Other than religious reasons to homeschool

Why do people homeschool? What reasons “drive” them to make such a decision. In our modern/post-modern, industrialized/post-industrialized world with a so-called global economy, global communications and the pan-popular ideology of liberal democracy, why would anyone want to take one’s kids out of publicly funded, democratically controlled, scientifically managed school systems?

There are many reasons to homeschool. In many people’s minds homeschoolers are strange, on-the-fringe people who choose to homeschool to avoid putting their children in the evil world of public schools as though they are protecting their kids from Satan. Unfortunately that picture is sometimes true; unfortunate for both the truthiness of the homeschooler stereotype and because public schools are sometimes bad places for kids. I have written about some of this before. Most of the time homeschoolers, however, are thoughtful parents who choose homeschooling for a number of different reasons, which sometimes includes religion as a deciding element, but also includes mostly non-religious reasons. Consider the following statistics which, I believe, though giving a limited perspective on the nature of the choice to homeschool, and are more than ten years old, nonetheless, provide some valuable insight.
Percentage of homeschooled students in the United States, by reason for homeschooling: 1999, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES):
Can give child better education at home  48.9
Religious reason  38.4
Poor learning environment at school  25.6
Family reasons  16.8
To develop character/morality  15.1
Object to what school teaches  12.1
School does not challenge child  11.6
Other problems with available schools  9.0
Child has special needs/disability  8.2
Transportation/convenience  2.7
Child not old enough to enter school  1.8
Parent’s career  1.5
Could not get into desired school  1.5
Other reasons*  22.2
This list does show that religion plays a significant part in many homeschoolers’ choices. Coming in second place, 38.4 percent of homeschoolers said they chose homeschooling for religious reasons. That’s more than a third. Of course, there are many different kinds of religious reasons too. Also, religious reasons are not at the top of the list. Then, if one adds up the following three reasons: “Can give child better education at home” (48.9), “Poor learning environment at school” (25.6), and “School does not challenge child” (11.6), they add up to a whopping 86.1 percent. If anything that number highlights big concerns many parents have about mainstream education: It’s just not that great much of the time.
I highlighted these three statistics from the list to point towards an important grouping of reasons to homeschool. Many parents feel schools don’t live up to the promise of what education can and should be. Taking on the task of homeschooling is daunting and not a guarantee of a better education, but it is also a chance worth taking for many people, and for good reasons. I have written about the struggle of making that choice. What I want to point out here is that religion, though important for a large part of the population in general,* is only one of several factors for homeschoolers in general. In other words, even if the detractors of homeschooling get what they want, that is, some kind of proof that homeschoolers are merely ideologues and fear mongering religious fanatics, they still have to face the reality that, religion aside, mainstream education is still not necessarily the best, or even the better, option.

From what I can tell the popular understanding, and what is most often portrayed by the news media, is that homeschoolers take their kids out of public education primarily for religious reasons. Although I have some harsh criticisms of some religious reasons, I cannot argue against the basic idea. Religion is not necessarilya bad basis for homeschooling. In many cases it is a good reason, though it can also be a very bad reason for some people. I certainly don’t think religious reasons are any worse than pulling one’s children out of public school and putting them in a private school for class reasons and then denying that one ever thinks in terms of class. However, religion is not the only reason homeschoolers choose to homeschool. As we have seen, it is not even the number one reason.

* According to The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life: “Overall, nearly eight-in-ten (78.4%) adults [in the U.S.] report belonging to various forms of Christianity, about 5% belong to other faiths and almost one-in-six (16.1%) are not affiliated with any particular religion.”

Crossing the sky

Crossing the sky
we walk together
as though floating
across dark waters,
with dogs running
in the stars,
and gods, suspended
like liquid crystals,
and again
like mirrors.

Our footprints tracing
our progress marking
out rhythms,
now mixing
with decaying flesh,
now fading
below cliffs
looming over us
like unconfessed sins
in the half-light.

We are
only shadow figures,
our dim movements remind me
of smoke in a twilight orchard
dissipating among the branches,
or the non-substance
of memories
and empty hands
calling us back.

And in those memories
we too are suspended
like crystals, shining
in the quiet ether,
with the ocean,
always on our left.

So here in the very midst,
like apparitions
intersecting heavens,
carrying hearts
like precious jewels,
we advance through the darkness,
across the sand,
nearer now
to the infinite
and the end of time,
nearer now
to perfection
and final chapters,
holding out for the

That’s what I thought about it,
About walking, and dogs along the beach,
and friends with shimmering sand
reflecting beneath the brilliant stars above,
and how we talked of dreams with eternity
in our hearts calling us away, and how
the ocean seemed to reflect a part of God
that was unknowable, and about how small
we really are compared to everything else,
and how much we really need each other.
Anyway, that’s what I’d say
if you asked me.


The Christian Nation

I am re-posting this from my other blog.

To the degree that this nation (U.S.A.) is, or has ever been, a Christian one, is the degree to which one can question such a “fact.” For to be called “Christian” is to bring along all that that name implies, evokes, and requires. But that is a very dicey proposition at best. What nation would want to be judged by the Sermon on the Mount? What nation would want to be compared to the example of Jesus? What leader would want to be evaluated by Jesus’ definition of hypocrisy? When we examine this country, its history, its foreign policies, its current events and current leaders, the facts say otherwise. Regardless of the hagiographic mythologies of this country’s creation and of its “fathers”, this is not, nor has ever been a Christian country that has lived up to that name. But from the political stump and from its pulpits this country grasps at that label as though it were some ultimate and magical brand that can whitewash any tomb. And Christians go along with the charade. Maybe it is because modern American Christianity is only a pale shadow of its Christ. Maybe we have lost sight of what Jesus taught us. Maybe most of us never really knew. I am reminded of something Wendell Berry wrote:

