Friday, January 30, 2009

A Very Short History of Christian Education, 1/5

Whoever controls the image and information of the past determines what and how future generations will think; whoever controls the information and images of the present determines how those same people will view the past.
— George Orwell

It was a little over ten years ago that I first heard about a new and strange form of education. At my new church, I rubbed shoulders with homeschooling families. And having experienced firsthand the modern public schools, I easily accepted this “homeschooling.”

In fact, when my first group speech debate was thrust upon me in the dreaded college freshman speech class, I eagerly accepted my assignment to defend homeschooling against all on-comers. Rushing to church, I read what families handed me on the superiority of home education, especially its history. Standing tall and confident in the scholarship of those of like-minded faith and practice (some who were even public school teachers), I seemingly trounced the competing public school and private school proponents—until afterward when my gentle speech teacher, lauding my eloquence, chided me on my weak historical evidence. “Many founding fathers were schooled or tutored as well as taught at home,” he gently informed me.

Naturally, I was crestfallen.

Now, after a few years of research, I have verified my teacher's chiding.

It did not change my mind about the propriety of homeschooling--it is certainly allowable and even desirable in many circumstances. But then, so are other methods of schooling.

This historical question is important. Many conservative Christians take history seriously: if our spiritual forefathers practiced a certain way maybe we should take it seriously. Furthermore, setting up Patrick Henry or John Witherspoon as educational role models adds addition pressure on families--especially if the history is false.

And the history is false.

The more I have studied the original resources and works by standard historians, the more I discovered that homeschooling was only one of many options exercised by our spiritual and political fathers and mothers.

But what is education anyway?

Education can be conceived of in both a broader and narrower sense. In the former, it may be labeled nurture: the spiritual, physical and intellectual well-being of the child made in Christ's image for the furtherance of the Kingdom. This involves (in the least) the teaching of truth, discipline and imitation. Narrowly, education can be conceived of as a more structured/systematic teaching within the sphere of Christian nurture. I will label this schooling.

Thus, in examining the history of Christian schooling I am referring to the narrow idea. The series and the research would have tripled if the first definition was followed. The idea and practice of nurture is wrapped around Christian schooling, but it is not the focus of this series. Thus homeschooling means schooling at home (not nurture at home per se--that's assumed). This is instruction at home primarily by the parents, although tutors may periodically be employed.

Definitions are important to avoid equivocations--a common error I have encountered in my study. If the past is misinterpreted and misunderstood, then future expectations will be misdirected. One thing is important: historically, Christian education--in fact, most education--was a cooperative laissez-faire effort.

This short, short history of education will include Jewish practices during Christ's time, the early church, the Medieval era, and both the Reformation and early American eras.

I hope this series is encouraging and helpful as it is informative for those parents carrying on the Christian tradition of training their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord.

Part 2

(This series is a condensed version of a soon-to-be-published A Short History of Christian Education)

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Statistics of Homeschooling

Since 1999, the famous Rudner study has been touted as finally answering the academic question about homeschooling once and for all. Meanwhile, the original critique of that study has been largely ignored.

Subsequent critiques by homeschoolers themselves have come to the fore as well:

1. "Embarrassing and Dangerous" (This series was written by a homeschooling leader in Wisconsin; part two is an excellent dissection of the testing methods--taken from the Home Education Magazine).
2. "The Fraser Study: Puffing Up Homeschooling and Selling Our Freedoms" (This series was also in the Home Education Magazine, with multiple links to other articles critiquing NHERI and other research leaders).

This means that homeschoolers are not dominating in academics--or at the very best we do not statistically know how they are doing.

This may be quite shocking to some readers. I can understand; I was amazed as well. But facts are facts. I have no ax to grind since I will soon be a homeschooling dad.

What the Numbers Reveal

The Rudner study showed that homeschoolers in the Bob Jones University (BJU) locale who took the test did very well on that standardized test.

That's it.

What the Numbers Do Not Reveal

The fundamental problem with the Rudner study is a problem admitted by the author himself: " should be noted that it was not possible within the parameters of this study to evaluate whether this sample is truly representative of the entire population of home school students."

