Homeschooling – Motives and Ends

For the last four years – that is, since our oldest was old enough for kindergarten – my wife and I have taught our children at home. It is hard work, especially for my wife, who does the lion’s share of teaching, but worthwhile. Our children have individual attention from people who understand and care for them better than anyone under heaven. They are receiving the kind of education we would like them to receive. They can thrive in strong areas and get help in weak areas. We emphasize the things we think they need to learn when we think they need to learn them. There is a ton of stuff to like.

We have also been conflicted homeschoolers the entire time. If we had our druthers, our kids would be in a great public school. Not because we love the public school experiences we have had, but because we agree with the concept of public school. Why? Education is a public good. It is not something that exists for the sake of private enrichment (in an intellectual or economic sense). As we raise our children, we want to raise them for the good of the larger community: first of believers, then of our city and nation (Galatians 6:10).

Truth (like beauty or justice) is worth pursuing in and of itself, without reference to any practical end. Truth is “out there” – it is not defined as what serves any community, Christian or otherwise. As such, an enterprise such as education, which claims to make pursuit of truth its central activity, contains within it the seeds of its own critique and even subversion. Education serves the community by serving the pursuit of truth. When it massively fails in the pursuit and promulgation of truth, it fails to serve the community. This is when we go to the “Plan B” of homeschooling or private schooling.

The danger of homeschooling or private schooling is that they may throw out the baby (service of the community) with the bathwater (the particular tool of public education) in the name of hygiene (the pursuit of truth). When I taught at an inner city Christian high school in Boston, I was blessed with a good relationship with my students. Some of them came from very rough neighborhoods and personal backgrounds, and had witnessed violence and heartbreak that I have never experienced. I believed that as good as our school’s emphasis on college preparedness was, there was a danger that we were simply preparing kids to “get out” as fast as possible – to go live the American Dream, turning their backs on the people they used to know in the ‘hood. (I hasten to add that this was never a goal of the school, and that over the last few years the institution has massively stepped up its commitment to public good.) This danger is even greater for middle class, largely suburban homeschoolers, who may not have any place to “get out of.” Our children become people with tremendous social capital and little idea of where to invest it but in themselves.

A good education is a tremendously empowering thing. Not just in a personal, self-esteemy sort of way: literacy, liberal education, knowledge of science and math, a college or postgraduate degree all give someone the power to do things they want – social power. What are we empowering children for? Homeschooling children so that they can grow up and be wealthy, happy people, aloof from the problems of the world around them, is (literally) iniquitous. A moral person exercises his social and economic power for the benefit of the disadvantaged. Or, as someone else said, “the righteous is generous and gives,” (Psalm 7:14). Homeschool for the right reasons, with the good of the world squarely in view.