My wife and I just spent the morning being schooled on Classical Education. While for the past year we have been participating in a classical model of homeschooling, we had no clue what we were doing (big picture, that is). We started a curriculum and participated in a community of tutors called Classical Conversations. This morning, NC State Manager, Lisa Bailey, came to our town to help teach our community what Classical Education is all about and how it relates to Classical Conversations. The training is still ongoing, but I had to come home to relieve our babysitter. The following posts will include a summary of what she said as well as some comments on home-schooling in general.
I’ll start with my general comments on home-schooling. First, you may not be in a country where home-schooling is even legal, such as Germany, or where it doesn’t make much sense. Understood. Second, you may not understand why anyone in America would homeschool their children given our great public school system. You may already be conjuring objections in your head to retreatism, anti-social behavior, even elitism, believe me, I’ve been there. Don’t my taxes already pay for children’s education–Why pay to do it on your own? On the other hand, you may already be sold on home-schooling and rather clueless on how to begin (such as we have been). My general comments, and thus this post, will address the second of these three groups (sorry group 1) . A summary of the classical model will address the third, which will follow in my next post.
What homeschooling is not. (at least for me!)
Homeschooling is not a retreat from the world. While Classical Conversations is a distinctively Christian community of learning, I do not participate in it to keep my children from being influenced by the “evil of the world.” My friends, the evil is within, there is no escaping that fact. Furthermore, the fact that the ‘evil is within‘ may be the best reason for Christians to homeschool, at least at a young age. As much as homeschooling, and the classical model for that matter, is an educational model, it is primarily a discipleship model. We desire to mold our children into followers of Christ. We certainly agree that this will not by default make our children Christians, they must personally and individually repent of their sins and choose to follow Christ, and they will, like everyone come to a point in their life when they will audit their beliefs (this is healthy!) and find out whether or not they own their beliefs or that their beliefs are imposed upon them and open to change. However, they cannot believe in something they do not know! Faith and knowledge are inseparable. A leap of faith idea of Christianity is nonsensical and foreign to the Bible! We want them to know the Bible and believe it–and that is not the role of the church at large (as if abdicating our responsibility), it is our roles as parents. Once a student has been discipled, then he or she is ready to not just live in the world without being of it, he or she is ready to lead others to be disciples as well. The goal is actually to engage the world! We believe homeschooling will aid our children to get there, and specifically, the classical model (but that will be discussed later).
Homeschooling is not a condemnation of public education. Some folks will disagree with me on this. Others will say “If public education is permissible, then why home-school?”. Also, not everyone is in the same socioeconomic situation to be able to homeschool. We do not live in an ideal world. There are real life issues at hand. Every family has to make this decision themselves. We are not rich, may never be, and we are blessed to have grandparents who support us and their grandchildren. There may be a time in our life when public education is our only option. Moreover, we are not certain that public education at some point in our children’s development may not actually be preferred. So, having said that, we believe that right now, at least until our children are in high school, no one can teach our children better than we can! After today, I may even push that through high school! Not only do they have an impassioned teacher (their mother, and occasionally their dad), they have a stable environment (their home), and the best student/teacher ratio around. I understand we are standing on the shoulders of giants (curriculum, libraries, etc), but we are committed to keep our children from failing and MOST IMPORTANT to instill in them a love for learning! As good as my teachers were growing up, I can’t say I received either of those objectives except from one, maybe two teachers (I might even include college and grad work in that assessment!).
Homeschooling is not a magic bullet! I’ve alluded to this idea several times above. Homeschooling in and of itself does not guarantee success! Motivation to learn is an absolute necessity. True, a motivated student will excel in public education (I’m still not certain they’ll reach their true potential therein, public education by default has to teach to the lowest common denominator), but an unmotivated student will not excel in either environment. Conversely, unmotivated teachers can sap the motivation out of any student, in any venue. An unmotivated parent can destroy the education of their child. All this to say, for homeschooling to be successful it takes hard work by both the parent(s) and the student!
Homeschooling is not “the Christian thing to do.” With the growing homeschool movement among evangelical Christians, I perceive a nascent legalism concerning homeschooling. Only the most devoted, must holy Christians homeschool–to not homeschool is to be less mature and less concerned for the souls of your children. Not only is this patently false, it is extremely dangerous! It is a false externalization of Christianity which has more in common with the faith of the Pharisees than that of the New Testament. Wow! That was a strong statement. But it goes with what I’ve already said. Homeschool doesn’t make children Christians, nor does it make them more Christian. Being a Christian and becoming a disciple of Jesus takes repentance and faith. Homeschooling can serve the discipleship process, but it is not the essence of being a disciple. To uphold homeschooling as a badge of devotion or faith portrays a false gospel–one based on pride and human achievement, not one based on humility and faith in the crucified and resurrected Lord. Guard your hearts should you choose to endeavor towards homeschooling or classical education. We desire our children to be disciples of a Holy God, not gods of holy “discipleship”.
Homeschooling will not make your children “smarter” than everyone else, but neither will public education. This is very similar to the previous statement in that it talks about attitudes of parents considering homeschool; however, this speaks more to our understanding of human nature and the learning process in general. So let me clarify this statement a little bit. I believe, perhaps I’m wrong, that the human mind is pretty much the same from person to person, culture to culture. Anthropologists have an idea called “sociocultural adequacy”. The idea is that while every culture has its positives and negatives, they all can be evaluated on even par. This can only be true because of the basic unity of mankind. We are all created in God’s image and equally have all the potential of cognition, volition, etc, etc. The gospel further establishes this fact–we all are held accountable to a holy God and called to trust in His Son Jesus. We all have the same basic faculties. Yet, it is true that we are also fallen and it is further true that we all are gifted differently (especially as believers), so there are those who because of the cosmic (and on rare-occasions personal) effects of sin that suffer a weaker intellect; there are also those who are gifted intellectually. However, for the most part–perhaps 95% or greater–of all individuals, we have the same intellectual faculties. But our minds, as muscles, require training. So an untrained mind will be worse off than a trained mind, and those worse off than a well-trained mind. My dad told me on numerous occasions “Anyone can make all-A’s, just some people have to work harder to get there.” I believed him, though I used this as an excuse to be lazy (remember: the evil lie within!). As I was listening to the presentation today on Classical Education, the belief that almost every child has the same basic intellectual abilities was reinforced. For if this were not true, then Classical Education would be impossible. You can’t expect people to learn something they aren’t capable of learning–that would be oxymoronic, self-defeating,etc, to do otherwise! While I believe public education fails because it does not take this stance towards human nature (with the growing influence of political liberalism on public education, there is a growing belief in “winners” and “losers”, “elites” and “non-elites”–not surprising for a progressivist elitism inherent to the liberal ideal), we must affirm that nothing inherent to either system will make a child “smarter”–when it comes to intellectual ability. While is it true that children will learn at different rates and have different interests, they all have the ability to learn. The difference between homeschooling and public education, then, is that with an intentional approach to homeschooling, such as the classical model, every child is treated equally and given the equal chance to excel in learning. Unfortunately, public education is not equipped to provide that level of equality, nor is it moving in a direction to ever get there! Political polemics aside, I hope you can see that you should not approach homeschooling as an opportunity to make your child “smarter”, though it will provide an opportunity to train their mind, and that, if you work hard enough, well.
I will continue this topic in my next post by discussing the Classical Model, as presented to me today, and concluding with what I think homeschooling IS (though you could probably discern this from my comments above).