Despite its protests to the contrary, modern Christianity has become willy-nilly the religion of the state and the economic status quo. Because it has been so exclusively dedicated to incanting anemic souls into heaven, it has, by a kind of ignorance, been made the tool of much earthly villainy. It has, for the most part, stood silently by, while a predatory economy has ravaged the world, destroyed its natural beauty and health, divided and plundered its human communities and households. It has flown the flag and chanted the slogans of empire. It has assumed with the economists that “economic forces” automatically work for good, and has assumed with the industrialists and militarists that technology determines history. It has assumed with almost everybody that “progress” is good, that it is good to be modern and up with the times. It has admired Caesar and comforted him in his depredations and defaults. But in its de facto alliance with Caesar, Christianity connives directly in the murder of Creation. For, in these days, Caesar is no longer a mere destroyer of armies, cities, and nations. He is a contradictor of the fundamental miracle of life. A part of the normal practice of his power is his willingness to destroy the world. He prays, he says, and churches everywhere compliantly pray with him. But he is praying to a God whose works he is prepared at any moment to destroy. What could be more wicked than that, or more mad?
~ Wendell Berry, “Christianity and The Survival of Creation” (1993)

Before Constantine it took courage to be a Christian. After Constantine it took courage to be a pagan. The Roman empire became the Holy Roman Empire. Conquering by conversions is not quite the same as leading people to truth. But then, once everyone was a Christian, there arose the idea of the invisible church, that is, that group of individuals who were truly “believers” not merely playing the part. Many so-called Christians did not behave as Christians should so there was a need to, in effect, say there are two kinds of Christians, the real and the fake. This is an important distinction. However, it is easy to claim membership in the invisible church. Who is to say you are wrong? If we look for evidence it must come from the outward actions, the visible behaviors that represent the inner heart (I think of the book of James). So we look at each others actions, and what is it we should see? Consider this passage from the book of Isaiah, chapter 1, verses 16 & 17:

Wash yourselves;
make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
seek justice,
correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow’s cause.

These words are directed at a certain people – the “people of God.” Many Americans today would also say these lines describe what the U.S. is all about, along with saying this is God’s country, etc. But they are misinformed. These words are part of a passage calling for repentance. They are so simple and yet they are the opposite of so much that is done in this nation’s name. Think of the genocide of native Americans, or the labor struggles and their often brutal suppression, or the struggle for civil rights. U.S. foreign policy in Latin America alone of the past 50 years is enough to be ashamed for this country. And this is a remarkably un-repentant country. A case could be made that the U.S. is the most prideful country on earth today. I am reminded of President Obama’s inaugural speech where he stated, “We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense.” We have heard the same kinds of statements from all presidents. Bush said the same kinds of things on numerous occasions. But the true Christian – the one with the eyes to see and the ears to hear – will not be surprised. Just as the religious leader thanked God he was not like other men, so goes the way of the self-righteous nation.

So, is this a Christian nation? Yes, but not of the so-called invisible church – the one trying to live out the example of its Christ in fear and trembling. That church has no nation – only a kingdom for which it waits. This is a Christian nation in the Constantinian sense. And its Christ is now the one with the sword, and the checkbook, and the influence, and the self-righteousness.

There are three problems with my statements above. First is that I am implicated along with all of you. It is easy to point fingers and criticize, but I have benefited from all the good things this country offers and I am glad I was born here. I live in what was once called the frontier – a land taken from the indigenous peoples through force, cunning, and broken promises. And yet I love living here and will continue to do so. I am grateful for the role this country has played in securing freedom, yet I also benefit from many atrocious actions it has taken in securing that freedom. In short, I eat from a morally compromised harvest. The second point is that for all its faults the U.S.A. is not significantly different in its wickedness than other countries. The scale of its influence and global impact is often more staggering than most, but its moral nature is that of others. One cannot point the finger at this country without also pointing the finger all countries. (The reverse is true as well.) But this is the country I know best, and I am confronted by its apparently pivotal role in the world – for good and for wickedness. So I am compelled to criticize. Thirdly is the fact that one cannot really speak of a unrepentant country, for a country is really only a concept, a theory with a tenuous physicality. To speak of a country in moral terms is to get us all off the hook. When we speak of a foreign policy we are speaking of real actions based on real decisions made by real people and supported by other people. A country cannot be held accountable for its actions. For a country does not act. It’s citizens, leaders, bureaucrats, politicians, workers, and captains of industry do the acting. What we see on the whole is an aggregate of actions that, when taken together, appear to be a country acting. But it is each of us, as individuals who must cease to do evil, learn to do good, seek justice, correct oppression, bring justice to the fatherless, and plead the widow’s cause. And as we come together corporately we must create institutions that reflect those same values.

Again, is this a Christian nation? Christianity did not die off in America as many predicted a hundred years ago. In fact it has flourished. And yet, if we take a broad view of Christianity today we see a wildly mixed bag of cultural shallowness, tepid convictions, ignorance, political myopia, and a laundry list of conflicting statements of faith that more or less reflect a shadow of Christ. But we also find people profoundly challenged and changed by the life and teachings of Jesus. Some of these individuals may not fit into the standard, culturally defined aesthetic of our cultural Christianity. They may not fit into the visible church. And they may not (probably cannot) fit neatly into the commonly accepted cultural role of the citizen without challenging many of it assumptions. In other words, that invisible-church Christian living out her faith will likely come into deep conflict with the prevailing winds of this country’s politics, economics, and culture. And if we use that as our working definition of a Christian nation then any nation can be (might be, probably is) a Christian nation – but you’d never know.

the true light


Where are these times,

these moments so in the clutch

of nomads: history and faith

and dark matter?

Where are we now, our souls

I mean, when we lay down

at night, flying between stars

and dust?

Who has taken us, is taking us,

through this murky

looking glass,

more deeply into our present,

more deeply into our wondering,

and deeper still into our darkened selves?

(More glorious than we can admit.)

Can we stand?

Can we stand it,

stand this hope in truth and love

and mercy?

Can we hope that much?


What goes for understanding

on this outer crust?

The trees bare their leaves,

the flowers open,

the robins sit nervously

on the fence rail,

the park is full of children,

the machines make machines.