If his study is not "truly representative" in any conclusive sense, then why bother with it at all? Admittedly, researchers are about knowing. But after the knowing is accomplished and the caveats written, such a study reveals very little. Another answer may be that the study was funded by an organization already in favor of homeschooling. Many homeschooling groups touted the study, even to this day, without admitting any of the caveats the author himself wrote (at least the full report is there). Too often conservative Christians blame the liberal left for "tweaking" data in their favor--who's to say such a thing cannot happen amongst conservatives?

"This was not a controlled experiment,'' and it "does not demonstrate that home schooling is superior to public or private schools, and the results must be interpreted with caution" are some serious caveats. And these carefully chosen words were in the opening paragraph of the report. The fact that they were not touted as loudly as the finding itself points to sloppy research or self-interest--either is not something commendable.

Through all the newspapers, journals, tv reports, lectures, postings, advertisements and word-of-mouth I encountered, I never once heard these caveats.

Lone Ranger?

Perhaps some distraught readers out there think that this is a non-issue or a smokescreen brought up by an unskilled one-man army. Besides the fact that I have an extensive math background (B.S. Electrical Engineering), scholars themselves have pointed out the limitations of the studies and even some homeschooling leaders themselves are uncomfortable with this loose usage of statistics.

One interesting read is from Professor Milton Gaither who has written a virtually definitive book on the history of modern homeschooling in America.

What About Those Experts?

Shorty after Rudner published his finely nuanced report, a peer review was published analyzing the usage and methods empoloyed--a not untypical activity in this field--by Welner and Welner.

Another expert writes in Education and Urban Society. Similar concerns were discovered in other education magazines.

And most interesting of all, Bruce Ray of the NHERI (homeschooling advocate group) notes modest academic numbers for homeschoolers. The latest work by Brian Ray and Bruce Eagleson, State Regulation of Homeschooling and Homeschoolers’ SAT Scores, notes in the introductory background information, that there are mixed results on the testing advantages of homeschoolers (SAT and ACT) (two studies show virtually no statistical advantage and two more show some advantage). As for college exams: "The few studies done on home-educated students’ performance on college-admissions tests suggest they score about as well as do those who are not homeschooled."

The Devil is in the Details...

The first analysis of Rudner's first study was accomplished by the team Welner and Welner:

"Some researchers, in fact, would say that the test scores have nothing to do with how the children were schooled and simply show the results expected for children that come from this demographic group—households that are overwhelmingly white, well educated, two-parent, and middle class (see Coleman et al., 1966; Ogbu, 1987). This is not to say that these parents did not do a good job teaching their children, it is only to say that a comparable sample within the public or private schools may have scored just as well." (Welner and Welner)

Furthermore, this study does not take into account that testing is not required for a number of homeschoolers. And of those states that require it, most allow the parents to use a private professional to evaluate the child, the typical public school standardized testing being completely bypassed.

One obvious reason for this severely limiting aspect of the study is that it occurred amongst a culturally narrow group: those taking the tests at BJU. What about those families from less waspish environs?

To date, a Barna study strongly suggested what some thoughtful statisticians have pointed out elsewhere: homeschooling is not a middle-class, white, Evangelical monolithic entity (Welner and Welner).

Another problem not addressed by this study is the number of unschoolers and the percentage of mixed schooling (both homeschooling and private/public) that occurs among homeschoolers. As of this date, since investigating this issue, such numbers are greatly underreported in many homeschooling circles.

Another statistician's study highlights the limitations of the Rudner study as well:

"The recent achievement studies by Rudner (1999) and Ray (2000) are notable given their large sample sizes. However, Rudner’s study has been criticized (Welner andWelner, 1999) as having a biased sample. Given that his sampling frame originated from a conservative, religious institution, it is unlikely that the diversity of the homeschooling movement is represented in his data. The response rate was also low. Ray’s (2000) response rate was problematically low. Moreover, because he obtained student data from only 38% of the 29% of families that responded to the survey, the likelihood of bias increases. Although the sample underlying the research reported here also has limitations, the data and analysis make a unique contribution to this growing research literature. (p.314 Education and Urban Society / May 2005)

Note how neither critique ignores Rudner's study; they only point out its severe limitations. It helped prompt more studies and suggest areas of research. It did not demonstrate scientifically that homeschoolers outperformed their public or private school peers.

To date, I have not found any such study.

