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The way they should go

Homeschooling’s spectacular growth and its pitfalls

The way they should go

(Krieg Barrie)

I have been to three mega homeschooling conventions in the past several months—Nashville, Atlanta, and Sandusky, Ohio. When I last tuned in to the movement in the early 1980s, Liz F. and Susan L. were the only people I knew doing it. There were also few curriculum choices: One of them was A Beka, and one of them wasn’t. Liz and Sue made their own yogurt and dressed like they had eight cats and talked to them.

The big argument against homeschooling in those days was “socialization”: Your kids are going to grow up weird because they don’t see enough other kids. And to be honest, I lacked courage. So I decided that if being bolted to rows of school desks six hours a day was good enough for me and my mother and for Columbus and Attila the Hun, it was good enough for my kids. I reaped what I sowed.

The world has gotten a whole lot worse since that time. Back then you could be sure that if you went into the little girls’ room in North Carolina, there were no men in it wearing dresses. Of course, the prophets among us could see it coming in the 1980s. Even in the 1970s, Archie and Edith sang nostalgically in All in the Family: “And you knew who you were then; girls were girls and men were men.”

There have always been the prophets. In the days of David on the lam from Saul, it was written of one tribe among those rallying to the young giant-slayer, “Of Issachar, men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do” (1 Chronicles 12:32). Regarding our own times, the prophetic watchword of Paul is “ in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, … always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:1-2, 7).

The challenge in this 2.5 generation of homeschoolers will be to keep their eyes on Christ.

So in Nashville, Atlanta, and Sandusky, I found myself in the midst of a swelling army of Issachars, men and women who understand the garbage-in-garbage-out principle of education and who take seriously God’s plan for parenting: “For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord” (Genesis 18:19). Training up children in the way they should go is a mandate that hasn’t changed.

With the lucidity of the alien to a foreign country, I saw the grand convention halls with different eyes than those who knew not the humble beginnings in the kitchens of Liz F. and Susan L. with their volcano simulation experiments in a Ball jar. I saw rows of stalls of businessmen hawking their wares: curriculum packages; Scripture memorization techniques; “how to’s” on creating individualized college plans; parenting in the internet age; earth stewardship; care for the poor; brain stimulation; cybersecurity; hands-on learning suggestions; homeschooling pitfalls to avoid.

Speaking of homeschooling pitfalls to avoid, I discerned three. One is the usual tendency for any good idea to become a program, and a program to become an industry, and an industry to lose its original focus. The focus must be raising kids for Christ, and the challenge in this 2.5 generation of homeschoolers will be to keep their eyes on Christ.

The second pitfall is related. As I read through the list of offerings in the 200 breakout sessions, I saw more than a few titles addressing the problem of burnout and stress. This was corroborated by remarks of individual women I spoke to who had either lost control of their houses and were drowning in clutter, or were in serious need of R&R.

The third was the possibility of raising up a child for 12 years in the Lord, only to hand him over to a college that will undo it all. That would be tragic indeed—“as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him” (Amos 5:19). As Solzhenitsyn warned, “Truth eludes us as soon as our concentration begins to flag, all the while leaving the illusion that we are continuing to pursue it.”

May the focus of educating for the Lord always be kept on the Lord.



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  • Peter Kushkowski's picture
    Peter Kushkowski
    Posted: Fri, 10/14/2016 02:35 pm

    Statistics abound about the high percentage of evangelical kids, upon entering colleges, bolting from the faith in which they were brought up.  Are there statistics that break the defections down into home-schooled versus non-home-schooled kids?  Also Christian versus secular colleges?

  • Tessa
    Posted: Sun, 10/16/2016 11:54 am

    As a homeschool alumni, I agree wholeheartedly. Many homeschoolers have lost sight of their original vision and are reaping the consequences. Some, eager to give their children a head start, send them to community college for "free" while still in high school, thinking they've saved money, but actually losing things far more valuable--a Biblical worldview and the hearts of their children. Still others have kids who "choose" to go to public high school--a time of tremendous growth and development. 


    There is much that is so good about homeschooling and some that we need to do differently this second time around. Otherwise, homeschool alumni will not homeschool their children, and the work of those before will be lost.

  • LAB
    Posted: Sun, 10/16/2016 02:42 pm

    I work at a community college. Throwing children into this learning environment with a wide age range of learners in a very secular environment is more concerning then sending them to public high school. Very naive girls have been lured on to a path of distruction by older college men. Many homeschool families feel they are unable to provide the content required in the higher grades and choose community colleges as a cheap alternative.  The education of children should not be sacrificed for family vacations and Christian high schools should be considered when at all possible before putting children into an adult environment for which they may not be ready. 

  • Laura W
    Posted: Sun, 10/16/2016 06:29 pm

    If parents send high-school-age students to community colleges, they should definitely do so with their eyes open, and take into account the maturity of their children. However, will the students really be that much better equipped to handle these things just a couple years later, when they start college full-time, potentially in a different town or state from their parents? This way, parents have the opportunity to walk with their children much more closely as they start to venture out into college. (Even if they go on to attend a Christian college, they are still likely to encounter at least some false teachers and ungodly peers.) It worked pretty well for me when I was getting ready to start college. :)

  • Steve Shive
    Posted: Sun, 10/16/2016 07:22 pm

    Thanks for this fine article Andree. We have home educated our 4 kids. We started in the mid 80s. Each year we decided to give it one year. If it didn't work we could put him, and then them, into some other school situation. We really never looked back. Parenting isn't for cowards, as James Dobson wrote. Nor is home education, aka home schooling. Probaably more so. The committment was incredible, as were the rewards. The latter term, home schooling, is a descriptor that I am not fond of. It is misleading. But, I won't get into that.

