Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Homeschooling I

'I advise no one to place his child where the Scriptures do not reign paramount. Every institution in which men are not increasingly occupied with the Word of God must become corrupt...I am much afraid that schools will prove to be the great gates of hell unless they diligently labour in explaining the Holy Scriptures, engraving them in the hearts of youth.'

Martin Luther

This is the first of what I hope to be many posts telling the story of how we came to settle on homeschooling as the best option for the education of our little ones. I also plan to answer some questions and concerns about homeschooling (not that there aren’t many fine resources available for the curious: perhaps I will dedicate an entire post to listing some of these resources).

It began with a desire to come to grips with Scriptural teaching on raising our little ones. Not surprisingly, our first step on this path was the realisation that there was no bloody way we could ever send our kids to the public schools (hereafter, ‘government schools,’ which is more accurate). Why? One of the clearest teachings of Scripture is that parents, and especially fathers, are responsible for the education of their own children. Not the State. Not even the Church, primarily, but parents. Here are the key passages:

Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the rules that the LORD your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, that you may fear the LORD your God, you and your son and your son's son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long… Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:1-2, 4-9)

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)

Here the responsibility is given to fathers to teach their children. But that’s just talking about religious teaching, right? Government Schools should teach the important, er, the other stuff, right?

Wrong. The word translated ‘instruction’ in Ephesians 6 is the Greek word paideia. It was a very familiar word to Greeks, and meant, in essence, an entire life-and-worldview education, including everything from history to art to language to athletics to politics to family life to mathematics and science and philosophy. In our culture, this would also include how we view things like television, movies, and popular music. Everything, in other words. This, the father is to give to his children. This kind of education was not unknown to the classical culture. In ancient Rome, for example, Cato the Elder was known for teaching his son everything from military training to morals and academics. St Paul is saying that fathers should provide the same thing for their children, with this exception: it is ‘the paideia of the Lord,’ so this whole life worldview education should be from the perspective of the Christian faith.

This means that government schools are patently unbiblical, and never an option for Christians (never!), for how can the State, an agnostic institution, teach our children ‘the paideia of God’? But this also means, unavoidably, that homeschooling is the best option. Christian schools fill a much-needed place for those who have come to realise that they must immediately get their children out of the government schools, but with Christian schools, fathers and mothers can do little more than occasionally check in on what their children are being taught, since nearly all of the teaching has been delegated to others. This is hardly in keeping with the Scriptural admonition for parents to do this teaching.

There is really no need to answer the expected rejoinder that ‘most parents don’t know algebra, biology, history, Latin, etc, enough to be able to teach them to their children.' Suffice it to say that the curriculum options have rather come of age in recent years, and there are extremely sophisticated options developed with the learning parent in mind, so that the parent can first learn, and then teach.

‘School,’ then, as popularly conceived, was out. Douglas Gresham, stepson of C.S. Lewis, put it wonderfully:

'as someone who has been trained and works in the field of post-childhood abuse trauma, and has devoted considerable thought to the matter, I have formed the opinion that the entire concept of school is flawed. In fact, it is a terrible mistake.

'Look what we do: we observe what God has designed, a pair of parents, one of each sex, and two pairs of grandparents, often with a few aunts and uncles thrown in. In fact, a Family. This is the unit designed by God Himself for the specific purpose and ministry of raising each new generation.

'Then what do we do? We take the child and remove him from this carefully designed support group of parents and close family members, all of whom share a genetic bond with the child, and plunge him into a mass group of his peers, all of whom are as ignorant and as demanding as he is, with one adult stranger supervising. In terms of the psycho-emotional development of the child, this is complete madness…

'Satan hates what God loves and God loves us, Mankind. The basic unit of Mankind is the family, so Satan has targeted the Family, and he has been pretty successful, mostly by using “good intentions.” I think that “School” is one of his very clever inventions. As far as I am concerned, schools are for fish.' (quoted from

I heartily concur with Gresham’s statement and am so glad to have someone of his calibre speaking the truth about this issue.

And so, we are homeschooling our three little ones (all of them, not just the oldest, who is now ‘school age’). This education begins, like life, at conception, and never ends. It involves what R.C. Sproul Jr has called ‘the three Gs’: who God is, what God has done, and what God requires. To accomplish this with the most breadth and depth, and in keeping with the implications of Paul’s ‘paideia of the Lord,’ we are using what is generally known as the Classical method of education. This is an academically rigorous approach to education that responds to children as they naturally develop, and the strengths of the various developmental phases through which they pass on their way to adulthood. My next post on this subject will look more closely at the Classical method, and what it means.

Some will say, ‘is homeschooling legal?’ Or, as it is sometimes put, when someone finds that we are not putting our children in school, or are not operating on the school-year schedule of the government or even private schools, ‘isn’t that against the law?’

Only a few years ago, homeschooling was actually illegal in many states. It is now legal in all fifty states. There are only light regulations for homeschoolers in my state (North Carolina). There shouldn’t be any, of course. Truly, we no longer have any idea what words like ‘liberty’ or ‘freedom’ mean, or we would never tolerate even the slightest attempt at governmental oversight of our children’s education.

But for now, homeschooling is legal throughout the United States. We as parents choose both the form and content of our children’s education, which is as it should be. We seek to do so in wisdom, weighing our options carefully, determined to make the best use of these precious years. Little children love to learn, and I have no desire to miss even the smallest opportunity to teach them what is true, good, and beautiful. In future posts, I plan to discuss the choices we have made both with regard to curricula, and to schedule. I would encourage every Christian parent reading this to consider carefully, above all, the question of whether to keep their children’s education in the hands of our enemies. A good place to start is Doug Wilson’s outstanding book, Excused Absence: Should Christian Kids Leave Public Schools? (Crux Press, 2001).

