The Myths of Homeschooling #2


If you didn’t catch the first part of this look at the myths of homeschooling, click this link or else you’ll have no foundation from which to understand what follows.

With that, let’s look at more myths of homeschooling.

Myth #4: The ________________ method is by far the best way to homeschool kids

Fill-in that blank with “biblical,” “classical,” “constructivist” or whatever the hottest trend in homeschooling is, and I’ll bet dollars to donuts it misses the point most of the time.

How so?

A simple question: “What education is sufficient to ensure your child can eat in the future?” Truthfully, the education most of us received is wholly inadequate to ensure anything so basic as survival. Whenever I hear people insist they provide their children a biblical education, I ask if they’re teaching crop rotation and animal husbandry. That’s what people in Bible times knew, right?

We’ve romanticized education to the point that it provides little to people today. We think of ourselves as educated, but if times got tough, could we feed ourselves without having to rely on others to provide us food? At homeschoolProbably not. The farmer in Afghanistan may not know C++, quadratic equations, or the Suzuki method, but he can grow enough food to put on the family table.

When we look at what the people of Bible times learned, much of it doesn’t progress further than a fifth grade education. The problem is that a fifth grader today is never instructed in the things an agrarian society like that of Palestine 1000 BC taught as basic knowledge. They knew how to raise livestock and crops to feed themselves, but we place no merit on that today. To them, we would be fools running around raving about American history and the value of Latin, but we’d die of starvation, our heads filled with spurious “knowledge.”

What was true for people of Biblical or classical times is another set of realities we have devalued. Do we teach our kids how to slaughter animals, manage crops, interpret the weather, and all those other highly valuable bits of wisdom people long ago used daily to survive? Why not? What value does knowing that a particular mushroom’s Latin genus name translates to “pretty maid of the forest” if we can’t tell whether it’s edible or not?

The flip side of this is just as painful. The value of certain kinds of educations are in constant flux. Does it pay to teach your child calculus if all the U.S. jobs that require it are fleeing to cheaper markets? What good is getting a degree in history if it’s used solely for self-reference? In a global economy with priorities in constant flux, can any of us be smart enough to ride the wave of the latest trend and impart it to our child quickly enough to enable them to join us? Many of the people beholden to the new wave of classical homeschooling education convince themselves that children must know Plato, Shakespeare, and Latin. But how practical is that kind of education? Perhaps the people of Bible times had it right. At least they could put their own food on the table when the day was done.

(As for Christians who push Latin, I’d like to know how that language somehow trumped ancient Greek. I understand that Latin serves as the basis for several languages including our own, but with the stark exception of Spanish, Latin-based languages are dying out in the global marketplace. Might as well just learn Spanish. Yes, English uses a lot of Latin, but it uses more of other languages. At least with Greek a child could read the New Testament in its original language.)

Again, I wonder if the way we educate our kids comes down to our own pride. So much of what I hear from homeschooling parents is a giant case of one-upmanship. We may have to swallow that pride, though. Parents of kids now entering their school years may find all colleges will cost a quarter million dollars for four years by the time those children reach 18. Is the middle class prepared to meet a day when we can’t afford to send our kids to college? What then? If we instructed them in a trade that’s relatively impervious to the vagaries of globalism, taught them how to raise their own food, and instilled in them a solid Christian worldview, maybe that’s the best we can hope for.

But is this what we’re teaching?

Myth #5: A parent is a child’s best teacher


That may have been true when the sum total of knowledge could be put into a three volume encyclopedia, but it doesn’t work today. We live in a time when knowledge is increasing almost exponentially and no parent, no matter how wise, can stay on top of it all. This is true of both general knowledge and specific knowledge. A doctor graduating 50 years ago was required to know far less than a second-year med student today. And with the changes in medicine that occur almost daily, keeping up with the latest medical wisdom is a nonstop task for doctors. In addition, a quick scan of a news site shows how general knowledge builds and builds. Expecting any individual to keep up with it on even a basic level is wishful.

While communities of the past understood parents provided basic education, almost everyone in that community would also agree that specialists imparted unique understanding parents could not provide. An island mentality did not best serve their children then, nor will it ours today.

