The Day Homeschooling Dies
My sons never went to school.
One day, as my oldest son and I were discussing his upbringing, I had a revelation about this movement we all call “homeschooling.”
I said to Seth, “When you have kids, they won’t go to public school. They won’t go to private school. They won’t go to a Christian school.”
“And,” I concluded, “your kids won’t be home schooled, either.”
The realization I had while talking with Seth is that God had begun something many years ago and, although it eventually came to be called “homeschooling,” it really wasn’t about schooling at all. Here is what I mean.
The Collapse of the Family
For thousands of years children have grown up in what today would be considered an unnatural place: their own homes. In this setting, parents never thought of themselves as “home schoolers.” There was no alternative to children spending their days at home, having knowledge, experiences and character passed to them by their parents and extended family. What children needed to know, they learned as part of their daily lives: sowing and reaping, weather, how a business works, how to treat customers (and everyone else, for that matter).
Life was their education. To say this another way: children did not learn what they needed to know only from books; rather they learned what they needed to know because what they were doing required that they learn it.
Throughout history, small, homogeneous groups have attempted to provide a common education for their youth, yet it wasn’t until around the mid 1800′s that entire nations decided to take children out of the home and “school” them. I will briefly mention the two main causes for this dramatic change in the way we began raising our children. (Interestingly, both occurred at approximately the same time).
First, in the mid-1800’s the Industrial Revolution began. Newly built factories needed laborers and the siren call went forth for men to leave their homes and be paid a salary (something new for most men). The possibility of being able to increase one’s family’s standard of living was the draw that caused men to cease being patriarchs of a family enterprise and become employees.
Around this same time, another movement was taking shape: The Common (Public) School Movement. The leaders of the Public School Movement were, for the most part, humanists who were concerned about two things they believed endangered America’s future: The continuation of what they called “religious superstitious beliefs” and the influx of illiterate immigrants seeking jobs and a better life in America. These leaders believed that realizing their two-fold goal of ridding our society of religion and providing an education for immigrant children mandated compulsory education for every child. Soon, various states were passing Compulsory Attendance Laws and children were being required to leave home to be public schooled.
So, as dads were leaving home with a promise of employment, children were also leaving home with a promise of being made employable. Within a very short period of time, the family unit—which had been tightly held together as its members worked together for the common good of the whole—became a group of individuals going their separate ways with separate agendas. To the factories went the dads. To the schools went the kids. Where Mom went is the subject of another (and very important) article.
It wasn’t long before people forgot what it was like to be a family with Dad as the head of a “family enterprise” and each member being co-producers. In one generation, the cultural memory of children growing up at home was forgotten. Children belonged “in school” during the most productive hours of their day, learning whatever would make them employable, becoming independent, establishing strong relationships with peers that replaced the bonds of family. And what had been a lifestyle of learning became “book learning” as education became separated from a real life that was no longer being lived.
Of course, there was always a small group of families whose children never attended public school. Typically, these were American’s wealthiest whose children received exclusive private educations in areas intended to prepare them for leadership in government, education, science and business. Most Americans don’t realize that public school was never intended to prepare leaders. It has always been intended to prepare employees. [For a fuller understanding of this subject, read John Gatto's books, The Underground History of American Education, A Different Kind of Teacher, and Dumbing us Down].
How Should We Then School?
In the 1950′s — one hundred years after the Public School Movement began — some middle class parents began to desire an educational experience for their children whose curricula was more individualized. It was at this time that the Private School Movement began. I attended one of these schools in what should have been my fourth grade. It was little more than an experimental school run by one man who was also the only teacher. He didn’t like having one fourth grader, so I was skipped to fifth grade where there was one other student. I don’t remember learning much, but it was more fun than public school!
During the Civil Rights years, the Christian School Movement began along with its own particular brand of curricula which was mainly “Christianized” public schooling. The concept remained that children were to be brought out of their homes and taught by educators, (presumably Christian), who, because they were “professionals” would do a better job of training children than could the children’s parents. It seemed that parents would now get the best of both worlds: a public-style education that was also Christian.
