral way".

    Hope this makes sense, the cat stood on my keyboard while I was on the phone half way through writing this. . . .


  11. Yes, Henrietta, I would agree that many of the things we teach our children are morally neutral. But our motivations are fundamentally different. We aren't teaching our children so that they can get ahead and be successful in life. We are teaching them so that they can be a light in a dark generation.

    This motivation will affect how we teach most subjects (math not so much)--for instance, as my children learn Spanish, they will also (all being well) learn to read the Bible in Spanish, sing the Psalms in Spanish, etc.

    And this motivation will lead us to teach entirely different subjects, too, like Bible, obviously, and church history, and maybe even Koine Greek. :)

  12. Hypercalvinism: commonly defined as "an emphasis on God's sovereignty to the exclusion of man's responsibility." I know that hypercalvinism is not a term to use lightly, but you're not the first person to have brought it up, Henrietta.

    Proverbs 23:13-14: "Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell."

    I'm not a Bible scholar, but it seems to me that these verses are saying that our training choices do have eternal consequences for our children.

    Matthew Henry says "Our great care must be about our children's souls; we must not see them in danger of hell without using all possible means, with the utmost care and concern, to snatch them as brands out of everlasting burnings."

  13. Henrietta - on the other post, choosing not to homeschool was described as bringing up your children for the world. Now it's described as hyper-Calvinistic. I'm not sure that either is helpful.

    The basic issue is the nature of parents' "duty" to their children. The pro-homeschooling case is typically based on the assumption that a parent is failing in their *duty* if they choose not to homeschool. The consistent message from pro-homeschoolers is that failing to homeschool is a failure on the part of parents to meet their duty to their children, and imperils their children's souls.

    Yet there is no biblical basis for binding parents' consciences to such a duty.

    The very most that can be said in favour of homeschooling is that it has practical advantages which may make it the preferred choice for some parents with some children in some circumstances.

    In case you're all going to jump in and say that this is the most that you're arguing for, watch the rhetoric. Rather than being a question of discretion, appropriacy, and practicality, you won't be able to go for long before talking about souls, salvation, and morality. This is scripturally unwarranted.

    Or, it is only as scripturally warranted as if I was to say: My kids go mental every time they drink Coke. It's bad for their health and bad for their attention span. There are knock-on effects on their education and their ability to concentrate in church. Therefore, I'm going to stop them drinking Coke. You should also stop your kids drinking Coke. It's bad for their health and bad for their attention span. Their souls are in danger. You are being an irresponsible parent and failing in your duty to your children if you let them drink Coke.

    You *might* want to say that in order to keep your children pure, train their hearts and minds and habits, and avoid exposing them to harmful substances, you're not going to let them consume fizzy drinks or read books where the characters aren't living a Christian lifestyle or listen to music that wasn't composed by a Christian. That is one possible option for how to fulfil your duty to your children. It happens to be consistent with scriptural principles. But it is not something that is required or obligated by Scripture. Parents might be unwise to let their children drink fizzy drinks, but they're not being immoral.

    Homeschooling is a decision on a bigger scale than fizzy drinks, but it belongs to the same category of choices.

    Non-homeschooling parents can therefore be criticised by homeschoolers only on the grounds of what is *appropriate* or *wise* or *practical* in a particular set of circumstances, and not because they are failing in their duty to their children's souls. The advantages of homeschooling equally can only be defended on the grounds of practicalities, and not because it's a choice that will contribute to saving their souls.

  14. I don't think anyone on this thread is denying human responsibility. Parents have a huge responsibility to keep their children away from evil and harm, and Christian parents who send their children to state schools take this responsibility no less seriously than parents who home school.

    The point is that schools are not in themselves evil or harmful. There may be things in schools which should be avoided, and other things which should be counteracted or corrected by consistent teaching and example at home but that doesn't mean that what is not harmful should necessarily also be avoided. When I was in school, we were withdrawn from certain things which my parents felt it was wrong for us to do, while they allowed us to participate in, enjoy, and benefit from, other things which they saw no harm in. It doesn't have to be all or nothing.

