RJ Rushdoony earned his affectionate nickname of the Father of the Christian School and Homeschool Movement as a result of his numerous writings and books on the subject of Christian education. Additionally, his making himself available for expert testimony at homeschooling cases around the country helped secure the right to homeschool so many of us continue to benefit from today.
Recently I had occasion to read the transcript of a January 1987 proceedings held in a Texas homeschooling challenge. It reads like a novel. Here are some excerpts from his cross examination by a Mr. Ball:
Q. Mr. Rushdoony, as I understand what you have said here by way of history that the colonial or frontier homeschool was one that was based on necessity, distances, transportation problems, that kind of thing.
A. No, because it goes back to the Biblical premise that the father is the instructor, the parents are; and the Book of Deuteronomy is addressed to parents in order to enable them to teach their children, and the Book of Proverbs is addressed to children in order to instruct them as to their duties towards their parents and society in general. The Biblical premise which has governed western civilization has always stressed the priority of the parental control of education.
Q. Were you giving us this history in order to show that there is some connection between the home schooling of the frontier and colonial days based on the circumstances that existed at that time on the one hand and the home schooling of 1987 which appears to be based on a preference of some people on the other?
A. Home schooling has always had a Christian motivation, but there has been a difference since World War II in that with World War II two things happened. There was a decline in the quality of public education which alarmed parents.
Then second, during World War II we had a tremendous number of missionaries who were abroad, who had to return home because of the war. Those who failed to make it were, of course, interned in prisoner of war camps.
Now these families came home by the thousands, and they had been home schooling their children.
One of the things that made an impact, and I recall them vividly, those days, was the fact that these children who had been homeschooled under the Calvert system and other systems, when they entered a grade in high school in this country found things almost childishly easy. They were so far advanced as far as their grade was concerned. They entered universities with a great deal of advantage because of their superior training.
Now, this made an impact on people. Why were these children so much better in their learning? And that created a favorable attitude towards home schooling, so that as the decline of public education set in after World War II parents were ready to turn to home schools, and especially in the 70s the movement took off at a dramatic rate of speed.
Then later on, this redirect examination by Mr. Sharpe:
Q. With respect to orthodox Christian beliefs, based on your educational background, your bachelor’s degree in Divinity, plus your years of service as a missionary, are you familiar with the orthodox Christian teachings as they relate to the responsibility of the parents to the children concerning education.
A. I am.
Q. Would you tell the court what those responsibilities are?
A. The parent is responsible to God to rear his child in the fear and admonition of the Lord, to cite the precept of Proverbs. According to the summary of the Old Testament made by the rabbis, a father who did not teach his children to read the Torah, in other words the basic skills, and a trade with his hands, taught his child to be a thief. As a result, going back to pre-Christian eras, Israel was the only nation in the world with literacy among the ordinary people.
At the time of Christ the synagogue schools covered the land of Judea, Galilee and the diaspora. Wherever Jews were, the synagogue schools prevailed. This was the pattern in the early church which was first known as a Christian synagogue, and according to patristic literature they began immediately to imitate the pattern even to the offices, the office of elder, the office teacher, and so on.
This was revived very strongly by the Puritans especially in this country and set the pattern of parental responsibility, to teach the child the basic skills so that they could become fully literate and to teach them how to work.
This is why we were unequaled among the nations of the world in the high rate of literacy long before there was a compulsory education law.
The Federalist Papers were written for the most ignorant people in the United States, the upstate farmers of New York State who were predominantly Dutch speaking, and yet today college students have problems with the Federalist Papers. That’s the level of literacy that then prevailed.
Now, this literacy combined with the Puritan work ethic made possible the development of this country…
So this perspective of literacy plus a work ethic was the basic educational drive from the early years of this republic, and the main rebellion against this has come since World War II…
- Andrea G. Schwartz
Andrea Schwartz is Chalcedon’s family and Christian education advocate, and the author of eight books including: A House for God: Building a Kingdom-Driven Family, The Biblical Trustee Family: Understanding God’s Purpose for Your Household, Empowered: Developing Strong Women for Kingdom Service, Woman of the House: A Mother’s Role in Building a Christian Culture, and The Homeschool Life: Discovering God’s Way to Family-Based Education. She’s also the co-host of the Out of the Question podcast, and Homeschooling Helps (weekly live Facebook event). She can be reached at [email protected].