Playing the Telephone Game

When a child is excited about a new find--a toy--he tells all his friends how amazing the toy is. His friend then tells his other friend, ad infinitum. In the process, the toy turns from a mundane matchbox car to a remote-controlled tank. Each child heard elements of the original report he liked and did not hear other parts. Sit in a circle and play the telephone game by whispering into the next ear and similar results appear.

When an adult does the same thing, it is less appealing. And more dangerous. Homeschooling leaders that I am aware of have complained about burnout. And about low retention rates. This is what naturally follows when evidence is hyped out of proportion. The leaders certainly did not make up the numbers they heard; they probably heard it from a trusted friend, who heard it from another friend, ad infinitum.

With this posting, the telephone chain ends. There is no remote-controlled tank with a magical statistical bullet to silence the nay-sayers. Now the record is set straight. The numbers are not in and may never be discovered given the decentralized nature of homechooling.

Does this mean one should not homeschool? No, just realize that it takes work, hard organizational work. Then again, whatever schooling is used, proper parental nurture is hard work. Changing one type of schooling for another does not automatically make one's child an academic success--that it a combination of God-given talent, hard work and mercy from the Lord.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Importance of Childhood Education--Martin Luther

"It is indeed a sin and shame that we must be aroused and incited to the duty of educating our children and of considering their highest interests, whereas nature itself should move us thereto, and the example of the heathen affords us varied instruction. There is no irrational animal that does not care for and instruct its young in what they should know, except the ostrich . . . And what would it avail if we possessed and performed all else, and became perfect saints, if we neglect that for which we chiefly live, namely, to care for the young? In my judgment, there is no other outward offence that in the sight of God so heavily burdens the world, and deserves such ' heavy chastisement, as the neglect to educate children." (Luther on Education, 131).

Friday, January 16, 2009

Malachi 4:6 & the Revival of Homeschooling

“Home educators, almost by definition, have turned their heart to their children [Mal. 4.6]… So, there’s been a revival that’s taking place in the heart of these homeschool families..."--Doug Phillips, 2006

"More and more parents are beginning to teach their children at home. God is beginning to “restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers” (Malachi 4:6).... Homeschooling is a spiritual revival." (The Heart of Homeschooling, 2006)

What are we to make of these assertions?

In another posting I critiqued the idea that homeschooling is a revival. This posting builds upon that critique by examining the supposed biblical foundation. If the above statements are true, then woe unto him who stands in God's way! However, if the above quotes are an egregious handling of God’s Holy Word, then what?

First of all, I will, in the spirit of Malachi 4:6 & the Fifth Commandment, quote my spiritual forefathers: Calvin, Henry, Keil/Delitzsch and Jamieson/Fausset and Brown. They all exegete Malachi 4:6 in a similar vein:

"6...Explained by some, that John's preaching should restore harmony in families. But Luk 1:16, 17 substitutes for "the heart of the children to the fathers," "the disobedient to the wisdom of the just," implying that the reconciliation to be effected was that between the unbelieving disobedient children and the believing ancestors, Jacob, Levi, "Moses," and "Elijah" (just mentioned) (compare Mal 1:2 2:4, 6 3:3, 4 )."--Jamieson, Fausset & Brown, Commentary

A good exegete will consider the immediate context, the book context and the overall Biblical context. Anyone can quote a verse and repeat it until everyone is convinced. Jamieson does something better: he points to book-level context and Bible-wide context. Malachi on two other occasions mentions other spiritual fathers in contrast to his present wicked generation of "sons". Mal. 1:2 contrasts the faithful spiritual seed of Jacob with the ungodly spiritual seed of Esau. Mal. 2:4, 6 & 3:4 contrasts the faithful seed of Levi with the ungodly seed of then-present priesthood. Malachi 4:6 continues this contrast, that God would turn the hearts of the unfaithful sons in line with the spiritual path of their fathers.

Second, quoting Luke 1:16ff. settles the question:

Luke 1:16, 17 "And he [John the Baptist] will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, 'to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,' and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." (NKJV)

Verse sixteen is the ground-motive of these verses: to turn the children (sons) of Israel to their God (Father)! Salvation is the issue. Also, note how the New Testament does not quote the OT word for word but interprets it for the reader: John the Baptist will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children "and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just..." The symmetry points to the fathers as 'just' and the sons as 'disobedient'. Of course, there are biological blessings; entire households were saved in the NT (cp. Henry). Yet, individuals were saved as well. At root this blessing, as with so much of the Bible, is spiritual.

