A flawed argument for and against homeschooling

Ingrid of Slice of Laodicea has an entry with some strong rhetoric regarding public education and a parent’s responsibility to educate his children in response to Governor Schwarznegger’s signing of SB777:

…Sending our Christian children to the atheists, the evolutionists, the activists who seek acceptance of sexual perversity is simply wrong. The idiotic idea that our kindergarteners will go off and be “salt and light” to their lesbian teachers is finally being exposed for what it is.  No Israelite general in his right mind would have sent off a regiment of little children to face the Assyrian army…

It is a tone that seems to be spreading among conservative Christian ministries, and it is a trend I would like to see reversed.  After all, who should better understand gentleness, meekness, humility and correction spoken in love?  The appeal here is made directly to the emotion and not to reason, serving only to verbally abuse those who would dare take an opposing view without actually establishing an argument.

Verum Serum takes on the first paragraph of this entry with a decidedly more rational approach.  He also demonstrates how quickly an argument built on emotion rather than logic falls apart.  I shall attempt to apply the same level of reasoning in response to his discussion on homeschooling.

Ingrid sets up a strawman with the whole idea of kindergarteners going off to be salt and light to their lesbian teachers. To the best of my knowledge, nobody is advocating sending a kindergartener in to debate their teacher regarding issues of sexual orientation, evolution, atheism, etc.

True.  Matthew 5:13-16 is not really relevant here.  We agree that the kindergartener does not really have a Christian witness, yet.  The parents may, as Scott points out later.  You can also always point to Moses for an example of what can happen when you turn your child over to Pharoah’s schools.  If we want to advocate for homeschooling, it has to be on a stronger basis than, “the public schools are bad.”

Regarding Israelite generals in their right mind, Scott says:

While she is stating the obvious, she is doing so while trying to make an emotional connection by making an analogy between the violence and brutality of battle and the collision of ideas and morality within the classroom. As she does this, she seems to have forgotten about a Biblical example of a boy who was, indeed, sent in to battle and with a giant no less:  (I Samuel 17:4-7 & 12-14 follows).

I agree with the intent, but the story of David does present an interesting dynamic into the discussion in my opinion.  How old was David?  We cannot know for sure.  Most estimates I have seen place him between eight and fourteen.  What was his education to this point?  I trust that, given his family, he grew up with his father teaching him in accordance with Deuteronomy 6:7.  He thus knew the Lord and His commandments.  Supplementing this education was experience defending his sheep from lions and bears.  In other words, he did not enter the battle unprepared.  His education gave him both the faith and the skill he needed to defeat Goliath.

The education came first.  We are to prepare our children to stand up to a culture which at times seems like Goliath, but first comes training.  I believe that home education best presents families with the opportunities to teach the faith as we rise up and as we sit down and all along the wayside.  If done successfully, even a child may stand up to giants.

Unfortunately, the really solid Christian schools and the really solid home-schooled students are few and far between. Many Christian schools are weak academically and use substandard curriculum that is cheaper and/or that has been created by Christians who aren’t educators and/or who try to sanitize the curriculum in an effort to Christianize the subject matter.

I actually agree with the curriculum issues.  I do not think that being an educator is as big of an issue as it is presented here, but there is a tendency to take largely secular materials and “Christianize” them with a few verses.  The advantage of homeschooling goes well-beyond curriculum, however.  All studies show that the number one determining factor in a child’s educational success is parental involvement.  If you are highly involved in your child’s education, your child is likely to be successful, no matter what environment he is educated in.  The issue comes down to one of purpose.  What are the goals of education?  Standardized tests?  Then it probably does not matter where you send your child.  They all seem to do about the same, with private secular schools outperforming all other groups (including homeschoolers).

I am not convinced from this statement, however, that “really solid homeschoolers are few and far between.”  That is a strong assertion with no evidence.

I can’t tell you the number of home-schooled students I’ve had over the years who come into the “public school” classroom after years at home. The vast majority of the time these students can’t carry on a discussion. They aren’t able to see both sides of an argument. They can’t engage in dialogue and in taking their thoughts and ideas to the next, deeper level. Their critical thinking skills are weak and their logic is almost non-existent, mainly because they have been fed a one-sided, one-position, one note stream of curriculum that doesn’t offer any subtlety or nuance or any variety in shades of meaning.

