Someone told me recently they’d never heard anyone talk about bacon like I did. I’d said something to the effect of, “I’m ok with it,” but apparently bacon is polarizing subject, typically drawing strong supporters (“Bacon, every day, all day, on everything!”) or vehement opposition.
My daughter is about to enter first grade (how is that even happening already?) and figuring out her education has been a topic of conversation for Jeff and I for a while now. I’ve read through countless articles through the years and have found that homeschooling can kind of be like bacon. People naturally seem to have strong opinions about why they’ve chosen to educate their children in certain ways, (whether public school, private school, or homeschooling) and, naturally, those who take to writing about it have especially strong opinions.
I have strong opinions about many things, including education, but, like with bacon, have found myself on the fence when it’s come to how our daughter ought to be educated. Though we homeschooled last year and will do so this coming year, it’s not a decision that’s been an obvious or simple choice for us.
Though I’ve scoured the internet for a silver bullet for or against public/private/homeschooling, I’ve yet to come across one. What I’ve found most helpful hasn’t been bullet-pointed articles espousing the merits of public, private, or homeschooling, but seeing how other families have come to their decisions. It’s been helpful for me to see their reasoning and process, even if ultimately, our choices differed.
In that vein, I offer a few thoughts for others in our decision-making process as to why we are homeschooling come September.
First, the following are NOT reasons why we’ve decided to homeschool this year. We don’t think that schools necessarily ruin children’s drive to learn. We don’t think all public school teachers have a hidden anti-Christ agenda or that sending our daughter to our local elementary school would definitely be detrimental to her faith. Our desire is not to shelter her completely from the realities of this world and we don’t have any nostalgic feelings about schooling inside the home or about her mom being her teacher.
Secondly, as much as there are unfair critiques of public school systems, I’ve also found most reasons against homeschooling not to be compelling either. “Socialization” is not a concern for me because firstly, we have other opportunities for our children to interact with people and, secondly, because I don’t see socialization in public schools as an ideal or normative standard. And while I understand and have the desire to serve our communities and being on mission, I’m not convinced about that being the main impetus for making our decision about education.
There is no simple line of reasoning about schooling that universally applies to all families. So why have we decided to homeschool? The two main reasons for our family are 1. The freedom to shape our child’s education and 2. This is what works for our family for now. Both of these reasons are subsets of the orienting question, “What is helping our daughter thrive (academically, socially, spiritually, emotionally)?”
Homeschooling first became an option for us even before our daughter was born, when I realized I didn’t have to take the current public school system as the historical norm. Thinking, for example, about how public schools in America haven’t always been expressly secular or that historically, children have been educated in different ways made me start imagining what education could look for our children if we were building from scratch rather than within an already established norm.
Thus, for us, homeschooling appeals to us not primarily because of what we’d like to avoid in the public schools, but out of wanting to proactively build based on what education could be. Practically, freedom in subject matters means we are able include more music and art in our curriculum and focus on building a foundation not just for STEM but liberal arts. The flexibility to work at each child’s own pace means being able to choose an appropriate level of academic rigor. It meant we could spend time last year on world geography and other countries and cultures to intentionally instill in our girls a more global outlook.
More importantly, homeschooling also means we can teach about the world as it is, belonging to and made for God. I am grateful for the instruction I received in the public school system from grades K-12 and in my secular university, but I’ve also been reimagining what education could be like for our children in terms of the freedom to talk about the world as we know and understand it. This is more than just having a class on Christian beliefs and definitely does not mean unnaturally attaching Bible verses to school subjects. Rather, out of an understanding that all truth is God’s truth because our world is God’s world, we believe learning about and in the world is naturally woven into (and ultimately is founded on) the theological. (So, for example, my daughter asked what she warned us was “a very hard question” the other day. “In the beginning there were dinosaurs. But the Bible says in the beginning there were people. How can that be?”)
The public school system where we are is not just a pluralistic environment, but increasingly committed to secularism. (Not all public schools are like this, but elementary-aged children in our church have told me about being prohibited from bringing in their Bible for free-reading time or talking about God with other students.) And while we respect pluralism in the public sphere, we value the opportunity our children have, at least at a young age, to take in what they learn and think from an adult without needing to compartmentalize (keeping their questions about God and Scripture out of the classroom), or filter (wondering if what they learn is true.) We want our children to learn how to navigate being in the world with wisdom and humility, and don’t expect them to be in a Christian environment forever, but for now we value to opportunity to build their educational foundation in a place where there is more freedom in how and what they learn.
Even more than questions about reconciling certain facts here and there (like about dinosaurs and creation), we value the opportunity to incorporate into our daughter’s education the expressed purpose of her learning. I was humbled and grateful a few months ago when she responded to the question “How can you live for God?” with “Doing school!” (I know this isn’t grammatically correct, but that’s how we say “Going to school” here because, well, we’re at home.) As I probed for another, what I felt more fitting, answer, she explained, “No, like by worshipping him with my mind.” Education is not just about learning facts and skills, but knowing why we learn, having the right attitude of humility and faithfulness in our studies, and seeing ourselves as stewards of the minds we’ve been given by God.
Now you may say that all this could potentially happen in a Christian school, and you’d be correct. I actually started looking into classical Christian education after substitute teaching at a school where I was impressed both with the academic rigor and character development in students. But, though we’ve explored some possibilities, logistically this isn’t yet the best option for us. We do have a great community and program we’re a part of that will support our homeschooling. Hence, our second reason for homeschooling, “This is what works for our family for now.”
We are taking it one child at a time, one year at a time. And while this makes it a bit difficult for me since I’m often wondering, “What should we do next?” it’s taken a bit of the weight off to know we can always reevaluate. And the main question we ask then is, “Is she thriving?”
More personally, I’ve come to see that as is often the case when it comes to decision making, God is sanctifying me through the process of deciding whether or not to homeschool. Our fears, motives, and hopes are exposed when it comes to our children. And parents, we are being refined and challenged to be like Jesus here. As we look for answers regarding our children’s education, our hearts are being searched with questions too. Like, what do I really want most for my children? Are these hopes and ambitions godly? Am I being prideful in my choices? Am I giving into comparison? And am I trusting God with their future? (It took me being awake in the middle of the night, worrying about my girl’s post-college job prospects to wake me up to the irrationality of my anxiety– I was trying to figure out Pre-K at the time!)
Lastly, thinking about our children’s education is also an opportunity for thankfulness. Thankfulness that Christian education is even an option when, as I heard from a friend in China the other day, there are local believers taking huge risks pulling their children out of the public schools so their children can receive a Christian education. And thankfulness for the gift of education we’ve been afforded. The stress of decision-making is actually a sign of blessing– that we have so many good options available to us when many around the world do not have anywhere near this kind of access to education.
That’s it from me for now and we’ll see what we’ll be doing in a year! Do you have any thoughts about education? Or bacon? (Just kidding.) Leave questions or comments if you do. I would love to hear from you!