Ask this: was Malachi thinking of homeschooling or family-integrated churches or any other method-based movement? Is this how John was to "make ready a people prepared for the Lord"? A serious reading of the life of John demonstrates that his primary purpose was to preach repentance: to turn the children of Israel to God--to bring salvation not homeschooling! Are these leaders preaching repentance to homeschoolers?

Third, Elijah--John the Baptist (Mat.11:14)--is the agent of God changing hearts. And this prophet is a man with an ordained office from God. God used an ordained church-officer to bring about this revival. I have never read or heard any homeschool leader assert as much—except that by their actions they are the ones leading this revival! Some of these men are ministers. That is good. But their articles and speeches are clearly not done in the context of being a minister. They announce themselves as concerned fathers. It is not the fathers that turn the hearts of the children, but the Spirit working through the ministry of the Word. Faithful ministers are used of God—as a rule—to bring revival. A cursory glance at the history of revival demonstrates as much.

Fourthly, with such unqualified claims of revival, where does that leave churches that are not homeschooling en masse or eradicating Sunday schools in toto? Or to put it in more personal terms, what about godly men and women who lose their families because they stand upon the truth of God’s word? They gently tell their nominally Christian spouse that they must follow God by attending a faithful church--the husband by leading the family. Then their wives rebel, leave or torment them. Then what? Is there no revival there? Is the Spirit not moving in the hearts of the fathers? Must all revivals (or only this one!) involve peace and growth in the biological family? What does Christ say?

"Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to 'set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and 'a man's enemies will be those of his own household.' " (Mat. 10:34)

In fact, Christ defined a 'father' and 'son' in their most fundamentally spiritual sense:

" Who is My mother and who are My brothers?" And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, "Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother. (Mat. 12:48)

Once this verse is thrown into the mix, the simplistic and dangerous interpretation of Malachi 4:6 becomes apparent. It is simplistic because it is only part of the truth, rooted in biology instead of spirituality. And it is spiritually dangerous to announce to people that they are blessed of God when they are under his judgment.

Judgment? Hosea 4:6 warns us that God's people were destroyed for a lack of knowledge--a lack of right thinking and right actions.

Half of the homeschoolers polled believed in salvation by good works! Only 15% were Evangelical anyway--an Evangelicalism so vaguely defined by Barna that orthodox Trinitarianism is not even mentioned! It gets worse: 57% of Evangelicals polled by the Pew Foundation believe that there are other ways to heaven outside of Christ. And high-percentages of born-again believers contend that they have obeyed vast portions of God's Law! Do these numbers reflect a blessing or a curse?

To apply this verse today without a clear understanding of the text itself, its direct application to the NT era and knowledge of American whole-sale ignorance is hazardous.

There is a correct and wholesome application of Malachi 4:6 today. It is a heartfelt prayer that God would raise up Elijahs in our midst to preach repentance, to turn the hearts of the dead American church to the heart of God.

Soli Deo Gloria

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Revival of Homeschooling

“Home educators, almost by definition, have turned their heart to their children [Mal. 4.6]… So, there’s been a revival that’s taking place in the heart of these homeschool families...And this revival works itself out to the local church…" (Doug Phillips, 2006)

What am I to think of this breathtaking assertion? Homeschooling is a revival?
Maybe I'm missing something?
Maybe this is an isolated instance?

Have a Look Around

Consider this excerpt from a popular book, The Heart of Homeschooling:

"Homeschooling is back. More and more parents are beginning to teach their children at home. God is beginning to “restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers” (Malachi 4:6)....the Holy Spirit has moved on hundreds of thousands of families in the United States and around the world to understand the need for training their children in His ways." (online, 2006)

The glaring oddity is how blithely the author equates "training their children in His ways" with homeschooling. What about those 55%+ children attending school in 1840? Don't these men and others always point back to the glory days of education in early America? Also consider the misuse of Malachi 4:6. The author hopes this will cinch it for most readers. Yet Luke 1:16ff. clearly interprets the prophecy in a spiritual sense.

Further, if homeschooling is a movement of God woe to him that resists it! One should not lightly throw weighty claims around.

