My son and his friend once got into an argument about which cereal was best. I found it ridiculous. “Why can’t you each be content to like your favorite cereal?” I asked. “Why do you think others should consider it the best, too?”
I feel the same way about arguments around families’ school choices. Parents tend to have strong feelings about education. We all want to do the best we can for our children, and we can tend to resent any implication that the choices we make might be inferior to someone else’s. Perhaps, this is why discussions about school choices can turn awkward and uncomfortable, as people argue in favor of their own choice and downplay other’s different decisions. I do not think there is one perfect method of education; every option has pros and cons. In casual conversations, I generally acknowledge the fact that we homeschool when the topic arises, but I don’t volunteer much more than that unless I am asked. Still, I am deeply thankful for the educational road my family is on, and glad for the chance to explain why.
Mine has been a homeschooling family from the start. Initially, my husband and I chose to homeschool for mostly economic reasons. We wanted to give our children a Christian education, but we both still had student loans and it was already difficult to make ends meet; Christian school tuition payments were out of the question.
I also wanted to homeschool for the sake of our children’s relationships with one another. Our oldest and second-born are just over three years apart in age. The second and third are separated by the same age gap, but they would have been four years apart in school because of their birth months. In school years, that feels like an eternity. I wanted my kids to have lots of memories of learning and playing together, but that seemed unlikely if they were apart for seven hours every weekday.
As we have continued to homeschool, I have recognized other benefits. We are able to enjoy a relaxed daily pace, without pressure to be out the door each morning at a certain time. Quite frankly, that makes me a nicer mom—that is, less snippy and nagging. It also means that my children can sleep later in the morning. When we do our formal schooling (so-called to distinguish it from the learning that is happening all the time), we can accomplish a lot in a short time, because with few students we have little need for crowd control. The combined lack of a commute and shorter school day mean plenty of time to play, to read, and to explore interests. There is space for imagination and experimentation.
I have loved learning with and teaching my kids. When my oldest son learned to read, I saw him making the connections between letters and words, and I was thrilled to have played a part in the process. I was hooked. The connections don’t always come naturally, so we adjust our learning pace as necessary. If a concept is difficult, we can spend more time laying the foundation of understanding. If a child understands a concept readily, we can build on it. I have a front-row seat as my children’s unique talents and interests emerge.
Of course, like any educational choice, homeschooling has challenges. Our house is generally busy, loud and messy. I am an introvert, and it can be exhausting for me to be around people all day long. As a mom, I already carry an emotional burden for my kids; sometimes it feels heavy to also carry the responsibility for educating them. My children and I regularly get on each other’s nerves, say hurtful things, and act selfishly. We deal with bouts of boredom and anger. We all regularly need attitude adjustments.
But, at the same time, homeschooling is so, so good! Yes, we are all sinners, but we are saved by grace—and we have learned (again and again) to repent, ask forgiveness, and start over. I cherish the relationships I have with my children.They are relationships woven with threads of laughter and lightheartedness, but also with tears and struggle. Days, weeks, months, and years of shared experiences tighten the tapestry.
In my experience, each family’s dynamics form their own unique and beautiful pattern. What characterizes one homeschool family will not necessarily be true of another. I am learning to appreciate other families’ strengths without feeling the pressure to do or be the same way. And, I recognize and celebrate specific aspects of my own family’s culture. For example:
- We love books! We visit the library weekly, and we have a very large collection of our own books. Sometimes I find all four kids quietly reading books in the same room. We enjoy reading aloud at the end of many meals, and often share audiobooks when we drive.
- We are part of a homeschool community, hiking with other families one morning a week and occasionally participating in other group activities.
- We grow things! We garden, keep bees, and cultivate fruit trees and grape vines.
- We have a daily Quiet Time after lunch, during which we each spend an hour alone, reading or playing or drawing. The uninterrupted alone time benefits all of us, but perhaps me most of all!
- Our days include time for being creative. Creativity takes different forms for each member of the family, including gardening, writing, electronics, drawing, needlework, and music.
Our homeschool has changed over the years. A few years ago, my oldest started high school at a bricks-and-mortar Christian school, which he enjoys immensely. His absence during the school day has changed the dynamics at home, giving our second-born a chance to be the oldest for a change. Also, since all of my kids now read fluently, I am finished teaching phonics! My appreciation of homeschooling has deepened with time. It’s a big responsibility, but an even bigger blessing!
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Another factor to consider when choosing your child’s school (or choosing to homeschool) is one’s baptismal vows.
