Sunday, March 02, 2008

home-schooling

This week I had a friend ask my opinion on home-schooling. His little family is reaching that stage where a decision needs to be made. Knowing that Barby and I had chosen to public-school, he wanted to hear some reasons for doing so.

The arguments can go on forever. I realise that.

Our view is that our children are not ours. They belong to God. So our basic purpose as parents is to disciple our children and prepare them as best we can to be participants in the mission of God in the world wherever that may lead them. Everything else - and I mean 'everything' - is secondary.

Now, as followers of Jesus, the basic stance for such participation is as 'salt' and 'light'. There is tension with these two. Being salt has us mixing-in and participating in society, helping to stop the rot ... whereas being light has us standing apart, being distinctive, helping to show the way. They sound contradictory. But Jesus calls us to participate and then to be distinctive as we do so.

Our view is that our children need to experience this tension in the life of following Jesus from the earliest possible time. We want them to wrestle with the difficulties associated with mixing in and standing apart at the same time. The earlier they start the more likely it is to become a way of life for them. Each age and stage carries its own challenge. From discovering how people respond when Jesus keeps being drawn into their written stories in Year One right through to making decisions about alcohol and sexuality and language-use and movies and music in Year Twelve.

While I have softened over the years and become more sympathetic to the motivation of home-schoolers we could never have made that decision ourselves. And if we had our five children all over again we still wouldn't make that decision.

To us the decision to home-school appears to be one which involves too much light and not enough salt.

nice chatting

Paul

11 comments:

Andy said...

Paul - thanks for this, it's always a bit weird when others say what you want to say. There's a discussion over at the Coffee Bible Club Blog (http://bibleandcoffee.blogspot.com/2008/02/dear-lord-save-us-from-christian_27.html) about Christian schooling which I thought you might be interested in.

Having met your kids - and noted your comment on them not belonging to you - want to say that I think you and Barby, are doing and have done an amazing job in your part of God's work in their lives.

See ya later!

Andrew said...

Thanks for your comments Paul. I think the salt/light tension is heightened when you are in ministry and almost everything you and your family are involved in is church. That's what we reflected on when it came to the home-schooling question. Our children's world would be way too insular with ministry and home-schooling...

Paul said...

Paul – as a family who have opted to home-educate our four girls I find your salt/light analogy somewhat facile. It’s so subjective – couldn’t I just throw back that “the decision to state-school appears to be one which involves too much salt and not enough light”? I don’t think anything has been proved either way.

We too view our children as a trust from God, and are endeavouring to be the best stewards we can. We live in a place and a time where we are able to make a choice about home education – that isn’t true for many people on the planet: either there are no schools, or working-parents dictate that state-education is the only option. We’re not evangelists for the cause, we know home education isn’t for everyone ... but we do see it as an honest biblical option.

You offer up the most common thing that home-educators hear with scorn from family and friends: “What about the children’s socialisation?” As though the only reason to home-educate was social protection of our children. Of course, I would want to ask – isn’t that the role of parents to protect their children? You seem to be making a virtue out of the necessary hard-knocks that come children’s way in the school environment. Parents are in the business of nurturing children into adults – fit, capable, world-engaging, gospel-shaped individuals. Is not some “protection” appropriate in the same way that a farmer fences off the young sapling to protect it from the live-stock until it is grown to a tree and can cope with a cow rubbing up against it? If money was no object, would Carey Baptist College provide a residential training pattern for pastoral leaders – so that they were nurtured, shaped and prepared for pastoral ministry with some maturity under their belts, rather than having the stuffing knocked out of them at a tender age/stage?

Isn’t one of the important issues you pass over the actual education content? It’s not as though that comes in a “neutral” context. We might think twice about sending our children to a school with a Buddhist ethos or and Islamic ethos – but is the avowed atheistic ethos not more subtle and subversive in this culture? As the principal of an evangelical theological college, I take it you wouldn’t recommend pastoral leadership students go to a liberal theological college because: “We want them to wrestle with the difficulties associated with mixing in and standing apart at the same time.” To be sure that is the path that some have to take – but it wouldn’t be the ideal.

