When I first made the decision to homeschool, my oldest son was eighteen months old. As he grew toward school age, I became more convinced that I had made the right decision. When asked at the time why I was going to homeschool, my pat answer was “… because of what the public schools are teaching and because of what they are not teaching.” I felt that there was too much emphasis on humanistic viewpoints and not enough of the good ol’ 3 R’s. In sixteen years of homeschooling, my list of reasons has grown considerably, due in part to the changing climate of our society and in part to what I have learned from our own experience. Most of us who homeschool would list the same basic reasons for our choice. In examining these reasons, though, I begin to wonder if I really understand just why I am doing this.
One of the most prevalent reasons for homeschooling is for academic success. There is just no disputing the fact that the one-on-one tutorial method is a superior means of education. In addition, as home schooling parents, we can develop an educational plan that is personalized to our students’ learning styles and interests. I can say that I homeschool because I want my children to perform above others their age, but what happens when my child struggles academically despite all of my best efforts? What if, instead of becoming a National Merit Scholar, this particular child works twice as hard as others just to achieve a passing grade? Can I continue to embrace a lifestyle that does not bring the results I anticipated?
Many of us would say that our main reason for homeschooling is to raise our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. We choose this lifestyle so that we can impart to our children our own Christian worldview. We believe that our choice will produce children who stand strong in the Lord, not tempted by the ways of society and modern culture. But what happens if my child turns his back on my beliefs? I know many home schooling families who are grieving deeply, because a child who was raised in a strong Christian home schooling environment has rejected his upbringing and now walks in darkness. Can I continue to embrace a lifestyle that does not produce the type of child I envisioned?
In the sixteen years since I began homeschooling, I have seen more and more people choose this method of education out of fear for their children’s safety in public or even private school. I have spoken to many parents whose children were beaten or threatened at knife point. It is certainly true that keeping my children at home increases the safety level, but is their safety guaranteed? What happens if my child is threatened on the playground or has a knife pulled on him in the parking lot of the grocery store? Can I continue to embrace a lifestyle that does not guarantee my child’s safety?
When my oldest son was about sixteen, we would joke that he had absolutely no idea what brand of jeans he was supposed to be wearing. Peer influence is an enormous thing, and many of the problems caused by it are not laughing matters. Many of us homeschool to avoid the issue of peer pressure. I felt that my son would never have to “just say no” to drugs if I never allowed him to be in a position where he had to make that choice. But is that realistic? What happens if one of his friends at home school co-op offers him drugs? Unless I intend to build a little community where my children never come into contact with outsiders, can I really protect them from the influence of their peers? Even if I strive to choose the best activities for positive social interaction, do I really know that every other family involved shares our exact values? What happens if my child makes bad choices because of the influence of friends or culture? Can I continue to embrace a lifestyle that does not insulate my child from negative influences?
In the end, there is only one real reason that I homeschool. It is a matter of obedience to God. When my son was eighteen months old, it was the Lord who nudged me with the idea of home schooling; it was the Lord who brought information my way to help me get started; and it was the Lord who picked me up and brushed me off each time I stumbled.
When my child struggles academically, the Lord shows me that He has a plan for each child and that plan may or may not involve academic excellence. When I stop looking for high grades and start looking at my children through God’s eyes, I see that some of my children enjoy learning just for the sake of learning, have consistently good grades, and will probably pursue higher education. However, I also see that the children who have to work a little harder at the bookwork are gifted by God in other areas. They are gifted in art, music, and drama. If I homeschool for academic success instead of out of obedience to God, I might fail those children who are not strong scholars. Through obedience to God, I can help each child perform to the best of his ability, and I can help each child to find his place in the world.
If I homeschool for religious reasons, I will be discouraged—even devastated—if a child turns his back on my beliefs. But when I am walking in obedience to God, then He can remind me that I am not the Holy Spirit. I am just an important tool in God’s hands when it comes to the spiritual upbringing of my child, but it is God who convicts, who draws each child to Himself. Nothing I do by way of discipleship offers an absolute guarantee that my children will walk with the Lord, because free will has existed since the foundation of this world. It is true that this lifestyle choice offers a stronger environment for spiritual instruction, but ultimately, the choice is my child’s. When I am walking in obedience to God, I remember that my job is to plant seeds and water them. God will take care of the rest.
I may try to protect my children from harm, but home schooling is not a security system. There is no guarantee that my home will not be invaded and my family harmed. There is no guarantee that my child will not be molested in a public restroom. There are simply no guarantees. But homeschooling out of obedience to God means that I can rest in His assurance that He is guarding my family. I do not have to look over my shoulder every moment or keep my children in a bubble of protection. I know that I have dedicated each and every child to the Lord from the moment we were aware of his existence, and I know that He holds each child in His hands.
When I homeschool out of obedience to God, I can also turn to Him for guidance in the area of peer influence. Since my oldest son was very young, I have prayed over every single social opportunity that arose. God has been very faithful to let me know when I should and should not allow a child to participate in something. It has always been a source of amazement to me—and a source of some confusion to my children. When faced with the question, “But why can’t I do this?” I have often answered, “I’m not really sure; I just know that I don’t feel right about it in my spirit.” When this answer is not enough to satisfy them, I just encourage them to take it up with the Lord themselves. “You pray about it and then tell me if you really do get a different answer.” So far, that has never occurred. Still, I know for a certainty that some of my children have been exposed to things of which I do not approve. But because I am not homeschooling to insulate my children from peer pressure but rather in obedience to God, I know that He is taking care of everything. If I did keep my children from all possible semblance of peer pressure, what would they be like when they left my home and entered the real world? Would they have the strength they need to stand on their convictions? God has shown me that He is at work in their lives and that sometimes that means they will have to take a stand against friends. Turning to Him in every situation does not mean my children never have to deal with peer pressure; rather, it means that God is orchestrating their life lessons.
Over the past sixteen years, I have certainly seen the benefit of home schooling. I have seen that my children are stronger academically because I can work with them individually. I have seen that they know the Lord, because He is a part of their daily life through Bible study, instruction in righteousness, and personal discipleship. I have seen that they are safe in our home and can play in the yard without fear. I have seen that the negative influence of peers has been seriously minimized, because we carefully choose their activities. I homeschool for all of these reasons. Ultimately, though, there is only one reason that I am doing this. I know that God has called me to teach my children at home. Every time I have questioned my success or considered other alternatives because of life’s difficulties, God has lovingly but firmly left no doubt in my mind. It is His will that we homeschool our children. Why am I doing this? Because I must.
Mary James – has written 14 posts on this site.
Mary James has a heart for those parents who are new to home schooling or in the process of making that decision. She is the mother of eight children, and is currently homeschooling the seven who are still school age. Mary serves on the Texas Home School Coalition Board of Directors and is the president and cofounder of of Smoothing the Way, a support group to inform and encourage those who have decided to take on the exciting, yet sometimes daunting, task of educating their own children. Mary and her family live in Bastrop, Texas.