We used to play the "back to school" game with our children. Every fall, we'd head down to the local WalMart and let each of them feel like they were just like their schooled counterparts. They could get a notebook, paper, pens, pads, rulers and all the neat stuff every other child in America seemed to be getting at that time. After all, we didn't want them to feel deprived of this grand cultural experience just because they were homeschooled.
But then we thought, "Why should we endorse the idea that learning stops every summer, and only starts again when everyone goes "back to school?" We were visionary idealists, purposefully choosing to pursue a lifestyle that did not apishly conform to culture. We wanted a home patterned after God's biblical design for the family where there was no distinction between living and learning, ordered by God's design, not by culture's. We would resist the temptation to surrender our ideals.
For the vast majority of school-age children and their parents, though, "back to school" is cultural code for surrender. It signals the end of summer with its fleeting taste of freedom, and the beginning of another nine months of institutionally imposed regulation and order. Despite living in the "land of liberty," millions of families accept this governmental control of their family lives as "just the way it is," a fact of American life that is an unassailable given. Even public schooling started out as a grand idea, but it has become a cultural institution.
This is the way of most movements. They start out led by boldly visionary and idealistic leaders who inspire many followers. When the movement ages and grows large, though, the administrators and maintainers begin to take over and the movement "institutionalizes." In time, it can even become culturally entrenched and intractable. Every movement is subject to that same process - churches, governments, music, ministries, businesses. Yes, even the homeschooling movement.
For the past 20 or so years, homeschooling has been a dynamic movement driven mostly, although not exclusively, by visionary, idealistic Christian home educators. They have followed a cause and have largely been responsible for creating what we now know as the modern homeschooling movement. It has been, in a way, an educational revolution. But the movement has grown large and is about to enter a new phase as the first generation homeschoolers give way to the next. What will happen as homeschooling begins to institutionalize?
We're beginning to see early signs of emerging institutionalism as large, secular publishers begin to target homeschooling as a viable market. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it does raise some cautionary flags. In some of the new "secular" homeschooling titles that are beginning to show up, the immense influence of Christianity on the modern homeschool movement is largely ignored. It would be fine if these books were honest enough to challenge the Christian influence in homeschooling, or even attempt to discredit it, but they simply ignore it. No one should be surprised by this - it's certainly a publisher's or author's prerogative to include or exclude whatever they want. However, we should be concerned.
Potential or new homeschoolers who pick up the latest secular tome claiming to be the greatest ever guide to homeschooling will receive a distorted picture of the movement that overlooks the enormous impact and influence of Christian culture on homeschooling. Many new and veteran homeschoolers will pick up these books because they have "homeschooling" in the title, and may undiscerningly recommend them to others, tacitly endorsing the secularized viewpoint of these publications. Large bookstore chains will carry these books, often to the exclusion of books published by Christian publishers and authors, throwing the weight of their reputation behind this new and more "PC" brand of homeschooling. This could, potentially, influence public opinion, and even legislation.
The reality, of course, is that this is business as usual in our culture. But the net effect of this in a decade could be the co-opting of the national homeschool movement by secularists. Christian homeschooling would not go away, but in the new institutionalized, culturally acceptable form, it would likely be marginalized.
As we see the early signs of this contest beginning to break the surface (and make no mistake that it is a contest of competing views), let's not retreat behind the lines, but rather stay on the front lines of the battle for the heart of homeschooling and homeschoolers. Let our battle cry be that it's "back to Christian homeschool." Here are a few simple suggestions.
- Be a discerning consumer. Know what, and who, you are reading and recommending to others. You don't need to condemn other books, but be sure to promote the ones that acknowledge the tremendous influence of Christianity on the homeschool movement, and that provide a biblical perspective on the home and family.
- Promote Christian homeschooling. Get involved in your support group, or become a contact for your district, to counsel inquiring and new homeschooling families. If there are no Christian homeschooling titles in your local bookstore, make a list and suggest to the manager that he should consider stocking them. Make media contacts and offer yourself as a story resource person. Write letters to the editor of your local newspaper.
- Support the cause. Get involved in protecting your homeschool heritage by becoming politically active. Write and visit your state and federal legislators to educate them on Christian home education. Put a Christian face on what for them might be an anonymous public policy issue. Get to know their aides and office staff.
- Never surrender to culture. There is no question that homeschooling is a movement of the Spirit of God in our culture. It is not just an "alternative form of education," but rather a return to the biblical design for home and family. Feed that conviction with books that reinforce that view, and resist the temptation to conform to culture's expectations or demands. This is God's work!
And remember, "The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but victory belongs to the Lord." Our horse is the strength of our biblical convictions and our faithfulness to assert them in a culture that is rapidly secularizing. Though the victory is, ultimately, in God's hands, let's be sure our horse is strong as we charge into the battle. "Back to Christian homeschool!"