Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Radical Homeschooling: Defined

'Radical' means "to go to the root."

And there is a movement within the movement of homeschooling that wants to get 'radical'.

In American society this word normally connotes a negative idea of rank anger and irrationality. But in this series of articles about an up and coming sub-movement within homeschooling, it will not be used in such a derisive sense. I struggled with finding a suitable adjective or even a noun, but I think 'radical' works best because when rationally examined, the word dovetails with the movements goals: to return to the supposed root of Western Civilization educational methodologies--homeschooling.

The other usage of 'radical' involves a relatively extreme commitment to a particular cause--which describes the leaders of this movement because they believe homeschooling (and other derivatives) is either demanded by the Bible or the best option that fulfills the Bible (not all who think homeschooling is the best option are radical as I define it in this post).

The word can also denote advocating drastic change. The leaders of this movement are not interested (as displayed by their actions) in presenting or propagating their views piece-meal. They want change and they want it now.

Why this much ink for a single word? Because being labeled is no fun and some people will react negatively to the word. But labels are necessary for those who wish to be disassociated from differing views. This tripartite definition--the historical, moral and urgent elements--may not set well with some, but it is my humble attempt to understand this unique approach to Christian education. I will try to only label this theoretical position and not the people.

Now to the point: Radical homeschooling is the doctrine that homeschooling is the sine qua non of biblically based parenting.

In other words, homeschooling is commanded by the Bible:

"Of course, my prayer is that every family would homeschool from birth. If that's not you, my prayer is that you will homeschool from now on. It may require difficult changes. It may require the awkward work of repenting to your wife and to your children for how you have abdicated your responsibility." (p.133, When You Rise Up)

" 'Therefore thou shalt love the LORD thy God, and keep His charge, and His statutes, and His judgments, and His commandments, always'" (Deut. 11:1). This is why we should homeschool. God commands parents to teach their own children God's law, and we must be obedient." (p.9, Homeschooling from a Biblical Worldview)

In fact the about page of Vision Forum asserts: the "modern classroom…is a distinctly Greek and pagan approach to education."

One of the more influential homeschooling leaders, the founder of the NCFIC (family-integrated church group), clearly stated his position a few years back:

"Our reasons for home educating are not preferential, but principled, being derived from God’s Word.... Wrong educational methodology can lead a child to Hell…" Doug's blog, Oct. 8, 2004

Is this his personal opinion? (As though that could be divorced from his public efforts.) Fortunately, this sentiment has been stated and rather boldly at the parent website, Vision Forum's about page:

"Most men are gripped by fear. They fear the loss of job security. They fear the unknown. They fear the opinions of others. This fear prevents many fathers from beginning home education — the educational approach most consistent with both the methodology and goals of education as articulated in Scripture. This fear prevents other fathers from making lifestyle changes which will allow them to spend more time walking beside their children, as God commands...Methods are not neutral. The rise of the home education movement is not merely a response to the failure of government education; it is an affirmation of a distinctively Biblical approach to both the methods and the objectives of Christian education."

The author boldly declares homeschooling as the "most consistent" approach to the Bible. Naturally, Christians would not settle for the second most consistent approach of anything in the Bible. Who would not want to spend "more time walking beside" their children--as God commands? Vision Forum is about homeschooling. It is about more, but it is in the business of propagating homeschooling as the Biblical approach. This statement is further amplified in a radio interview:

“Home educators, almost by definition, have turned their heart to their children [Mal. 4]… 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...our prayer: every Christian in the world is in a family integrated church. And there should be nothing but that, but you know what that is going to lead to? That’s going to lead to people homeschooling! And vice-versa; they play off of each other. Because when you understand the importance of discipleship you move in that direction…” [1]

Clearly the speaker's prayer (and goal?) is to make every church in the world--not Reformed, not Dispensational, not Baptistic--but a family-integrated, homeschooling church. Why? Because homeschoolers "almost by definition, have turned their heart to their children." Homeschooling is a revival.

A clear and unequivocal statement, such as, "God commands homeschooling," is not needed because it is the warp and woof of this movement.

