This past weekend, I had the joy of together with my wife attending the North Carolinians for Home Education annual conference (and book fair). Our oldest child is entering the third grade this year, our second oldest into first grade, and our youngest is preschool aged. We started homeschooling when our oldest was 4. We approached schooling with the mentality of “Let’s try this out….I mean, how badly could you mess up Kindergarten anyway?!”. It wasn’t that we hadn’t tried to put our child in regular school activities, we just couldn’t get into either our preferred preschool, nor into our preferred elementary school. We were already open to homeschooling, so off we went onto this wild and crazy journey.
At the conference, we met hundreds of others on this same journey and learned many things and received tons and tons of motivation to continue pressing onward. One speaker related that while in 1988 there were only roughly 400 homeschools in NC, today there are 45,000. Consider that the average homeschool family has greater than three children; this means that there are at the very least 150,000 homeschooled children in North Carolina alone (about 10% of the children schooled in NC). This is a large county’s worth of children (Charlotte with 135,000 students, Raleigh 143,000) all educated without the aid of taxpayer money. And guess what? The number of homeschooled children will only increase.
There are a variety of reasons why parents choose to homeschool. One speaker asked the crowd to shout out some reasons. I heard several mention to protect their children, to provide biblical education, to keep them away from the government. I wanted to say, but was afraid of sounding unspiritual, “to actually educate my children.” Statistics have shown that homeschooled children consistently outperform publicly schooled children, 80th+ percentile vs 50th percentile in standardized testing, regardless of socioeconomic status, or curriculum pursued. Moreover, didn’t you know that your great pro-education lawmakers and teachers in NC have achieved a mere 74% graduation rate? I’m sure homeschoolers are near 100% and given the academic rigor most parents devote to homeschooling, this is not because homeschooling is easier.
We didn’t and still don’t think homeschooling is the “spiritual” thing to do. Its not necessarily “Christian” as if non-Christians couldn’t or wouldn’t homeschool. In fact, one of the most popular homeschool methods, i.e. classical education, is a method Christians co-opted from the Greco-Romans. In fact, pagans in the 4th and 5th century were angry at how well Christians educated their children using their methods. But Christianity has done education well. Christian worldviews, seeded by the Biblical world, are fertile ground, sprouting vivaciously in every area of human living and thought.
I firmly believe, that armed with biblical faith and classical methods and loads and loads of books, no one can educate my children better than my wife and I. Certainly, I want my children to learn from others, and they will need expert guidance in specific subjects as they get older and more mature, but we are training our children to think biblically, maturely, adultly, and critically. They’ll learn these things best in relationship to their parents. (Yes, that will require a lot of study and guidance by us as parents; its not an easy job we have taken.)
But what of socialization? What of the dangers of isolating your children from society? These are the most common objections to homeschooling. However, I wonder what’s really behind these questions. Here are a few of my thoughts directed to a diverse set of objectors:
First, to the politician or public school teacher, I’m afraid that many educators want to have a monopoly on what our children think. They have, for the most part at the highest levels, wholeheartedly embraced a secular worldview to which they hold religiously (Big thanks to Nancy Pearcey for her thoughts on this subject). Other worldviews aren’t seen as right or wrong as much as they are heresy to the priests of the secular state. Public School education, in many regards, is unnecessarily totalitarian. Socialization in that sense is assimilation--“Resistance is futile“.
Second, to the curious younger friend or relative, methinks you misremember your high school experience. I am distinguishing between younger and older but could also distinguish between urban and rural, but I’m already at 715 words on this post. I went to public school my whole life. I graduated in the top 20% of my high school class, scored fairly well on the SAT, and was admitted into one of the top 5 engineering schools in the nation. But I slept through significant parts of high school, rarely, if ever, did any homework, and for the last two years of high school, I had a buddy supplying me sci-fi and fantasy novels which I would read through the day and return to him in the evening. Yeah, I could have done better, but the fact was that I didn’t need to, that should actually say something. Public School did not help me become mature enough for college, nor could it! There were cliques, even gangs. The jocks routinely cheated. I, sad to say, fed answers to a few of them from time to time on quizzes and tests (to keep from getting caught, I’d give em half right answers and half wrong). I remember hearing from a fellow member of the baseball team of one girl being basically gang raped by some dudes on the football team and it was a big joke. Drugs, sex and alcohol were rampant. Now, I’m one of a minority of those from my class married with children. Drugs, sex, and alcohol are still common experiences for the most “socialized” of the group, 15 years later. Seriously, people who still see high school as the glory days are either still living sad and meaningless lives (even if they are wealthy), or have forgotten how miserable high school was. Look, you may be thinking I was unpopular and therefore jaded, but I wasn’t unpopular. I never lacked friends from any group of people in those days. I think I actually had one of the better experiences of high school, as unbelievable as that may seem. But what of elementary and middle-school? you may be asking. We forget how kids pick on each other incessantly from a young age, and there rarely is ever resolution or reconciliation. Only the peculiarities of age hide the problems that are increasingly evident in high school. Be careful not to assume that your kid won’t be the on the receiving end of provocation, as if being a bully was a desirable trait. Kids don’t need public education to make friends, but it will certainly help them come home with enemies!
Third, and finally, to the older relative or curious friend, life ain’t like it used to be. You may still get together every five years and have great high school reunions. Most of your classmates probably married and are enjoying the fruit and joy of your life in multitudes of grandchildren. The world has changed! As in the previous paragraph, you see that it changed for us. Its worse now! Virtue and truth no longer drive the educational system. Rather, economics and ideology are squarely in the driver’s seat. Public school children will get socialization, but that’s maybe all they’ll receive, and it’s not your grandmothers socialization. Its another breed altogether. Their lives as social beings hang desperately in the balance, and public education isn’t on their side of the scale!
But aren’t you retreating from the world? you ask. This is not a retreat mentality, at least from me. I want my children to be well-equipped to not only engage the emerging cultures but to also be well-educated in the process. We are not retreating from our neighbors, so our children will still have ample opportunities to build relationships with people who live near them and are close in age. They will also learn from us how to respect people different from us in either appearance or worldview. But they’ll learn it from mature adults in the best teacher to student ratio possible. The end-goal of homeschooling is not to retreat into isolated enclaves but to missionally engage the culture. My children will be better equipped to do this than 90% of the population. We are not retreating, but equipping for bold advance!