Growing up, my four sisters and I were homeschooled in an era when homeschooling was far from common place. I remember my mom telling us not to ride our bikes down the street past the house of our neighbor, who was a retired public school principle. Out at the grocery store the common question was “is it legal?” followed by concerned looks that my mom may not be telling the truth. There were stories of homeschool parents in other states going to jail or arguing in court for their constitutional rights to educate their children at home. Lobby groups were formed by Christian evangelicals and hippie nonconformists alike, all marching for the right to keep their children home. It only took a few years for the tides to start changing, and for my sisters and me, homeschooling became not so unusual very quickly.
My cousins moved back to town when I was in third grade, making the number of related homeschooled kids at our church fifteen. Our pastor also began homeschooling along with another prominent family in our church. We all played sports and interacted with our church school like we were part of them. In high school I took part time classes at the public high school and was received with nothing but green envy by my classmates as I left mid-day to take classes at home. Everyone seemed to embrace this new phenomenon called homeschooling. I’m not sure that my parents felt the welcome of homeschooling into mainstream as easily as I did. My view of the normalcy of being homeschooled was much more likely a product of their tireless commitment to their calling.
As I got married and the time came for our own children to start school, my husband and I delved more into why we would choose to keep our children home instead of sending them off to school. The first and foremost reason to home educate for us had to start in the Bible. What does the Bible say about education? Surprisingly, or not so surprisingly, God commands parents to educate their children. He doesn’t stop there. He gives a curriculum too! Speaking about the law of God, Deuteronomy 6:7 says “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” So the mandate to parents is there, but does that mean we HAVE to homeschool? Probably not. We could employ others to teach in our stead and still direct our children’s education (being the only ones given this authority) while entrusting much of the work to a traditional brick and mortar school. But especially when our children were young, we felt the directing of their education was much more easily accomplished at home.
Now that our kids are home under our roof to educate day in and day out, the benefits keep unfolding. The first benefit we have seen is that of choosing school curriculum and a method of education. We can focus on reclaiming the classical tradition of education and rejecting the postmodern philosophies so entrenched in education today. Does this mean we can make our kids “smart?” Quite the opposite. We have the freedom to not worry about grades and achievements and can focus on truth. Truth given through reading great literature, studying nature, conversing about life, focusing on grammar and writing and reading the Bible. We don’t have the extraneous requirements and pressures that a school has to show something for themselves in terms of enrollment and achievement scores. We can focus on what matters to us: truth, goodness, and beauty along with catechesis and Lutheran liturgy. We can focus on leading our kids down a path toward achieving life-time goals instead of hurrying to pass a grade level.
These things previously mentioned are all very pressing and ultimately our source of conviction to homeschool, but for me, a mother, there are many more benefits being unfolded before my eyes each day. In this hurried life so embraced by our culture, I get to have the gift of time with my kids. Every day I wake up in awe that God gave these children to me, for a time, to cherish and lead. I have the time to sit on the couch and read stories to all my kids, watching their eyes full of wonder. I get to watch my kids play together and zoom cars down a fictitious road while waiting for me to call them back to the table for more lessons. I get to cancel studies for the day and go on a nature hike, or to the apple orchard, or to Grandma’s to play with cousins. I get to answer all the questions of my eleven year old as she starts to examine the world around her. I get to see my six year old be filled with pride at understanding place value for the first time. I get to learn alongside my kids, memorize long passages of scripture, and see history unfold chapter by chapter in the books we read aloud. I get to perceive when something isn’t clicking and slow down the pace on a writing exercise. And on and on.
Looking back to when I was a child, one of the greatest blessings of being in a homeschool family was that of relationship. My sisters were my best friends and my parents were my role models as well as my authority. In the culture we live in today the institution of the family is being torn down day by day. One way to take back this cultural revolution is by placing the authority back in the home where God intended it to be, with parents. Will homeschooling save our children? No. Will it boast academic results that exceed traditional school options? No. Will our children grow up to affirm this choice we have made? We don’t know. But what we do know is that, for now, this is the best option for us to claim the vocation that God has given us, to “bring up our children in the paideia of the Lord.” And I am thankful for it.
Laura Mears is a co-founder of the Lutheran Homeschool Association. She and her husband, Joshua, homeschool their four children in Lakeville, MN.