This unique approach to education presumably allows for exceptions to homeschooling (presumably because I have not actually found any such evidence), yet a biblical command is a biblical command, exceptions notwithstanding. If this is a message you wish to follow, dear reader, then by all means join the organization and help them make their point loud and clear. But I hope in this continuing series to demonstrate that, in spite of some of the laudable goals of RH, its view of the history of Christian education is mistaken and its understanding of key elements of Christian nurture is misguided.

Soli Deo Gloria

[1] Phillips quoted from “The Family-Integrated Church Movement,” interview, Generations Radio, sermonaudio.com, June 12, 2006.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Radical Homeschooling: So What?

This series on radical homeschooling (RH)--that homeschooling is morally required or required as "normative"--is an extra-biblical claim striving to redirect the Christian family and church into a new historical direction.

But it is a small movement. So, many may have not even heard of it. You, dear reader, may think, "so what? What's the big deal?" I personally do not believe the narrow question of homeschooling vs. private schooling is a big deal, but then I do not believe God has bound families to one method. On the other hand, some homeschooling leaders do think this is a serious issue and are shouting it from the rooftops:

"Of course, my prayer is that every family would homeschool from birth. If that's not you, my prayer is that you will homeschool from now on. It may require difficult changes. It may require the awkward work of repenting to your wife and to your children for how you have abdicated your responsibility." (p.133, When You Rise Up)

" 'Therefore thou shalt love the LORD thy God, and keep His charge, and His statutes, and His judgments, and His commandments, always'" (Deut. 11:1). This is why we should homeschool. God commands parents to teach their own children God's law, and we must be obedient." (p.9, Homeschooling from a Biblical Worldview)

"Home educators, almost by definition, have turned their heart to their children [Mal. 4]… 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..." (“The Family-Integrated Church Movement,” Online interview)

"…'dayschools, leisure village, from tantrums by adolescence, to PMS for women of certain age, and the end of creativity of the old,' these are all variations of evolutionary hellish thinking." (The History of Sunday School Movement, track 13)

The above quotes represent a fair sample of leaders who think this is a big deal. It is a big deal to assert that some of the 'modern' (a loaded term) activities are rooted in hellish thinking. (Day schools, for instance, have been around since Jewish times.) And labeling homeschooling a revival (without any qualifications) is a big deal--it adds unbiblical pressure on families. What Christian family would want to follow a "hellish" method? Who would not want to be part of a revival?

There's more: it is a big deal when consciences are bound by a commandment not found in God's Word. When homeschooling pastors and leaders inform their audiences that obedience to God means parents should homeschool or that parents should repent for not homeschooling, the so what becomes obvious.

I have no ax to grind. I am not after anyone. I only want public transparency of a new public belief. I believe too few homeschoolers are aware of what some leaders are promoting as godly education.

This series will attempt to show that, in spite of some of the laudable goals of RH, its view of the history of Christian education is mistaken and its understanding of key elements of Christian nurture is misguided.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Very Short History of Christian Education, 4/5

Reformation & Post-Reformation:

The major Reformation churches and leaders vigorously promoted informal and formal schooling, preaching both parental and communal responsibility. Luther preached on the duty of sending children to school; Calvin erected the famous Geneva Academy; the Scot, Swiss, Dutch, French, Polish and Hungarian churches ordered, created and some even operated schools for children. Catechizing, both by the parents, teachers and ministers, was encouraged, practiced and enforced.

The Dutch synod of 1618 endorsed a three-fold approach to theological instruction: parents, schools and churches. Each was to instruct the children in the catechism; each was to reinforce the Doctrines of Grace. Such integration between the family, church and school was already in practice in other Reformed communities, but this Synod laid it out in a most explicit manner.

The rise of English Puritan influence paralleled the English "educational revolution." The existing records demonstrate that about 800 new schools were added within less than two-hundred years in England alone (1480-1660). Yet, "the diversity of forms of elementary training—and its chronic lack of endowment—led Puritans as well as their contemporaries to rely heavily on the household for instruction in literacy at the same time as they encouraged the finding of schools..." (Morgan, 175). The availability of primary schools in England during the 1600s may have been great, and "every boy, even in the remotest part of the country, could find a place of education in his own neighborhood competent at any rate to fit him to enter college" (Morison, qtd. 60).