    I don't think any Christian would suggest for a moment that they don't have a personal responsibility to train and teach their children in things religious and moral, but that is not inconsistent with sending them to school to learn maths, english, history, geography, etc. while allowing them to enjoy and benefit from interaction with other children and adults at the same time.

  15. No one said that choosing not to homeschool is hyper-Calvinist. What was called hyper-Calvinist was this idea that "Only God can change the heart, so it doesn't matter where we send our children to school."

    If I were to present an argument against state schoolers' views, based on misrepresentations of said views, I am quite sure that my points would be lost on my state-schooling audience, who of course know quite well what their own views really are. If that makes sense.

    And just to clarify two aspects of homeschoolers' views:
    Homeschoolers are not isolationists.
    Homeschoolers do not believe that homeschooling is always the only morally acceptable choice.

  16. The last two paragraphs above were intended to apply generally to this discussion, not exclusively to Cath's last comment. :)

  17. Oops, wrote my above two comments before seeing Flora's. Thanks for the clarification, Flora.

  18. "Homeschoolers do not believe that homeschooling is always the only morally acceptable choice."

    Then their position is incoherent. If something is morally unacceptable, then it is always morally unacceptable. Compare: "Christians do not believe that telling the truth is always the only morally acceptable choice."

    Ie, you can't have it both ways. You can't on the one hand guilt-trip people into homeschooling on the basis that anything else is harmful for their children's souls, and at the same time turn round and say oh but it's not always the only moral choice. If you're claiming that it's ever a moral choice, then always the alternatives must be sinful. Ethics 101, right?

  19. Sidestepping debate with Cath - who has more time and intellect to devote to this than I currently have - just a couple of quick things.

    Talking about home education in the abstract is quite different from having to make a decision as to your own children.

    I'm not interested in "winning" arguments. Changing what other people do with their own families, or indeed what other childless people feel about home education is not near the top of my "things to do list"; I was trying to explain, not point score nor out-wit.

    There is always a risk that this sort of discussion will generate more heat than light. Let's agree to disagree as far as we can. It is good to discuss and debate all issues of the Chrstian life; but we (I) need to keep things in perspective.

    I think there might be a misunderstanding among some here as to how home ed actually works. That might be the fault of some of us (I know I am guilty) because I say very little in public about how home ed works. But please can people understand that home edded children *are* part of the community and do enjoy interaction with other kids and adults, of varying beliefs or none.

    If anyone is interested in what home education is like for us, please email me privately henrrietta at hotmail dot com or on Facebook; I'm happy to discuss further.

    Next comment will be back to Sharon's three qs. .

  20. Third question is easy, school influences children. Children are placed in school among peers and beneath teachers. I mean they are under the authority of, and in scriptural subjection to, teachers.

    Both peers and teachers (or adults and friends, whatever we call them) will influence children.

    We are all influenced by those we mix with (whether in real life or on line, grin), and we are heavily influenced by those under who authority we are placed.

    I had a primary school teacher who had a huge influence on my life. I was in a tiny 2-teacher school, and this lady influenced me enormously. She was non Christian, but kind, supportive, encouraging and positive. We are still in touch, and she is helpful and supportive re our choice to home educate.

    I can't easily think of an instance where a individual child influenced a school for good. (I can think of a few - Sharon, if this is not ok, can you edit it out - where schools have been influenced or changed for the worse by an individual e.g the case in some US school where a Prom was cancelled because a girl was not allowed to take her girlfriend with her as her partner).

    But hard cases make bad law. No matter what anomalies there are, I see little evidence that (esp young) children influence government schools.

    I see little evidence that committed Christian parents can do much to influence government schools (which are by law bound to teach certain things, regardless of parental consent or concern).