But there is more:

"Homeschooling is a spiritual revival, a revival that brings many blessings but demands great sacrifice. The greatest rewards are in heaven..."

What was implicit is now explicit: homeschooling is a revival. But what of these rewards in heaven? Are they different from what others receive who do not homeschool? Sometimes people get too caught up in a movement.

But wait! There's more!

One rising star labeled an entire chapter, "The Coming Revival: Is the Church Ready for Family Driven Faith?"

Ready? Besides wondering what a "family driven faith" entails and even if one wants a "family driven faith" (instead of a Christ-driven faith or a Gospel-driven faith), the book encourages leading, teaching, disciplining, nurturing...doing. Change the method (from lazy fathers to energized leaders) and revival comes to pass? If the fathers do but retain a false worldview, so what?

One article, "The Exciting Future of Home Education in America," mentions twice the revivalistic powers of homeschooling. After painting a dismal picture of America's corruption, the writer rejoiced that homeschooling was "beyond any doubt, a veritable reformation of life...unmatched by anything we have seen in the last century or two in Europe or America." This over-zealous leader wishes to instill this commitment to homeschooling because "it will make a profound difference in the heart of a child, not to mention the future of a civilization and a faith."

Is it "beyond any doubt" that homeschooling is a reformation of life? Has rhetoric triumphed substance? It is true that homescholing can make a profound difference, but to what end? Rhetoric using triumphalisitc claims is usually suspect. It seems the claims of the power of homeschooling are only getting wilder and the leaders more desperate.

Eyes Wide Shut?

Mislabeling something a 'revival' is very serious: it misleads people into a false hope. Read the latest book, UnChristian, and you will discover, dear reader, what Barna has known for years: 94-97% of Christians have an unbiblical worldview. No Gospel there. 57% of Evangelicals polled by the Pew Foundation deny Christ alone for salvation. No Gospel here. And homeschoolers are not exempt: Barna notes that half of them depend upon their own works for salvation. No Gospel there either.

Historically, the Reformation and the first two Great Awakenings in America were not centered on educational methods. Instead, preaching repentance from dead works and faith in the Living Savior was central. Calvin, Luther, Knox, the Puritans and the Pilgrims all promoted schooling for education and the church for revival. Today too many leaders are confusing the two agencies.

The greatest event two hundred years ago was the Second Great Awakening. The Presbyterians reported revivals among their people. And even the children were revived, even in Sunday school classes. Did the leaders immediately create a “Sunday-school Integrated Church” society, promoting Sunday school as the best thing for America in one-hundred years? No, they rejoiced in the Lord and kept on preaching Law & Gospel.

Biblically, there is no effort to defend these amazing assertions of revival other than flippantly quoting Malachi 4:6. That verse is dealt with extensively later. One question though: does this text mention an educational method as a catalyst for revival?

These leaders ought to know their history and especially their bible. They ought to know about the dismal state of modern Evangelicalism. But if one is blinded by success, hardened to criticism or motivated to do something right now, it is easy to see America falling apart without understanding the root cause: there is little Gospel at the center of our churches. And a church with a little Gospel will have little impact upon society.

Judgment begins in the house of the Lord (1 Pet. 4:17).
Revival begins in the house of the Lord (2 Chron . 34).


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Future of Homeschooling

Over the last two years there has been much brouhaha about the explosion of homeschooling. Statistics and numbers fly readily from the pens of writers and lips of hosts: 2 million nation-wide; double-digit growth; incredible SAT scores. Hyped claims of revival, reformation and the culture-changing power of homeschooling have mushroomed. As one bright-eyed romantic exclaimed, homeschooling has been a “veritable reformation of life” among a dying culture.

Sadly, this optimism is driven by an uninformed idealism. The 2 million number is suspect because unprovable: most of the number includes an assumption about how many homeschoolers have not been counted. The National Center for Educational Statistics has the latest number at about 1.1 million—with 18% of that number including students that attend 25 hours or less of class time outside the home. So, practically the 1.1 million number should ignore 18 percent. And if the 2 million number is accurate, it should shrink proportionally as well: 902 hundred-thousand and 1.640 million respectively.

