Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Response to Kevin Johnson's Criticisms of Home-Schooling

This is a reply to a blog post by Reformed Protestant Kevin Johnson, entitled, "The education God gave…" His words will be in blue. I have cited his article in its entirety. My wife home-schools our four children, and has done so for the last ten years, since our oldest child (born in 1991) was old enough to be taught.

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It is interesting of course that many if not most “anti” public school advocates are products of the very system that they criticize.

Indeed. I should think that puts them in a position to know a few things about the matter. Having been brought up in that thoroughly secular milieu (I attended all Detroit public schools), those of us with that experience would be in a very good place to know firsthand how damaging such an education can be, as it included no spiritual or religious element whatsoever, and very little even in the way of moral or character formation (and was deliberately planned to be such: going back to Horace Mann and John Dewey, who designed the American public school system). My parents were nominal Methodists, so I didn't receive any particular theological or spiritual formation at home. The public schools, of course, have gotten much, much worse, since 1976 when I last atended one. With all that secular rot that I learned, is it any wonder that I emerged as a good little, secularist, pagan? What else would you expect if that was the main input of learning in one's life? You are what you eat, after all . . .

My wife, by the way, was raised Catholic, and went to a very liberal Catholic high school (which is another whole discussion). We are just as opposed to being taught religion badly, as to not being taught it at all. In fact, I would contend that the former is even more harmful than the latter, because mocking various Christian doctrines and beliefs is worse than being ignorant of them. At least if one is totally ignorant they are in a better place to hear both sides of an argument, if they ever get to the point where they encounter them, whereas the one brainwashed with liberal bilge is already predisposed to accept that viewpoint.

Are we to believe that they are among the few that have escaped without damage

I was severely damaged (in the larger sense: not simply the three "r's", etc.) by my early education. If I hadn't undergone an evangelical conversion and studied on my own, and sought some different, more "traditional" or "conservative" or religious opinions on my own, by God's grace, I would have continued on as a political and social liberal for my entire life, as multiple millions do and did. Majoring in sociology and minoring in psychology in college did nothing to change this bad trend, either.

or is it possible that this debate is prejudiced from the beginning?

If you wish to argue that there is nothing wrong enough in the public schools to justify some folks pulling their children out of them (on the basis of both a superior education obtainable elsewhere, and the demands of raising Christian disciples), if they are able to provide an alternative of home schooling or parochial or private Christian schools, then please do so. If I am "prejudiced" against public schools, it is the same kind of "prejudice" I have against secularism and atheism. Some things are negative influences and deficient, and ought to be opposed. Therefore, it is rational to reject them if one is in a place to provide a much better alternative for one's children.

There is nothing in the Bible that tells us that a Christian education is merely about the schooling a child receives from 8am to 3pm.

I agree.

The Bible’s view of education is much more comprehensive than that and I would argue that it does in fact include having normal contact with the community and culture that Christian children find themselves in.

Of course. That doesn't mean, however, that we must expose our children to all sorts of harmful, deleterious moral and ideological influences (as if that helps them). Some will be able to handle it (I never got into serious trouble, despite all the bad influences I received), but many won't. I don't criticize good friends of ours who choose to do exactly this: their children attend public schools, but they are also extensively taught good morals at home. That's one option, and I have no problem with it (as long as it's actually done). So why is it that we home schoolers get a lot of unjust criticism from our friends who don't home school? Why can't y'all live and let live? We have a disagreement here, but there is no need to get legalistic about it. Above, you seem to pit the Bible against home schooling, as if it is intrinsically inferior to a public school education. Tsk, tsk, tsk. I submit that you either don't know much about home schooling and those who undertake it, or that perhaps you may have your own "prejudices."

Homeschooler advocates seem to assume a certain culture should be in place to effect their optimal understanding of education–Father works, mother educates children at home while she stays at home, etc.

