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

21 thoughts on “The Myths of Homeschooling #2

  1. Why do you keep referring to the lynch mob? Have you gotten some hateful comments that you deleted?

    Anyway- on to my thoughts
    I’ve got to believe the child would do better talking to people who are experts in Euclidean geometry.

    No doubt they would… but are they going to find this icon in the public school? I used to correct my geometry teacher’s proofs when I was in high school. “Excuse me, ma’am, you wrote that wrong!” Funny – she didn’t like me… I am interested to see your conclusion because at the moment you seem to be comparing homeschooling to a perfection that exists nowhere. (fully acknowledging that you said you support homeschooling)

    Basically, so far what I’m seeing is that parents need to learn more, examine their curriculum choices more, and question their motives for certain choices (like Latin)… Oh yeah – and be willing to seek other teachers for needed subjects. (and I know homeschoolers who do all of these things) Am I getting your point or missing it?

    Oh – and I’m totally with you on the teaching Latin thing. I respect people who are doing it -but it seems pointless to me. We’re taking advantage of our upcoming move to TX to learn Spanish.

  2. Well, Dan. I am looking forward to your follow up articles wherein you explain what parents really should be doing.

    I am wondering. Should parents deliver up their children to the tender mercies of our public school system? If that is the case, then what should mom and dad do when their eight year old boy comes home with stories about learning a new lesson that day on how to put condoms on cucumbers? Or how he learned that it is just swell for some families to have “two daddies” or “two mommies”?

    I’m trying not to be overly sarcastic, but you are aware of some of the stuff that goes on in public schools nowadays, aren’t you? (Please, I am not out to “lynch” you.)

    By the way, I have two friends who “home schooled” their children for years. Their kids, now grown up, came out entirely well adjusted and exceptionally bright kids, who, as I recall, are on their way to college. Would you like their parents’ e-mail address so you can compare notes?

  3. Dan,

    On the one hand, as a christian family who has been blessed with wonderful public schools (No condoms on cucumbers or heather has 2 mommies. Click on my blog to read why we think our choice was right for our family), I do appreciate your talking about this. I need to say, my friends who homeschool are wonderfully humble and not self-righteous about our choice. We are in a great church where home school, christian school and public school are all accepted as valid options and there is no division over educational choice.

    I do want to say that I don’t really get your point of Myth #4. Is it that you are advocating agrarianism? Survivalism? I think you are right in questioning the attitude that there is only one good or godly educational philosophy. On the other hand, you have to choose one and then teach it.

    Just my .02


  4. While I’m generally sympathetic to your comments (as a professional educator I tend to believe that professional education has its place), I too am a bit puzzled at your rails against classical education (which, in the broad, pre-20th-c. sense, included instruction in Scripture). Classical education is, first and foremost, values education, and language instruction (in Greek and Latin) not only has the practical value of improving a student’s understanding of grammar and English vocabulary, but also enables the student to read in the original important works on philosophy and morality, whether pagan (Plato, Cicero) or Christian (NT, Augustine).

    This is not to say that students should not also learn science, math and computers, but including a strong classical component allows education to assist the student in his or her lifelong quest to lead an ethical and moral life. And that should be one of the essential goals of any educational program.

  5. I generally am not a fan of homeschooling.
    *It is vitally important for kids, especially Christian ones, to hobnob with people very unlike themselves.
    *Chemistry class at home? Marching band? A meaningful sports program in secondary grades? At home? I’m not sure the pick-up football among homeschoolers in the park will suffice for some students.

    Some schools are allowing homeschoolers to participate in certain classes like electives while the bulk of learning is done at home. This certainly is better but the student still would likely be looked upon as “an outsider” since they don’t go to the main classes in the school. But of course it depends on the school and the student’s personality.

  6. Nicole

    This past Tuesday was the first time I had heard of Classical Education and since I was off to the library anyway, I looked for a copy of The Well Trained Mind. I think you helped me to put a finger on why the emphasis on Latin was making me scratch my head. 😉 But what I like about the approach as a whole is this: I think my biggest job is to get my daughter to love learning. If I can give her the tools to teach herself, I think I will have done my job well.

  7. Dan,

    I agree with some of your comments and disagree with others. More than against homeschooling, I see your piece as a primer on homeschooling pitfalls.

    You do correctly point out that some people see home school as a panacea, which it is not. Some parents are not well equipped to teach. And within some Christian circles, I agree that there is a bias toward homeschooling. But I have also found many Christians to be realists about the whole thing too.

    There are many more co-ops starting all around the place to help parents fill gaps where they are not qualified to teach. Also, there are many real sports leagues and clubs that provide good places for socialization. Most of the homeschool parents that I know do get help from outside sources. This includes community colleges, co-ops, other parents, local schools, etc.

    Like anything, I believe that each family should pray and seek the will of God. A family may even discover that homeschooling one child while sending others to public school is the best plan. You really have to look at what are your motives and goals.

  8. Jeanne

    You said, “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 that they are stressed out by having to teach and run a household without the aid of a spouse at home most of the day.”

    I felt far more stressed out when my kids attended schools that did not meet their needs, and I beat my head against the wall trying to create effective and common sense improvement. Additionally, because the schools’ techniques did not take into account things like learning styles and used tremendous amounts of busy work, I had to spend so much time working with my kids after school when they were exhausted, that I found it to be much less stressful to work with them on my own time and end those horrible afternoons.