When the retention factor is analyzed, the future of homeschooling becomes more questionable. The latest 2007 Peabody Journal of Education summary paints a more accurate picture: “much homeschooling occurs in intervals of 1 to 4 years. This implies that the total number of 18-year-olds in 2006 who have been homeschooled at least intermittently is around 375,000, or about 10%.” Only a 63% retention rate exists into the second year of homeschooling. And after year six 48% are still homeschooling (only 15% for secular families). Similar numbers are acknowledged by some homeschooling leaders.

There’s more. Many assume that most homeschoolers are college-educated, middle-class, white conservatives. However, a Barna poll suggests this is not so. 49% of these families fit this description. And just over half (51%) are not classified as “born again”. Only 15% are (loosely) Evangelical. Half of the homeschoolers polled consider themselves somewhere between conservative and liberal.

More importantly, the Barna Group numbers display a level of poor spirituality I had only guessed at from my own anecdotal experience: most homeschoolers deny that Satan exists and half believe that salvation is obtained through good works.

The future of homeschooling is decidedly not looking bright. Even if the numbers are actually growing, who cares? If the numbers grow but the spiritual life does not grow what have homeschoolers achieved? What have the leaders wrought? If vast numbers are ignorant of the depths of their sins and the power of the Gospel of sovereign grace, hypocrisy and false assurance will rise. Then the future may be pleasant people, clean neighborhoods, and whiten sepulchers full of dead men’s bones.

The future of homeschooling is bright if and only if the faith grows with it. Hyping it will not help. As a viable option among many, the families that choose homeschooling still need to have their life and methods rooted in the same Gospel as the Reformation. For it is only in the Person and Work of Christ that homeschooling—or any schooling—can be part of a reformation of life and a bright future for mankind.


[More observations on homeschoolnig]

Monday, January 12, 2009

Famous Homeschoolers in History...?

The rise of modern homeschooling in the last two decades has done much good. It is a result of many parents who realize that the schools are mostly bastions of unbelief. And it has helped many families focus on an important aspect of their duty: the godly education of their children.

However, as with most movements, there is good mixed with the bad. In this particular case, homeschooling history is being rewritten.

One website promoting homeschooling success stories presents an impressive array of homeschooled heroes. Under the first heading, "Activists," Peter Jennings is listed. Clicking on the link and reading the wikipedia article, one discovers that this famous man attended school until he flunked 10th grade. Certainly a strange candidate for homeschool hero status.

Moving onto another hero. Clicking on "Jason Taylor" (NFL player) yields more evidence that slopply history is being written: He was homeschooled for about three years.

At the end of the day, is this how homeschoolers and their defenders (including myself) wish to promote this noble cause? With such reasoning demonstrated above, public school advocates could use any homeschooler who attend school for three years (just invert Jason Taylor's profile). Or claim a famous person who was homeschooled until grade 10 as their own--if only because afterward he entered public school (just invert Peter Jennings' profile).

At best, this is equivocal reasoning.

