Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sunday School--Samuel Miller

Samuel Miller, a staunch conservative Calvinistic Presbyterian, wrote in a letter in the New-Jersey Sabbath School Journal:

“Rev. and dear Sir, Princeton, September 10, 1828.

"When you requested me, the other day, to express, in writing, my opinion of the Sabbath School system, as pursued in the United States, I was, I confess, in some degree surprised. I had been under the impression that all the enlightened and reflecting part of the community were already so deeply convinced of the utility and importance of that invaluable addition to the other benevolent institutions of the day, that all further reasoning in its behalf was unnecessary. If this be not the case, I regret the fact; and am ready, most cheerfully, to contribute my mite toward the promotion of what is so extremely desirable as a correct and universal public sentiment in reference to this subject….

"I once thought there was no good reason why the children of intelligent, pious parents—parents able and willing to instruct their own children—should be sent to the Sabbath School; being under the impression that everything in the way of tuition could be quite as well, if not better, done for them at home. But I have altered my mind on this point. I would urge children of all classes to attend. I think it my duty to send my own children, not merely for the sake of example, and to stimulate others, whose children may be less favorably situated, to do the same; but also from a persuasion that my children are really likely to be better managed, and in some respects better instructed, in a well conducted Sabbath School, than under my own roof….

"In truth, I am of the opinion, that every minister ought to consider the sheet-anchor of his hopes, not only for the Church and the State, but also for his own personal comfort, usefulness and popularity, as lying, under God, peculiarly with the children and young people of his charge. If I could be so far forgetful of my allegiance and duty to my Divine Master, as to pursue, supremely, my own personal comfort and popular acceptance, I could not, I am persuaded, take any other course so well adapted to the attainment of my object as that of paying unwearied attention to the rising generation; mingling much with them; and taking a deep interest and an active part in every lawful institution intended to promote knowledge, virtue and piety among them." (138ff.)

[The author of the Life of Samuel Miller explains: "One of the foregoing extracts might seem to imply more than Dr. Miller intended. It is the one referring to his own children. All know that parents, too often, make the Sabbath School an excuse for neglecting religious instruction at home; but against such neglect the ordering of his own household was a constant protest. Explaining his words by his practice, we must conclude that he only meant to represent the Sabbath School as an important auxiliary to family training… (p.139 emphasis mine)].


Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Story About Scholarship

As I traveled the road from general Arminian, Charismatic Dispensationalism to old-school Calvinistic Presbyterianism, I learned discernment.

I realized that if my view of my own precious salvation was wrong, then my general view of the Bible was probably wrong...and it was.

I then concluded that if my general view of the Bible and what it taught was wrong, then maybe the teachers instructing me were wrong on other counts...and they were.

Yet I did not decide to distrust everyone, but to be more cautious. After all, those who were wrong were wrong mostly due to ignorance.

As I traveled the road from rudimentary knowledge of history and science to fuller knowledge, understanding and application through a combination of church mentoring and collegiate training, I learned scholarship.

I discovered that scholarship involved paying close attention to detail, perseverance of investigation and discernment of fact from fiction. I also learned the language of scholarship.

I first stumbled upon these lessons the hard way with a college speech course in which I was called upon to defend homeschooling. Gathering my resources from fellow Christians striving to interpret life by the Word of God, I thought myself fully furnished for the battle. But alas, I was not. To the extent I rested my weight upon the historicity given me to that extent I stumbled. Significant points of my presentation were wrong. Some of the famous men I thought were homeschooled were not.

My teacher was kind enough to tell me I was wrong.

It got worse. As I asked around about books on the history of homeschooling, I found there were none, but that there were one or two books that included a page or two. I found one such book covering a multitude of reasons to homeschool, with an entire chapter on its history. Combining the lessons of discernment and scholarship I discovered major errors.

How? by actually checking the sources. I was kind enough to mail the gentlemen the documented corrections.

Later, other claims came my way. So I checked the sources.

I concluded the research on homeschooling academic success has been blown out of proportion to the actual claims from the research itself. The famous Rudner study was read and read carefully. Rudner noted his studies limitation within the first paragraph.