A typical English school included a master and an assistant (usher), each teaching a class of students in the same room. The larger Academies, such as at Geneva and Strasbourg, included seven to eight classes, each lasting a year, with students being tested for advancement between the lower and upper classes.

Charity schools in England--especially for the poor--mushroomed in the 1600s. In the 1670s there were around 350 charity schools and 51 grammar schools in the small country of Wales. In 1724 over 1,000 charity schools existed in England (this number does not include the normal schools). Devon, England’s fourth largest county in the eighteenth-century, contained at least 180 schools. Similar schools multiplied in the German states. The Scottish General Assembly asked the presbyteries to collect monies for charity schools in 1709.

The father of modern education was the Reformed leader and Moravian bishop, Johann Comenius. England invited him for educational advice; Sweden commissioned him for an educational book; Transylvania petitioned him to reform their schools; and Harvard asked him to be their president. He wrote the first picture book for children and worked tirelessly teaching, creating schools and school programs (graded-level schools, curriculum, etc.).

Again, literacy rates are hard to come by because of the scarcity of records (the same is true with the number of schools). However, it appears that literacy was accomplished in about two to three years, between the ages of nine and twelve (Morgan, 175). Literacy was around 50% in London and lower in the surrounding countryside. But then, the main point of creating schools was to combat such illiteracy--not for humanistic reasons, but for godly reasons: reading the Bible. Schooling, at home and abroad, co-existed peacefully during this time.

Part 5

Summary of References and Suggested Readings:
History of Education, Cubberley
Godly Learning: Puritan Attitudes Toward Reason, Learning, and Education, Morgan
The Intellectual Life of Colonial New England, Morison
The Great Didactic, Comenius

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Nurture Lessons--Cotton Mather on Children

Cotton Mather was a godly man. As a great colonial pastor, he lived as well as he preached. He nurtured as well as he preached. And I hope that summarizing his fathering techniques will bring inspiration to hundreds of fathers. (Below is taken from Life of the Late Rev. and Learned Dr. Cotton Mather, p.15ff.).

"The rules he observed, and the methods he pursued in the education of his children, may probably give some useful hints to other godly parents; on which account therefore they are worth relating. As,

1. He poured out continual prayers to the God of all grace for them, and especially for spiritual blessings...

2. He began to entertain them betimes with delightful stories, chiefly out of the Scripture history, from which he would always draw some lesson of piety, and endeavour to fix it upon their minds by means of the story. This was one part of the stated entertainment of his table every day.

3. When his children accidentally fell in his way, it was his usual custom to drop some sentence for their instruction...

4. He endeavoured to engage all his children very early in exercises of piety and devotion, and especially in secret prayer, for which he gave them plain and short directions. And he would often remind them of this their duty; " Child, don't you forget, every day to go alone, and pray, as I have directed you."

5. He endeavoured also to form their tender minds into a temper of kindness and beneficence, by putting them on doing kind services for one another, and for other children : and he would encourage and commend them, when he saw they delighted in it...He earnestly cautioned them against all manner of revenging of injuries, and instructed them to return good offices for evil ones, showing them, that they would hereby become like the good God and the blessed Jesus. And thus he laboured to form his children into a sweetness of temper, as well as into a decent and regular behaviour.

6. He had his children taught to write as soon as possible; and as soon as they could write, he would employ them in writing out short lessons of virtue and piety, which he contrived for them, in order to fix those lessons the deeper in their memories.

7. At the same time that he endeavoured to assure them of his love, and taught them to pay a becoming deference to his judgment, as to all things that were good for them, he laboured also to convince them of the baseness and hatefulness of all sin, and of the amiableness of virtue and goodness.

