Going Further Than the Pioneers

If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. Sir Isaac Newton

I am a home school graduate. I am very proud to say so. So much so, that my friends, neighbors, and readers are probably sick and tired of my harping about how proud I am.

But I am, and rightly so. My parents gave me an excellent education and strong moral foundation that has stood me in good stead. Because of their hard work, I was more than sufficiently prepared for college-level work. The knowledge and study skills they instilled in me prepared me well for the rigors of training four energetic children of my own. Because of parental teaching, I am filled with hundreds, maybe thousands, of Scripture verses on which to rely in times of testing, distress, or fear; I never wonder what I believe about the Bible or Who God is or where I will spend eternity. They, along with so many pioneering home school parents like them, risked social persecution, governmental pressure, financial hardship, and family ostracism to boldly educate their children as they believed right. I am proud of that heritage and so grateful for their sacrifice.

I do not want to stop there. We cannot stop there. It would be disingenuous to not remain on the path these first-generation home schoolers have blazed and not continue to improve upon their means and methods. I know that the current generation of home schoolers has the potential to go even further.

While each family has its own strengths and weaknesses, many home educators tend to stumble in similar areas. Following are four foundational goals in particular that our family carefully tries to build up higher.

1. Teach more truth, less trivia.

Textbook learning, the worksheet-quiz-test style of institutions, and even my own home schooling days are very “trivia” based. Students are often taught to memorize empty facts—dates, names, places, maps—that are meaningless and quickly forgotten after the test. So what that the fall of Rome was 476 AD? Does the date mean anything to the student? What about the story of history itself, the acts of the men who shaped that date, and the years that led to it and then followed? The end of the Roman Empire and the beginning of barbarian invasion mean so much more than a number. The truths behind the story are so much more important.

Even more than the truth of what was happening, there is the truth of why it happened. Such teaching takes time to delve into, to research, to discuss with young ones; but appreciating the character of the characters we study not only makes every subject come alive, it keeps God foremost in the subject matter. Why study history if not to see God’s hand in the affairs of mankind? Why research science if not to trace God’s handiwork in His creation? Why memorize math facts if we know not Him Who holds all things by the Word of His power? Why read great literature if not to compare great books to the greatest Book of all? Knowing the greatest Truth of all must be the heartbeat of our home school.

2.  Make Bible time practical.

Even the subject of “Bible” can too easily become performance-oriented. We want our children to know all the Bible stories and memorize scads of verses. All too often our private devotions and family Bible time become man-centered. There are two focal points in our Bible time that can keep this from happening:

Counseling our children in areas of need: The Scriptures give us all that pertains to life and godliness (2 Pet.1:3), and our children need to be brought to the Source of all wisdom regularly.

Discipling our children toward Christlikeness: This is the true goal of Bible study anyway—to be changed into the image of Christ (cf. Romans 8). This knowledge of the Word of God should be worked out in changed lives that are transformed into living representations of Him.

3.  Focus on practical family living.

The reality is that these children will not remain children forever; they will grow up to be husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, citizens and employees someday. As important as “book learning” may be, it pales in comparison with keeping a home, providing for a family, rearing children, preserving a marriage, and building a reputation. Real character traits like loyalty, patience, commitment, a good work ethic, unconditional love, and endurance are often the most important lessons I can teach during the day or week at hand. Practical skills—like home maintenance, cooking, entrepreneurship, childcare, small machine repair, and finance—are necessities in which even small children should receive training regularly.

4.  Introduce lifelong learning.

Home education is too often seen as a K-12 phenomenon, something that ends when the child turns eighteen and when the parents can breathe a sigh of relief that the educating is done. While I look forward to a finish line as much as anyone, this model borrows too heavily from institutional models of education and does not realize learning’s true nature. Instead, we should be instilling a lifelong hunger for knowledge, understanding, and wisdom in our children and training them to feed themselves quality food from God’s Word and the great books of the past and present.

Our duty as parents is to present a biblical worldview to our children throughout their studies and within their short time in our homes so that when they launch from the nest, they are prepared to discern what is good and what is best. This worldview will guide them in being wise citizens, strong family members, and critical thinkers as they face the unique challenges of their own generation.

Even more important, we must instill a passion for biblical scholarship within our children. Continued personal Bible study will ensure meekness, humility, and strength while combating the forces of error and deception in the world today and in the future.

The first modern generation of home schoolers produced graduates that are impacting our country and our world for God. By continuing to build on this heritage of sound academic achievement and prayerful biblical discipleship, the next generation of home school graduates can stand on our shoulders.