Then someone else kindly pointed me to the scholarly work of Dr. Brain Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI). Being a well-trained man, his research was conscious of its own serious limitations from the start:

1. "The design of most research to date does not allow for the conclusion that homeschooling necessarily causes higher academic achievement or better social and emotional development than does public (or private) institutional schooling." ("The Evidence Is So Positive",, Dr. Ray, online)

[Translation: Most studies are not even designed to prove the academic superiority of homeschooling]

2. "Some of these scholars have also, rightfully pointed out the limitations of their studies. For example, Ray (2000b) 'This is not a causal-comparative study….background variables in this ex post facto study are not controlled in such a way as to make possible conclusions about the causes of academic achievement test scores being higher (or lower) than those of students in conventional schools' and 'one should keep in mind the limitations of representativeness and generalizability' in this study (p. 81). ("A Homeschool Research Story," Homeschooling in Full View, Dr. Ray, p. 10)

[Translation: Even Dr. Ray's own study admits it does not prove homeschooling superiority]

3. "Despite the fact that scholars who have conducted the studies have not claimed that research shows homeschooling causes higher achievement (or healthier social and emotional development), others have attempted to use research to obliquely attack both researchers of and advocates of homeschooling." ("The Evidence Is So Positive", Dr. Ray, online)

[Translation: Dr. Ray and others have never claimed their studies proved that homeschooling caused higher test scores, but people still attack us personally]

What does all this tell us? It tells us that Dr. Ray carefully noted in his own research that his own studies do not and could not scientifically demonstrate that homeschooling caused better academic achievement than either public or private schooling. In fact, the studies could not and did not create any sort of across-the-board baseline to make such a comparison--one cannot compare apples with peaches. (This is partly so because the studies were voluntary; public school testing is not voluntary.)

At the end of the day, after my bad experience with so-called scholarship in theology and history, I find it refreshing that Christian men such as Dr. Ray state explicitly (although in scholarly language) the severe limitations of their own studies. I do not have to check their sources.

As I travel the road of the Christian life, my prayer is that more Christians will learn my story.


Monday, March 16, 2009

History of Christian Education: Westminster Divines

Many times over, I have heard the claims that homeschooling was historically dominate. Taking history from 6000 BC to now that may be true (but unproven). But what if this unproven assumption were examined in smaller snapshots? Say...examining the educational background of the members of the Westminster Assembly (1644)?

I examined Reid's Memoirs of the Westminster Divines. Like today, many then did not write their life stories out. And they did not have the massive paper trial we have today. So, most of the details of these great and godly men before they entered college is unknown.

Of the 104 commissioners, 24 had sufficient historical detail. The remainder of the men have no known history of education before college. The vast majority attended college. And they were English, with a few French and five Scots.

Four of that number may have been exclusively homeschooled but that is unclear. One more may have been tutored at home and homeschooled. The rest of the 19 men were clearly schooled outside the home (79%). In all fairness, this does not preclude any homeschooling that may have attended their outside education, but such is not recorded.

And that is part of the problem with making sweeping generalizations: they ignore the messy details. Education, homeschooling or not, was part and parcel of a larger nurturing approach. The idea of nurture (instruction and discipline) was never considered a narrow activity of schooling--at home or abroad--but an integrated way of living. Children were instructed formally or informally by parents, siblings, extended family, neighbors, masters, deacons, elders, teachers and ministers alike. They were instructed and disciplined in homes, churches, schools and in the fields. Beyond the requirements of the teachers being godly, it did not matter especially who did it or what method was employed but that the children learned truth.

The Puritans promoted such an integrated form of nurture by centering the culture in the Person and Work of Christ. The method of education was a question of Christian liberty, but the Message of Christ was the heart and soul of Christian nurture. And the creation of the Westminster leaders--the Westminster Confession of Faith--reflected that.


Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Very Short History of Christian Education, 5/5

“Lord, for schools everywhere among us! That our schools may flourish!”
John Eliot, New England Indian missionary

Early America:

Colonial Americans were British. As such, they continued the British ideal of education: both homeschooling and local schooling were liberally practiced. Group readings and individual catechizing helped literacy. As during the Reformation, public and family worship was encouraged, yet catechizing through the family, church and school was the mainstay of religious instruction. At times, such catechizing was furthered through assemblies of the children, not unlike Sunday school.

The Massachusetts' Old Deluder Satan Act of 1647 required the creation of elementary and grammar schools. Other New England colonies quickly followed Massachusetts’ lead. Eleven of the twelve Dutch colonies in the New York (New Amsterdam) area had schools before 1664, and still the Dutch settlers complained that there were not enough schools. Although in the southern colonies tutors and homeschooling were more prevalent, private and public schools were initiated in several villages and towns as early as 1621 in Virginia.

The typical New England child would begin instruction before age six, attending a local Dame school wherein an older woman (usually widowed) would teach the rudiments. After mastering reading through the hornbook or the New England Primer, he would advance to a writing school. If he were proficient he would attend a grammar school, learning the classics.

From Adams to Washington, the leaders of America went to school. Washington apparently attended the least amount while many others attended school for most of their education and/or learned from tutors at home. Southern schools were usually found on plantations--private tutors-turned-public-teachers for the neighboring families.

