Monday, May 01, 2006

Homeschoolers driven by fear? And so?

Pastor Jim West wrote a defense of subjecting our children to government indoctrination called The Theology of the Cross and the Theology of Homeschooling. Please read it rather than taking my summary as fair; I'll just summarize the angle I wish to attack.

Citing Luther's theology of the cross vs. theology of glory, West tries to argue that homeschooling parents are motivated by fear rather than faith. A theology-of-glory person avoids obstacles, but a theology-of-the-cross person welcomes them, because he has faith in the Gospel's transformative power. Homeschoolers are more of the former category, West argues, than the latter. They withdraw from the world out of fear, and do not in faith rise to the challenge to be salt and light in the world. They lack confidence in the power of the Gospel. In his words:
It fears; it lives in fearfulness, and it has forgotten that "perfect love casts out fear". The theology of homeschooling calls for a withdrawal from society because, at its heart, it does not believe. Not really. Not that God can change people and thereby change society through the Gospel. And finally it supposes that society, social structures, and God ordained offices are evil. Indeed, it calls what God has ordained evil and withdrawal good. It errs in so doing, theologically.
Then our sister and sometime-visitor here Kate responded in a post she says West was unwilling to allow. Like the two comments West allowed on his site, she argues that we do not HS out of fear and unbelief. She makes great points.

My wife observed that, in fact, the first waves of homeschoolers had a lot more to fear from their course of action than we generally do today. Society rejected them, thought them weird at best. They had to endure persecution from various government functionaries, and many had to defend their rights in court, at great expense. They were driven to confront their fear, due to their convictions -- because their concern for their children's souls was greater than this fear. She's absolutely right, of course.

Here's my somewhat-different response.

West has written the sort of article I might have written twenty-plus years ago, when I knew very little about homeschooling. At that time, my only HSing contacts was in fact a couple who struck me as having escapist and elitist leanings.

The following years brought me kids, experience of PSing as it is done today, and eventually a great deal more thought about and exposure to HSing. That's a story for another post, perhaps. The upshot is that I converted in a big way.

For my part, I don't accept West's premise. I don't agree with him that parents who free their children from government indoctrination are motivated by a faithless fear. Fear can be a perfectly good, rational, and godly motivator in child-training and care.

Why don't I let my goofy, adorable, indispensible little six-year-old play in the street, unsupervised? Fear. Why don't I let him run up the bank of a raging, rushing river? Fear. Does this fear indicate a lack of faith on my part? Don't I trust the sovereignty and goodness of God? Couldn't God protect him in any of those situations -- stop careening cars, split surging rivers in two? Of course.

But God gave me to my children to be their parent so that I could protect them, so that I could let my rational, sane fears drive me to take pro-active measures. That's my job -- and I'm the worst kind of contemptible fool if I try to shrug my God-given responsibilty back off onto God.
When the Galatians were wobbling under temptation to a false Gospel, what did Paul say? "I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain" (Galatians 4:11). Should he have been rebuked for his lack of faith? He went on to say, "my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you" (vv. 19-20). Is this ungodly anxiety? If it was anxiety, Paul did not regard it as a vice. In fact, Paul told the Philippians that one trait he loved in Pastor Timothy was that he, like Paul, would "genuinely be anxious" about their welfare (Philippians 2:20, Greek).

So what of public schools? Don't I want my kids to be salt and light, to engage the world with the Gospel? I do, passionately.

So, on West's line of argument, why don't I really "go for the gold"? Why don't I stop sequestering them in our sound, local church? Why don't I send them off to a Roman Catholic church, or a Kingdom Hall, or a Mormon church, from age 5 on? Shouldn't they evangelize those pagans? Isn't that a wonderful opportunity?

Of course it isn't. Their shoulders aren't broad enough to bear that weight. They're young saplings; they need support, nourishment, time, and a modicum of protection.

And so what are the government schools today? Are they (as I once naively imagined) flawed but fundamentally impartial purveyors of the mechanics of mathematics and writing, and the "brute facts" of history? In no way. As a school official condescendingly informed me when I protested a school interference, "Yes, Mr. Phillips; we know that used to be the model. But we take a more holistic approach now. Anything and everything that concerns the child is our concern."

I won't quote you the exact wording of my inner response to that. The "dynamic equivalent" would be, "Yeah, right."

Government schools today are religious institutions. It is basically the same -- to my mind -- as sending them to a Unitarian church. They do have a religious worldview (secular humanism), and they do set out to indoctrinate our children from Day One. Since the government itself is sterile, it uses us as brood stock, and seeks to turn our children into compliant statelings, suckled on the State's teat from progressively earlier days on.

I speak in generalities, of course. There are courageous Christian teachers trying to work within the system. Plus, I am explaining my perspective, and my rationale. I do not assume to know the situational considerations motivating other parents. Mine is one legitimate Christian choice; it is not the only one.

My target is this "fear factor" criticism. I find it silly, in this connection. My children are not born knowing what to fear -- so I do it for them, in their younger years. As they mature, I do it less. My older son and daughter are in different categories -- but I still express concerns to them, as I see fit. And fear -- intelligent, rational, responsible fear -- is sometimes behind those concerns.

As parents, it's our job to be afraid of the right things, and do something pro-active about it.

It is the failure (or refusal) to be motivated by appropriate fear that indicates defective faith.


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Student of History said...


So sorry about the "Dan" mix-up! I really appreciate this perspective and can see it is well-thought out. Your wife sounds like a really neat person and your children sound blessed to have you both!


Kim said...

Okay...let's try that again.