There is more to home-education than a misguided Christian withdrawal from society. People of “no religion” or other religions home-educate because there are educational pros to being at home rather than school. We see home-education as an opportunity for particular investment in the character development of our girls. Schools might address cognitive targets for children – but we want to equally prioritise character formation. Additionally, home-education offers the opportunity for us to present a breadth of learning, and a concern to learn the skills for life-long learning. So much of schooling seems to me to be not much more than job-training.

I’m not championing the cause of home-education. I know the financial cost, the emotional struggle, the tiredness, the sheer hard work invested by my wife in order to home-educate our children. But it is a valid option for us that I think is at least as biblically faithful as state-education.

Loxley said...

I spend a bit of time helping out at an after school care program at the school across the road from our church. One of the ladies who works there has been verbally tossing up to me the pros and cons of bringing along her 8 year old home-schooled son to mix with the non Christian kids at the program. She says things like 'I need to really get to know these kids before I decide whether or not they are suitable for my son to associate with' and 'I just don't know if this would be good for him'. Now I may be insanely biased because the kids there pretty much rock my socks, but it just makes me really sad wondering how a child under that kind of parental 'guidance' will deal with the functional reality of salt and light faith when (and if) they eventually stand on their own feet in a fallen world.

Yup so re your blog - I concur. Utterly baselessly though considering I'm still living at home with my parents, and even though I check the mirror daily I still can't see any twinkles in my eyes which would apparently suggest that my personal confrontation with this issue is still a good way off.

Rhett said...

Hi Paul.

This has nothing to do with home-schooling (sorry), but we are having a discussion on something you said as part of you address 'Leadership in the 21st Century' over at my blog and I thought it only polite to let you know so that you could make a contribution if you so wish (or find the time!). No worries if not.

The address is: http://rhett.wordpress.com/2008/03/06/out-of-context/

Paul said...

Glad to have a home-schooler jump on in, Paul. I wonder whether you missed a sentence in the original post: "While I have softened over the years and become more sympathetic to the motivation of home-schoolers..."
I think your response paints me as being more critical than I think I am and it would have been a more appropriate response to make to me 20 years ago!

But let me respect your comments by speaking to some of them more specifically:

My sympathies for home-schoolers lie in some of the areas you articulate - like the 'education content' in school curricula. The constructivist philosophy undergirding so much today is a worry - but I'd still lean towards having my children confronting it in high school rather than in university. But I can fully understand people like yourselves who choose not to do so.

I don't find the salt/light distinction to be facile or subjective at all. If I put my kids in public school (as salt) and nurture/disciple them to be different and distinctive in doing so (as light) - then they are keeping alive the salt/light tension, and not erring only on the side of salt.

I know 'socialisation' is a favourite, and unfair, critique of home-schoolers. That is why I didn't raise it! My concern is not a socialisation one, but a missional one. They are different issues. One is all about whether home-schooled kids have enough time with other children (they do!); the other is whether home-schooled kids are taken away from opportunities to be little missionaries for Jesus (I think they are - but I am happy to be convinced otherwise).

As for Carey and if we had all the money we wanted ... I would definitely not go residential. I'd develop this site imnto a Carey Village where the Carey community is seamlessly involved with a Penrose community added to the site (small buisness etc) so that students train in an environment that does not see a withdrawal from society.

You raise other points but maybe this will do for now :)

Paul said...

Perhaps I’ve misunderstood. It seemed to me that your last sentence closed a door on home-education making it a right/wrong, biblical/unbiblical decision rather than a preference decision between valid alternatives: good/better.

I think it’s only fair to compare the alternatives at their best, rather than their worst. And in that regard I think the key thing to be observed would be the role of the parents.

A good result through state-education will come through parents actively engaged in the development of their children, helping them interpret their school experience, helping them see it through gospel lens. If you want them to be “little missionaries” then it will need to be the parents who model, nurture and encourage that. But for every “Paul & Barby” doing a great job with their children, there will be another [some big number] of Christian parents who are unprepared/unaware of what really goes on in the school day of their child. They don’t know the questions to ask, they don’t discern the sub-text of the course material, they aren’t very “missional” themselves and so they don’t know how to help their children. So the de facto option most Christian families follow does come with significant risks.

