[E]ducation is not simply delivery of information, it is a lifestyle; and a lifestyle that places the child outside of the family – even if it is a formally Christian school – is a compromise that must be made in only the rarest of circumstances. We don’t give the children money to just go to McDonalds and have dinner there; there is spiritual and emotional significance in having dinner together, as a family. Sending our kids to institutional school to “get education” is the same as sending them to McDonalds to get a burger for dinner; the material is there but the spirit of education is lacking. Parents that seek every excuse to kick the children out of the house and hand them over to strangers to teach them are only destroying the souls of their own children. A child needs a father and a mother, not a “professional educator” and a pack of other children.
Marinov’s strong words of conviction will not sway someone who does not want to be swayed. Arguments can be and have been made against the wisdom of parents’ teaching their children themselves, and real challenges and obstacles do exist. After recognizing the advantages of home education, Thoburn says, “Home schooling also has its limitations. Especially as children get older, they need the benefits that come from division of labor.”
Others might cite unrepresentative examples of neglect or abuse by parents, or the ever-present socialization argument. Never mind that for any of these “unfit” parents, there are hundreds, and now thousands of adults who are proof that a couple of exceptions do not invalidate a rule. As Swanson writes,
[S]omething must have worked with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Theodore Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, Patrick Henry, Robert E. Lee, C.S. Lewis, Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, Douglas MacArthur, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Charles Dickens. Each was homeschooled in his early years by father, mother, or both.
The discussion on the merits of home education can be lengthy and become emotional very quickly. But just as a more site-based government must be more efficient and accountable to those it serves, so does home schooling provide the most immediate covenantal context. The more excellent way is not a pragmatic “what will work”; it is a covenantal “what is right.” Asking the right questions goes a long way toward getting the right answers.
Who is in charge?
The Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant (Mal. 2:14).
Sutton writes, “The Bible defines the family as a covenant, the same Hebrew word (berith) being used in Malachi that is used elsewhere for the God-to-man covenant” (Gen. 6:18). [Emphasis Sutton’s] If the same God who established His covenant with Adam and all of mankind also called the marriage relationship a covenant, and if He is the creator and sustainer of all things including that marriage, then whatever man and woman build from that marriage is ordered and sanctioned by God. He is in charge, and the family from that marriage must live in terms of His word; that is the only way to build on a true foundation.
The family that teaches its own children can spend all the time needed to inculcate in them that God is in control of everything in the universe and yet can live in their hearts; He determines what is right and wrong, and He has conveyed His ethics through His Commandments. It can teach them that they were created in His image but that because of Adam, they are now naturally more prone to sin. It can also help them hear their calling and discover God’s particular purpose for their lives. All of this can be done without the artificial before-, during-, or after-school hours distinction, or without the rush because the bell is about to ring. As Swanson puts it vividly in elaborating on Deuteronomy 6:6-9,
God’s Word is to be, literally, in their faces. [Emphasis Swanson’s] The truth of God’s revealed Word must be instantly accessible. It is to be as close to them as something tied to their wrist, as if it were hanging in front of their eyes all the time. They should bump into [It] constantly, on the doors and posts of their house. Children should see the Word of God as completely integrated into their life experience. They should never get the impression that the Word is something they run into in some religious ritual on Sunday while the rest of their education, entertainment, family time, and so forth is completely void of the Word or even opposed to it.
Swanson also provides some concrete recommendations for parents wanting to build on the right foundation.
- Know your worldview. The reader may wish to refer to the publications of Cornerstone Curriculum Project, Dr. David Noebel, Francis Schaeffer, or R.J. Rushdoony for more grounding in this area of worldview.
- Teach your children the Word of God. If our children are better versed in their Saxon Math and their Shakespeare than they are in the book of Proverbs, the Psalms, and Genesis, then we have given our children a sub-standard education.
- Teach them the Christian classics first. Before [your child] listens to the ideas of a humanist, a deist, a transcendentalist, or a Greek thinker, you had better be sure that he is well-versed in a biblical worldview.
- Think integration. Is there some subject of study to which they see no connection to God’s Word? Is their entertainment an opportunity to escape accountability to the standards of the Ten Commandments?
