A response to Dan Edelen

Before going any further, let me state the fact that I was home-schooled. For all 12 years of grade-, middle-, and high-school. My parents had various reasons for doing this, from the horrible state of the public schools in Albany NY at the time to wanting to be more involved in my education, but I enjoyed it. I also managed to come out pretty well ‘adjusted’ socially: I can have useful dialogues with people of almost any age, enjoy learning, am a fairly productive employee, etc. Mr Edelen, the author of Cerulean Sanctum, has an impressive set of credentials, and I am not trying to impinge upon his education or research in what I am about to say.

Recently, Mr Edelen wrote regarding “The Myths of Home-schooling” (1 2 3 4). Many of his points were quite valid, and I believe that he has taken a very brave approach in pointing out the hypocrisies of many home-schooling parents.

Myth #1: If you don’t home-school your kids, you’re a bad parent. Mr Edelen correctly points out that having one parent the primary, or even only, teacher is not well-aligned with Biblical principles, especially when that one is the mother. God gave parents – note the plural in that word parents – to be responsible for rearing their charges up in the ‘fear and admonition of the Lord’ [Eph 6:4]. Interestingly, and counter to what seems to be the majority position of home-schooling families, this directive was given to fathers, who are responsible for the well-being of their families. Quoting Mr Edelen, “the stress of forcing all schooling onto one parent is too much for most people to handle.” And he is correct: the responsibility of training children is not the job of just one parent.

As I was going through my schooling, while my mom was the primary teacher for several subjects, there were some she couldn’t handle well, and for those my dad or aunt helped out. And both of my parents had an interest in what I was doing, even when one was less formally involved than the other.

Myth #2: Home-schooling more actively involves parents in their children’s educations. From personal experience, I can say it was true for me, at least through 9th grade. We didn’t use video-based curricula, and only used a CD-based math curricula my last year. Before that it was strictly book- and personally-presented material. By the time I was in the higher grades and my sister was starting school, most of my work was performing assignments from the text books we used, which involved a lot of reading on my part, and then executing the instructions in the books, or writing about what I had read, and often, by that point, on my own.

Mr Edelen correctly says that claiming the video- and computer-based curricula disinvolve the parents is pretty accurate, and that the parents really are as involved as they would be if their children were at a public or private school. Some of those video-school programs don’t even require the parents to grade their children’s work, but rather expect everything to be sent in to a central grading house, and then returned. If anything, this could be considered a gross mistreatment of the student, since feedback on assignments is not available for a long time.

Myth #3: The educational methodology behind most home-schooling curriculum is superior to the methodology used in public schools. From having seen a small sampling of public school textbooks and assignments methods, I agree with Mr Edelen’s assertion: “there are dozens of educational methodologies available to home-schooling parents today. All have blind spots and problems.” One thing that I appreciated about the way my parents taught me was that they didn’t presume there was only one ‘right’ answer, or method to teaching. Yes, in many subjects there is only one correct solution to a given problem (eg math, physics), but there are lots and lots of ways of instilling the concepts in the student. I happen to be able to learn in many different ways, reading from a book, from lectures, from multimedia presentations, and from hands-on application, and my parents, recognizing this, taught me using all sorts of different methods. And if they didn’t know how to get the point across, they tried to find (and were pretty much successful) someone who could figure out how to relate something to me. They realized that they were finite, and couldn’t be the best at everything, and that understanding was borne out to my benefit.

Myth #4: The ________ method is by far the best way to home-school kids. “Fill-in that blank with ‘biblical,’ ‘classical,’ ‘constructivist’ or whatever the hottest trend in home-schooling is and I’ll bet dollars to donuts that it misses the point most of the time.” [Mr Edelen]

He’s right in this statement, as I pointed out above just in myself. “Whenever I hear someone saying that they are giving their children a biblical education, I ask if they’re teaching crop rotation and animal husbandry.” While this strikes our western ears as quite funny, it’s also very true. In expounding on this myth, though, Mr Edelen goes off on a pretty strange tangent: discussing out-sourcing of high-tech jobs, and suggests that the most responsible thing for parents to do is to teach their children how to survive (agricultural skills), rather than “calculus if all the jobs that use it in the United States are fleeing to cheaper markets.” Perhaps I am misunderstanding his point here, but the parents’ job is not to make their child the next Bill Gates, Nelson Rockefeller, or Warren Buffet. Without an unusually large amount of money, no parent anywhere can make their kid a person like that. It is the parents’ job to prepare their children to be a productive member of society, but more importantly to teach them the Bible, and the good news of salvation. It doesn’t matter how smart or well-educated a child is when he hits the ‘real world’ if he ends up spending eternity separated from God. While no parent can ensure their child is saved, they can ensure that they hear the law and the gospel.