Then, in the late 1970′s and early 1980′s, a movement arose that many consider nothing less than God’s intervention to undo what had taken place in the last century. All over the country, parents began keeping their children home instead of sending them to one of the other schooling options. Some parents made this decision out of concern for their children’s safety while others didn’t like the education their children were receiving. However, the majority decided to keep their children home simply because they wanted a relationship with them and parents didn’t think this would happen if their children were gone all day long. It was quite a novel (and controversial) idea that children should be kept home during the schooling hours of the day.
So, today, parents have several choices as to how their children might be schooled. They can be:
- Public Schooled
- Private Schooled
- Christian Schooled
- Home Schooled
Note that the above choices relate mainly to the location where the schooling takes place. In the past 150 years, what has changed is the first word, not the second. Each choice still emphasizes the fact that children are to be schooled: the scope of information (subject matter) and the way (including the sequencing) in which it is to be learned remain, essentially, the same, regardless of where the child is schooled.
A Misunderstood Movement?
I don’t know how keeping our children home during the day came to be known as “Home Schooling,” but I do have a theory: Ask parents, “What should children, age six to eighteen, be doing during the day, Monday through Friday?” and most will say, “These are the years when a child is being schooled, of course.” (This is why we have such phrases in our vocabulary as school-age children).
It follows that, if a child is to be “schooled” during these specific years, the only real question is, “Where will he be schooled?” Today, the answer is, “He will either be public schooled, private schooled, Christian schooled, or home schooled.”
Assuming that every child is supposed to be schooled during the day, if he is home during the day, he will be home schooled during the day. Hence the origin of the label “homeschooling.”
Now, I want to ask, “Is schooling really supposed to be a child’s primary daily activity?” It wasn’t until the advent of the modern Public School Movement. Schooling a child was never meant to be the “constant” with the variable being only where the child is schooled.
What is so problematic with the term “Home Schooling” is what it has done to parents whose children are spending their days at home.
Labeling What We Are Doing “Homeschooling”
Labeling something gives it meaning—identifies it.
If we are comfortable with certain words in the label and not so comfortable with other words in the label, those words with which we feel least secure will take on greater significance.
Take the word homeschooling. If we are secure in our home and in how we are raising our children, we raise them from a place of God’s rest. If we are insecure in our schooling, we become afraid and do not school from a place of God’s rest. Instead, we become driven to overcome our insecurity (a nice word for fear) and focus on whatever we feel is needed to make sure we do school right. Whatever we fear becomes a driver in our lives as we attempt to overcome our fear and find security.
When parents send their children to school, they feel a sense of security that trained professionals will educate their kids. Most parents would not assume they could do a job which others had spent years being trained to do. We might have felt that we could raise our children in some areas, but not provide for their education.
Then, one day, we became homeschoolers. Insecure homeschoolers, perhaps; but homeschoolers, nonetheless. However, since what we were doing was labeled “homeschooling,” we, in our insecurity, actually became home-SCHOOLERS rather than HOME-schoolers. The importance of our children becoming educated (isn’t that what children do during the day?) took on greater prominence than the importance of them being home. It hasn’t helped that there is no cultural memory of what having our children home really means to the family or to society.
What did I mean when I told my son, “And, your kids won’t be homeschooled”? During Seth’s years at home, his academic education was never the main priority. In our home, we did have a fairly rigid priority structure, but those priorities were first relationships; second, practical skills; and, finally, academics. Seth grew up with a strong academic upbringing, but academics were never our priority. Seth is a skilled, very competent individual of the highest character. He is also one of the happiest young men I know. And, he loves the Lord.
As I look back on Seth’s time at home, I have come to realize that he was never “homeschooled.” He simply grew up in a most remarkable place: his own home.
When our children were young we would take them with us to the store. Other kids were in school. The check-out lady would invariably ask, “You boys aren’t in school today?”
Since the boys knew we were homeschoolers, they would respond, “No, ma’am, we’re homeschooled.”
If I could do it all over again, I would not call ourselves “homeschoolers.” I have actually come to dislike the term because I think it creates significant internal problems. If I were starting over again, when the lady at the store asked, “You boys aren’t in school today?” I would teach the boys to say, simply, “No ma’am,” and let it go at that.
In just the past year I have noticed a growing distinction between children who are home, being HOMEschooled and those who are home, being homeSCHOOLED. Are the “not-being-homeschooled” children receiving a quality upbringing, including a quality education? Today enough research exists that I can honestly say an unequivocal “yes”. I would even go so far as to say that the not-being-homeschooled child is receiving an education which is superior to the child being homeschooled. [For a fuller discussion on this, see my article, "Identity-Directed Homeschooling"].