Plenty of even secular research shows the high benefits of mothers staying at home with their children. That's the ideal situation. We also know the harmful effects of daycare, from many scientific studies of that unfortunate phenomenon. Not everyone can do this, but that doesn't mean that it isn't the ideal family setup. Historically, usually both parents were at home all day, doing their work, with children around. And most children were home-schooled. It wasn't the case that both parents went away to work. So if anything, having one at home is closer to the historical (and ancient Hebrew) norm than having both work, or sending the child off to some public school.

I think that many would be able to do this, if they would live a simpler lifestyle, and order their finances and priorities differently. Many women want to stay at home, whether they have children or not, or whether they home school or not. They are often forced to go and work outside the home for financial reasons, but if the budget could be changed so that a family can make it on one income, I think that is much better and to be preferred. If my family can do it, on an apologists's and author's income, I think most folks could. We're paying our bills here. Not that it is always a piece of cake, but it is well worth it to make sacrifices in order to have more quality family time and closeness together.

The problem is that this isn’t necessarily reflected as the biblical model

. . . which would be (as an ancient agricultural society) both parents being home. If you want to go that route and talk of "biblical model," then you have to understand that the current widespread situation is only about 140 years old: since the industrial revolution. Most of us have to go elsewhere to work (by the nature of cities, since we can't work our own farm or sell some product from home -- though the Internet is helping to make that more possible), but we can try to maximize time with family, by all means possible. The "biblical model" is also that parents are responsible for making sure that their children are Christian disciples, able to eventually go out and make a real difference in our fallen world.

nor is it necessarily in line with today’s cultural model in terms of how Christian parents should run their home and educate their children.

The Bible is not against 1) parents spoending as much time with their children as possible, or 2) Parents being involved as much as possible in their children's education, whether it is home-schooling, supplementary Christian education (through Sunday schools, Bible reading, videos, etc.), choosing good private or parochial schools, or a high involvement in parent-teacher conferences, and so forth.

Daniel and his friends didn’t object to the education they received at the hand of the pagan Babylonians (though they did the diet!)

Since they were in no place to have any alternative, they made the best of what they had. This is a rather weak argument.

and were obviously used of God because of it.

God can use anyone. But again, that doesn't mean that we choose the "least common denominator" because God can use kids who were taught in public schools. Of course He can. He also chose to talk through a donkey once. That doesn't make "donkey-talking" His normative way to communicate to man. Children are children. Often, they don't yet have the discernment, wisdom, and maturity to avoid bad knowledge and influences. There is the issue of peer pressure, which is huge, and of personal safety in some environments. Part of the parents' job is to shelter children from harmful influences. Once they are older, then it is a different story. We certainly need good Christian kids (and teachers) in public schools, to exert a positive influence. But that will be the exception. Most kids aren't strong enough to resist all the overwhelming sinful influences in public schools. They would have to be very confident and quite educated in a Christian worldview to be able to resist all that.

It appears that they not only took advantage of the education but they excelled beyond their peers in “all kinds of literature and learning” (Dan 1:17). Moreover, this is an education, by a pagan state, that the text of Scripture says “God gave them”.

This proves too much. We don't just sit back as parents and say "God will teach my children while they are subject to lots of stuff in the public schools which run contrary to our Christian faith." Our responsibility is to provide our children with the most Christian education we can give them. That could be home-schooling or private Christian schools or parochial schools, or public schools with a serious supplementary religious education.

It may be wiser to take a step back and consider all the Bible has to say about education, the family, and its relevance to our day and age instead of relying on the handful of overly simplistic arguments coming from either side of the fence.

Here we go with the "simplistic arguments" charge again. We just saw how you were mnistaken with regard to my papers on possible deuterocanonical references. Now you're going after home schooling, which I happen to be a strong advocate of. If my arguments here are so "simplistic," Kevin, then why don't you respond to them and we can make this a truly substantive discussion, between a home-schooling advocate and a critic of same? I would be more than happy -- delighted -- to make my case on this score and to interact with yours. You can have equal space and time on my blog anytime you like. And that goes for any critic of home-schooling out there.
There are all kinds of myths and ignorance surrounding home-schooling. Whatever I can do to counter that is fine with me.

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