Perhaps a more notable list should be examined. After all, not all who write lists on the web are qualified to do so. So, after googling, several lists were discovered (both online, in books and on the radio). The lists are long. The work was hard. At the end, five are presented below as examples of the typical educational backgrounds during that time-period:
  1. John Witherspoon (Educator/Statesman): One problem with using encyclopedias as sources of detailed information is that they are not sources of detailed information. They cover more of the adult achievements than the particular facts of any person's childhood. For such facts, biographies, eye-witnesses and the like must be examined. And that is a lot of work. In this case, reading the eulogy of Witherspoon (given by his personal friend, John Rodgers) paints a different educational picture: "He was sent, very young to the public school at Haddington: His father spared neither expense nor pains in his education." At age fourteen he attended the university of Edinburgh (p.24, The Works of Rev. John Witherspoon).
  2. Thomas Jefferson (President): Reading his own biography ought to have dispelled this historical myth years ago. He testifies that he was schooled at age five then sent to a Latin school at age nine. Digging into his history will show that the early schooling was done with a tutor at his home plantation along with other children. The Latin school he attended was fifty miles away at the Dover Church grammar school (where he boarded with a friend's family--a not uncommon activity in the southern gentry) (Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History, Brodie, p. 49, 51).
  3. Patrick Henry (Statesman): Of course Patrick Henry is dear to my heart (as is Witherspoon) because of his Calvinism (another topic that falls off the historical radar of modern conservative "scholarship"). His grandson, William Wirt Henry, compiled the facts of Patrick's life and concluded: "He was sent to a common English school until about the age of ten years, where he learned to read and write, and acquired some little knowledge of arithmetic.” Afterwards, his father tutored him and other local boys in Latin and some other topics (cp. Give Me Liberty: The Uncompromising Statesmanship of Patrick Henry, Vaughan, p.29).
  4. James Madison (President): The childhood of Madison demonstrates the modern historical problems of pinning down exactly how individual early Americans were educated. Many papers, receipts and diaries are missing. In the case of Madison, an incomplete paper trail exists, but what does exist demonstrates that at age three and nine his father was paying a tutor for his son's education. Presumably his mother and grandmother helped as well. More complete evidence demonstrates that at age eleven he was sent to Donald Robertson's school, 70 miles from home! Later, at around age sixteen he was home with another tutor who lived with them and taught the other younger siblings. Again, not uncommon in the south (James Madison: A Biography, Ketcham, p. 17; James Madison, A Biography in His Own Words, ed. Peterson, p.16).
  5. John Jay (Supreme Court Judge): Lastly, we have another favorite Calvinist of mine. John Jay learned some Latin before the age of 8 when he was sent off to a school in New Rochelle, 8 miles away (a Huguenot (Calvinist) town). He continued until age eleven and then went home and studied under a private tutor, George Murray. He attended college at age 14 (John Jay: Founding Father, Stahr, p. 9).
This plethora of information was probably more than you wanted to know, but it is important to realize it is not a simple and naive matter to clump historical figures into our neat 21st century categories. At that time, education was a laissez-faire effort. It was typically a mixture of homeschooling (loosely defined), home-tutoring and local schooling. This was especially the case in the South (Virginia & the Carolinas). Further north, the practice was closer to today's day-school model (that is another posting).

Close examination of the above samples reveals a mixed approach to education that is being matched today in homeschooling circles. Too often the modern rhetoric has highlighted the superiority of homeschooling in the abstract, as though homeschooling was just junior, mom and dad. In reality, more and more families are mixing some form of tutoring into their child's curriculum. Many families are discovering that no family is an island and that God has graced his kingdom with differing abilities, with some families stronger in one academic area than others. But this is yet another posting for the future.

The conclusion of the matter is that rewriting history rewrites our expectations: "If only we could create that homeschooling environment, we could turn back the clock!"--a cry I've heard and read over the years. We will not achieve another Patrick Henry simply by homeschooling. Another James Madison will not arise from the ashes of America simply by homeschooling. Homeschooling is but one means to an end. And it operated in a Christian culture that is lost today (think Sabbatarian, confessional, & Calvinistic). If we want to turn back the clock, we need such a milieu again.

Retelling internet educational fables only sets up the homeschoolers and their supporters for a humiliating fall. Instead the focus should be on supporting one another in love. Hyping history in favor of one educational method over another just turns into a in-house fight--a form a tribalism that will eat the church from within. Instead, the spirit of 1 Corinthians 13 should prevail and the truth of history should be supported. In fact, homeschoolers should support private schoolers; private schoolers should help homeschoolers; and churches should nurture their members on the pure Gospel of Christ and the Law of His kingdom.


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Some Observations about Homeschooling

I live in the state with the second largest homeschooling organization in America--but with a population ranked 22nd.

After watching and helping homeschoolers for thirteen years, I will shortly be homeschooling myself. In the last few years I have actively participated in homeschooling events as well. And even tutored history for homeschoolers.

Now, as I reflect upon what will happen when God's child comes into this world, I will be in the thick of it. Although not a recognized source of information in these homeschooling circles that won't stop me from bringing my observations. I will let the facts speak for themselves.

The Good News

1. Many homeschoolers are zealous about nurturing and educating their children.
2. Many are average parents working hard in a sinful world with good results.
3. Many children have testing advantages in SAT, etc.
4. Many children are socially adept.
5. Many children retain their parents' values.

These are good things. These are some of the fruits of homeschooling. Parental involvement is important in the life of a child (as I learned from my parents while attending public school) as the parents' activities and attitudes create the atmosphere of the home.

The Bad News

Now for the other shoe:

1. Many homeschoolers are less than optimal about nurturing and educating their children.
2. Many are average parents working hard in a sinful world with little results.
3. Many children have no testing advantage in SAT, etc.
4. Many children are socially inept.
5. Many children retain other parental values.