    The "salt and light" argument doesn't work for me, because my children, while not yet converted are *not* salt and light. They cannot be expected to influence their Godless surroundings for good.

    This argument has been discussed many times over. For anyone interested, I suggest Greg Harris's book "The Christian Home School" - he draws a good analogy with Lot in Sodom: who in Sodom influenced whom?

    Lot, despite being a Godly man old enough to have married daughters, did not appear to have much effect on Sodom.

    Sodom, on the other hand, appears to have had much effect on his (grown up) family - to quote Greg Harris: "He got his daughters out of Sodom, but he did not get Sodom out of his daughters"


  21. Yes, Henrietta, I was thinking recently that maybe I could do more good for the cause of homeschooling just by sharing little things about how it works, what our days look like, and so on, so that homeschooling is not such a strange and unfamiliar thing in people's minds.

  22. "Then their position is incoherent. If something is morally unacceptable, then it is always morally unacceptable. Compare: 'Christians do not believe that telling the truth is always the only morally acceptable choice.' "


    I had a teacher who said that education was the ability to distinguish.

    It is not morally acceptable to lie.

    However, was it morally acceptable for Lot to live in Sodom?

    You see, we would all agree that it is morally unacceptable to lie. I think most sound divines would also agree that it was unacceptable for Lot to choose to live in Sodom. It wasn't morally unacceptable for him to live in a city, but in that particular city.

    Some things are always morally unacceptable. Other things are circumstantially morally unacceptable.

    Also, whether one is left feeling "guilt-tripped" is perhaps best left out of the discussion. We're talking about right versus wrong... not our response to right and wrong.

    The conclusion that some people have come to is that, given the awful state of the schools (which statement does not need to be explained), it has become morally unacceptable to send their children there, just as it was morally unacceptable for Lot to bring himself and his family to Sodom. The judgment day will declare whether they made the right decision. We are way off base if we think that the daily decisions we make on our children's behalf will not be specifically examined, as all of our other actions. We can't conveniently scurry some of our decisions into the realm of subjectivism, as if the Lord will judge the very idle words we say, but not look into where we sent our children for their education. The choices we make on our children's behalf will affect them, the communications with which we bring them into contact might indeed corrupt them. It is therefore very important that we heavily weigh the matter... what communications do we allow, and at what stage in their life.

  23. Agreed, Mark, and thank you. Happy belated birthday, by the way. :)

  24. I'm not sure if the addition of my comment is still pertinent as far as time goes, but I was just thinking about this in a broader sense, and I had to laugh to myself. Why are Christians debating among themselves whether a Christian or a secular education is better? Perhaps it’s in the definition of “secular”?

    Surprisingly, the opposition we get to the educational choice we have made doesn’t usually come from non-Christians. (The secular people in our country are generally delighted with the outcome.) It comes from Christians. For example, It’s not just me and my church. I have no idea who Ken Ham is, yet he finds the same thing that we have found.

  25. Have no idea who Ken Ham is?? The older brothers certainly know him. Where were you when us monks when out to see his creation museum in San Diego right after receiving the Santa Fe school superintendent's tsk tsk letter about school absenteeism and then when we got back we did his roof? And his friends' roofs?

  26. We successfully educated our 5 children at home, some for a few years, some for 12
    Why do I say it was successful? Because they are now, to some degree or other, what I had hoped they would become. Yet, homeschooling was only part of the reason for this success, and many parents have had the same success or more while public-schooling. Some other parents, who seem to have done everything right have had great disappointments in their children. So most of all we should ask for God's blessing on everything we do, and the outcome is his. Our responsibility is huge; his grace is, too. When we look back and see our failings, especially in regard to how we raised our children, the weight of guilt can also be huge. But at that point, I turn it around and ask, can I blame my parents for how I turned out? I might be able to find instances where if they had done X or if they hadn't done Y, I would not have the problems I have now. (Why did they let me eat all those Oreo cookies, or other more serious
    issues...) No, I can't blame them for what I am now. So neither do we have to carry guilt around with us when our children disappoint us. 1 John 1:9-10 "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us." 1 John 2:1b "We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:"