What is our shape, our color,

our wishful thinking?

I wonder.

I wonder about these things

like a stone cracks another.

Hulking shoulders or

straining sinews

cannot pull down my wondering.

And I take in the news,

which burns like paper

and disappears like vapor,

so that I might know.

I know so much less,

I know.


I think about my my children’s future


Blood flows in the streets,

under the rubble,

into the sand.

Limbs go missing like

a favorite song that cannot

be remembered.

Only my children do not yet

know the song.

I hope they never know.

I hope they understand.

I think about my loved ones

who live in me.

Fire can rain down,

chariots can crush,

deceit can harness the darkness,

but I have seen a ghost,

like the wind in the trees.

I pray for my loved ones.

I pray about the future

when I think about today.

And this is the true light:

Love the poor,

Love the weak,

Love the hopeless,

Love the dying,

Love the orphan,

Love the homeless,

Love the widow,

Love your brother,

Love your enemy,

Love the other.

(June, 2008)

>Christian imperfect subjunctive

>I am re-posting this from my other blog.

I grew up going to church. I still attend a church, but it is not the same kind I grew up with. I see a lot of that happening with Christians; growing up in one kind of church and/or denomination and switching to another as adults.

I’m sure there are as many reasons as there are individuals who make the switch. And there are are some big trends that have been well documented, such as Protestants converting to the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox churches, and vice versa. For me, I can only account for my own experience.

I grew up in a Baptist church, a church that my family, including grandparents, had been long time members. That church experience has had a long term and profound affect on my life, including my theological propensities. As a kid I was very interested in sorting out many theological and Christian questions. I wanted to know who God was, how I was supposed to live, what it meant to be a Christian in this world, what values should be at the top on my list, and so on. I am still sorting out those things. The fact that I am still “in process” as it were would not bode well in the church of my youth, though that church as it is today may have changed.

There were a number of beliefs and actions that Baptist church emphasized, including the importance of being a member of the church, the importance of being baptized, the importance of bringing one’s Bible to church, and the importance of attending church. Other things included the importance of one’s “walk” with God, one’s personal relationship with Jesus, consistently having a “quiet time,” developing a life of prayer, reading the Bible for oneself on a regular basis, and evangelizing others. Underlying all these things were fundamental beliefs in the presence of a personal God, the lordship of Jesus, the inerrancy of the Bible, and the need for salvation of each individual, and so on.

There was also the culture which contained, maintained, and pushed certain ideas that, if directly challenged, would have produced some backpedalling and heavy qualifications but, nonetheless, were corporately held. Such as the demonization of Catholicism, and the strong sense that we’re still fighting the Reformation, and maybe most of all, and almost entirely unrecognized, the blending of apologetics & hermeneutics with the Enlightenment project (the belief in the power of human rationality apart from God to establish reliable, universally recognized scientific and moral knowledge).

My perspectives have changed on those beliefs and actions. Some I still hold to firmly, others I do not. More importantly to my personal journey of faith, I would say the definitions have shifted. For an example, most Christians believe reading the Bible is important. It is common for Baptists to feel the weighty expectation of bringing one’s own Bible to church on Sunday. But what does this really mean? As part of the Protestant tradition the Bible, read by the individual in the vernacular on a regular basis, is of the highest importance. What I found, however, was the tendency of those church members (including myself) to read their Bible frequently, but to understand it to say those things they have already been taught. In other words, the apparent act of reading had everything to do with merely reaffirming held doctrine rather than letting the text say what it means. To let the text say what it says is hard enough without the pressure and example of a subculture encouraging one to read, essentially, closed-mindedly. This is one of the biggest and most serious problems in Christianity as far as I’m concerned. Later, toward the end of my college years, I began to understand what it really meant to read the Bible with a mindset that would allow for my held beliefs to be substantially challenged, and it blew my mind, not to say rearranged my life as well – and I’m still not that good at it.

The reasons for my change is a long and involved story, but in short I can say that I was a person with many questions, in the midst of a crisis of religion (but not of faith oddly enough), I valued rationality as well as process, and then I found myself almost accidentally in a community that was committed to the radical pursuit of truth. I say radical because I have come to believe commitment to truth no matter where it may lead is fundamentally discouraged in Christendom and its numerous permutations. I must emphasize the critical thinking nature of this community because my shift was not so much about interpersonal relationships. Where I was coming from was loaded with good people and good relationships. I was not running from failed relationships or because I did not like the people with whom I was fellowshiping. My need to get away had everything to do with getting my head on straight and re-examining my theological assumptions and my worldview.

This community where I ended was called McKenzie Study Center and it is still around in some fashion. It was not unlike the famous L’Abri Fellowship. What that place taught me, or I should say the staff taught me, was a different philosophy of ministry, and that made all the difference. Because of my own experience I tend to think of my philosophies of ministry in terms of the “old way” and the “new way”, but the “old way” is still the primary approach in most churches I am sure. The old way has several characteristics that I dislike. These include: 1) the belief that all theological questions have already been answered, 2) apparent theological conundrums are mysteries and therefore touchpoints of our faith, 3) the role of the preacher is to proclaim the truth with passion, emotion, and rhetorical skills such that the listener is “moved” closer to God and truth, 4) a church service is not a place for questions or dialog – the preacher preaches and you listen, 5) struggling to understand and digest church doctrine is a sign of immaturity in the faith, 6) church is about an experience – created and carefully controlled by professionals, 7) the arts have a place in Christian life and culture as long as they are “in service” to God (if you have acting skills you can perform skits in the youth group, or music skills you can lead worship, etc.), 8) pastors are not to be “in process” about either their faith or their understanding of the the Bible, 9) in fact, the goal is that each of us get beyond being “in process” as quickly as possible because being a mature Christian is to have no more doubts or questions, and 10) going to church, reading the Bible every day, and praying a lot with conviction is critical for the life of any Christian.