I liked this comment:

Government schools today are religious institutions. It is basically the same -- to my mind -- as sending them to a Unitarian church. They do have a religious worldview (secular humanism), and they do set out to indoctrinate our children from Day One. Since the government itself is sterile, it uses us as brood stock, and seeks to turn our children into compliant statelings, suckled on the State's teat from progressively earlier days on.

I have said this to those who would like me to believe that public schools are neutral.

I am in a unique position because I have one child in public school and two boys still at home. My daughter, in 11th grade, has come home on more than one occasion since beginning ps in February and said: "School is a godless place" and "Public school isn't about learning; it's about indoctrination." I'm sure she'll be fine, and she's doing well, but I am glad we had her at home as long as we did.

Yes, fear was a factor in our decision to home school; fear of a poor education, of having our children's innocence tampered with, of putting them in a dangerous place. As you say, fear can be a healthy motivator.

I still have fear: fear that I'll fail them, fear that they will be lacking in some academic necessity, fear that they will be social misfits. Whatever. Parenting comes with the expectation that we'll have a little fear now and then.

ThirstyDavid said...

Then there's that other fear that motivates us to home educate: fear of God.

Well done.

JLS said...

How about obedience to the command of God to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?
That is almost impossible to do when they are bombarded with secular humanism 6-8 hours/day in a government run school.
Obedience is a wonderful thing.....a thing that is a joy to those who love the Lord.
Joy. Not fear.

candyinsierras said...

Obviously Jim West has not read the history of education in our country. If he has any knowledge of the agenda of education towards our children, he would recant his particular viewpoint.

Phil Siefkes said...

Fear? Yep. Socialization? Yep. Indoctrination? Yep. Religious instruction? Yep. But then I'm just a HS dad with my own PS education.

Good post, once again, Mr. Phillips.

Daniel said...

Dan, we have so much in common - I liked it when people mixed us up - it was always to my benefit and your loss. ;-)

I recall one fellow in my (former) church gently rebuking me one day for studying martial arts. You see, I was practicing a Japanese art (Aikido), and he felt inclined to let me know that I was a doubter and faithless because, according to his reasoning, if I studied a martial art, I wasn't "trusting God to protect me."

Now, I reasoned with him from the same stand you have taken - that only a fool would blindfold his own children then send them into traffic to play - there is faith, then there is tempting God and being stupid - and we can all reason that putting your children needlessly in harm's way false into the stupid category.

God has included, along with the ability to make children, a desire to protect the same ~ and part of "protecting" our children, is to make choices for them that protect them from being damaged - and to continue to do so until the time when they are mature enough to make decisions for themselves.

It was for this very reason that my wife and I decided to homeschool. She had worked in the public school system for years, and I had taught at a local college, and we united in our conviction that the public school system (in our area at least) was in no way "neutral" spiritually speaking, but decidedly anti-Christian in its agenda. To enroll our children in this system was to put them in harms way spiritually speaking.

Yet when we began homeschooling, some of closest friends criticized us with unbridled distain - for not sending our children out into the public system to be "witnesses" there. They, having seen our decision, attributed it to "fear" - imagining (as they did) that had we we been in possession of more "faith" we would gladly and faithfully have sent out little ones blindfolded into traffic, er, I mean into the public school system. This was a couple who had tried homeschooling and failed - then later determined that it was more Christian to "trust God" than homeschool ~ and politely rebuked us for our faithlessness in not allowing our children to be "witnesses."

Now, my son adores me, and I must credit some, if not most of his bible reading and prayer time to the adoration a son naturally has for his father - he has learned what pleases me, and so I reason that at least some of his "religion" is less spiritual and more "natural" - we are still in that blissful time where Dad can do no wrong.

At some point, he will begin to mature - and his natural adoration, must also mature - hopefully into a genuine (but earned) respect; likewise the faith that for the moment is at least partially blurred with adoration for his father, is also going to have to mature - into a genuine and untethered dependancy on Christ alone. There is a point when the child needs to be held up, being unable to even stand, then later the child can stand (though with plenty-a-wobble). Eventually a step or two from one large object to the next - then unassisted, though clumsy walking - and finally, a proficient walk where a child is not only able to walk, but to carry a load. As the child grows, the load can be increased.

No one puts a load on a babe who cannot walk, nor do we put too heavy a load on a child who can. Load balancing is not something we need to be taught, one need only compare the child to the load and in an instant we know how much the child can reasonably be expected to bear.

When you send an infant into the wolves den, he either gets chewed up or starts nursing at the wolves teet - he doesn't come out with the wolf on a leash.

When a parent exercises discretion in this matter, determining that it is best to foster and protect genuine faith until it is strong enough to be tested - the same are lampooned as fearful and faithless.

The enemy isn't spending a lot of time attacking Christians who send their children to public school I notice.

Anyway - sorry about the length.

4given said...

Excellent post.

I had a politician come to my door the other day. She was Republican... I am Republican. As a matter of fact, if you stand on my deck, within my neighborhood and in view of my home you will see the home of my Republican state rep. Wonderful Christian family.
In conversation, I asked her opinion about homeschooling. I had not told her that I homeschool my 6 children.
She began with telling me she was once a public school teacher. (okay... where is this going to go) And then she brought up her concerns. (some of which are pointed out here) She said, "As a matter of fact, I was driving by a families home that I know homeschools and the children were out playing when they should have been schooling." (By then I had had enough... it was my turn.)
I gave her a tour of my home. I showed her my homeschool schedule, the curriculum I use (she seemed a bit uncomfortable), I introduced her to all of my children as they replied to her with "Yes, ma'm. We really do love to school at home and we are involved in sports and go to the library and a homeschool group..." and then we talked about her "playing outside when they should be schooling" concern.
Her political smile response, "well you are certainly an exception."
No. Do your homework.