- Employ the principles of protection and wise progression…. [Emphases Swanson’s] (more on these principles below)
The issue of worldview is crucial in impressing the sovereignty of God upon children, for there is no wisdom except that which sees life from God’s point of view. As Marinov warns, “The very process of education must be in harmony with the content of education. The methodology must proceed from the very same worldview, and from the very same Biblical religious and moral presuppositions that control the philosophy of the education.”
To whom should the child report?
A reading through the book of Proverbs shows how involved the father should be in the life of his child. “The father instructs his son throughout…; but he also pleads, warns, observes, charges, implores, rebukes, and exhorts. The teaching is rooted in an organic relationship. It is intimate, caring, and fatherly…personal and parental.”
This familiar environment also lends itself to closer relationships between siblings. Normally home schooled youth not only engage older friends and acquaintances—even the elderly—without reservation, but they are also able to minister to and befriend little children as worthy of their attention and affection. The older brother of the prodigal son apparently had not been close to his brother, for Luke 15:29 portrays him as being angry that their father had never killed an animal for him and his “friends,” implying that the younger brother was not one of them. That is one pitfall that close-knit family relationships can avoid. The larger the family, the more friends a child can have and grow up with.
Secondly, with authority comes responsibility. As parents are to represent God’s government to their children, they are also responsible to care and protect them from evil. It takes mature, well-grounded and nurtured young adults to confront and change a fallen world. Those unprepared and unable to overcome can be easily conformed to it (Roman 12:1-2). A renewed mind and body sacrificed to God can best be produced in a sheltered home environment. Such a setting can help prevent what John Van Dyk calls “a major problem in our Christian schools: the contradictory character of so much of our teaching…We confess that each one of our students is a unique image bearer of God, yet we continue to structure our schools and classrooms for stifling conformity…”
Involved parents prepare their children “physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually for life and eternity.” Swanson provides helpful advice for young parents: the training should consist of at least three components: truth, self-awareness, and testing. The first was discussed previously as foundational. The knowledge of oneself comes as the child gains knowledge and understanding of God. And the testing comes as the parents monitor the child’s development and see when he is capable of having success, or shows evidence of preparation adequate to confront the test. “The tests given will challenge [the child] emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually.” Parents, however, must be aware of and involved as much as possible; for feedback is essential after each test. This parental involvement includes monitoring what the child is exposed to as well as what comes out of him. To that end, here are some practical tips:
- Use the catechetical device…The free flow of questions and answers is the best way to get to the heart and mind of your child.
- Always explain a concept in words and illustrations that you know are familiar to the student.
- When explaining a particularly difficult concept…try several different methods, and then hone in on the method that works best.
- Make sure the student is fully engaged…Eye contact, touch (where appropriate), and calling the student by name are powerful ways to accomplish this.
- When…introducing a new concept…, be sure you are well-prepared and…have sufficient time….Fresh material hits the brain like a footprint on fast-drying concrete.
- Make full use of motivating language, affirmation, and genuine enthusiasm.
- Do not give away the answer in every case, especially if you think the student can get the answer himself.
- If you give an answer away, make sure the student works on similar problems himself. Then recheck his work for accuracy.
- Work into yourself the character traits of a good tutor. These include perceptive ears and eyes, patience, gentleness, and love.
- Send in the reserve tutor [when needed]!
The main idea in training and preparing a child for his future is that parents are doing their part in the work ordained by the Holy Spirit, and in how He uses them to build character in their child. And having a child’s character transformed is the foremost objective in his comprehensive development.
Is education a simple intellectual exercise, or is it moral training of character? The question…determines the very environment in which education must take place. If it is only an intellectual exercise, then a child can be “educated” by just being locked in a room with a computer and internet connection, using distant learning, without any contact with other people; a school these days is an unnecessary waste of money. But if it is moral training of character – as the Bible defines education – then the learning of that information must happen within a specific context of personal relationships, institutional settings, and underlying worldview that supports both the setting and the material learned. Education then becomes a holistic task, a unified whole where the parts – moral training, academic training, philosophical training, practical skills, etc. – can not be separated from each other without destroying the whole.