A good home-education result likewise depends on capable parents. It’s all too easy to react against the bogey-man of state-schooling and swing the pendulum towards a backwoods, hillbilly, fundamentalist, head-in-sand education of children. But generally those who undertake education in the home are attempting to provide at least as good a result as a state-school. Undoubtedly, it will be a mixed-bag of results (educationally, salt/light wise etc.) perhaps even not as good as the best/better gospel-engaged parents who opt for state-education. But I wonder if the mixed-bag result would on average be better (educationally, salt/light wise etc) than the missionally unprepared/unengaged parents of state-schooled families?

Heather said...

Hi Paul,

I don't have kids, so I feel a bit hesitant jumping in, but this is an issue dear to my heart, and also one where my thinking is evolving. I used to think that, were I granted children (currently my husband and I are unable to have children, or even adopt them, but that may change) then they would go to state schools. No question. I also used to think that if we were missionaries then our kids would attend the local school, and we would support them with English language education/creativity etc. as well as Christian formation. Again, no question.

Now, I broadly believe the same, but I think that there are exceptions. My niece and nephew have recently been withdrawn from their local school in South Thailand because the local kids decided that they weren't going to play with yucky white kids. Their parents decided that the effect of that on their children outweighed their own ideals about local integration. Maybe they could have worked it through and the kids come out OK, but the toll it was having in the short term was huge, and they decided that the price was too high.

So I guess in the first instance I would send my own kids to the local school whereever they were, and hope to work through with them all the issues that raised for them. As Christians, as white kids, and then maybe as bright kids, or slow kids, or disabled kids or whatever distinctives they had. But there could come a point where I would say that it was too hard on them, and in that instance I'd withdraw them but seek for them to rub up against the surrounding culture in smaller doses through joining sports clubs, orchestras etc.

I guess my recent understanding is that kids aren't all the same, and you can have a basic position, but the kids themselves may force you to move away from it in their particular case.

--Heather :-)

Paul said...

Actually, Paul I used the verb "appears" in my final sentence so as not to 'close the door' - I was trying to add a bit of tentativity (?) to the way I expressed my own deep convictions on this matter.

I like your comparing best vs best approach and advocate this to others as well. However when I do so with these choices in education I find myself so desperately sad about the number of like-minded evangelicals in NZ who choose to withdraw their children from state schools. As I have said I think this to be the wrong option missionally (accepting Heather's statement that for some it is the best option)... and I fear that such choices are prompted too often by over-hyped fears. Sure - good parenting can alleviate this. Then lets pour energy into supporting parents and training parents as they choose the state school option. That is the outcome to which I would be drawn. And please don't think that 'Paul and Barby' are parents who have found this to be staightforward. They have made mistakes. They have regrets. It is not the easier option - but they'd do it all again.

Thanks Paul (and others) - again!
Your robust contributions have helped sharpen my understanding.

Rachael said...

What a post to come across at my first reading! Hi.

I find it interesting that you would send a five year old out as a missionary, but in looking for missions organisations one is hardpressed to find one that doesn't require theological training of some kind.
Similarly, why does Carey take pastors-in-training aside for some time to train them? Why not just set them up in a new church and mentor them through the first decade?

I'll pin my colours to the mast.
I'm a parent with eight children, none of whom have ever been to school.
Our decision was intentional, researched, considered prayerfully. A decision made, in spite of knowing that one of my greatest heroes of the time (a much younger Paul and Barby Windsor) were sending their children to public school and would not even think about home ed;-) We believe, as Paul does, that our children are entrusted to us. Having them at home does not mean we think we own them. Neither does it mean they don't mix with *sinners* (I mean to say, what are they?!). You don't need to attend a local school to be missionally minded.

I'm sure you don't really want a long drawn-out discussion on this one, but could I recommend two books? John Taylor Gatto's "Dumbing Us Down" (he writes abrasively, but honestly and from a position of experiential authority - I would love for every parent with children in school...any school, that is, private or public....to read this book so that they could understand what they are up against *institutionally speaking* and prepare themselves to help their children) and Oliver van de Mille's "A Thomas Jefferson Education". Every parent (and teacher) should read this argument for leadership education.

They may not convince you that home education is a valid choice, but they are both great books!

Would you be willing to be convinced?

Rachael Ayres (a blast from the past)

Rachael said...

oops if you're looking for the book, try Oliver DeMille....no van!