The availability of what has come to be known as “prepackaged curricula” is helping manifest a separation of the two types of families who were once grouped together under the one term: “homeschoolers.”
Many parents purchase prepackaged curricula because they don’t understand what God originally intended when He began this movement many years ago.
What do you think your children should be doing all day now that they are home? Probably the most obvious way to determine what you really believe is to ask yourself, “Is my child the constant or is my child’s education the constant?” Look at the materials you use to bring learning into your child’s life. Do you use graded, prepackaged, curricula? Is your child in a grade as he would be if he were in an institutional setting? Do you follow the institutionalized Scope & Sequence educational model?
Or, have you stepped completely out of the lock-step, institutional way of raising your child?
This article is not intended to discourage, but to give hope. In most parents’ hearts is the desire to reprioritize their lives around what is truly important to them: having a relationship with their children. To bring your children home can be an immense lifestyle change. For some, making this change has to be done in stages. If you have brought your children home it may have been necessary (for a season) to place before them the ever popular “curriculum-in-a-box.” Hopefully, that season will be short-lived.
Our children never went to school, were never in a grade, and we never used a prepackaged curriculum. Nevertheless, it took us a while to learn all that I am sharing with you here. Be encouraged. You are allowed to do what your heart tells you is right.
If We Aren’t Homeschooling, What ARE We Doing?
Right now, nearly two million children are spending their days at home rather than “at school,” thus putting an end to a 150 year “detour” which began in the 1850’s and which seriously harmed family life and Kingdom community as God initially intended them to be lived. As families leave this detour and return to the road whose name is “Life As It Was Meant To Be Lived,” we will see vistas we didn’t know existed. Let me offer some suggestions:
1. Although I am one of homeschooling’s strongest advocates, I understand there may be reasons why it is appropriate for parents to send their child to school. Some reason may include:
- God has told them to. The Bible has a lot to say about raising children, but one of them is not “Thou shalt homeschool.”
- Family or personal issues make it impossible to homeschool a child. When this is the case, I assume God’s grace will be sufficient to overcome any issues this could potentially cause.
- The school will provide an avenue for the child’s talents that homeschooling will not (ie. in team sports). I have also seen parents place a homeschooled child in public school for the final year(s) of high school because the child is mature enough to handle peer issues and because doing this may afford an avenue for college scholarships.
Just remember that, as John Gatto says, “School books school. Real life educates.” Schools do not see their purpose as cultivating each child’s giftings, talents and callings. Though a child may be in school, parents are still responsible for seeing to it that their child receives an education.
2. If you are educating your child at home, don’t bring the school (along with its “efficient”, but arbitrary, grade levels, scope & sequence, out-of-the-box curriculum) into your home. Make sure your child learns what he needs to know to be able to function in a 21st century world. Beyond that, make sure your child has the time and the resources to become awesome at what God has gifted him to do in life.
3. Learn how to awaken curiosity in your children. (This is the subject of another article.)
4. The only thing that should be prepackaged is your child. By this I mean your child was born with all the talents, giftings, and callings put into him or her since the foundation of the world. Find out what these are and let your child become truly good at what you discover. [For a fuller discussion of this, see the article, "Identity Directed Homeschooling"]
5. Dad’s heart must turn toward his children and the hearts of the children must turn toward Dad. Ultimately, this may bring Dad out of the corporate workforce to come home. This final step may take another generation to be fulfilled. But, for it to be fulfilled, Dad must at least begin moving in that direction (ie. giving his children the option of becoming entrepreneurs, themselves).
6. In your own home, let “homeschooling” die. In other words, don’t homeschool your children.
God has asked us to raise a generation prepared for the future by allowing each individual to become exactly what the Creator intended each one to become. “Schooling” assumes generic human beings. None of your children are generic, so none of them should be “schooled”. Each child’s education will be as different as is each child’s giftings, talents and callings. This is what will bring glory to their Creator as well as joy to their own lives.
Chris Davis is the father of four grown children. He founded The Elijah Company in 1988, one of the first Christian homeschool supply companies. Since 2002, Chris has been taking homeschooling families to Israel annually through his company, Homeschool Travel. Visit his website, Homeschool Travel.