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Brian McLaren vs The Middle Ages

Click the title above to go to the original post that prompted me to write this. This was a comment I made on a blog called 'The Rabbit Hole.' The original post was an extended quote from Brian McLaren's book A New Kind of Christian, in which McLaren, in the course of making an unrelated point, attacks Medieval Christendom, which always amounts to fightin' words for me. Brian McLaren, who also wrote the book, A Generous Orthodoxy, is a popular author and leader of the so-called 'Emergent Church' movement. Here is my response in full.

Your quote from Brian McLaren: ‘But on a deeper level, if you told them [Medieval Christians] you didn't believe in the pope and you didn't accept that kings ruled by divine right and you didn't believe that God created a universe consisting of concentric spheres of ascending perfection, and if you let it slip that you agreed with Copernicus that the earth rotated around the sun, you would surely be tried as heretics and perhaps burned at the stake.’

Couldn’t let this outrageous statement pass unchallenged. While there is perhaps something to be said for McLaren’s larger point that people tend to see the Christian faith through the lens of whatever worldview they already hold (and that we are just as guilty of this as the Medievals or anyone else), McLaren’s view of Medieval Christendom is far too simplistic (as is his view of many things, sad to say), not to mention wildly inaccurate. A standard text (Norman Cantor’s The Encyclopaedia of the Middle Ages) that I picked up from a shelf at home, almost at random, is sufficient to demonstrate this, but others could just as easily be used.

Believing that ‘God created a universe consisting of concentric spheres of ascending perfection’ (he’s referring here to the Aristotelian/Ptolemaic model of Astronomy), though widely held, was not exactly a litmus test for Christian orthodoxy. While there was controversy over Copernicus’s theory, and later over Galileo’s support of Copernicus through his new invention of the telescope, there was no persecution of those who differed. And Copernicus was opposed as much by the scientific community of his day as by the ecclesiastical, a fact that is often forgotten. Further, it must be remembered that ‘…the breakthrough astronomical concept—that some bodies in the sky revolve around something other than the earth—had already been made by the beginning of the Middle Ages.’ (Cantor, The Encyclopaedia of the Middle Ages) It is true that scientists and churchmen at the time of both Copernicus and Galileo felt that the theory did not yet have sufficient proof (a fact that has been admitted by some in our own day) to establish it as factual. It is also true that they believed a heliocentric model contradicted Scripture, an idea that is now universally recognised (by the Church) as untrue. So, yes, the Church was in error, but, contra McLaren, no one was ever burned at the stake for believing in the Copernican system. This notion of McLaren’s that knowledge was somehow static during the Middle Ages, and that anyone who questioned that knowledge was immediately denounced or executed, is utterly ridiculous, even slanderous. The Middle Ages lasted a thousand years: does he truly think that the whole of that period can be reduced to his simplistic summaries?

McLaren’s statements regarding the divine right of kings needs serious adjusting as well. Cantor points out that there were several competing views of kingship in the Middle Ages, only one of which could be labelled as ‘the divine right of kings,’ a notion inherited from the Roman Empire. Indeed, it was in the Middle Ages that men first began to assert that constitutional law was higher than the king, and that the king’s will could be opposed if it went contrary to the law. The Gregorian Reform (late eleventh century) was a prime example of this. Cantor puts it this way:

‘…the papacy [began] talking about kings in a purely functional manner, comparing them to swine herders…vanguard ecclesiastical thinkers…developed liberal ideas aimed at limiting the claims and exercise of kingship. A king’s actions that flouted justice lost their validity, it was held. The law vested in the people and its constitutional assemblies stood higher than the king…These disputes about the nature, functioning, and limits of kingship were an important legacy of the Middle Ages…’

As regards the pope, the Medieval movement towards Conciliarism began to assert that the whole Church, assembled in ecumenical council, was a higher authority than the pope. Or we could consider the East-West schism of the eleventh century (1054) in which the whole of the Eastern Church (which had never truly accepted the sole authority of the bishop of Rome) finally rejected the rule of the Western pope. Or the Great Schism of the fourteenth century, in which there were two competing popes: one in Rome, and one in Avignon (later, there were three popes for a short period of time). During this Schism, Conciliarism was invoked to establish general councils as a higher authority than the pope, even reserving the right to declare and depose popes. Dante (died 1321), in his vision of Hell (The Divine Comedy), meets, not only such desperate sinners as thieves, gluttons, and even Judas Iscariot himself, but also popes! And William Langland (died 1385-1386), in his Piers Plowman, challenges Christians to trust more to God’s mercy than to Papal pardons and indulgences. Contra McLaren, one might almost say that anti-papacy, far from being foreign to the Medievals, was almost characteristic of the Middle Ages.

Also, McLaren said this: ‘To the Christian culture of medieval Europe, none of you today could be considered real Christians.’ The Medieval view of the Church was much higher (not to mention more Generous and more Orthodox) than McLaren is evidently capable of grasping. Are you baptised in the Triune name? Then you are (in a certain sense) a Christian, and would be considered so by Medieval men and women. Whether you are a good Christian is another question, perhaps, as it always is. For now, it is enough to say that McLaren’s view of our Medieval forefathers is anything but ‘Generous.’

Look, I know that all this is hardly the point McLaren was making, but it is never right to tamper with the truth (whether deliberately or through laziness in fact-checking) in order to make a good point. And this laziness has resulted in an unwarranted broadside attack against our fathers in the faith—something that McLaren seems to be well-known for.

William Chad Newsom