Thirty years ago, my parents pulled my younger sister and me out of the private Christian school where we were enrolled. My mom, a teacher by training, decided my sister needed some focused one-on-one attention to master reading, writing, and arithmetic. Their plan was to put her back in school in a year or two. I asked them to homeschool me too, and they agreed.
Thirty years ago, homeschool families were 100 miles beyond unusual. People brought up questions about socialization and quality education and looked at us askance. For a variety of reasons, each year all the way through high school graduation, my parents chose to teach us at home. Twenty years ago, when I arrived at college, my friends trotted out the same arguments against homeschooling (socialization and quality education) plus a new one – Christians shouldn’t abandon the public schools. I argued back that my 3.8 GPA testified to my quality education, and the fact that they were my friends proved I had fine social skills. (They could, of course, retort that I was/am plenty odd, and I’d reluctantly agree. But oddity is like personality. It knows no educational bounds, nor is it a product of socialization or lack thereof.)
It’s astounding to me that today, twenty years later, the arguments haven’t changed.
I will be the first to concede that homeschooling has its weaknesses, as do the public schools (the current teacher strike in Chicago is a prime example). It isn’t fair to paint all homeschoolers with the same brush any more than it’s fair to lump all public schoolers together. Homeschools can be (though they don’t have to be) insular and over-protective. Public schools can be (though not all of them are) brutal and negligent.
Last week, Tony Jones painted homeschooling with an unfair brush. He wrote:
So it seems to me that to withdraw my children from public education is to not play my (God-given) role as a missional member of society— like I can’t just choose to withhold my taxes. We give our children all those vaccinations when they’re young not necessarily to protect them from polio (since the chances of any one of my children getting it is exceedingly small) but because we live in a society, and part of the contract within the society is that we will never again let polio gain a foothold.
In a follow-up post, he defines missional as “showing Christlike compassion to other human beings and to all of creation” and asserts that “missional means being the salt seasoning in the world, and you cannot be that seasoning (no matter your age) if you withdraw from society.”
His critique has three weaknesses.
1. Sending one’s children into the public schools is missional living by proxy.
Based on the posts in question, Tony is not going into the public schools to be the hands and feet of Jesus; his children are. Certainly, parents of students have a small presence in the school system; however, if Tony believes he has a God-given obligation to show Christlike compassion in the public schools, shouldn’t he be the one going in? How is his children’s presence in the classroom him being salt and light? A Christian who works in the public schools is showing Christlike compassion, shining God’s light, etc.
In addition, some children are ready to be God’s hands and feet. Some are not.