Myth #5: A parent is a child’s best teacher. For some things, this statement is absolutely true, but for myriad others is a patent fallacy. For Christian parents, it is proved weekly in that they leave their children in the care of nursery workers, Sunday school teachers, and pastors to be educated in God’s word. I’m quite happy that my parents decided very early on that they would always get me a correct answer to any question I asked, even when they didn’t know. They found someone who could answer my curiosities. Sometimes they didn’t need to go far; there would be someone in church who knew the subject I was asking about. Other times, they spent time on their own finding someone they worked with who could help, or went to the library and got me a couple books that covered the subject area.

For example, in middle school, I got interested in wood-working and basic carpentry. My parents found someone (who happened to go to our church) who was willing to teach me at least the basics of wood-working, and I asked him a lot of questions, most of which my parents couldn’t have answered.

My parents did have family times of studying the Bible, but never claimed to be expert theologians. They’re continuing to learn even now, but they understood that the ‘heavy lifting’ in Biblical study was being done by my Sunday school teachers and our pastors. They reinforced what I was hearing at church, but didn’t claim to be better at teaching those things than my teachers were.

Myth #6: It is more “Christian” to home-school. Mr Edelen continues, “Many of the home-schooling pundits today make it sound like you can’t be a good Christian and not home-school your children. But, wow, that’s a huge slap in the face to their parents, isn’t it?” & “God has not placed His sole imprimatur on home-schooling. In fact, I sometimes doubt how concerned He is with just how are our children are educated and what methods are used in that education than He is that our kids serve Him and love Him with all their hearts, souls, and minds.” Mr Edelen makes a good point here. An awful lot of very good Christian parents utilize non-home-school options to educate their children. Many have opted to use a Christian school. Others use the public schools, and some have used charter or private schools. For me, most likely the best option was to home-school. I would have gone nuts in a public school where they have to teach to the median, since I would not have been challenged much. When I got out of high-school, I worked for a year before going to college, at which my coworkers taught me what I needed to know to do my job, but were willing to teach me more when I asked, and they could teach me at the speed I was able to learn, since it was more of a one-on-one setting. When I started at the local community college I had a hard time waiting for my professors to teach at the speed I expected to learn. I had to find other things to occupy my time, because I was learning faster than they taught, so I ended up getting a long way ahead of my classmates in most classes.

Myth #7: Home-schooling protects our children. This is one of the biggest dangers I have witnessed occurring in many solid Christian homes. They have become extremely sheltering and protective of their children, forgetting that they have a ‘quiver full’ of children that God has entrusted to their care. Some parents think they’re supposed to hold on to that quiver for ever, but the point of having arrows is to fire them at the enemy, not to hold onto them for some later date. Parents that shield their children too much end up, from my observations, with children who get into the ‘real world’ after high-school, and then go crazy trying out all sorts of things in college: drugs, getting drunk, sex, partying, etc. Since they didn’t have a metered exposure to the world growing up, they don’t really realize just how bad sin is, until they’ve managed to dive head first into it.

Mr Edelen states: “Good parents will work with their kids to combat bad messages. If we want to train our children to think, what better way than to have them experience lies firsthand.” This is exactly right. Children need to be exposed to the world. Not to become like it, but to understand what they’re being told, and what they’re being sold. With a healthy understanding of what the bill of goods is that the world is trying to offer, they will be prepared to counter it far more effectively than if they are prevented from seeing any of it until they get out of their parents’ home.

Myth #8: Home-schooled children are smarter than their peers. People get confused as to what exactly ‘being smart’ is. I have met a lot of people who knew a lot (and knew that they knew a lot), but were incredibly unintelligent. I have also met a decent number of people who are very smart, but don’t know a lot. Intelligence isn’t demonstrated exclusively by how much you know, but by how you use that knowledge. I’ve met people who have a nearly photographic memory, but can only regurgitate facts for tests and trivia, and never figure out how to apply what they have read, heard, and seen into their daily lives.

I happen to be very good at standardized tests, I tend to take them very quickly, and I generally don’t need to study for them to still do well. I have tried to help some friends of mine prepare for the SAT or ACT who are patently great students, and who do well learning, but freeze up on those kind of tests, or just can’t answer enough questions in the time allotted.

