Textbooks will teach your child about government as it ought to be. Life will teach him about government as it is. Your job as home teacher is to help him come to terms with the disparity between the two.
We Americans are generally pretty proud of our Republic. Few of us will argue with the notion that we have the best form of government on earth. If we want to reassure ourselves of just how good our system really is, all we need do is open any United States government textbook from elementary to university level. There we are reminded about the vision our founding fathers had for this nation - one which would provide "liberty and justice for all." We read about the three branches of federal government and the system of checks and balances that theoretically keeps everything running smoothly and everyone more or less honest. We learn about the steps necessary to introduce a bill and for that bill to become a law. Everything looks pretty clear-cut when laid out in the texts. Of course, a few scandalous moments in our history are recorded. But, by and large, we are led to believe that these kinds of incidents are rare.
Even if we decide to allow our children to taste a little slice of government life by having then sit in on a court in session, or tour our state capitol, or even observe sessions of Congress in Washington, we are presenting them with a picture of government as it ought to be.
Please understand, I am not saying that this is necessarily a bad thing. Children need to know how our government is supposed to work. But they also need to know that frequently those in control allow greed and personal ambition to dictate their actions. This does not mean that we have a bad system of government - just bad government officials.
In 1985 our family had a head-on collision with government as it never should be. The end result was that because a small group of government officials was allowed to operate in a manner that was definitely unethical and almost certainly illegal, our family was financially ruined. At the time, my oldest child was 14 and the youngest was almost 2. The four children at the top of the stairs were horrified at what happened to us, and they became more than a little disillusioned with all government. My husband and I were devastated that the government we had always held in such high esteem had done the unthinkable - they had launched a senseless attack on a couple of patriotic, law-abiding, tax-paying, citizens - and we were in no mood to defend that government. Yet, we realized that if we did not handle this situation properly, we would be responsible for our children losing confidence in many of the things we had taught them.
We did not want our children to become like the hippies of the sixties and seventies. When those young people from conservative homes who had been taught only about government as it ought to be came face to face with government as it is, they felt that their parents had been part of a giant conspiracy to dupe them. In their eagerness to reject what they saw as a corrupt system, many of them acted on Timothy Leary's advice to "tune in, turn on, and drop out."
How did we help our children come to terms with government as it ought to be vs. government as it is? First of all, we were very open and honest with them. We did not make light of what had happened to us. We did not pretend that it was all some kind of horrible mistake or that there were only a few unscrupulous officials involved. We said that the people involved were very wicked, and that although many politicians of both parties were made aware of the situation, none of them cared.
However, we also reminded our children that we live in a country where we do have certain rights and guarantees, and as awful as things were for us at that time, those rights were still in place. We told them that if we lived in another country, their father might be taken away in the night and we would never see him again; the children and I might be driven from our home with nowhere to go. Some of us might even lose our lives. But not in America.
We reminded them that more than 200 years ago our forefathers established a system of government as it ought to be because they had firsthand knowledge of what it is like to live under government as it should never be. The system is good; it is the best system in the world. The problem is not the system; the problem is the people who run the system.
Our message to our children was simple: our system will never work the way that it should until we elect government officials who are men and women committed to serving Christ. It is only when an official puts aside thoughts of personal gain and makes choices based on what is right and good that we can ever hope to have government as it ought to be.
Over the years we have talked to our children about the importance of electing Christians to office, and we have asked them to examine their own hearts to see if they are being called to serve in politics. We have thrown our own support behind Christian candidates and encouraged the children to get involved as well. Our 12-year civic lesson has been a very difficult one, but it is one that I hope has helped our children come to terms with the disparity between government as it ought to be and government as it is.