Character training begins the day the child is born, and is ongoing day by day. Along with all the other lessons he learns, he must be learning character. Parents must be always alert and particular about emphasizing and praising their child when he exhibits godly traits. Instead of a flattering “you have beautiful eyes” or “you are so handsome, son,” parents should concentrate on things their children can control, things that reveal a quality, like “I appreciate your honesty, son” or “your humility…” or “your helpfulness, patience,” and so on. Of course, as with any lessons, the child will know what is really important to his parents every time he sees them practicing those character qualities. And when the child is around his parents many hours throughout the day, he knows exactly what they expect and consider important. No other school but the home can offer such opportunities for a nurturing, one-to-one, relational way of life.
What are the rules?
The ability of parents to tune in to their child’s individual needs, gifts, and talents makes it easier for the child to learn at his own pace and in a way that is comfortable and conducive to healthy development. Given the obvious differences in learning styles and rates, it is amazing that a given student is forced to work at the same grade level in all subjects; that is, a fourth grader would study fourth grade math, fourth grade science, fourth grade reading, and writing, and geography, and history, and so on. Yet almost all schools—public or private—fall into this mode. In contrast, the Swanson school is able to use common sense and flexibility:
When my children are asked their grade level, they usually respond with their age. My twelve-year old son is studying second year algebra, ninth grade vocabulary and spelling, eighth grade reading, and seventh grade grammar. My ten-year old daughter is studying eighth grade vocabulary, ninth grade reading, and fifth grade math. We have always ignored the grade levels on the spines of the books they use, except to determine the sequence of study.
The parent teachers, who are the most qualified people in the world to determine the level at which their children are learning, can begin with the basics and return to them as needed any time they see the need. They do not have a bureaucracy or supervisory team that must approve either remedial or accelerated course work. Now, to ensure the basics, here are some ideas.
- Read aloud as much as possible. Parents may read to children or the children may read to each other.
- Always choose the best literature you can find…The two books…reprinted more than any other books are the Bible and Pilgrim’s Progress.
- Do not waste any significant time doing anything but the basics.
- Do not multiply course requirements upon the student. One…successful curriculum approach…requires reading a classic book of literature, writing an essay, and completing a mathematics assignment.
- Children should memorize portions of the highest quality literature, poetry, drama, and prose (see Deut. 31:19-22; Ps. 119:11).
- Children learn to write best when they copy the most excellent literature of all (Deut. 6:9; 17:18).
- As children become more advanced in their ability to read their own language, it is advantageous to teach them to read the source languages of Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.
- Never advance a student to the next level of learning until he has thoroughly mastered the basics…Never advance a student beyond the first level of reading in the English language before he has thoroughly learned the seventy phonograms (letters or combination of letters) and forty phonemes (phonetic sounds).
- Basic learning requires disciplined repetition….The most basic character lesson is obedience. It is a lesson that is taught thousands of times in the first two years of a child’s life and it continues to a lesser extent for the rest of his life.
- Teach the ancient Scriptures, the most basic textbook of all (see Deut. 6:6-9; 11:18-21; 27:1-8). If you only have thirty minutes each day to invest in your children’s education spend that time teaching them the Bible.
Without a need (or desire) for standardized practices and assessment of individual students, home school parents are in a position to train and disciple their child according to God’s rules: His commandments as revealed in His Book. They are able to place him and adjust their teaching as the child masters his respective levels. Swanson identifies three areas, which can be seen as stages, of learning: knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.
- Stage 1: “My people, hear my instruction; listen to what I say. I will declare wise sayings: I will speak mysteries from the past—things we have heard and known and that our fathers have passed down to us. We must not hide them from their children, but must tell a future generation the praises of the LORD, His might, and the wonderful works He has performed” (Ps. 78:1-4).
- Stage 2: “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of God’s revelation. You need milk, not solid food. Now everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced with the message about righteousness, because he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature—for those whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil” (Heb. 5:12-14).
- Stage 3: “But set apart the Messiah as Lord in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. However, do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15-16).
Stage 1 deals mostly with the basic rules of a subject. Stage 2 “connects the principles and relates principles to the facts.” Stage 3 is the level when the student can apply the principles to situations in life. This taxonomy, one of many ways to categorize student learning, can be applied to any subject matter. The key is that parents are the responsible party in deciding when and how their child is taught.
What is in it for the child (and the parents)?
