In which the Author, Being of Sound Mind and Body, shall Endeavor to execute Flawless Feats of Peril and Risk and moreover Defy Stereotypes
To all newbie homeschoolers,
Congratulations! You have made an excellent choice in choosing to homeschool your children. Whether that decision was recently, or five years and four children ago, I can say from experience: homeschooling is great. You have more time with your children. You don’t need to face as much atheism, pagan sex education, ungodly peer pressures and other garbage. Homeschooling seems to fit closely with the Bible’s ideal.
I’m a homeschooled graduate myself.
Where you are in the early Hundreds, newbies, my parents once were in the late Eighties, back during the homeschooling “pioneer” days. Ask them.
Been there, done that. Lifepac English, Saxon1 math, Bob Jones history. Paperback books by Mary Pride, large family, public comments (some positive) or stares (most negative), and becoming an oldest brother all over again at age 17. Along with that, a snarky stage of aren’t-I-the-fine-decent-homeschooled-kid that I blame only myself for having, and which I hope I’m mostly through with today.
In 2001 I finished homeschool and started college. About ten years later, I have a print journalism degree, a job at a small-town community newspaper, a young wife, bills to pay, and everything.
So in 15 to 20 years, your young children may resemble me. By then they may have the same challenges, reactions, struggles and positive development as I can report now.
This brings me to the fact that I don’t find myself in the position of hating homeschooling or my Christian upbringing. In fact, my wife and I hope to homeschool our own children when we have them. Even when we began courting2, I recall, one of our first discussions was what we liked and what we would do differently.
From your perspective, I suppose, all this brave new homeschooling world looks very new and shiny, revolutionary, exciting and more than a little scary. Especially if you were not homeschooled yourself, you are following in the footsteps of the original homeschooling pioneers.
Yet these same pioneers, looking back now, would surely do things differently, not just with teaching methods, but in many assumptions they had at the first.
My suggestion: learn from their mistakes and negative experiences, and carry forth the lessons into future generations. But were there negative experiences? Can you place yourselves in that frame of reference, and ask this question:
What are the unique pitfalls of homeschooling?
This has an inherent pre-question: Are there any pitfalls?
The reason I ask is because most newbie homeschoolers, in their it’s-all-so-shiny-and-amazing stage, may see only the good reasons, and fewer pitfalls.
That’s understandable! Compared with public schools, the pitfalls may seem shallow.
Of course, everything has pitfalls, but that’s not reason enough to avoid doing something. Christianity itself has pitfalls (such as losing your life for Christ’s sake to save it). Homeschooling has pitfalls, too — lots of them.
But before considering them, and especially the main one I’ll describe here, the above question and frame of reference is vital. Without recognizing these homeschooling pitfalls exist, you’ll have blind spots. You may repeat the errors of previous generations.
Unfortunately, I see a lot of that happening in the modern homeschooling movement.
So much could be said here. But if I tried to cover all the pitfalls, without balance on the other side, it would likely look like a long screed against homeschooling altogether. Instead I will focus on what I consider the number 1 pitfall in homeschooling today.
It’s an annoyance at least, and at the most, it’s hideously dangerous.
In the worst cases, it flatly contradicts the Gospel.
Pitfall no. 1: un-Biblical “patriarchalism”
This is not the same as Biblical husband/wife roles. This is not the same as Biblical husband/wife roles. This is not the same as Biblical husband/wife roles.
Without that insistence in mind, anything here will seem like it’s advocating feminism!
For years, organizations such as Vision Forum have been pushing “patriarchy” as the essential component of homeschooling family structure. Doug Phillips is one such leader; others, such as Douglas Wilson3, comprise a growing movement known as “federal vision.” Women such as the Botkins form the female side.
Again, by patriarchy I don’t mean merely husband-leadership, wife-submission, or children-obey-your-parents. All of those are Biblical concepts. Rather, the word denotes a father-ruled system, in which wife and children, especially daughters, are meant to submit to the father and support his vision for the family. This includes not just spiritual growth, but his career, likely a home-based business, and keeping the family stable.
Another term is patriocentric, or father-centered. For many, these are interchangeable.
And they are un-Biblical, for they equate all kinds of notions about what submission should and should not mean, with legitimate Biblically defined husband/wife roles.
Rather than upholding Biblical guidelines for a husband/father’s spiritual guidance, this view turns him into a default “high priest,” between God and his family. That includes his wife. That includes his children — no matter how old they are. It overextends the metaphor of Ephesians 5, and considers the father as in charge, not just a means of, his wife’s and children’s sanctification. And what his “vision” is, theirs should be too.
In these circles, a father is also said to have a special role in the lives of their daughters, being the main man in their lives until such time as he gives them to actual husbands of their own. Daughters in turn serve as their father’s “help-meets.” This includes a lifestyle beyond normal learning of home-making skills; daughters should supposedly serve their father in ways like their own mother. And the most vocal of patriarchalist leaders, male and female, insist that anything otherwise is rebellion.
A young woman once asked me how, if the daughters-as-helpmeets view is wrong, the Bible says daughters should be interacting with their fathers. The answer is that the Bible is completely silent about daughters specifically! “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1) and related verses about children, sons and daughters, are as close as you get. Daughters don’t get specific instructions about getting along with Dad, any more than sons get specific instructions about Mom.4
Clearly, fathers should serve as examples of Godly men to their daughters. But patriarchalist teachings, specifically those of Vision Forum and “Visionary Daughters,” go too far — beyond what is right, beyond grace-based living, beyond Biblical balance.
Encouragements for newbies
Again, this is not the same as Biblical husband/wife roles. Read John Piper’s and Wayne Grudem’s big book on the subject, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, with essays from many writers. Piper also has excellent sermons on roles, based in the Bible and on grace. Complementarianism is Biblical. Neither feminism nor patriocentrism are.
So what does all this have to do with brand-new homeschoolers?
Many of you grew up with wrong or un-Biblical assumptions going the other way. Maybe to you, hearing about a movement that puts men front and center is such a refreshing change. There’s much that’s good about that. But as described above, so much of it is not good. Rather than a return to Biblical balance, it’s an overcorrection.
A related question then becomes: can someone react from feminism too much?
In so many situations, I have seen the answer is yes.
My advice is then, as a homeschooled graduate who hopes to stay Scriptural in the way a home is run and children raised: test everything with the Word. Patriocentrism doesn’t pass the test. But so many newbie homeschoolers don’t know that, because it all looks so shiny — and better than feminism and secularism.
But both of those are un-Biblical. Don’t overcorrect for one and slide to the other extreme. Be vigilant! And maybe someday, you’ll have a family whom God has ultimately raised and guided, as their only Mediator, to thank Him for giving you.
More to come on homeschooling pitfalls, depending on reactions from readers.
- Fortunately not authored by this Mr. Saxon, though I daresay it felt like it at times. ↩
- AKA “dating”; and if someone asks, I don’t mind writing more on that simple little subtopic. ↩
- Appended Dec. 18, 2009: the original version of this column included the name of R.C. Sproul Jr., along with Wilson, as a “Federal Vision” advocate. However, Sproul has disavowed belief in “Federal Vision.” He was quoted as such in a Jan. 1, 2008 entry at Family Reformation, and asked for a correction in a comment written Dec. 18, 2009 on this page. Sproul is a teaching elder at Saint Peter Presbyterian Church (SPPC) in Bristol, Virginia, and leads Highlands Ministries. ↩
- Even the only passage that talks about fathers and daughters, 1 Corinthians 7: 36-38, stumps scholars: it could mean a father and his virgin daughter, or a betrothed couple. ↩