Ramblings and Thoughts on Christian Education

We are truly blessed to be living where we are with an excellent Christian school just 1.5 miles down the road. As a matter of fact, the kids’ schooling was a major factor in our moving back to Wisconsin. Had we remained in Arizona, we would not have been able to afford to keep Elanor (not to mention Amaryah, who is in preschool already) in the school she attended for preschool.

Homeschooling has always been in the back of our minds as the only acceptable alternative to a good local Christian school, and if our plans to serve with a mission agency come to fruition (may the day come soon!), it is a likely thing that we will need to do it, or at the least, be willing to. I think, however, that for us, the ideal is kind of what we are already doing –what I did as a kid, and Sam did even moreso: that is, learning at home on purpose, and learning at school on purpose. Having gotten to know other homes and families as I grew up, it surprised me that our home was different, in that mom and dad were encouraging us to learn in a more hands-on way than I observed in other families. Discussions were lively, and disagreements between mom and dad (however impassioned, never belittling or disrespectful that I can recall) were carried out on a daily basis with my sister and I right there at the dinner table. We learned from that one very important life lesson, that being that it is possible to disagree with someone’s ideas without discounting their value as an Imagebearer, or without disrespect. That life lesson carried me through my first years of college. I watched other students flounder and suffer, and later realized that they took the assault on their ideology and theology personally. I was able to hear out my decidedly anti-Baptist theology prof, and realize that he’d been where I was, and that he didn’t disrespect me because I was Baptist. That light came on when I witnessed another non-reformed student walk out of class in frustration during a lecture on dispensational eschatology, and wondered why I wasn’t offended myself. Somehow, I didn’t feel threatened by someone who didn’t agree with my way of seeing life. Instead, it intrigued me enough to do what I was taught growing up, that being 1) work to figure it out yourself (otherwise known as “look it up”), and 2) ask lots of well-thought-out questions. Because I did this, I realized that I actually was more in agreement with my prof who regularly dissed my denominational background than I was in disagreement. Once I took the time to make an appointment and ask the things I couldn’t sort out myself, I realized that prof spoke in the way he did (directly, argumentatively, and with passion) because he felt he had a right to, having come from that place himself, and having understood it in a different way than most other profs at our college did. So, where was I… Well, I did warn you that this was a ramble…

Anyway, having come through seven years of formal Christian school, I can unequivocally say that really, only two of my high school teachers even touched the area of “how to think” and “how to learn,” and that parents who send their kids to Christian school to eliminate negative peer influences are seriously delusional. I learned how to be a civilized human being and how to think and learn far better at home than I did at school. I learned later as I went along, though, that I was more privileged than most to have parents who read and encouraged us to read and didn’t greet our questions and obsessions with sighs and eye-rolling. Somewhere in the advent of television and daycare, I think we’ve done children a real disservice by relegating “learning” to the formal classroom. In my thinking, our current situation is pretty close to ideal –I’d almost call it “hybrid homeschooling.” The kids do go to school outside the home, but we are closely involved with their teacher and their school, and the learning continues on purpose at home. We do things by design to shape our children’s worldview. We read with them, and spend time with them reading devotional books together. We take them to the zoo, the library, read to them, listen to their interests, and encourage them to learn more. We don’t always get it right, and there are plenty of missed opportunities, but in all, I think we are doing pretty well at this.

At this moment, on our kitchen counter is a small container with a caterpillar that Elanor captured last Sunday. She and Sam spent some time that night looking up things on the internet on how to care for caterpillars –what do they need, what do they eat, and such. On Wednesday, I noticed that the caterpillar hadn’t eaten much (up till that day, we’d have to replace his supply of leaves twice daily), and I assumed he was dead. I dreaded breaking the news to Elanor, so I waited and left the stiffened caterpillar in his jar. The next day, however, we discovered the caterpillar had formed a cocoon, and now we’re waiting to see if it really is a hawk moth caterpillar as we had guessed, or whether it’s something different entirely. To some today, that would be considered a homeschool project. To me, that’s just everyday life. Take an interest, study about it, and watch to see what happens. Find out what we can learn about God from His creation. Did people in previous generations do this more? How did we get to the point where it is such a weird thing to teach our own kids at home on purpose without labeling ourselves “homeschoolers”? Why is there such a dichotomy between homeschooling and formal Christian schooling among Christian families? I don’t see it as such a cut-and-dried thing. We, as Christian parents, are called to teach our kids at home whether we send them somewhere else to learn the finer points or teach them full-time at home.

Fortunately, we are living in a community where by and large, most of the parents are engaged in their kids’ education. Most of the families are intact, and make a point of being a family. This is a contrast from Sam’s first years teaching in California, where over 75 percent of the families were two-income families that spent most of their waking hours in a car or at work/school. Sam actually had students that saw their parents less than three waking hours of the weekday. This was considered normal. I consider it craziness. God didn’t give the responsibility of teaching our children to someone else. He gave to to parents. There is room for delegating some of things out, but how are we to fulfill the things in Deuteronomy 6 when we don’t even rise up or walk along the way together at all? I found it interesting that in California, most of the homeschooling families did so for two reasons: concern over public schools, and wanting to keep mom home. In most of our friends’ cases, the only way to give their kids a Christian education was to either send them to private Christian school and put Mom to work to afford the tuition, or to homeschool and keep Mom at home. I don’t blame them at all for choosing the second option. That is the position we would have been in had we stayed in Arizona, and although we didn’t discuss it formally, I think it’s safe to say that homeschooling would have been the preferable option to sending me to work to pay tuition.

So, I’m just kind of musing on all this. I love the idea of learning at home. I love being able to get excited at the kids learning such important stuff even before they start going off to school. It intrigues me that both Amaryah and Elanor learned to write their names without me having to sit down and teach them on purpose. One day, they just recognized the letters and did it. All I did was write their name for them a bunch of times and point out that that’s what their name looked like written out. We watch a lot more PBS than I’d like to admit, but still, I’m floored at how many learning opportunities present themselves in the course of a day if you’re just half paying attention. So, we’ll see what happens in the future. For now, we feel very blessed to have somewhere we can trust to partner with us in teaching our kids, but should we ever have to fly solo, I think we could handle that, too. Each option has its pros and cons as I see it. Regardless of whether they are in school or at home my hope is to instill a passion for learning that can’t be extinguished by a classroom environment sometimes hostile to learning outside the box, and will be such a part of them that they find themselves going beyond the prescribed assignments and “what’s on the test” to the bigger picture of learning how to walk with God and learning how to serve Him in creation.

I’ve gotta admit, though… the thing that really gets me excited about learning at home is that it’s the greatest excuse I can come up with to buy ridiculous amounts of books.  Ah, well. I can be grateful that we have a good public library. Sam read a biography of Louis L’Amour a few years back, and in the book, L’Amour claims to have received most of his “formal” education by reading books from the public library. Sounds good to me!

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