I made vows when my children were baptized to, “instruct this child by word and example, with the help of the Christian community, in the truth of God’s Word, and in the way of salvation through Jesus Christ.” Sometimes homeschooling is the way to accomplish this. Sometimes excellent Christian day schools or church Sunday schools are available with more resources than a homeschool environment can provide. Day schools can especially bring the “help of the christian community” to bear in a collective way for a whole community of Christian children (and in a few rare cases I have to admit that might not be the case and homeschooling is still a better option.) My point is twofold:
1.) Most Christians make baptismal vows to provide a Christian education for their children (the method of which is their responsibility to choose.)
2.) Most Christians vow to do this in community (synergistically, if you will) with other Christians.
Disclaimer: I work for a Christian College. Homeschooling has a tendency to reduce the income of my surrounding community of Christian school teachers! I have no philosophic objection to homeschooling, but I think when Christian day schools are available the bar is rather high for the needed quality of a homeschool alternative. Especially if the church comes through in communal style and in keeping with it’s side of the baptismal covenant vows, “economic reasons” should not factor into the decision at all IMHO.
Doug, I don’t believe that is true of “most Christians,” including the majority of Christians who baptize infants. The ancient, historic forms for baptismal vows say nothing about education. I think you are describing what is normal for small subset of reformed protestants who historically have seen public schools as antithetical to their beliefs and values. Understanding how other Christians see home/schooling and why they do it is critical to dialoguing with them productively.
Many reformed protestants, like other religious groups in the US, have seen public schools as sufficiently aligned with their views and values to be acceptable. Historically that perspective was adopted by socially and politically enfranchised white Protestants at the same time that Jewish and typically “less white” Catholic immigrants from southern and eastern Europe were arriving. The outsider minorities wanted to avoid assimilation on others’ terms, so they often developed private, religious schools. As a result of this history the entire issue remains framed in ethnic, racial, and class conflict. Acknowledging this is a key first step in understanding and graciously dealing with people who relate faith and education in different ways.
I have known homeschooling families of all religious and denominational flavors, and I think they would all be rather irritated by the suggestion that they unjustly compete with and deprive Christian schools of funding while also (perhaps) delivering an inferior education. I share the latter concern but would apply it to all forms of schooling where there is insufficient oversight or a lack of standards.
I’ve found that Christian homeschoolers often reject Christian day schools due to differences that are deeper than whatever unity a common “Christian” identity may be thought to imply. There may be doctrinal or other ideological differences.
Families using the Abeka curriculum and related materials, including some “classical schooling” programs have often been sold on a certain theory of pedagogy and developmental psychology that are not rooted in good sense or science. There can also be a desire to reject the modernism of mainstream schools. These parents recognize public and private institutions tend to deploy functionally identical practices and structures rooted in the historic needs of the military and industrial state.
Home schooling undeniably lets families lead in the building of their own culture and community in a unique and powerful way. While this does not appeal to me personally, I see value in their radical critique and principles. Public and private, religious and secular schools can learn from those who opt out and even partner with them in productive ways.
Here is one more factor to consider in the decision to homeschool: Christian parents who baptize their children usually vow to, “instruct these children by word and example, with the help of the Christian community, in the truth of God’s Word, and in the way of salvation through Jesus Christ.” The congregation present vows to the children being baptized to, ” welcome them in love, to pray for, encourage, and help nurture them in the faith.” I point out in particular that homeschooling or Christian day schools can fulfill the parent’s vows to instruct their children and the congregation’s vow to provide community and nurture.
Although the best choice will depend on the total context of the situation, the choice to homeschool or not should be made in consideration of these baptismal vows. It is an unfortunate breakdown of Christian community if “economic reasons” dictate the choice rather than more substantive reasons related to instructing the children in the way of salvation. (I’m not writing in favor of either homeschooling or Christian day schools. I’m just calling attention to a factor not previously mentioned and another factor that should have minimal or no influence in an ideal world.)
I agree that, in an ideal world, economics would not be a deciding factor when it comes to educational choice. Though I don’t know all the details of it, I appreciate the model used in Sioux Center, with congregations contributing towards “fair share” to lower the cost of tuition payments at Christian schools.
In our case, we were definitely committed to giving our kids a Christian education–it was a matter of how we could feasibly do so in our situation. For us, homeschooling was feasible, and has turned out to be a wonderful adventure.
Dawn, we seem to be in agreement.
By the way, I did not intend to post twice on the topic. At 11:00 AM I thought I had posted the comment. Later I checked for any responses and my comment was missing. I was a bit in a hurry that morning, so I thought I had perhaps forgotten to click on something and thus failed to post. Thus I tried again at 3:30 PM. But oddly, when that one posted then the previous one also posted! (Or at least that’s my impression of what happened.)