    Also, if you think that most moms are trying to conform to a homeschool ideal, you’re not hanging around with the same homeschoolers I hang around with. (In fact, that’s quite possible. I’m a Christian and make it a point to associate in homeschool groups that embrace homeschoolers of all faiths, races, and political backgrounds). The folks I know aren’t worried at ALL about conforming, but instead are focused on doing what’s right for their own children, so their kids can be their best possible selves and contribute to their communities AS their best possible selves.

    You also said, “Homeschooling is harder than most people think” and
    “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.”

    I’ve found homeschooling to be far easier than I anticipated and talk with homeschool moms all the time who say, “If only I’d known! We would have done this long ago!” It takes commitment, indeed, but folks who find it to be as hard as you describe are probably trying a homeschooling style that isn’t working for their family. My observation after years of homeschooling is that parents who try to re-create an inflexible school-at-home type of homeschool will be prone to burn-out. But families, whether they use curriculum or not, who are open to flexibles schedules, reading for fun, and non-traditional learning experiences do just fine.

    As for feeling guilty, it sounds like some of these people must be homeschooling either against their will or inclination or for the wrong reason. I guess I am just fortunate to be around moms and dads who enjoy their kids and have a realistic picture of how homeschooling can work.

    For folks interested in avoiding such burnout who don’t understand the ways to homeschool without guilt, without an eye toward conformity (oh my!), and without such a feeling that it is an overwhelming task, a great book is The Homeschool Family Handbook by Dorothy and Raymond Moore. Another is Art of Education by Linda Dobson. If you haven’t read these books or associated with homeschoolers who have taken their messages to heart, you’ve only seen “one kind” of homeschooler and missed the great diversity within homeschooling.

    I could go on and on rebutting your column — for instance, an extremely popular book among homeschoolers is by Alfie Kohn, Punished by Rewards, which is the complete opposite of a behaviorist approach. Do some homeschoolers use behaviorism? Sure. Do a lot of homeschoolers intentionally reject it? Definitely.

    Oh, and by the way, there ARE MANY Christian Unschoolers, and we find that Christianity and unschooling make perfect sense together!(Google it).

    But I’ll stop. Suffice it to say that your observations don’t begin to cover the broad diversity of attitudes toward homeschooling by homeschoolers. I guess you haven’t seen the wide variety of methodologies that homeschoolers use, and apparently you’re seeing some overwhelmed moms who are guilt-ridden and striving for impossible ideals as representative of the rest of us. Heck, what we do in our family is lie around and read good books, take nature walks, and build forts out of the living room furniture, mixed in with scouts, soccer, and music lessons. This is not rocket science. It’s just enjoying the kids with an eye toward giving them future options to be independent and pursue happiness, mixed in with some commitment to give them some academic skills and the ability to do their own laundry.

  9. Not sure where to start. I am a homeschooling father. It was a tough decision. We live in a great community where there are no cucumbers or heather with two mommies. But we chose to homeschool. Why. Ultimately educating our children in our responsibility. Not the state and not the city. Ours. It is demanded of us.

    So. Logically speaking. If I was going to have to spend 1-2 hours a day deprogramming the garbage my son learns in the public school, why not devote 3 more and keep him home.

    We too are fortunate to have a church family that is accepting of homeschooling, private/christian school and public schools. What about the myths against homeschoolers? Care to touch on that? My children are wholly socialable. My children are involved in sports via the city league and ymca leagues. My children have music class. Participate at church and socialize with public and private school friends. I see this as a non issue.

    I am surprised at one point you didnt bring up. Care to touch upon the salt and light issue? That is the one point that was the hardest to overcome for me. Do we ask Christians owe a service to the world to send our children into public schools as missionaries for the lost?

    Thanks for the discussion. Care if I add you to my links?

  10. Scott

    Lynch mobs? : ) Hehe.

    Dan, I appreciate your thoughts here. What I’m getting out of it, so far, is that if we choose homeschooling we need to be wise as we go forward and always humble. And I agree.

    I was “homeschooled” a year of junior high school and the experience was beneficial for me. Homeschooling can be an important option depending on the needs of your children – as you have already stated and know full well.

  11. Lioness

    As I’m not a Christian, I can’t comment on why Christians choose to homeschool. For myself, I am doing it to provide my children with a solid base of general knowledge and a well-honed toolkit of critical thinking skills to allow them to decide what they want to do in this world — and have a decent chance of doing it.

  12. Damon

    So far, I am choosing to read this material as an exhortation to be excellent in the way we choose to educate our children. You have caused me to think very hard about some of the issues involved.


  13. Elena,

    We are considering putting him into a private school at that time, if we can afford it.

    Or we might consider a charter or co-op homeschool.

    No matter what we do, we won’t be guilty about it.

  14. Elena


    Yes you will. You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t. Part of parenting, especially for a first timer, is figuring all this stuff out, and some of it is trial and error. You will screw something, I guarantee it. We all do. But luckily God made our children resilient and all things work for good, right?…

    Nonetheless it will be enjoyable to watch your perspective develop once you get some more experience behind you.

    From the perspective of a 16-year parenting veteran with 7 kids doing the homeschool/charter school combo – your series has been nostalgic and entertaining.

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