    Question 2
    Can a child be taught as well by his parents as by a professional teacher?
    Depends on what you mean. Taught how much and how well and of what? Sure, I can teach a particular subject if I put enough effort into it, but I have only so much time and effort and organizing ability. I have to choose what to focus on. I consider both my own inclinations and my childrens.' I may consciously choose to skip teaching spelling and handwriting so we can work more on math. And then later I may wonder why I made such an issue about math and hardly touched science. Maybe I should let the housework slide and go to the library more. Maybe I should NOT let the housework slide so much. Well you can't do everything. Maybe a public school could do a better job covering all the subjects, but I would rather accept a lower standard in, say, history, while I teach the children to help around the house and raise animals. And if I teach them to love learning, and they are willing to research whatever subject interests them or becomes useful or necessary, then they are still ok. Simply said, you can't have it all. I want my children to enjoy what I enjoy, but they don't always. Maybe they won't have a chemistry lab as good as mine was, but I can get them a good music teacher. I want them to learn what I never had a chance to learn, but maybe they're not interested. Or maybe they'll surpass me in everything. Or they'll flunk out of school because they just couldn't get it, and yet there will be a work of the Spirit in them that will make them a light in the world.
    We have many serious decisions to make.
    "With God all things are possible."
    My own experience was that raising my children was so important to me that I wanted to do it all myself, full time, meaning not to hand off part of the job to someone else. And yet sometimes it might actually be much wiser to hand off part of the job to someone else -- increased output through division of labor, or something like that.

  27. I have widely observed that Scottish Presbyterianism in particular has a very narrow minded view of home educating.

    I can say that - it is what I am, and they are the circles I move in. It is what I have been brought up as and it is what I have also married into. Here and there you will find folk who accept home educating as a parental choice and respect that choice. Other than that, I feel a lack of ability to 'think outside the box' so to speak.

    I found myself thinking this way for many years, it changed when I had my own children. I am not going to go into why I chose to home educate, but it has not been a widely (or even close to) accepted position from the circles within which I move.

    This is not a personal attack on anything anyone has said so far in this discussion, meerly my observations.

  28. Dawn, homeschoolers faced much the same opposition here in the US when the movement first took off in the 70s and 80s. My grandmother was just sure that my parents were going to ruin us. :) But by the time she passed away, she thought quite differently; and homeschooling has come to be well respected both in conservative Christian circles, and in secular circles as well.

    As a child, I would say "I'm homeschooled" and people would say "What's that?" Today, I say "We homeschool," and people say "Oh that's nice, my cousin/sister/next door neighbor homeschools, [insert nice comments about homeschooling here]."

    All that to say, I am optimistic that with time, people in the UK will come to respect homeschooling as well. :)

  29. I think so too Sharon, we are probably about 20 years behind the US and Australia also as far as home schooling is concerned. I look forward to the day it's accepted as the norm, should I ever see it! :o)

    Just as a point of interest, last week on Scottish radio there was a discussion on whether a council should open a school for 1 pupil at a cost of £57,000 a year. The discussion was interesting, people called in to suggest he could be home schooled, do radio school like Australia or a video school etc. Nobody was concerned about socialisation or about anything else. It was interesting because there were none of the reactions that home educators often get, or that we have come across. Also my husband when working away from home, when he mentions that we home school, it is 'acccepted' by whoever he says it to as being an okay thing to do. Funny how it's in church circles that it's not a normal thing to do.

  30. I think the antipathy in Scottish Presbyterian circles comes from the "Establishment principle" and the idea (as propounded by John Knox) that children belong to the State, not their parents.

    (Andrew (Middleton) can explain this point of view more coherently than I can)

    In my view children don't "belong" to anyone other than God, but I believe that their primary authority should be their parents, not the State and its schools.