I have just said a mouthful, and I know many Christians would take issue with some of these points. But my experience, and the experience of many others, confirms these things to be true. If a pastor or ardent churchgoer tells you otherwise they are confused or lying. There are many other aspects of our Christian culture, both present and past, that are un-Biblical and abhorrent. The wonderful irony, and what gives me much hope for myself and others, is that many, many people who regularly attend church and are immersed in the Christian subculture are people dedicated to knowing God, loving others, and working out their faith everyday in fear and trembling. And the church I currently attend is far from perfect, though it suits many of my preferences better than my old church. It’s not really about church anyway, it’s what underlies the reasons we get together and what it is we are trying to encourage.

I also must conclude by saying that not only is my journey far from over, and my seeking far from completed, but that my present “clarity” about Christianity is just as much run through with my own sinfulness as it ever was. I have come to believe that just about the dumbest thing Christians could ever do is hold themselves up as a model of righteousness or even of right living. What I hope for Christianity is that it would move out of the swamp and into a place where 1) we know that theology is an ongoing process and many questions must still be answered, 2) that “believing anyway” even though something doesn’t make sense is not a touchstone of faith but an issue to resolve, 3) that pastors must be committed to truth more than their charisma, 4) that church should be a place where questions are welcome and pastors will even stop their sermon to recognize a raised hand, 5) that the struggling to understand doctrine may be both a sign of maturity as well as confusing doctrine, 6) that church is a place for all of us to contribute in creative and different ways, that authenticity is far more valuable than professionalism, and that worship is not singing songs in church, 7) that the arts need no justification, 8) that pastors must be “in process” both personally and theologically, and that process should be made known and not hidden, 9) that our goal is not to get beyond being “in process” but that our process is the working out of our faith, including our doctrines, and 10) that our lives as Christians are first and foremost the work of God in us, all the rest is just extra.

If I had an eleventh point it would be that there are no formulas, including the list above, to making Christianity, or one’s journey in faith, better. There is only life and faith and God and us.


Fears of the homeschooler

Homeschooling is not for everyone. Though more parents might try it if they thought they could. A number of people have told me they are considering homeschooling but are not sure it’s for them. They have fears and worries about taking on more than they can handle or want to handle. The reality is that homeschooling is not easy. In fact, it is quite difficult. In a way it’s impossible. What do I mean?

I want to approach my answer in two ways: 1) The 40,000 foot level, and 2) specific fears.
Homeschooling is a little like jumping off a cliff or a leap into the unknown. It’s a big bite to chew, a heavy load to carry, a constant worry of sorts. The goal of the homeschooler is to educate their own children, for any number of reasons, such that they grow up better educated in some way than they would have from other educational methods or systems. How homeschoolers define better is varied and debated, and sometimes better isn’t better. And even if one has hit upon something better one faces into the daunting task of implementing that method or system. Thus, while one is struggling in the midst of the implementation, one is often haunted by lingering thoughts about the solidity of the chosen method or system.
But consider the flip side. Deciding which school your child goes to is not the end of your responsibility for your child’s education. Sending your kid to the school bus with a warm coat, their bag of books, reams of completed homework, and their lunch box is not the end of your responsibility either. We have inherited historically recent ideas of what education is and how it should be done. Our society tends to believe that education, like medicine, should only be done by professionals. For medicine this may be true, but for education this is both a fallacy, based largely on incorrect and incomplete ideas of what education is, and a false hope, based largely on misunderstandings of learning processes. Professional educators are generally quite good and many are excellent. But they also struggle with both method and implementation. There is virtually no consensus in the politically charged world of public education on which method is best. There are many competing ideas (sometimes changing from year to year in schools) that fight for support and funding. Putting those ideas into practice is also fraught with peril. Schools often have to settle for a compromise between the latest educational ideas and maintaining adequate control of 20+ different personalities and learning styles in the classroom. I have written about some of these perils in my three previous posts. My own experience, and much of what I have observed of others, shows me that both method and implementation are the great bugaboos of all education. And private school education may be only slightly better than public at a much greater cost.
Therefore, in regards to the difficulty of homeschooling, as seen from the 40,000 foot level, I would say that to not homeschool is at least as difficult if one takes one’s responsibility seriously. There is a lot of pressure to see homeschooling as an aberration, but it is not a true aberration. All educational choices have some validity in certain contexts. And public schooling is historically an aberration of sorts, designed to accommodate the needs of the industrial revolution and the barest requirements of democracy – both recent events in Western culture. Homeschooling, on the other hand, has been around for millennia. For the thinking and loving parent the choice, and maybe the inevitability, of public school for one’s children is not an easy one. From the perspective of the parent who is homeschooling, or trying to do so, the choice to not go with public school can be seen as difficult a choice, in that there are no perfect alternatives, no obviously correct methods, and implementation troubles all teachers. Thus, the homeschooling parent can, at the very least, be confident that choosing to homeschool is not harder than choosing public schooling, though we have been conditioned to falsely see the public schooling choice as the easy one.