What this myth really speaks to is that for students who are willing to learn, and who have teachers who are willing to challenge them, whether they be parents or ‘real’ teachers, those students will do very well. They’ll do well because they’re highly motivated, and because they have a high native intelligence. Students who don’t want to be challenged, or ones who can’t find teachers who will challenge them, will find other things to occupy their attentions. Those who don’t want to be challenged will go through school, doing ‘well enough’, finish up, and start working somewhere that is not very demanding. Maybe they’ll go to college, but they’ll likely pick ‘easy’ majors, and get out and do something that doesn’t require lots of effort. Those who can’t find someone to challenge them will either find stuff to do on their own that challenges them, or they’ll lose interest and just eke by, as their less motivated classmates do.

Smarts are really shown forth when students are given the chance to excel, when they’re given a challenge. I would venture to say that most good tradesmen, like mechanics, roofers, carpenters, etc, are also very smart. Their intelligence is shown in very applied areas, often even in areas that don’t require lots of training, but a good carpenter knows exactly how much wood he needs, how long it will take him, and what the finished product will look like. He might not have gone to school to learn his craft, but he knows it well, and is smart. If you hand him a standardized test, however, he could easily do very poorly on it, just because all of his intelligence is focused on his trade.

Mr Edelen finished up his series with the following points:

Home-schooling is not for everyone. “One of the backbone beliefs of the home-schooling movement is that parents know their own kids best. Then why do some home-school advocates lambaste parents who believe their children would thrive in a non-home-schooled environment?

No one educational method reigns. “Frankly, I believe that anyone home-schooling to a lone methodology (e.g. – classical, unschooling, behavioral, etc.) is robbing their kids of a broad-based education. That goes for private and public schools, too.”

Don’t despise the basics. “I firmly believe that instructing our children in a locally-needed trade may be the best work prep we can offer our kids. If we subsequently add into this mix an understanding of the land, animal husbandry, and small farm techniques, we can ensure them a better future than the one that is already upon us.” Learning a marketable trade is fantastic, and is a great way to spread the gospel, in my opinion. There is an auto shop near my apartment that is closed on Sunday, expressly because everybody who works there goes to church on Sundays. I don’t know them well personally, but it’s a huge testimony that the whole place is closed just so they can go worship God. During the week, they routinely have Christian music playing quietly in the background, and have Bibles and Christian books lying around the main office for anyone who wanders in to see, and read if they want. I don’t know if teaching children basic farming skills is necessarily required, but it can’t hurt them.

God is a God of grace. “If we firmly believe that He is in control, then we will entrust the care of the children He’s given us – children that are not ours, but His – to Him and Him alone.”

Education is not the path to salvation. “Home-schooling, like anything else, can become an idol. God would much prefer a non-scholar with a heart that burns for Him than a Nobel-winning scientist who claims He does not exist. That’s where our focus should be, raising kids for Christ, no matter where they go to school.”

One more point needs to be made about this topic, and it’s something my parents did with me, that they learned from some close friends of the family. It is not the parents’ job to pick the career their children will follow. We got to know the parents of one of the men in our church many years ago, and one evening while chatting with them over dinner, his father said something very interesting. He knew that his son was never going to be a farmer like he was; his son loved trains, and wanted to work with them. Growing up on a farm meant lots of relatively unenjoyable tasks that needed to be done daily, weekly, and seasonally, that had nothing to do with his son’s interests. While he required his son to do those chores, he recognized that his son wasn’t going to follow in his footsteps, and he encouraged him.

Some parents get it in their heads that their child will be a doctor, lawyer, engineer, take over the family business, whatever. Parents who force their children into their preconceived notions about what they should be can often be ignoring their children’s personal strengths, and more living vicariously through them, instead of letting them live their own lives, and do what they are interested in.

Some people claim that you can’t enjoy what you do for work – that’s why they call it work. Parents who force their children into what they want them to do instead of letting them follow their interests do their children a great disservice. I happen to enjoy system administration, programming, and other IT-related tasks. My parents saw early on that I was really interested in computers, and not just in playing games, or frivolous activities, but that I really wanted to know how they worked, and I wanted to build stuff with them that was useful. They encouraged me to do that. They bought a lot of books about programming, hardware, networking, etc for me. And they encouraged me to go to school for information systems.

If parents who are trying to push their children into some particular career path instead encouraged them to find something they a) like, b) can get paid for, and c) is ethical, I think they will find that their children grow up to be much happier adults. I still find it somewhat astonishing that people are willing to pay me to do something I do for fun.