I say “baloney” above because too many parents think they can muddle through as the specialist in their child’s education. “Best teacher” often translates into “only teacher.” When a parent tells me they are relearning Euclidean geometry to help their child learn, I believe the child would do better learning from experts in Euclidean geometry. The finest DVD or computer-driven curriculum will not be able to answer for parents who think they’re experts, yet who are stumped at the first question their kids ask.

I hear Christian parents also talking about how they can best teach their child the Bible, but I contend that Biblical wisdom, even in homes that appear like bastions of Christian thought, is disturbingly lacking. Generally, a fully developed Christian worldview does not exist, even in Christian households. (Nancy Pearcey repeatedly laments this reality in her book Total Truth; I would challenge everyone to read her book. It’s an ugly truth, but it’s truth nonetheless.) Such a lack is shameful, but it’s better to admit our own deficiencies than to persist in believing we’re theologians and rob our kids of the best knowledge of the Bible they might receive. Yes, we must do better in this regard, but experimenting on our kids is not the way to improve our own middling Bible knowledge.

To those attempting to homeschool on their own, I say, “Let go.” There’s no sin in acknowledging that you may not be the best choice to teach your child beyond a couple simple subjects. I applaud the fact that some co-op homeschool groups exist that pass the responsibility of teaching to adults gifted in varying disciplines. Take advantage of that option, if possible, and stop beating yourself up because you were trying to wear a “Superteacher” hat along with all the other dozen hats we force people to wear in the America today.

This series continues in The Myths of Homeschooling #3.


This four-part series:

The Myths of Homeschooling #1

The Myths of Homeschooling #2

The Myths of Homeschooling #3

The Myths of Homeschooling #4

The Myths of Homeschooling #1


Google myths of homeschooling and invariably you get a page defending homeschooling. What you never get is an analysis of the hype that surrounds this most divisive of topics.

At the risk of being shunned, scolded, and potentially stoned to death by an angry mob of Basic Youth Conflicts graduates, I want to talk about the homeschooling craze and the tsunami of myths it perpetuates. At homeschoolAnyone who desires to cut through the homeschooling hype is subject to punishment, as if the act of homeschooling is above question. Yet all kinds of learning exist; homeschooling is just one option in a sea of possibilities.

Before I go on, I’d like to discuss my background. My degree is in Christian Education from Wheaton College. I’ve vigorously studied curricula used in homeschooling, so I know the content. I’m also, as most people reading this are, a product of the public school system. My mother was a public kindergarten and preschool teacher for many years and was anti-homeschooling. Despite this, she was an outstanding educator and a mother admired not only by her kids, but also by other mothers. As for my wife and I, we homeschooled our son for a time because of my background and his needs. So this is not a diatribe against all homeschooling or else I’d be a hypocrite.

My hope for this series is to slice through the rhetoric that surrounds homeschooling and to honestly examine its strengths and weaknesses. This is a touchy subject loaded with potential landmines, but homeschooling has its troubling issues and few Christians examine them honestly. Instead, many Christian families are swept along by the homeschooling tsunami unable to clearly consider all its issues.

Let’s take a look at the first few myths:

Myth #1: If you don’t homeschool your kids, you’re not a good parent

We say it’s all about the children, but hasn’t homeschooling become a criterium for sorting the good parents from the bad? Have we not made it a source of pride for those who do homeschool, using homeschooling as a litmus test for labeling others?

No myth does more to generate a class structure within churches than this one. Too many adults classify each other based on whether they homeschool or not. Worse, many Christian organizations insist that to be a good parent, you must homeschool.

Behind this mistaken notion lies numerous problems. On a basic level, our 21st century societal structures don’t support homeschooling. The work lives of the majority of Americans differ dramatically from those of adults at the time of this nation’s founding, when most children received their educations at home. In those pre-industrial days, both parents worked from home and America was largely agrarian. Both parents equally taught their children, not just one homeschooling parent, as is common today.

Sadly, few people question contemporary work situations that take at least one of the parents out of the home all day. By all standards, particularly biblical ones, having only one parent involved in the schooling of children is a defective method at its core, yet it is held out as the ideal today. The stress of forcing all schooling onto one parent is too much for most people to handle, yet many homeschooling parents labor under the pressure to conform to that defective standard, forced to grin and bear the responsibility like a good soldier.