This is a version of an argument I hear often from teachers, but I think it is important to note that teachers are largely dealing with the homeschooling situations which were not successful.  After all, if the family felt that homeschooling was going well, they likely would not have given it up.  Teachers rarely see the other side.  I think this actually shows the effectiveness of parents in that these parents realized another educational situation would be better for their children.

We have to be very careful in using anecdotal evidence to make generalized claims about entire groups of people.

Besides all of this, since when has God ever called for removing ourselves from the world? “In the world but not of the world” isn’t just a cute little catch phrase.

Agreed.  But homeschooling is not about removing ourselves from the world.  Again, we run into a conflict with the way Ingrid originally set up her case.  By defending homeschooling as a response to evil, she has placed Christians in the predicament of appearing to retreat and isolate themselves.  That is not what we are doing.

Yes, parents can have a tremendous impact on schools.  I believe that is part of why there is such a heavy push to take control away from local school boards and place it in the hands of the state and even the federal government, but that is another discussion for another time.  Where should my priorities lie?   Ephesians 6 instructs fathers to bring their children up “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”  Not under the tutelage of someone else in order to have an opportunity to witness.

It seems to be assumed in this that because a group of parents have chosen to take on the education of their children that they are somehow in violation of the command to be “salt and light.”  But there are other ways to be salt and light without turning our children over to a system that cannot teach our children  according to Ephesians 6, Deuteronomy 6 or any other verses on child raising.

I agree with the rest of Scott’s observations about the importance of our personal ministry in this world.  But this is not an either/or scenario.  A homeschooling family has a plethora of opportunities to engage the culture and witness for Christ.  And the public schools have not been left without their missionaries.  After all, as Scott implies, there are a number of Christians working in the system.  They, too, have an impact.

Does Christian homeschooling threaten education by removing those most interested in education?  I am not so sure about that.  Scott suggests debates like the one over SB 777 / AB384 will not occur if parents do not “have a dog in the fight.”  But I think he underestimates just how involved homeschooling parents tend to be in educational issues, even outside their own homeschooling groups.  After all, I am a homeschooler in Nebraska and I am talking about it right now.  It is all over message boards, blogs and e-lists.  We may have exited the public school system, but we have not exited the discussion.

How can we be a conduit of blessing to the world when we have withdrawn from it? How can we be a conduit of blessing into the schools, a conductor of the light and love and grace of God, if we never show up there in the first place?

And now it is Scott’s turn to have a straw man argument based on emotion rather than reason.  There is no quicker way to start a conversation with a stranger than to run errands during school hours.  “What about socialization?”  As much as the question gets on most homeschoolers’ nerves, it is a perfect invitation for a spiritual discussion.  We have not withdrawn from the world.  We are very much in it.  We have just chosen to go there as a family where we can teach our children all along the way.

[tags]homeschool, education [/tags]

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Julie@Shanan Trail
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In September, Brannon Howse of the Christian Worldview Network sent out an urgent letter explaining why they were dropping some of the writers that routinely author articles in their newsletter. The reason he stated is that some writers weren’t presenting the “truth in love.” Well, they kept Ingrid Schlueter. I find her extremely abrasive in general and have always wondered what the real reson was that Worldview Weekend dropped some of their writers. You have done a great job arguing the “salt and light” error. I have always felt the salt and light argument represent lazy reading. First, the verse… Read more »
Dana
Guest

Thank you, Julie, and that is an excellent point about the verse being about losing one’s saltiness and the relationship to socialization.

Christy
Guest

Great post.

Shawna
Guest

Interesting and thought provoking.

And I will say that it is words such as Ingrid’s that push many away from the idea of Christianity and see it as an intolerant world view and way of being. Which is very sad.

Dana
Guest

Thank you, Christy.

Shawna, I agree. This frustrates me even with ministries with which I agree.

Julie@Shanan Trail
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Dana, We have been commenting and reading each other’s blogs for quite some time, so you may have understood the intent of my comment without this clarification, but I did want to say one more thing. I try to live my life so that my family and I are separate and distinct from our culture. I try to be “whole” in that it is my prayer that my behavior, actions and thought match what I say I believe is biblical truth. And, I went to public school. My husband went to public school from 8-12th grade. We did not go… Read more »
Dana
Guest

: ) Me too, Julie.