Leaders, such as John Eliot and Cotton Mather, promoted parental nurture as well as Christian day schools. Likewise, Noah Webster, Adams and Jefferson encouraged the creation of schools. Some election-day sermons exhorted the listeners to support local schooling. The Presbyterian Synod of New York and Philadelphia publicly called for more schools.

Many pre-1800 state constitutions included provisions for public education: Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Georgia. New York state provided for schools, with over half of her children in school by 1800. According to professor Samuel Miller, the proliferation of primary schools was great in the late 1700s. In 1812, Pierre Samuel Du Pont de Nemours, after touring America at Jefferson's behest, observed that in contrast to Europe, Americans "have a great number of primary schools…So then, nearly all young Americans learn to read, write and cipher" (trans. Dr. Coppes). De Tocqueville in 1830 made similar observations, lauding the reading culture of the families and communities. By 1840 probably 59% of American children attended schools.

The lesson to be found here is that our spiritual and political fathers and mothers exercised their God-given freedom to educate their children as they saw fit. Such education under-girded the founding of this nation without much spiritual or political harm. The emphasis was on religious and vocational training, not upon how such training was accomplished. Whether at home or abroad, the cultures in Europe and America were homogeneous enough that a three-fold instructional approach--family, church and school--was exercised without much concern. No family was an island.

Today's call back to the educational good-ol' days is well and fine if the call is rooted in the factual history of America. Anything less is at best uninformed zeal and at worst a sectarian commercialism of history.


Summary of References & Suggested Readings:
American Education: The Colonial Experience, 1607-1783, Cremin
History of Education, Cubberley
The Puritan Family, Morgan

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The 2009 Leadership Summit

What are homeschooling families to think of the up-and-coming 2009 Leadership Summit? Certainly they ought to hope for the best (that is my hope). Yet, hope ought to be exercised by proper information. The following are some observations about this conference from 1) its own promotional material online & 2) knowledge of some of the new beliefs being propagated by some of the leading speakers.

"For Such a Time as This, in a Changing Political and Socio-Economic Climate . . .

Home education is poised to bear significant effects on the how we do education, economics, church, and politics in the years to come. As leaders, we feel it is important that we be self-aware of the direction we are headed."
(quotes found here).

Is it too much to ask Christian leaders (in any arena) to tone it down a bit? The rhetoric in the above quote is too much. Homeschooling is on the verge of transforming education, economics, church and politics?

What else does "bear significant effects" mean? It means homeschooling as homeschooling will have an important impact upon all the major components of American civilization. Like a good advertisement, this ad will not technically assert anything beyond its bare words ("effects"--good, bad or indifferent--are about to happen), but the import is clear: not just any kind of effect but good and important effects, that you dear reader, ought not miss out on.

The online ad continues:

"The goal of the 2009 Leadership summit is to define a vision for the future of the Christian home education movement."

The nice thing about being in a duly constituted church is that you get to pick your leaders. Either by simply joining the church after proper investigation of the church and her leadership and/or by voting in new leadership when the time comes. The not-so-nice thing about movements is that you don't get much of a choice either way. In this summit, Radical Homeschooling and Family-Integratedness leaders are some of the main speakers. Presumably, if such men have a voice in this conference (and its creation of an ambitious Christian Education Manifesto), they will--in good conscience--integrate their new and unique views into the "vision for the future" of homeschooling.

Lastly, the rhetoric finally moves into vague yet significant historical claims:

"Another objective for the leadership summit will be the development of a Christian Education Manifesto statement. After 1000 years of a secular, Greek education model first taking the university, then later capturing K-12 childhood education, home educators are recovering the biblical discipleship paradigm. The 2009 Summit will include discussion on this Manifesto."

This claim that the "Greek education model" dominating Western Civilization for 1000 years is incredible--and demeaning to the Reformation which occurred almost 500 years ago. It is an unproven assertion, giving the reader the distinct impression that this is an unchallenged historical 'fact'. It is challenged; it's just that those voices are marginalized. In this usage, it is simply an attempt to shock the reader into the obvious response: "you don't want an unbelieving Greek-based education for your children, do you?"

Furthermore, what is this "Greek education model" anyway? The reader has no idea--unless he or she has heard this catch-all phrase used by some of the key speakers. And I have heard the definition (at least Vision Forum's president): it is an "efficiency-driven approach to maximal, instantaneous education, divorced from relationship..." (History of the Sunday School Movement, track 3). In fact, the VF about page specifies: "modern classroom…is a distinctly Greek and pagan approach to education." This idosyncretic interpretation of the history of Christian education arises from a narrow hermeneutic and will be discussed later.

For now, dear reader, whether you agree with me or not, when and if you are able to evaluate the 2009 Leadership Summit I hope this primer will put the event into proper perspective.