    Sharon's mom - thanks for what you wrote. I agree with what you say, we can't have it all or do it all.

    For Julian and I, we also felt that raising our children was too important a task to hand over to anyone else. Not saying there isn't a place for external help - many times I'd love some!

  31. Henrietta, did John Knox really say that children belong to the State (or church), or is that just how his views have been interpreted?

    After conversations with a few family members whose understanding of the Establishment Principle is much better than mine, I am convinced that the Reformers would never have used the Establishment Principle to justify sending children to the state/public schools as they are today.

  32. We read a quote saying that in his biography; someone queried its accuracy previously and I went back to check and yes, he did appear to say just that.

  33. But the Establishment Principle doesn't say that children belong to the State or even that schools belong to the State. It only implies that education is an area where Church and State can beneficially cooperate.

    Henrietta, do you have a quote for the bit in John Knox's biography? Which biog was it? to give a bit of context for those of us who don't have immediate access to any of them.

  34. Can I also come back to Mark's comment earlier (the first opportunity I've had, due to work commitments).

    Mark's category of "circumstantially morally unacceptable" is, I think, the same as my category of whether to let your children consume fizzy drinks and music composed by non-Christians. That is to say, for every decision that you take, you need to bring moral principles to bear, but in some things, there are multiple morally acceptable options.

    The only point I've been trying to make is that, too often, proponents of homeschooling act and talk as if homeschooling is the ONLY morally acceptable choice, refusing to accept that other choices are equally morally acceptable.

    Some parents look at the state of schools, conclude it's awful, decide they can't conscientiously send their children there, and choose to homeschool instead. That's a perfectly valid decision.

    Other parents look at the state of schools, conclude it's pretty bad, and decide that they can conscientously send their children there. That is also a perfectly valid decision. But the rhetoric of homeschoolers is, too often, that parents who take this decision are irresponsible, failing in their duty to their children, handing their children over to Satan, and careless about the welfare of their children's souls.

    That kind of rhetoric is best reserved for things which are genuinely morally wrong, like letting your children tell lies with impunity, or not minding if your children get drunk. Homeschooling does not fall into that category of things. If you admit that you need to take the circumstances into account in making the homeschooling yea or nay decision, then you are admitting that homeschooling is not a duty in the same way that telling the truth is a duty. But if you admit this, then you can no longer call on the "irresponsible parents handing their children over to Satan" rhetoric to describe the decision not to homeschool. If you do use this rhetoric, you've crossed a boundary that Scripture doesn't warrant. That's what I meant by guilt-tripping parents into homeschooling. Telling parents that they will be harming their children's souls by choosing not to homeschool is binding onto those parents' consciences something which the scriptures do not warrant, no matter how many or what sort of circumstantial factors you perceive to be relevant.

    In other words, it's as scripturally unwarranted as if I was to start a campaign saying that parents are harming their children's souls by letting them listen to music that wasn't composed by a Christian. While it's legitimate (if extreme) for parents to decide that their children can only listen to music composed by Christians, it's also perfectly legitimate to listen to music composed by non-Christians, no matter how much detail an anti-non-Christian-composers advocate went into, in demonstrating what a corrupting influence it is to listen to non-Christian music, how worldly and secular it makes people, and how much it harms children's hearts and minds.

    For the record, once more: this is not to say that it's wrong to homeschool. If you want to homeschool your children, you just go right on ahead. I might have reservations about the necessity and wisdom of it, but I'll fight to the death for your right to do it. Just make sure that your advocacy of homeschooling is done on the right footing: it is perfectly legitimate for Christian parents to send their children to state schools, in all good conscience, as being genuinely the best option for their children.

  35. Cath, I'm afraid you have a bit of a double standard. You have been vocal in expressing your "reservations about the necessity and wisdom" of homeschooling. But you seem to be quite uncomfortable with homeschoolers expressing their "reservations about the necessity and wisdom" of public/state schooling.


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