    One benefit of home education, aside from the teacher to student ration, is that the teacher knows, or quickly learns, that each child had their own learning style. We learned along the way that some needed this, another needed that, another had to be under a chair or table or in some way comfortable for learning to take place. Another had to have someting in their hands or the opportunity to doodle. One could learn by working through the book on their own. Now with a pilot, daughter who chose to stay at home (after a 4.0 English major degree from University), a son who passed his professional engineering (PE) test the first time, and another now working in their major after graduating summa cum laude.

    Grades and careers don’t tell the entire story, Nor do they get one into heaven. But they do tell a story of success in education. One key for us was the use of all of the helps out there. One of the best was the parallel enrollment program at the local community college. The World is out there. What better time to have them start to move into it then when they are still at home under your roof! There are no guarantees that any child, or adult, will not forsake the faith. In fact I've seen countless from Christian schools who have turned away. And I know of many kids who went the public or private route and still profess a sincere faith in Christ. BTW our one son, while still at home, and in the parallel enrollment program, tutored the college kids in math. 

    Home education isn’t for everyone. I often tell those who ask us about it. For us home education was nothing new. When our child arrived at compulsory education age we kept doing what we had always done. And built on it. We read as a family every night. I read out loud to the kids, even when they could read on their own. They listened in as I read to the younger kids. I read Tolkien’s trilogy and the Hobbit out loud, in their entirety twice. As well as the Chronicles of Narnia, many more times, and the list is a long one. We created an environment to learn. We taught the kids how to find the answers, not to know them all. We used Delight Directed Learning (Thanks Gregg Harris). They got their Ham Radio Licenses, while they learned geography, math, physics, rules and regulations and how to take tests. We took trips to historic places and had fun while there. It was a family affair.

    Now, with 3 grand children, we wonder how we did it. But we were a bit younger then. And decided to take that road. And my wife did not work outside the home.  

  • RMF
    Posted: Sun, 10/16/2016 09:29 pm

    Thank you to Andree  and the commenters for the fine points and insights. We home educate in our household and I too can attest to the growth of home education and its "commodification." Like all good things, its time has come, and in part we have Common Core and all the other pc toolkits to thank for it. But I also think that many, many parents have taken the lay of the land and rightly concluded that the best  way to educate and bring up children starts with them.  Sometimes navigating all the home education doodads when you start out can lead you a bit astray. Keep Christ at the center and your family'll do alright.

  • Tara H
    Posted: Mon, 10/17/2016 12:37 pm

    Thank you for this article, Andrée Seu Peterson! I attended  one of these conferences in Omaha three years ago and loved it! We have considered all three of the pitfalls you mentioned. As for the first, I as the primary teacher make sure to set aside time for myself each morning to read the Bible and have a time of prayer, and also have a short morning time with our boys each schoolday when we sing a hymn, pray and memorize Bible verses.

    For the moms with burnout, I would like to suggest year-round homeschooling based on a model of around six weeks of school, followed by a week off. We are following this schedule this year and it has been wonderful! Here is an article that helps with planning a schedule:

    As for the third concern, we are a few years away from that point, but I would consider a school such as New St. Andrews or King's College, and I hope and pray that there will still be distinctly Christian colleges in ten years!

  •  bwsmith's picture
    Posted: Wed, 10/19/2016 08:00 am

    Good reminder of three points . . . brings up a memory of what I was told when our son was a wee one: Our children are not our own -- they are the Lord's; our job is to prepare them to be returned to Him when He calls for them.

    I was NOT a Christian at the time -- so, it went over my head, but into my heart. Later, God called me through them, and their questions,  and ministry  of Bible study fellowship.

    When we decided to homeschool, I was maybe seven years old in the Lord. Homeschooling was kinda like we were all kids around the dining room table, and I fell into many of the pitfalls!  So, too, life didn't suddenly smooth out because we brought the kids home! Battles and failures were too often the themes of the day!

    A friend who had chosen to home educate a few years earlier kept reminding me, however our kids learned reading and math, what God was interested in was how we trained them to love and serve Him. That was easy to forget in the heat of the battles.

    Gary Cox, of Walkersville Christian Schools, who oversaw our journey kept repeating that the heart determines how well a person is educated -- how teachable is a child -- the battle is the Lord's and prayer is a tool we never put down, where ever our children are in school or life. 

    Raising kids is not as easy as June Cleaver made it look. 

  • Tricia
    Posted: Sat, 10/22/2016 10:48 am

    I have stepped away from the homeschool conferences. Some of the discipline teachings are questionable. And too many of the speakers believe in patriarchy. 

    Homeschooling is not for everyone. If you don't have the dedication and stamina to do it, don't. It is a full time job researching learning styles, learning challenges (two of my kids are most likely dyslexic), and curriculum, trying to find the best fit for your kids individually, and your family as a whole. That's on top of just keeping the house, cooking, laundry, and general parenting. 

    But, it is the best option for my kids and my family. We do make sure to expose our kids to the "world." We don't just talk about our beliefs, but what others believe as well so they won't be taken by surprise. Even variations in the Christian faith. It important to be able to discuss. We talk about "insulation" vs. "isolation."