But then there are the specific fears of homeschooling that may cause prospective homeschoolers to shy away from making that choice. The fact is there are no easy answers or secret shortcuts. I have listed some of those fears below, but I know there are many more.
  • Are you truly qualified? I wrote about this in my previous post The short answer is there is no one more qualified to teach your own children than you. Does this mean you will be the perfect teacher? No. But no one else, even a state accredited teacher, is more qualified than you.
  • Can you teach your child to read? Yes. Children have a remarkable, God-given capacity for learning. Like with most skills one learns to read through repetition and taking small steps day after day. As a parent you can guide your child uniquely to their learning style and speed. There are many excellent resources to use as well.
  • What about subjects in which you are weak? Remember you are teaching a child. In no way do you need to be a master of any subject in order to teach it to a child. The most important quality is a passion for learning. Plus, taking on a subject that you don’t know well, science or math for example, gives you the chance to learn it yourself. The best way to learn a subject is having to teach it to another. Remember, most public school teachers were not experts in the subjects they teach at the beginning, and many never gain true expertise. Again, there are many excellent resources to pick from.
  • Can you manage it? This is a bigger question beyond merely the teaching of specific subjects or making sure your child makes it to the next grade. Homeschooling is a total family kind of project. Educating your child does not get separated from the rest of life, including cleaning the house, running errands, and everything else. If one has more than one child, especially little ones that need a lot of attention, management becomes rather challenging. From my own experience, and more so from observing my wife, the answer is yes you can manage it. That is not to say it will be easy, and sometimes you may want to throw in the towel. Most likely you won’t throw in the towel because you have bigger reasons for homeschooling. Remember you set the schedule. If it gets too tough, take a break and do something else for the rest of the day, or even the week.
  • Will your own flaws get in the way? Yes. You are far from being a perfect person. You do not have as much patience or kindness or strength as you need to do everything you wish you could. Neither does anyone else who might educate your child. It’s called being human, which includes both our finite capacities and our sinfulness. Since there is no getting away from your flaws then it’s a mute point in a way. You are who you are, the key is to seek wisdom and love and forgiveness in the midst of homeschooling. Ironically, your flaws may provide one of the better opportunities for teaching those things that are most valuable.
  • Do you know where to begin, and then where to go from there? Maybe not, but you can find out. One of the most surprising aspects of homeschooling is the plethora of teaching materials, curricula, and advice. In fact it may be too much. There are complete programs that send you a box with everything you will need for an entire school year, including all the books, science materials, worksheets, and even pencils. There are curriculum guides that lay out courses of study and require you to then pick and choose what materials work best for you. And then there are tons, and I mean tons, of great teaching aids that can be used to supplement any subject, any teaching style, any learning style, and everything else.
  • Won’t you be stuck at home all day, every day? One of the big surprises of homeschooling is how much one is not actually at home. Homeschooling is about learning, not about staying at home. Field trips are common. Doing lessons with other homeschooling families is also common. There are many resources for education outside the home, including homeschooling co-ops in many areas.
  • Will you have the support you need? That depends. The answer is, you can if you seek it out. Homeschoolers tend to be a supportive kind of people. Maybe it’s because they recognize they don’t fit into more common educational and societal categories. Regardless, it’s not hard to find others who homeschool, especially online. There are no guarantees you will have the support of your extended family, or that you will want to hang out with the other homeschoolers you meet. But that’s life. The key is to know why you have chosen to homeschool, cling to that in times you don’t have support, and be able to articulate your position to others who may then see the light and become supportive.
  • Won’t it be hard? Yes. That old platitude is true – anything truly worth doing is never easy. But the fact is, life is hard. You don’t get away from “hard” by not homeschooling.
  • Will I be denying my kids a fuller educational experience? This is a question to ponder. The short answer is no, but a more substantial answer has everything to do with unpacking the idea of “experience” and how the homeschooling experience creates a different experience than public education. Much of it depends on one’s reasons for homeschooling. I wrote about a disagreeable trend in homeschooling that sees pulling one’s children out of public school as a retreating from the world on the whole. But one can choose otherwise. Homeschooling can, in fact, provide a much richer, much fuller, less damaging and less demeaning experience that other options.
There are many more reasons that parents might have fears about homeschooling. There is no way I can either address them all, or address them adequately. Maybe most of my thoughts above are inadequate. But I see the fear to homeschool being similar to the fear of being in relationship with another, or taking on a new job, or having a child. What is remarkable is how often we take on big, scary projects in stride – and even come more “alive” in the process. The truth is, the love of one’s children is a powerful motivator for the homeschooler. Homeschooling is a monumental task, even impossible in some ways, but it is both a privilege to do and a challenge worth embracing.

