Because of my role as the Vice President of Academic Affairs in a Bible college with a very large and very developed Education department, many find it curious, or perhaps even a conflict of interests, that my wife Pam and I choose to homeschool our children. If I believe so much in the Christian school movement, which I do, then why aren’t our children enrolled in one? On the other hand, if I am committed to homeschooling, which I am, why would I serve in a higher-education ministry that trains teachers for Christian schools?
Such questions come from what I refer to as an either/or mentality. I’ve seen this kind of thinking rear its head in other ministerial contexts. It arises when two perfectly legitimate and biblically sound methods of accomplishing the same goal exist. Our tendency as creatures who hunger for identification is to latch on to one option and feel like we must think negatively, if not attack, the other one.
Unlike most homeschooling families, our initial decision to homeschool was more of a circumstantial than a philosophical one. As missionaries in the country of Poland shortly after the fall of communism, our educational options were threefold: (1) send our children to a Polish public school, (2) send our children to a Polish private (yet still secular) school, or (3) homeschool. No Christian school was available in Poland. And had someone attempted to establish one, he would have been quickly swallowed up by the European love of red tape. A fourth option for some Warsaw area residents was a private English-speaking American school. However, the thousand-dollar-a-month tuition per child was a joke among our missionary community.
We began our children’s education using a combination of these options. Our oldest, Caleb, attended zerowka, or kindergarten, in a private school which was a novelty in Poland’s foundling free-market experiment. Our next two, Joshua and Benjamin, attended the local public school. Because of the every-day mingling with non-English-speaking children, our sons not only learned the extremely difficult Polish language, but could speak it without an American accent (unlike their parents). However, we were concerned that they were not learning certain subjects that we thought important, such as American history, reading, and English grammar/spelling on a native-speaking level. And thus our homeschooling career began, born more out of necessity than philosophy. When Caleb, Josh and Benjy arrived home, Pam would homeschool them in the American/English oriented subjects. This educational hybrid turned out to be a dream education for our sons’early elementary years. The combination consisted not only of the strengths of both an individual and group setting, but of American and European culture. They learned about Benjamin Franklin in a way only an American could teach, and Frederic Chopin in a way only a European could teach. Unfortunately, the Polish schools’class schedule for the upper elementary grades made it necessary to change our approach. We decided to pull each child out after third grade and exclusively homeschool. This afforded us the opportunity to experience the purely homeschool dynamic.
When the time came for us to hand our ministry over to the Polish nationals and return to America, we were faced for the first time with the Christian school option. In Poland, we had experienced already the benefit of “hybriding”. Here in America, we now live in a rather remote area where no large homeschool group is nearby. Thus, we are very thankful that our sons are able to play on the local Christian school’s sports teams and in the band, take P.E., Spanish, and engage in other activities that we feel our particular homeschooling situation could not adequately provide. Nevertheless, we have chosen to maintain homeschooling as our children’s primary mode of education. We are definitely known as a “homeschool family” in our community. Although our homeschool journey began with more of a pragmatic than a philosophical motivation, our current choice of primarily homeschooling is fueled by philosophical, as well as pragmatic, benefits we have discovered along the way, such as:
As someone who is involved in administrating pedagogy-training, I am very encouraged about the pedagogical effectiveness of homeschooling. Our three sons are living demonstrations of how different children can be, even within the same family. They possess interesting mixes and degrees of intelligence, creativity, diligence, interests, etc.. Homeschooling allows the parents to observe these traits in a focused way with the momentum of knowing them as infants and toddlers. We see how each performs and responds to different subjects, learning methods and schedules. The result is being able specifically to modify all the factors that go into educating so that each child is learning each subject in an optimal way. As I mentioned above, part of the customization of our sons’education includes their participating in some traditional schooling activities. As a college administrator, I welcome the way homeschoolers come prepared for the next level of their education. As a group, they are known to be high-performers in academic settings.
Every homeschooling parent who travels knows and loves this dynamic of homeschooling. The nature of my work calls for some travel. The means are not always there for my wife and sons to join me. But when they are able to, their education is not disrupted. Most recently Caleb, now fifteen, joined me on a ten-day mission trip. No history, geography or civics course can hold a candle to traveling to a certain part of the world and experiencing it live. When we returned, he was able to pick up where he left off with his courses without having to play “catch-up”to other classmates.
Many times the thought has crossed my mind that if I paid Pam an equitable wage for the effort and time she puts into homeschooling, she might very well be the primary wage-earner in our family. The money we save in tuition we are able to invest in other aspects of our sons’education—such as traveling.
As a parent, this is probably the most valuable benefit of homeschooling in my eyes. Although I have known some traditionally schooled children who are role-model Christians and some homeschooled children who must be genetically related to Ivan the Terrible, we like what we see as far as the ratio of influence on our boys between us and their peers. We are glad for the positive way our sons interact with adults, viewing them primarily as allies and secondarily as authority figures. Our personal, subjective observation is that homeschooled children generally have good relationships with the adults in their lives. Although many elements go into a good relationship, I have to believe that the quantity and quality of time between a parent and child in a homeschool setting is a top contributor. Values and perspectives, which are determinants of the quality of relationships, will typically be formed by the people with whom children spend the most time. As a college administrator I am happy to see the positive attitudes homeschoolers tend to have toward our teachers and their other authorities in a college campus atmosphere.
I do think it is idealistic to think that homeschooling is for every family. I have seen some families wisely come to the conclusion that they need to switch to traditional education. Good reasons range from a lack of time, organizational difficulties, or even an honest assessment as to what is best for a certain child during a certain phase in his life. I respect such decisions, and will always defer to the God-given right and instinct of a parent to do what is best for his or her child. Indeed, we are open ourselves to enrolling any of our sons into a traditional Christian school should we deem that that would be best at a particular stage of his development. Until that time, should there ever be one, we will continue with our hybrid approach, using homeschooling as our base.
I thank the Lord for the opportunity we have to homeschool our sons. At the same time, I am glad for every young person we’re training to teach in a traditional Christian school. Both have their place and both are being used effectively.