Raised in a non-Christian home.

Attended daycare.

Went to public school.

Went to a public university nationally recognized for its liberal leanings.

Earned a degree from a program nationally recognized for its research into behaviorism.

Finished my certification as a Teach For America corps member, a program known for its liberal views. I attended a number of trainings on “diversity,” etc.

Somehow, I survived.

H. M.
Guest
True our pro-homeschooling arguments cannot be based on either emotional reactions to what the public schools are doing, and cannot be based alone on the fact that the public schools are bad. What is appalling to me is that Christians see what is going on in the public schools, and they don’t see what’s all the hurry to get out of them. The reason that the public school system is so bold and so flagrant in their immorality, perversion, stupidity, and outright hatred of God (this is not emotion, just a simple declaration of the facts) is because PARENTS STILL… Read more »
H. M.
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Hmm. For some reason the link I included in my previous comment didn’t quite register. The statistics are important, so I will post the url here, so that anyone interested may read.
http://www.worldviewweekend.com/articles/christianstudents.shtml

H. M.
Guest

“How do I know this was supposed to be followed by “Numbers don’t lie.” This phrase was to be hyper-linked to the article which I gave the link to above.

Sorry about that. :S

Dana
Guest
My difficulty with Ingrid’s wording is that she really did not say anything or present an argument. It isn’t really any different than an entry I read the other day that claimed that religious education is an extreme form of child abuse and should be likened to sexual abuse of the mind. They are harsh words with no actual case to back them up. To be perfectly clear: this entry is not about Ingrid’s statement so much as it is about the fallacious argument I read in response to it. I also attempted to demonstrate how quickly an argument made… Read more »
dcrmom
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As a former Christian school teacher and a mother with her child in the public school system, I really appreciate this post. Very well stated. You clarified so many of the false claims on all sides of the debate.

dcrmom
Guest

Thank you for stopping by, dcrmom, and for your kind comment! And Happy Birthday to the young man. : )

Dana
Guest

Goodness, I seem to be having an identity crisis. I was looking at your name while typing mine, and I have become you. Yikes. I think maybe I need more sleep.

Crimson Wife
Guest

In defense of us Californians, a huge problem with our state legislature is that the districting is done by total population rather than by the number of citizens who are eligible to vote. So areas that have a heavy illegal alien presence are overrepresented in the legislature and those areas tend to elect very liberal politicians. It’s all very frustrating to see the political process being hijacked in this manner 🙁

H. M.
Guest
Thank you for your response, Dana. I did not mean to make you write such a long response, but thank you for taking the time. I think what you said was right, and I agree with you that not all schools are as far down the drain as the ones we hear about, and the ones which stick in our memories. I also think that you are right when you say that the main motive for parents, especially Christian parents, should be that the public schools, do, in fact, dictate the student’s religion — they decide how and if you… Read more »
Dana
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Thanks! I started to write a short comment, but that isn’t my forte. You brought up too many things. : ) I didn’t grow up Christian and my first experience with “Christianity” as a new believer was Phelps and his ever-present activity on my college campus. Thus I am acutely aware of how this sort of emotional reasoning is received. I didn’t identify myself as Christian for years because I was automatically lumped in with him and I did not have the scriptural knowledge to be able to show people that what he was doing wasn’t Christian. I am not… Read more »
H. M.
Guest

Yes, Dana; I must agree with you above. Thank you for taking the time to respond. 🙂

Thanks for reading my blog! I am constantly apologizing for making my posts so big. I am working toward making the posts smaller, but still satisfactory. It was hard to keep the post you mentioned short, because there is so much to include!

Again, I also enjoy reading your posts (which are much shorter!).

Dana
Guest

I hope you didn’t take that to mean I thought it was too lengthy…just more than I could process at the time. You could always go with everyone’s favorite: “Now we are going to begin a 44 part study on the divine right of kings…”

H. M.
Guest

Oh no, Dana. I know that the post was a bit much for you to process late at night (I know how you feel).

Thanks for the post-beginner tip! (lol) 😀