Qualified to homeschool

Homeschooling raises basic questions such as “why do we homeschool?” and “how does one homeschool?” But there is also the question, often coming from well-meaning, and sometimes concerned, family and friends, “Are you qualified to educate your children?” This question raises a number of other questions, all of which are fueled by numerous assumptions and presuppositions. I want to try to answer the question because it is important to me and to my family, but I also want to try to give an answer because there are a lot of concerns among homeschooling parents as they worry about their “qualifications” and hope they are doing the right thing. Of course I am no expert (we are practicing teachers, like doctors practice medicine or lawyers practice law) and you may have better answers than I.

I want to split the answer into two broad categories: 1) What about being qualified to teach? and 2) What do the statistics say about homeschooling qualifications?
Neither my wife or I are qualified teachers in the eyes of many people. Though we are more educated than most people (our combined formal education includes three BAs, one MA, and an MBA) we do not hold a teaching certificate from any institution. It would not be uncommon for some to think that because we lack official, state sanctioned teaching credentials our abilities to teach our own kids are sorely limited at best and possibly dangerous at worst. Nothing could be further from the truth. I will add that this holds true for the parent who has far more limited formal education than we. To be qualified to teach is something wholly other than a state sanctioned credential or even an accumulation of formal higher education.
Do not get me wrong, there are plenty of “official” teachers in my family and among my friends. I had plans myself to become a teacher and I think teaching is a noble profession wherever one teaches (except for places like the School of the Americas, but that’s another story). But someone holding a teacher’s certificate does not make them automatically or fully qualified to teach my child, nor does my not having a certificate disqualify me. Here are my reasons.
  • There is no one, other than my wife, who loves my children as much as I. Nor is there anyone who desires their well-being as much, or an education for them as much. My wife and I have a unique perspective and passion for our children that no one else has. We know their nuances, their learning styles, their hearts. From the day they were born we have been committed to knowing and loving them. Having a teaching certificate does not instill a passion for teaching, and certainly not the level of passion and love I demand from anyone teaching my children. An educator who must carefully manage and teach 20+ students cannot offer the educational focus or specific academic goals that we can, even if they are generically passionate about teaching. Of course, this does not mean I would never allow someone else to educate my children, just that a teaching certificate, or even 20 years of classroom experience, is a thin argument for saying a public school is a better (or even equal) educational choice than homeschooling.
  • In my experience the common educational goals found in most educational systems are below mine and my wife’s standards, whether they be reading, writing, mathematics, science, history, and all the rest. Schools, for the most part, also do not emphasize the arts as much as they should. We are not the kind of parents who seek to drive our children to educational extremes. We don’t want them to enter college at age 9 or receive their second PhD by age 17. We want our kids to grow up rather normally and at the right pace for healthy development. Regardless, many educational systems, and in particular public schools, tend to have lower achievement goals than we do. With our kids we don’t have to teach to the lowest common denominator. We also don’t have to focus on the slower learner and let the faster learner languish.
  • Developing an excellent curriculum is not impossible. There are innumerable resources for home educators to create wonderful, rich, and top-notch curricula. There are also good arguments for choosing some of these curricula over the standard fare found in many schools. We are fond of using the concept of the trivium as an overall guide, but there are others. And we adapt the trivium by including other ideas and constantly testing our choices through experience. We have also been greatly influence by the book The Well Trained Mind as a guide. The specifics of what books, programs, or exercises we use are too numerous to mention here. This means we are not tied to questionable top-down delivered federal or state programs, nor are we slaves to whatever is the latest method. We can change and adapt quickly, focusing more on the needs of our children than the needs of educational bureaucracies.
  • Implementing an excellent curriculum is not impossible. Many good ideas fail because of poor implementation. This is as true in education as is it in business. There is a mindset that sees the need to separate children from their parents and from their home environment in order to effectively implement educational curricula. There may be some wisdom in that, and for some children that might be best. However, we believe, and our experience tells us, that the home environment is highly suited to educating children. A “normal” day may appear less structured than one might find in a public school (no bells, no standing in line, no strict beginning and end of classes) but the integration of education with the rest of life is a better way to teach in our opinion. It is probably more likely that a homeschooled child will grow up with a more holistically integrated sense of learning as a part of life. Another benefit is the ability to move from one subject to another when it is most appropriate for the child. The “class” is over when the lesson is done, not when the bell rings. As we see it, a traditional classroom is not required and may, in fact, be a hindrance.
  • For many the idea of homeschooling does not fit into the common lives of many families where both parents work at full-time jobs and need a place for their children to be during the day. For many homeschooling families it is the wife/mother that does most of the teaching while the husband provides the primary source of income. This scenario just does not work for many women who love their careers and would go insane if they had to stay home all day with the kids even though they truly love their children dearly. (Note: Much homeschooling is actually done outside the home with other families and is not confined to literally staying at home.) But for many the homeschooling scenario is ideal. Some families, however, believe they need two incomes, and certainly some do, but a careful financial analysis often shows this not to be true. Adding up all the costs associated with having both parents working is an eye opener. Think of the costs of day care, dry cleaning, eating out, two cars, higher tax bracket, someone to clean the house and maybe do yard work. It adds up and can dramatically cut into the two incomes. Regardless, each family has to decide for themselves. For us it works, though we see it as an experiment year to year. Our willingness to “go for it” and make it work is another of our qualifications as teachers though it does not come with a signed and sealed certificate that says so.