Someone will throw stones at me for writing this. But, then, that is the nature of critiques. This is an honest evaluation from my own experience. Homeschoolers still have a bell-curve: good, bad and C-students.

The "less-than-optimal" (distracted, lackadaisical, indifferent, whatever the reason) is simply due to fallen man's temptations. It is not a critique on homeschooling per se. Similarly, point two reflects the disparity between effort and results in a fallen world: even when parents do the best they can in good conscience, brainiac children and virtuous broods will not always materialize. The social ineptness of children is a nice way of saying that just because a child is homeschooled it does not follow that good manner spontaneous appear. And, of course, in line with the above, retaining parental values does not occur as a matter of course in home educated families. In fact, in most households (Christian, pagan, private or public school), children do retain the values of their parents: if the actions of parents are louder than their words, children general follow their actions.

But They're Still Smarter...Right?

What about that scholastic advantage? The latest work by Brian Ray and Bruce Eagleson, State Regulation of Homeschooling and Homeschoolers’ SAT Scores, notes in the introductory background information, that there are mixed results on the testing advantages of homeschoolers (SAT and ACT) (two studies show virtually no statistical advantage and two more show some advantage). As for college exams: "The few studies done on home-educated students’ performance on college-admissions tests suggest they score about as well as do those who are not homeschooled." This evaluation is confirmed by an earlier study (First Year College Performance, 2004) which found no "statistically significant" difference between homeschool and non-homeschool students in their first year of college. In short, children are not short-changed with respect to college by being homeschooled (answering a recent question from a concerned homeschool mom).

The first thing someone will challenge will be these statistics. Perhaps I used research biased against homeschoolers? Haven't we always heard that homeschoolers outperform their peers? Dr. Brian Ray is the founder of the NHERI: National Home Education Research Institution. Certainly not a group against homeschooling!

As for my own experience, I find the typical bell-curve amongst them. Some are brighter than others. Most may be brighter than their public-school counter-parts, but frankly, a little love, attention and discipline by parents can easily accomplish that. Besides, smarts is more than being able to take a test.

The Growth of Homeschooling Speaks for Itself...?

Actually, growth does not speak of anything than...growth. That growth must be interpreted. And in the first instance, in my experience, a significant minority of that growth arises from the lack of good Christian schools. Some parents frankly homeschool because there is no other option. This partly explains the recent number I read, that 65-75% of homeschooling families will quit this year. The retention rate is low.

Another interesting fact I have observed is that more and more parents don't homeschool full-time. Tutors or local group-schooling are being employed more often. This is reflected in the very numbers that many leaders hype-up. The National Center for Educational Statistics released their 2004 report on the number of homeschoolers: 1.1 million. But, reading the fine line shows a different story: both 1999 and 2003, about four out of five homeschoolers (82 percent) were homeschooled only, while about one out of five homeschoolers (18 percent) were enrolled in public or private schools part time [less than 25 hours a week]."

And Your Point Is...?

About two years ago I overheard a homeschooling leader retell a story. He was meeting with political movers and shakers in the state. They were discussing the woes of the public school: orphans, disruptive children, single-parent homes, etc. The overzealous homeschooler declared to the present company that he had the answer to those problems. "What was it?" they curiously asked. "Homeschooling."

My point is that homeschooling is not a panacea. It is simply an educational method. Nurture is important. Very important. But the narrow question of methods is not as important.

My other point is to encourage homeschoolers to be self-critical. Another homeschooling leader from out of state admonished the parents not to be too arrogant about being homeschoolers, "after all," he declared, "we know we are right, but we shouldn't shove it in the face of others." Forget self-critical. How about some humility?

I don't agree with all of the following but here is a homeschooler's professional evaluation of some myths (and even dangers) of homeschooling that any concerned parent should be aware of: The Myths of Homeschooling. Other myths include a homeschooling-is-almost-Gospel approach of some of the leaders. Others have commented on this, even those who are relatively new to homeschooling, such as Dangitbill's Homeschooling is Not the Gospel. I'll certainly have more to say to this little error!

This does not discourage me from homeschooling at all. The liberty I have in Christ means applying the best solution to the current situation as I see fit--homeschooling fulfills that requirement. In the upcoming months, I will bring more home education observations to the table. Stay tuned!