8. His usual method of correcting his children for their faults was very tender, and yet not the less effectual, but probably the more so. The first correction, (if one may call it so,) if the fault were not very great, was to let the child see him in a perfect astonishment, at its being guilty of so base a thing, hardly believing it could be true, or however hoping the child would never do so any more. For the child to be banished from its father's presence for some time, was ordinarily the heaviest punishment of all; and so his children were taught to account it . He rarely corrected any of them with blows, and never but in a case of obstinacy, or for something highly criminal. For he looked upon that slavish way of education, which is so commonly practised in schools and families, by raving at children and beating them for every fault, to be a dreadful judgment of God upon the world, and a very abominable practice.

9. He endeavoured with all possible kind insinuations, to bring his children to a love of learning, and to make them account it the noblest thing in the world. Therefore he seldom proposed play for the reward of diligence, lest they should think diversion better than their business: but rather he would have his children account it a privilege to be taught; therefore, his refusing to teach them was the punishment which he sometimes inflicted for a fault. Instead of threatening to whip them, if they did, or did not do so and so, he would threaten, that they should not be suffered to read, or to write, or learn such and such a thing. On the other hand, his children were taught to expect it, as a reward of their doing well that their Father would teach them something that was curious and entertaining.

10. Above all other instructions which he gave his children, he laboured most earnestly and diligently to instruct them in religion, and to impress their minds with an early sense of it. He would often call them "to remember their Creator," telling them the eye of the great God was always upon them. He endeavoured to recommend Christ to their love, and his example to their imitation, as a proper expression of their love to the blessed Jesus. He would particularly recommend to them the pattern of Christ's obedience to his Father's will in all things, as that which they should follow, by doing whatever their parents required of them. He would often tell them also of the good angels, who love them, and guard them from many evils, and do many good offices for them; therefore they should be very careful, that they do not grieve and disoblige them, by doing any ill thing. He did not choose to say much to his young children about the evil angels, lest it should impress their fancies with frightful notions of apparitions.— Yet he would briefly tell them of the devils who tempt them to sin, and who are glad when they do wickedly, that they may get leave of God to kill them for it. He would tell them further, and that often too, of the judgment and world to come, of heaven and of hell, as the consequence of their good or bad behaviour here. And, when his children were grown capable of superior methods of instruction, he would take them alone, one by one, and after many affectionate and solemn charges to fear God, to love Christ, and to hate sin, he would pray with them in his study, and make them the witnesses of his strong cries and earnest wrestlings with God, on their behalf.

11. He not only taught his children the catechism, and explained it to their understanding, by asking abundance of short questions upon every answer, but he used also to examine them upon the sermons they heard, in a catechetical way, turning every head and truth that had been delivered into a question to be answered with yes or no.— This he found was an excellent means of engaging their attention and informing their minds.—In these familiar exercises he would often take an opportunity to ask his children such serious questions as these: "Do you desire this grace? Do you consent to this article of the gospel covenant?" And there is reason to hope and believe, that the good Spirit of God brought several of them to an unfeigned consent to the covenant of grace, by means of his exercises."

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A Very Short History of Christian Education, 3/5

Medieval Period:

With the rise of cathedrals came cathedral schools (early 500s), not only for the instruction of an up and coming priesthood but even for the local village boys. Bishops continued to tutor local boys in their homes. Tutoring came from a more educated relative, local priest, scrivener, curator, rector, etc. Boarding schools became more common in the latter period. Guilds created schools for their specialties and schools for the children of their members. Apprenticing was common as well. Endowed schools for primary education--supported by the wealthy or the town--were on the rise as well as the famous Latin grammar schools, which could be stand alone institutions or attached to a college.

Homeschooling was probably continued in many homes. Education under these more simplistic conditions probably included basic speaking ability and training in household chores and farming. As a rule, "poorer children, even if they or their parents were favorable to reading, might have to postpone the undertaking until adolescence or adulthood, and might not begin at all" (Orme, 246).

Charlemagne, concerned with the degraded learning among the monks, decreed in 789 AD that "schools be established in which boys may learn." A century later, King Alfred, taught by a tutor, decreed a similar proclamation in 901 AD. The Sixth General Council of Constantinople (680 AD) required the presbyters in the country towns and villages to teach gratis any child brought to him. Echoing similar provisions in the Council of Chalons (813 AD), the Council of Langres, and the Council of Savonnieres (859 AD), the Third Lateran Council in 1179 encouraged the cathedrals to create schools, especially for the poor.