But homeschooling is not meant to be a lesson in endurance. I suspect that many homeschooling moms—if allowed to vent their true feelings on the issue apart from the pressure they feel to conform to a homeschooling ideal—would say the stress and pressure to teach and run a household without the aid of a spouse at home most of the day is overpowering. Trying to jam the responsibility of two adults into one is more than many can bear, yet they shuffle on lest someone accuse them of not being a good parent because they no longer homeschool.

Homeschooling is harder than most people think. Curiously, the Christian organizations that trumpet homeschooling provide no coping methods or assistance for Christian families who seek to have both parents at home—the ideal homeschooling environment—rather than just one. Little is said about the work environments that exist today that take one of the parents out of the home for most of the day while the other struggles to manage all the requirements of keeping a household running while homeschooling.

Homeschooling is not about guilt, yet many adults who cannot homeschool—or those who do and are buried under the load it entails—feel guilty all the time. It’s time we Christians made life easier for both homeschooling and nonhomeschooling parents by dropping the “you’re a bad parent if you don’t homeschool” rhetoric we wield like a club. Many families are struggling and to judge any family by whether it homeschools or not is not of God.

Myth #2: Homeschooling more actively involves parents in their children’s educations

There’s a dirty little secret behind much of homeschooling. I know folks who insist what follows is not them, but my experience proves otherwise.

We all know homeschooling parents who brag about the fact that their kids don’t watch TV or that they don’t even have a TV in the house. Yet how curious that so many of these same parents see no problem with placing a child in front of a computer for hours on end doing computerized homeschool curricula. Many parents can’t draw a distinction between three hours of spurious TV viewing and the three hours their kids spend each day glued to some video-driven homeschool curricula, either. That hypocrisy is perfectly understandable given the ridiculously high regard we give homeschooling. We give parents kudos for homeschooling regardless of how well they actually teach.

From my perspective, a kid wedded to a computer or TV for hours on end is not getting a more parent-driven education than a child who sits in a public school classroom. We’re deceiving ourselves if we believe this myth. Worse yet, the parents who howl about public school content rarely take the time to review the homeschool computer or video content their kid is inhaling for hours on end.

Let’s be honest here. Computer or TV-based homeschooling courses are as much a babysitter as is commercial TV or the public school teacher. A harried mom can sit Junior down in front of a video on fractions then attend to scrubbing the kitchen floor. I understand how hard homeschooling is, but it’s the dishonesty that attends this issue that bothers me. Use the computer and TV-based curriculm, but understand it for what it is. And don’t hide behind the aura of homeschooling if what you’re doing is plopping your kids in front of curricula run from a DVD, videotape, or computer.

Myth #3: The educational methodology behind most homeschooling curriculum is superior to the methodology used in public schools

B.F. Skinner is the psychological theorist behind behaviorism and operant conditioning. We’ve all seen rats trained to press a lever to receive a reward of food or electrical brain stimulation. Ever since Skinner debuted his educational theories in the ’40s and ’50s, Christians have decried behaviorism as dehumanizing brainwashing. Firmly rooted in a naturalistic, Darwinian worldview, reviled as anti-God, pro-Communist, and secular humanism at work, behaviorism is the educational methodology Christians most oppose.

Unbelievably, the majority of Christian homeschool curricula are based on behavioristic teaching methods. Even more ironic, public schools have moved away from behaviorism while Christians have castigated them for doing so.

When I first examined this problem back in the early 1990s, the three most popular Christian homeschool curricula were Skinnerian to the core. Since that time, other methodologies have arisen, but behavioral teaching methods still predominate.

“Unschooling” is growing within some Christian circles, but it is based on the theories of Jean-Jacques Rousseau as expressed in his book Emile. It’s surprising that Christian homeschooling parents would want to follow the ideas of Rousseau, an anti-family scoundrel if there ever was one, but such is the reality of our modern educational methods that it’s hard to turn anywhere without finding a problematic theorist behind any learning method.

Dozens of educational methodologies exist to confound homeschooling parents today. All have blind spots and problems. Some are better than others and a mix of them might be the best option of all. And as for one, the classical education, I will save some insights on it for later.

Stayed tuned for more in this look at the myths of homeschooling as I tackle the issues of what constitutes an appropriate education today, how Christians are ignoring changes in our culture, and how that must alter our educational content, and more.


This four-part series:

The Myths of Homeschooling #1

The Myths of Homeschooling #2

The Myths of Homeschooling #3

The Myths of Homeschooling #4