Homeschooling Myth (2): Amateurism?

Continuing on this homeschooling myths series (see entry #1 here), I’d like to address another common question that people ask homeschoolers. I hear this question in one of two flavors. Those who are uninformed might ask, “Oh, you homeschool your kids! Do you have to take some classes to do that?” Those who are skeptical might ask, “How could you be teaching without proper teaching credentials?” Underlying both questions is a belief that one couldn’t possibly teach children if one is not a trained professional.

There was a time that my wife Wendy really wrestled with this question. Feeling inadequate to be a teacher was the primary reason that Wendy was initially uncomfortable with the idea of becoming a homeschool mom. At that time, I couldn’t come up with a good answer for her struggles. All I knew was the marvelous fact that every research showed that homeschooled children consistently perform better than public school students in academics.

But later I realized that, along the same lines, one could argue that no one would be qualified to raise children except for those trained child developmental psychologists. After all, there are a lot “bad parents” out there. Why not send those children to child welfare services and ask the “professionals” to raise them? Well, this is beginning to sound like Aldous Huxley’s cautionary tale “Brave New World,” in which children were hatched and raised and conditioned by the utopian state, and calling someone a “father” or “mother” was considered an insult.

The core issue boils down to your philosophy of education. Much of public schooling subscribe to educational theories derived from B. F. Skinner, whose behaviorist models essentially reduce humans to machines that act in response to stimuli. Education becomes a form of knowledge transmission directed at the mind. Using standardized tests, Students are evaluated based on how well they receive that knowledge transmission. And in times of economic downturn, one of the top criteria for school closures is to measure the academic performance of a school (for example, read this CRPE report).

Please don’t take this to imply negativity towards school teachers. On the contrary, I have fond memories of excellent school teachers who helped me become who I am today. But, as my friend (and fellow homeschool dad) Dickson pointed out, the teachers who inspired us were seldom the ones with expert “educational skills,” but they’re often the ones with a big “heart,” and, through their love and their words of wisdom and their life example, they helped their students to grow to become better people.

Parents are in a unique position to play this kind of role to our children, and more. Among other things, we naturally pour out our hearts and our love toward our children; we know their inclinations, failures, and strengths better than anyone else; we exert the biggest influence over their lives; and we possess farther and deeper and wider perspectives for the intellectual, moral, emotional, and spiritual aspects of their lives. As Dr. Ruth Beechick points out:

Parents … have achieved remarkable results in their teaching. For the most part they have lacked formal teacher training, yet their results far outstrip the results of our government schooling institutions. This has to be due to the heart-to-heart approach that parents naturally use with their children. They use any curriculum or no curriculum; they use popular methods or homemade methods; yet they overwhelmingly produce superior results. (from “Heart & Mind — What the Bible Says About Learning” (2004), pp. 5-6)

So rather than seeing us as amateur teachers, parents should be seen as the best possible people who can use a heart-to-heart approach to instill wisdom and knowledge and understanding into children’s hearts. As a Christian parent, I also notice this emphasis on the “heart” in many places in the Bible, such as in Proverbs 23:

My son, if your heart is wise, my own heart also will be glad; And my inmost being will rejoice when your lips speak what is right. Do not let your heart envy sinners, but live in the fear of the LORD always. (Prov 23:15-17)

Listen, my son, and be wise, and direct your heart in the way. (Prov 23:19)

Give me your heart, my son, and let your eyes delight in my ways. (Prov 23:26)

Deuteronomy 6:6-9, a passage that many Christian homeschoolers use to lend support to parents teaching children anytime and anywhere, also mentions that the goal of home education should be for parents to instill truth into the heart of their children:

These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

For me, my philosophy of education can be summed up in the word “discipleship.” The responsibility of homeschooling our children is a part of fulfilling the Great Commission (“make disciples”) in our every family life.

Stay tuned for more entries in this series. Next time I’ll address the question of “over-protectionism.”

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