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Research Tips Using the Principle Approach

By Lori Harris
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #27, 1999.

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Lori Harris


One of my greatest concerns as a homeschooler is watching fellow members of our group take academic and secular subjects and "candy-coat" them with scriptures or secular methodology. It seems that, out of desire to do better than public school, we're emulating its methods.

But home education is not to be like public or private education. I believe it should show the unique individuality of each family.

Many times people have been afraid of tackling the Principle Approach because they feel inferior to Principle Approach teachers or scholarly parents they have met or big red books they have encountered. Many times the methodology has frightened others away and even the seminars have been overwhelming.

This should not be. The Principle Approach educates by developing biblical thinking and reasoning. Period. To me, it is the finest tool for forming what I desire in my children. I may not always achieve it, but I do know how to obtain it.

Notebook Methodology

Principle Approach may be combined with many styles of education, but one of the Biblical advantages is the use of the notebook method. There is evidence in history that American Christians made the Bible their textbook for every area of living. In America it has been applied governmentally and educationally as well. Christian self-government is allowed to flourish with the use of the notebook approach. God's Principle of Individuality requires that each student be able to research, reason, relate and record what God is teaching him about his subject. Since each student's perceptions and abilities are developed to a different degree, each notebook should be a reflection of this principle.

Miss Katherine Dang, in James B. Rose's Guide to America Christian Education, states, "Self-education and self-government are close relatives. The principles eliminate the gap between philosophy and practicality, Bible and subject, and the written word and the living Word. That bridge is constructed from the purity of Christian scholarship." (I John 1:1-4)

When we "4-R," we are forced to internalize the truth of God's Word. A biblical education cannot just "coat" the person on the outside only but must penetrate to the very heart in order to create change.

The "4-R" Approach

The "4-R" approach is one of the main aspects of the Principle Approach. We are able to research specific words as well as entire subjects that might interest us.

  1. It enables one to find God's purpose for the subject - to discover how God defined the subject and used it in His Word and world.

  2. This method helps one to discover the personal character demanded by the subject - those qualities required to master and use it Biblically and practically.

  3. It helps one to organize the subject and teach it from the whole to the part; from the definition and Biblical precept of the subject to the parts that make the whole discipline.

  4. This method also enables one to evaluate correctly the emphasis, philosophy and direction suggested by other authors and their work.

So says Ron Kirk, former Headmaster of a Principle Approach school, summarized the purpose of "4-R-ing" in his article in Rose's Guide to America Christian Education.

Every subject has its own principles and its own vocabulary. We must have the conviction that there are important principles to be discovered and taught. Don't bind yourself so into the process that you lose sight of the goal. The goal is to discover the biblical root and meaning of the word or subject. Then you may add your own books or curriculum to enhance the truths you have discovered.

Start with a specific word of a topic and a general definition, then choose key words to define and identify the properties of the discipline. We use the Noah Webster 1828 Dictionary for this work. Webster's work contains the most Biblical definitions. Although the Webster 1856 is superior in quality of definition, it is a harder book to find. The 1828 edition is better known and more common. Compile and list the properties or main ideas of the subject.

Research - to search or examine with continued care; to seek diligently for the truth.

Diligent inquiry or examination is the art of seeking facts or principles and a continued search after truth. Biblical basis: John 5:39, Acts 17:11, 1 Peter 1:10. Research the Bible to identify basic principles and commands of God so we can live out His Word. Matt 4:4: "It is written..." Research by studying God's Word and identifying basic principles that govern the how and what of the subject in teaching. Write out the vocabulary words and then use a concordance to look them up. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance is an excellent choice. Study the Word and watch how it will unfold to reveal your subject biblically.

REASON - the foundation or cause of opinion or determination from the Bible. The principle or motive of anything said or done; that which supports or justifies determination, plan, or measure. Biblical basis: Isa. 1:18, Acts 17:2, 24:25, I Peter 3:15. Reasoning is a thinking process where we glean life-changing principles from God and His Word. Discern biblical principles and observe how they apply to any subject. Write out your reasoning from cause to effect.

RELATE - Convey biblical principles to your students through the subjects they are studying; explain how biblical truth applies to each student's character, conscience, and talents.

  1. To tell or recite.
  2. To restore.
  3. To ally by connection or kindred.

Biblical basis: Acts 18:26, Luke 24:27,32, Psalms 19:1-4. Relate and expound upon each truth. Relating is a biblical thinking process. For example, in the case of Paul (Acts 17), those he reasoned with believed and applied their belief by joining the church.

RECORD - each teacher and student's records of how biblical principles apply to the subject they are studying and to life in general; to imprint deeply on the mind or memory, to cause to be remembered.

Biblical basis: Luke 1:1-4, I John 5:10, III John 12, Rev. 1:1-3, Hab. 2:2. Write these truths and how you apply them in your notebooks. Each time a subject is studied and taught, the truth will become sharper and more clear.

The early Christians were taught that the "righteous man shall live by faith" (Romans 1:17) and "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17) If these words had not been written down (recorded) succeeding generations could not read the Scriptures and reason that they were the Word of God.

I hear (to receive faith) and yet I forget.
I see (by reading the Bible) and I know (it to be God's word).
I do (by writing down God's principles) and I understand.

The Principle Approach method asks us to identify the Christian history of each subject. Each subject was created by God, and logical deduction will reveal His Story of cause and effect in the events of man and nations through time. The subject's Christian history will include who discovered, explained and developed aspects of the discipline, where the subject was used, and how it revealed God's plan for moving the Chain of Christianity westward. Be sure to record when this subject exploded on your timeline and on what continent. Many subjects originate in Asia for the benefit of a few, were developed in Europe for the advancement of the Gospel and the blessing of many, and finally had their fullest expression and use for the good of the individual in America - the world's first Christian Republic.

I would encourage you to read issue #24's article that featured the biblical names of the principles compared to American History names. This will help you to identify your subject or word study in more practical terms.

Finally, I would like to thank Mr. James B. Rose for liberal use of his excellent work, A Guide to American Christian Education for the Home and School - The Principle Approach. These research tips are offered to encourage you that the Principle Approach can work as an addition to any style of education.


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