European literacy rates are notoriously hard to discover. But the evidence grows after the 1100s. Literacy was facilitated through a communal approach (family, community and church) instead of an individual approach. Group readings were a mainstay for literacy. By the 1250s it appears that many who may not have been literate at least knew someone who was literate. Near the end of this period, households of royalty, nobility and even clergy "often included one or more schoolmasters to teach the lord’s children, wards, and the boys who sang in the chapel." Common-sense may suggest that the gentlemen, clergy, merchants and those with more leisure time and education gave some basic instruction to their children at home, but such evidence is scarce (Orme, Children, 241ff.).

By the late Medieval period, useful numbers began to appear. The Black Plague devastated England, lowering her population to around 2.5 million between 1348-1448 AD. Yet thirty-five grammar schools are known to have existed in three British shires during this time. The latest research is confident that in England alone during the late Medieval period a typical small town had at least one schoolmaster and possibly an assistant. London herself retained at least two dozen full or part-time teachers. Florance (1336-38) is known to have over 50% of the children in city schools. The Lowlands (Holland/Belgium) increased the number of primary schools from the twelfth century onward (as did England). Local schooling typically included children eight to sixteen years-old.

Many methods of instruction were practiced during the Medieval times. Such an eclectic approach continued into the Reformation.

Part 4

Summary of References & Suggested Readings:
Medieval Children and Medieval Schools, Orme
History of Education, Cubberley

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A Very Short History of Christian Education, 2/5

New Testament Times:

About one-hundred years before Christ, the Jewish leadership began promoting schools as a counterweight to Grecian influence. The schools were for boys ages five to thirteen, teaching rudimentary skills.

"In this period a synagogue presupposed a school, as with us a church implies a Sunday school. Hence the church and Sunday school, not the church and the district school, is a parallel to the Jewish system. The methods in these schools were not unlike those of the modern Sunday school. Questions were freely asked and answered, and opinions stated and discussed: any one entering them might ask or answer questions. Such a Jewish Bible school, no doubt, Jesus entered in the temple when twelve years old...in the apostolic period teachers were a recognized body of workers quite distinct from pastors, prophets, and evangelists (see 1 Cor. xii. 28, 29; Eph. iv. 11; Heb. v. 12, etc.). The best commentators hold that the peculiar work of teachers in the primitive church was to instruct the young and ignorant in religious truth, which is precisely the object of the Sunday school." (Schaff, 2262)

Early Church:

The evidence of this time period is scarce. Some of the church fathers were schooled at home (Gregory of Nyssa), others locally (Basil) and others some combination thereof (Chrysostom). A few of the councils (Constantinople, Toledo and Vaison) ordered the erection of schools or commanded the priests to teach the local children. Some leaders, such as Polycarp, apprenticed local boys at their home. Even though the church fathers cautioned against pagan influence, men such as Chrystostom and Tertullian allowed and at times encouraged local schooling or tutoring. There were even bible schools for children.

Religious instruction being an important Christian goal, catechetical schools were also created.

“These catechetical classes and schools were intended to prepare neophytes, or new converts, for church-membership, and were also used to instruct the young and the ignorant in the knowledge of God and salvation. They were effective, aggressive missionary agencies in the early Christian churches, and have aptly been termed the 'Sunday schools of the first ages of Christianity.' The pupils were divided into two or three (some say four) classes, according to their proficiency. They memorized passages of Scripture, learned the doctrines of God, creation, providence, sacred history, the fall, the incarnation, resurrection, and future awards and punishments..." (Schaff)

Formal schooling existed alongside domestic education, even as it was expanding into new venues such as the monastery, cathedral and parish schools.

Part 3

Summary References and Suggested Reading:
Compendia Rerum Iudaicarum ad Novum Testamentum, Section One. “The Jewish People in the First Century.” Vol. 2.
Catholic Encyclopedia Online
History of Education, Cubberley
A Religious Encyclopedia, Schaff, online.