Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Wading In

Tim Challies over at is writing a series of posts on "Why I Do Not Homeschool" that, predictably, has ignited quite a response (although the responses have been far more thoughtful and far less condemnatory than Tim paints them in his somewhat defensive second post).

I'm a daily reader of Tim's site and find it one of my most satisfying stops on the web. I would agree with Tim on far, far more things than I would disagree with him. But I have to admit being a bit mystified about his purpose for writing this particular series of posts, since he seems to want to level criticisms of the homeschooling movement while insulating himself from Christian criticisms of his own choice to send his children to public school. Either he wants to persuade others of his view or justify his own view against those of home- and Christian-schoolers--or else there's no purpose in writing the posts. But Tim doesn't seem to want to claim either of those motivations. As one poster there commented:
Most blogs I have read have a purpose in mind...most are seeking truth, understanding, wisdom and sharpening by fellow believers. They may be confident in their convictions and wish to encourage others through charity. Others are not so sure of their convictions and wish to be exhorted by others.

Your post however, expresses your convictions while at the same time asking that we not discern or judge. And in some way we need to be respectful and claim relative truth for each and every child and family.
There's simply no way to avoid tension in the discussion on how children should be schooled since so much is involved. Most of us, whatever we're doing, are defensive about the way that we raise our children since there's so much riding on it, and the schooling discussion exacerbates this tension because it cuts straight to the heart of what we believe our responsibilities as parents under God really are. The stakes are high, and we should simply acknowledge that and live with it. The high temperature is a necessary condition of the discussion because of the absolutely fundamental issues involved. Wimpy cries of "can't we all just get along" and "nobody should judge anybody else's decision," which usually entail specious prooftexting of biblical passages regarding how Christians are supposed to treat each other on ancillary matters (like dietary issues), are really nothing more than figleaves to cover our own insecurities on our views.

It seems to me that all sides of that debate need to at least acknowledge this: these are not ancillary matters simply to be left to personal conscience. The Bible has a tremendous amount to say about education and parental obligations to children. While evangelicalism likes to make nearly all spiritual matters simply private and individualized, that doesn't work here. This debate cuts to the very heart the role of Christian parents in raising a child. There are massive principles involved, and most "to-MAY-to, to-MAH-to" responses are simply attempts lob a grenade into the opposite camp before woundedly weaseling out of the discussion and retreating behind the cover of "personal conscience." At least one side in this debate is seriously mistaken, and both sides need to own that and stop trying to paper it over. These are two incompatible philosophies of parenting and education. Pretending they are compatible, or that somebody is not seriously in error here, helps nobody.

Now, there is a great deal of truth in Tim's criticisms of the homeschooling movement. We homeschool our own children, and have done so for nearly 10 years now, and I think I've seen just about everything there is to be seen in the homeschooling community. There can be no doubt that Challies' concerns about the movement in general are well-founded. The movement tends to be highly insular and often borders on the pharisaical and judgmental.

Nonetheless, it seems to me that Tim is engaging in a basic fallacy in citing this as a reason for his own decision to not homeschool. All of the same criticisms have been accurately leveled at evangelical Christians in general. Does that mean one should not be an evangelical Christian? Surely not, and Tim (I would imagine) would never stop trying to persuade someone to become a Christian in response to such a lame objection. Why? Because he knows--and would want the non-Christian to understand--that the abuses of some of Christ's followers doesn't tell us anything necessarily true about Christianity. Whether Christianity is true or not does not ultimately rest upon the behavior of Christians.

And it's the same with homeschooling. The fact that there are plenty of whack-job homeschoolers doesn't mean that Tim would have to become a whack-job in order to homeschool, any more than the fact that there are whack-job Christians kept him from becoming a Christian. Tim's objection tells us nothing about whether homeschooling is correct or incorrect in principle. He simply (correctly) tells us about some of the flaws of some of its practitioners. If that's the criterion, one would never be able to choose any mode of education. Or much of anything else, for that matter. So from the outset, I think his way of framing the argument is unhelpful and ultimately inconclusive. So far, most of the commentary that has followed his posts has focused on experiences, like "I knew homeschoolers who were like this" and "I know some public schoolers who were like that." What's been notably absent, however, is Scriptural, philsophical discussion of principles. We'll see if it gets any better as he frames his positive argument for public schooling.

As to the substance of the debate itself between Christian schooling (whether institutionally or at home) and public schooling, I'll address some of that in my next post.

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