  • Finally, some might say that all those reasons above may be fine and good, but you can’t deny that teachers are highly trained professionals. I have no reason to deny that. But I would say a couple of things. First, ask any teacher to compare their initial training with their experience and I would guess that hands down their experience trumps their training. Years in a classroom outweighs their official teaching credentials as far as making them truly qualified to teach. Second, we have all experienced the fact that the best teachers in life are often not professional teachers at all, but someone with a passion for the subject at hand, plus a passion that others understand that subject, and the desire to see the subject through another’s eyes. Thirdly, much of the professionalism of modern teachers has to do with things that are of little or no importance to homeschooling scenarios. Homeschooling does not have the same kinds of cultural and societal burdens as does public education. Homeschooling also tends not to be burdened with internal politics or socially cautious ecumenism.
You may have other reasons. I’m sure we do to, but I want to stop there. Of course some will still be skeptical. They might say all those reasons sound fine but let’s be honest. Traditional classroom education has been with us for a long time and is a proven method. Besides, with public education, they say, there is more accountability. Sure some schools might not be so hot, but overall it is still certainly better than a relatively untried and inconsistent homeschool education, right? Wrong. First of all homeschooling has been around for millenia whereas public education is a product of the industrial revolution. Homeschooling has been tried and tested long enough for us to know that prior to the industrial revolution history was largely made by homeschooled individuals, including virtually all of the great scientific, artistic, and social accomplishments that public school children study today. And even since the industrial revolution many individuals of noteworthy accomplishments were educated at home, including most U.S. presidents. Second, let’s look at some statistics that compare median standardized tests scores from public school students with homeschool students.
The following two tables come from a 1998 study comparing homeschool students scholastic achievements compared to both public and private school students. I hope these numbers address the question of whether, on average, homeschooling parents are qualified to teach their kids. 
Median Scaled Scores (corresponding national percentile) by Subtest and Grade for Home School Students compared to publicly schooled children:
Grade N Composite Reading Language Math Soc. Stud. Science National
1 1504 170 (91) 174 (88) 166 (82) 164 (81) 166 (80) 164 (78) 150 (50)
2 2153 192 (90) 196 (89) 186 (80) 188 (85) 189 (81) 195 (86) 168 (50)
3 2876 207 (81) 210 (83) 195 (62) 204 (78) 205 (76) 214 (83) 185 (50)
4 2625 222 (76) 228 (83) 216 (67) 220 (76) 216 (68) 232 (81) 200 (50)
5 2564 243 (79) 244 (83) 237 (69) 238 (76) 236 (71) 260 (86) 214 (50)
6 2420 261 (81) 258 (82) 256 (73) 254 (76) 265 (81) 273 (84) 227 (50)
7 2087 276 (82) 277 (87) 276 (77) 272 (79) 276 (79) 282 (81) 239 (50)
8 1801 288 (81) 288 (86) 291 (79) 282 (76) 290 (79) 289 (78) 250 (50)
9 1164 292 (77) 294 (82) 297 (77) 281 (68) 297 (76) 292 (73) 260 (50)
10 775 310 (84) 314 (89) 318 (84) 294 (72) 318 (83) 310 (79) 268 (50)
11 317 310 (78) 312 (84) 322 (83) 296 (68) 318 (79) 314 (77) 275 (50)
12 66 326 (86) 328 (92) 332 (85) 300 (66) 334 (84) 331 (82) 280 (50)
Median Scaled Scores of Home School Students (Corresponding Catholic/Private School Percentile) by Subtest and Grade:
Grade Composite Reading Language Math Soc. Stud. Science
1 170 (89) 174 (86) 166 (80) 164 (80) 166 (73) 164 (75)
2 192 (88) 196 (84) 186 (74) 188 (81) 189 (81) 195 (85)
3 207 (74) 210 (74) 195 (55) 204 (71) 205 (69) 214 (80)
4 222 (72) 228 (72) 216 (58) 220 (69) 216 (56) 232 (76)
5 243 (71) 244 (72) 237 (60) 238 (68) 236 (60) 260 (82)
6 261 (71) 258 (71) 256 (58) 254 (65) 265 (72) 273 (77)
7 276 (72) 277 (77) 276 (63) 272 (70) 276 (68) 282 (73)
8 288 (72) 288 (75) 291 (65) 282 (68) 290 (68) 289 (67)
9 292 (63) 294 (70) 297 (61) 281 (56) 297 (63) 292 (59)
10 310 (71) 314 (81) 318 (71) 294 (57) 318 (72) 310 (66)
11 310 (63) 312 (72) 322 (69) 296 (56) 318 (67) 314 (63)
12 326 (74) 328 (81) 332 (71) 300 (53) 334 (74) 331 (72)
These statistics are from only one study, but a quick survey finds many similar kinds of examples. Given these numbers, one must conclude that in general homeschool students out perform public school and private school students in standardized tests in all subjects and in all grades. This is not to say that our children will out perform the median for public/private education, but if we want to base our decision to homeschool on some objective criteria these numbers are not bad.
In conclusion, we all have a number of prejudices that seem to us to be fact. One prejudice I run into is the belief that homeschooling is, at best, taking a big educational gamble with one’s kids. I hope it is clear this a prejudice and not factual. But prejudices aside, many who homeschool, or who are thinking about homeschooling, question their own abilities to do so. They are deeply concerned about their kid’s education and want to make the right decision. The truth is there may be no right decision, just several decisions that all have validity with both upsides and downsides. We have chosen to homeschool our children because it fits our particular situation, goals, and values. Many of our friends choose public education, and some private. All things being equal there is no universal right answer, but there is no wrong answer either.
Final note: For those who are contemplating homeschooling their children, but who are concerned whether they are qualified to do so, or are feeling pressure from family or friends to choose a more traditional route, I want to say fear not. But I can’t say that entirely. Yes, you are qualified to homeschool, I am certain of that, but whatever educational choice you make for your kids is a big deal. A little fear is a good thing. The truth is, one should have the same fear whether the choice is to homeschool or to send your child off to the school bus each morning.