This lifestyle provides blessings that, sadly, are almost unimaginable for most families at this time. A grateful father writes:
One evening last year, as we were preparing for bed, my wife was lamenting that our daughter Emily did not complete her English grammar assignments that day. After pursuing the issue a little further, we discovered that she had been working hard on a lengthy and detailed e-mail communication to her grandparents. It was right then that we determined we had become far too rigid in our academic program, and we needed to integrate more of real life into it. After all, when you grow up to manage a home or a business in real life, what are you doing all day? Are you busy working on English grammar assignments? Of course not. Your life is filled with things like writing notes and letters to family and friends, recording life events in diaries, preparing business letters, and maybe writing an occasional work of fiction.
In recent years, I have increasingly involved my thirteen-year old son in my life. He is with me at least six days every week. He has studied his algebra, Latin, and English composition in my office downtown, in conference rooms, restaurants, the state capitol, the car, and, on rare occasions, a classroom. While the environment changes, it is always real life. His education is much more than a textbook. He hears business negotiations in the boardroom, cell phone conversations, the hiring of subcontractors for a building project, sales calls, and an occasional high-stress conflict situation.
One afternoon last winter I received a phone call from a representative of an important publishing company. He was interested in a book I was writing and wanted to meet with me in a nearby city. I knew this would be a key meeting in the development of my own career, and I was tempted to leave my son at home. When he found out about the meeting, however, he asked me if he could attend. For nearly fifteen minutes I wrestled with the decision. Should I integrate my son into this and risk losing an important contract? What would the executive say if I brought my son with me into the interview? Would my son say something that would affect my chances of developing a good relationship with this key publisher? After all, one never knows what a thirteen-year old boy might say! As I vacillated on the decision, another series of questions rushed into my mind—important questions, life-changing questions: “Exactly what am I trying to accomplish here? Am I trying to publish a book or raise a son? What am I doing in life? [Emphasis Swanson’s]What better opportunity could I find in which my son could learn something about real life, real negotiations, and real business?” With clarity and certainty I knew that my purpose was to raise a son. There was no reason for him to stay home, yet there was every reason in the world for him to be there. The boy could watch his dad squirm for two hours while trying to sell himself in a high-stakes interview. So he came with me that day and watched and listened. On the way home, he commended me on several aspects of my presentation and suggested several areas that might have been improved.
By the time he is eighteen…I hope…my son will have the wisdom I have learned in my twenties, thirties, and forties because he traveled with me and watched me. He will learn the most valuable lessons I have learned in the same way I have learned them—through real-life experiences.
Home schooling gives families freedom to serve and follow God in every area of their lives, not just in church activities and good works. Actually, there are no better works for parents than sowing into their children’s upbringing. The entire family is edified from learning together and seeing lessons everywhere. Besides the parents’ choice of bookwork, they go shopping, go out to lunch, make payments, visit relatives, and go on fieldtrips and vacations. Their life is the curriculum and the world is their laboratory. These are just some of the blessings of learning at home—or anywhere.
What is the future?
The inheritance enjoyed by young people who are home schooled is not just a grateful heart and love of God, but a genuine love and appreciation for learning. Man does not need to know everything under heaven; in fact, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29). And Christians know that God the Holy Spirit reveals His truth to those who love Him (1 Corinthians 2:10).
God gives men the ability to discover things that were previously hidden. He makes them useful and gives them purpose in life. He gives them identity so that they may know who they are regardless of what anyone else thinks they are (Revelation 2:17). He gives them a future in His presence here on earth now and in the life to come forever. This is the succession available to all Christians, but those who choose to prepare their children for life themselves, who wish to be good and faithful servants in every area of their lives, get to enjoy the benefits every day of the week.
Bojidar Marinov, “Homeschooling vs. the Idolatry of Eduational Expertise,” http://americanvision.org/5071/homeschooling-vs-the-idolatry-of-educational-expertise/#sthash.ZYBJvqaF.dpbs, Downloaded March 24, 2014.
 Marinov, http://americanvision.org/5071/homeschooling-vs-the-idolatry-of-educational-expertise/#sthash.ZYBJvqaF.dpbs, Downloaded March 24, 2014.
 Marinov, http://americanvision.org/5071/homeschooling-vs-the-idolatry-of-educational-expertise/#sthash.ZYBJvqaF.dpbs, Downloaded March 24, 2014.