The One-House Schoolroom

There is something very appealing about the idea of a one-room schoolhouse—multiple ages learning together, one teacher in charge, shared learning, and assigned chores, all in one room. It is just an elegantly uncomplicated model of education. In our day of urban, institutionalized, age-segregated, mass-education warehouses, it is no wonder that the one-room schoolhouse still influences the ideals of many homeschooling families.

Home education is a return to the spirit of that nineteenth-century model of rural community learning. Beginning in the early nineteen-eighties, influenced by writers such as Raymond and Dorothy Moore and John Holt, families began choosing to educate their children in their own “house-schools.” The swelling exodus from public and even private schooling was a clear rejection of the institutional model that had overpowered the old school models and dominated education for the better part of a century.

When we came to home schooling as a family around 1984, the movement was still finding its way. In the swirl of philosophies and methodologies competing for attention, many of them reflected principles found in the one-room schoolhouse model of education. Over the next decade, our family took it all in, included our own background in discipleship ministry, and developed a home education model we now call WholeHearted Learning.

In some ways, we were reflecting the spirit of that one-room schoolhouse approach. However, as we examined Scripture, read and thought about childhood learning, tested new methods, and integrated what we were discovering, we found ourselves moving toward what, at the time, we called “home-centered” learning. With no disrespect intended for the “one-room schoolhouse,” we found ourselves pursuing instead a kind of “one-house schoolroom” approach to home education. Our house was front and center in our schooling.

HOME IS THE FOUNDATION

Over the nearly three decades that we have followed the movement and homeschooled our four children, the phrase “Christian home education” has become standard terminology to describe what we all claim as our identity. If I were to ask families to diagram those three words, I am fairly certain nearly all would say that “Christian” is an adjective. In other words, our home education is Christian. That is what makes us distinctive. No argument.

However, if I am able to leave a lasting legacy for my time here on earth, I would like one part of my legacy to be to change the way we, and future generations of home schoolers, hear those three words. Sure, our home education is Christian, and it should be. Even as important, I believe, is that our education should be defined by a Christian home. My mini-mission is to help home schoolers hear the “Christian home” first in Christian home education.

One thing we could never escape, as our own approach to home schooling evolved, is that God designed the home, but man designed schools. God designed the home to be a compact, communal, and complete living and learning environment for every child—the only thing needed to “bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Paul’s admonition includes the language of New Testament discipleship, and we came to believe that home education was simply the most natural and complete expression of the discipleship of our children. To stay as close to the biblical model as possible, we believed successful home schooling was as much about creating a Christian home as it was about home educating.

This is more than just semantic hairsplitting. One of the most heartbreaking realities of the Christian home schooling movement has been the increasing number of casualties—young men and women leaving home, leaving home schooling, and even leaving the faith. Why is that happening? I believe part of the answer is in how we hear those words. Simply put, in Christian home education it is all too easy to get the “home education” right and miss getting the “Christian home” right. Christian books, curriculum, programs, and more can be good, but they are not the key to successful home schooling. I am more convinced than ever that building a truly biblical Christian home is God’s first priority for every home schooling parent.

HOME IS THE GOAL

That is what I mean by a “one-house schoolroom.” For years, my wife Sally and I have encouraged home schooling parents to learn how to let their house work for them. If God designed the home to be all our children need, then we can trust God that it will be, if we cooperate with His design. The more we try to make a home into a school, and the more we put our trust in methods and materials, the more we risk conflicting with God’s natural and effective design. The power and success of your homeschooling is not in the schooling, but in the simplicity of the home, the “one house” that God has given you.

I consider building a Christian home to be the first goal of true Christian home education. If you are committed to home schooling, I cannot say it strongly enough: Get the Christian home right, and getting the home educating right will come naturally. God is committed to it. You can trust Him!

There is something real, historical, and nostalgic that draws us all, as Christian home schoolers, to the “one-room schoolhouse” we carry in our minds from the days of Anne Shirley and Laura Ingalls. It reflects a time of goodness and strength. However, I encourage you to add the “one-house schoolroom” to your thinking, as well, and let it become something real in your life. By God’s design, it is really what your children are longing to find.