Homeschooling and the world

There is a trend within the subculture of homeschooling* that is all about separation from society at large. This makes some sense. Homeschoolers are often defined, in part, as people who want to pull their children out of mainstream society and protect them from “the world.” Certainly not all homeschoolers are this way, and I hope we are not, but it has some appeal given the many troubles this world presents.

Recently we attended a Christian homeschooling conference. As you might imagine we saw all kinds of Christians, from the young hip couple with their cool glasses and lattes to the families with 6+ children all wearing 19th century prairie outfits. The conference had numerous speakers and work sessions. One of the keynote speakers struck me as the kind of homeschooler parent I don’t want to be. I don’t mean to be unduly harsh, and I only heard the one talk (or I should say over-the-top performing-preacher show), but I was encouraged by his talk to more clearly define an aspect of why we homeschool and why some of our reasons stand in contradiction to his.
He began by lauding his father for taking his family to an island away from “the world” and homeschooling them. In other words, our keynote speaker was raised on an island cut off from the taint and spoilage of the wider world. He went on to say that that was a great thing and we should not be afraid to separate our children from the world on “islands” where they can be protected and safe. If you are like me you might be chafing at this idea, but it is not unwarranted, and I want to give the idea its due.
This world we live in full of may horrible things – war, famine, crime, and all kinds of ugliness. There are also many competing ideas that challenge one’s own beliefs. A Christian parent who is interested in their children knowing God as they know God may want to protect them from those competing ideas for as long as possible. The same goes for any parent who has a worldview to which they cling. I can understand the desire to keep one’s children away from the corrosive influence of the world. To do so feels like being responsible, and in some cases it certainly is. So I know where our keynote speaker is coming from. I know that feeling. But there is more to the picture.
The concept of “the world” is a big deal in Christian teaching. Jesus said his kingdom is not of this world. John the Apostle said “Do not love the world nor the things in the world.” Paul the Apostle said “do not be conformed to this world.” There is a lot more to be said, and I do not intend to unpack the biblical concept of the world here, but most Christians know there is this thing called the world which they must avoid in some way. Christian homeschoolers might see pulling their kids out of public school as pulling them out of the world. Christian families who move to the country far from urban areas may believe they are removing themselves from the world in some fashion. Certainly to raise one’s family on an island would feel like the world is far away.
However, when John says “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world,” we see that the world is not so much a physical entity as it is a heart condition or a spirit. Also, when Jesus said, “While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world,” it appears his intention was not fleeing the world but to bring it light. Elsewhere in scripture Christ followers are called to be light in the world and salt of the earth. And when we read that “God so loved the world that he gave us His son,” we get the idea that our stance towards the world may not be so simple. We may not be able to separate ourselves from the world as easily as we think for “lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life” comes with us wherever we go, even to an island. Also, we cannot be light or salt to the world if we decide to have nothing to do with the world. And we certainly cannot love the world as God loves the world if our stance is to flee the world which, as we have seen, may not be so easy anyway.
At that homeschoolers conference it became clear that the world could be seen most clearly in such things as 1) cities, 2) public schools, 3) government, and 4) anything other than far right politics. If one didn’t know better one could conclude that homeschooling is all about 1) getting out of the city to the country – a kind of “back to the garden” idea, 2) avoiding any kind of public education, including any education or activities that has public monies attached to it, such as a city funded soccer league, 3) having nothing to do with government or public service unless it is to defend against liberals who want to impose laws on homeschooling, and 4) assuming a political stance and championing the values of such organizations as the Christian Coalition. I may be taking a somewhat extreme critical view here, but I don’t think so. This is what I see coming from much of the Christian homeschool subculture and from our keynote speaker. But those are not our reasons.
One of the great blessings of Christian truth is the incredible freedom we have. As we love God and His values we find ourselves marveling at this world He created. This world of His includes all that we find, including the incredible variety of humanity and human creativity. We might and should grieve at the evil we see in the world, but we should also love the world. We should love the cities and the arts and the culture and the governments. Wisdom dictates that we do not love folly or evil or rebellion against God. On the other hand this world is full of God’s creative work, it is His sovereignty manifest in all things everywhere, and this world is full of the people He loves – which includes all people. We have the freedom to engage in this world head on. We also have the opportunity to be light and salt. This opportunity is a great privilege. As a parent I can choose to model light and salt, or I can model the act of withdrawal.
Another great blessing is that because I know God is sovereign I can engage in this world without fear. I can live in the city or in the country, work in private business, ministry, government, or public schools, listen to Christian or secular music, visit art galleries and museums, watch popular movies, and even drink, smoke, play cards and cuss, without fear. If Jesus is my example then I can eat dinner with the most worldly people. If Paul’s theology is correct then I can eat meat sacrificed to idols. Wisdom will dictate that I consider the weaker brother (and I too am a weaker brother), so I may choose not to do some of these things at times, but there is no need for fear. But I must say that having no fear is not the same as not being scared. A man may say he is not scared of the world, and that may be true, but he may still live in fear of the world. To take one’s family away from the world and live on an island because the world is a bad place is to live in fear of the world.
There is another kind of separation – the separation through ideology and stereotypes. On our keynote speaker’s website promoting his daily radio program he touts the following: “There are no psychiatrists, professional counsellors, bureaucrats, and seminary professors. But you will find fathers, mothers, grandparents, pastors, and friends.” Other than spelling counselors wrong this quote says a lot. There is an attitude within some quarters of Christianity that sees psychiatrists, professional counselors, bureaucrats, and seminary professors – along with scientists, social workers, and anyone from Hollywood – as being other than fathers, mothers, grandparents, pastors, and friends. Not only is this a wrongly prejudiced perspective more indicative of a passionate narrow-mindedness than of wisdom, it is also a perspective indicative of fear. There has always been a class of persons who claim victim status though they are not victims in a meaningful sense. This class is also easily manipulated by those who point to the educated, or those in government, or big city dwellers, or those in the entertainment industry, as the victimizers. Some politicians can be quite good at doing this, and so are many preachers. Our keynote speaker not only claims the victim status but uses his talents to fan the flames of fear. Fear thrives in the world of stereotypes. And just like the religious leader who prays to God, thanking God that he is not like other people, we can all fall prey to a profound blindness. What we see in Jesus is someone hanging out with the sinners. We see someone not only reaching out to everyone, but doing so without fear, and not drawing lines between himself and the rest of humanity. And, ironically, it is the religious leaders – the upstanding citizens, moral agents, family lovers, Bible teachers – who criticized Jesus for just such activities.
Where does this leave us? Our confusion, like so much in Christianity, is to make the wrong distinctions and then fall into the pit of religion and self-righteousness. We confuse the world with superficial distinctions as “psychiatrists, professional counselors, bureaucrats, and seminary professors” rather than with a heart rooted in “lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life.” The world, in this bad sense, is as much alive in Christianity as it is anywhere else. When it comes to worldliness there is no distinction between the Hollywood movie star and the megachurch pastor. In fact we bring the world with us where ever we go – wherever there is humanity. Only through the grace of God do we have any hope to be free of the world – and that freedom can come to a professional counselor/psychiatrist working for a government agency while moonlighting at a seminary and living downtown in the biggest city as it can come to the man barricading his family against the evils of the world in some distant wilderness. Grace be to God for our hope and freedom.
But what about my charge as a parent? It is one thing to be an adult confronting the ugliness of this world, it is another for a child. As a parent I must protect my children when appropriate. I must also guide them in wisdom. I would rather my children face into the harshness of reality, guided by my example, sometimes stumbling and struggling, but learning to see themselves for who they truly are and learning to love others where they are. I also want my children to grow up without fear. If we can walk through this life together, confronting the variety of human experience and choice, and do so hand in hand, I think my children might have a decent chance of knowing good from evil, of learning humbleness, of appreciating all that God has created, and learning that goodness comes not so much from trying to avoid the stain of the world as turning to God in genuine repentance. We have come to realize that fleeing the world and taking one’s family to an island, even if those actions are clothed in the finest Christian robes of piety, could very well be an act of rebellion against God. Not necessarily, but could be.
This is one reason we homeschool, and we do so within a city context, and we listen to all kinds of music and study all kinds of art, and we are interested in politics beyond narrow “Christian” agendas, and we appreciate MLK and Gandhi, and we appreciate revised histories when they offer clarity and truth, and we don’t believe one can homeschool true faith into any child. And we also don’t think we’ve got it all right. All we can do is move forward in humbleness (which itself is a gift), looking to God for grace and mercy, and seeking goodness the best we can.
* Like many different elements of our society, homeschoolers represent a kind of subculture. However, it would be incorrect to think of it as a single or homogeneous subculture. At best it is a subculture of subcultures, and may be better described as an eclectic group of families that have a rather unique similarity regardless, and sometimes in spite, of their many dissimilarities.