But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear. (1 Peter 3:15)
In my time as an active homeschooling parent, my children reported "cross-examinations" by some adults regarding my qualifications as a home educator. My girls were not at a loss regarding how to respond, because they were prepared with a ready answer.1 The same was true when, because of a flexible schedule, we were out and about during regular school hours. Rather than dread potential questions, we were ready to give an answer suitable to the circumstances and the persons making inquiry.
As homeschooling is still not a mainstream activity, many contemplating removing their children from state schools are fearful of being challenged about their decision and avoid potential detractors. What if, instead, they were eager for the interaction and had a ready answer in place?
I believe we have limited the admonition in 1 Peter 3:15 strictly to theological arguments with atheists or unbelievers, and dismissed (or avoided) opportunities to explain our choices or actions at a more personal level. In any and all circumstances, we need to be prepared to live out and teach that the law-word of God is applicable to all areas of life and thought, and we should be ready to give an explanation as to how this is true. Where we shop, where we vacation, how we pursue recreation, all should connect to the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) and our call to be salt and light (Matt. 5:13-16).
I cannot think of a better goal for any homeschooling mother than to be able to attest that she prepared her children to be ready always with answers to both mundane and abstract questions of life. If a child cannot give a ready answer, the mother must teach him how to discover the answer. So, for the child who is repeatedly questioned about not being with other children, a ready answer might include, "Oh, I have plenty of interaction with other kids my age at church, karate lessons, ballet class, or just spending time with other homeschooling families and people in my neighborhood." You'd be amazed at the effect on adults when a young person, looking them squarely in the eye, provides an answer in a respectful, unflustered fashion. It usually bolsters the case for homeschooling!
How Do You Know What You Don't Know?
Although many begin the process of Christian homeschooling with godly motives, those motives are often incomplete or misguided. Because parents are, themselves, often products of statist education, they don't have a clear concept of how to make their homeschool environment different from the public school alternative.
For example, when I speak to forlorn homeschooling moms about the troubles they are having, the complaints usually come in the form of, "I cannot get her to finish her math," or "He doesn't really want to answer the questions at the end of the textbook chapter." In other words, they are having procedural issues with their children. More obvious (at least to me) is that they have merely taken the public schooling mindset and relocated it to their kitchen table. And why shouldn't they? They have not yet acquired a truly Biblical philosophy of education. They've been to the homeschooling conventions, visited the exhibit halls, and have become convinced Christian education is all about getting the right books (complete with teacher's manuals) and following them exactly. In an effort to justify their educational choice, they load up with materials, and have inadvertently become slaves to the very educational system they are trying to avoid.
Parents need to know what the statist model truly is and why it should not be emulated.2 If they are unable to make this apologetic to themselves, how will they deal with their children when they encounter resistance, stubbornness, and rebellion?
A Case in Point
A friend contacted me recently about a young mother of three who was struggling with her decision to homeschool. She was seriously considering sending her oldest child back to public school. I was asked to give her a call. After playing "phone tag" for a couple of days, we finally connected. I asked her to tell me what was going on.
She explained that she was finding it difficult to get through all the lesson plans for the various subjects she covered on a daily basis. There were times when her daughter's reluctance frustrated her and she was ready to give up on the process entirely. Additionally, she was concerned that she wasn't giving enough time to her younger children. She told me, in no uncertain terms, that the reason she was homeschooling was because she felt obligated to-that she would never have started if her daughter's previous public school experience had not been so bad. The list of exactly how bad wasn't short! The tone in her voice when she said "obligated" indicated that she felt embarrassed and ashamed that this was her reason.
When she was through I asked, "Since when is doing something out of obligation a bad thing? You sound as though fulfilling your duty as a mother to properly educate your child is somehow demeaned because obligation is your motive." This woman's attitude is all too prevalent in our culture. Simply put, doing something out of obligation-in this case responding to God's call on her life-was of lesser value than doing something because of an inherent love for the activity.
When I made further inquiry, I discovered that her reluctant student was all of five years old and she was being subjected to a syllabus that was overly academic and tedious. I assured her that for a five year old, she needed to concentrate on Biblical character training, phonics, and basic arithmetic. Additionally, spending time reading to her children, encouraging discussion, and filling their days in exploration of God's world would be far more advantageous than trying to fulfill the expectations of curriculum designers and lots of "seat work." Most importantly, I let her know that her struggles were evidence that she was the one who needed more training.
The Three R's
Why are reading, writing, and arithmetic important? If parents cannot give "a ready answer" to this question from a Biblical worldview, they have failed the directive in 1 Peter 3:15. Rather than dreading the questions of their children, their family, friends, neighbors, and members of their church as to why they've taken this unconventional route of home education, they should (along with teaching the basics) prepare themselves to be the best apologists for family-based Christian education. Without a firm mission statement and goal in place, how will they know if (when) they've deviated from their initial path or even arrived at their destination?
That is why homeschooling parents need to spend as much time educating themselves as they do their children. It won't work successfully any other way. In the long run, whether or not someone can diagram an English sentence, translate entire passages of Cicero from Latin to English, generate flawless geometric proofs, be able to describe in detail the process of photosynthesis, or tout a high SAT grade will not demonstrate their qualifications as a godly husband or wife. These will not be good indicators of integrity, honesty, and perseverance. If the focus remains fixed on academic achievements alone, in isolation from godly character development, whatever successes result will not necessarily produce dominion-oriented Kingdom builders.
Since we are all products of our culture and our upbringing, we have to evaluate all our premises and perspectives through the lens of Scripture. While this is a straightforward task, it is not necessarily easy to accomplish, especially when the persons in need of training are busy trying to train their children. This would seem to indicate that the modern practice of extensive professional teacher training prior to placement in a teaching position is superior. Quite the contrary! The most important thing that anyone has to teach is to glorify God by loving Him and keeping His commandments. This task should not be placed in the hands of anyone who is not fully committed to this goal.
In Intellectual Schizophrenia, R. J. Rushdoony relates the story of an Armenian mother who took her son to school and entrusted him to the teacher with these words, "His flesh is yours, but the bones are mine." He pointed out that there was a double significance in these words. First, the teacher was given authority to teach and discipline, keeping in mind that the child belonged to the parents, who were delegating their authority. Second, the flesh of the child was to be molded (either by instruction or correction) as necessary, but the basic structure remained with the parents. Rushdoony commented:
Such education, while often seriously faulty, had a still healthy premise in that it did not assume the right to re-make the child, but rather sought to develop him in terms of the family's and society's culture. Modern education is increasingly careless of the flesh but claims the bones of the child, i.e., the right to re-create the child in its own image. When the school is given the flesh but not the bones, the school serves as a cultural agency and limits its function to education. When the school claims the bones, it declares that right belongs to the school and pre-empts the function of home and church.3
Parents have the dual function in a homeschooling setting to deal with both the flesh and the bones of their children.
Rushdoony has this to say,
The sovereignty of God in education requires us to reorganize all education in terms of Biblical faith and presuppositions, to assert the crown rights of King Jesus in every area of life and thought, and to yield unto our Lord His due obedience in church, state, school, home, vocation, and in all of life. Nothing short of this is Christian. The doctrine of God's sovereignty requires it.4
Too much of what has been categorized as Christian education has failed to meet this standard. The answer, especially in homeschool settings, is for parents, themselves, to become better teachers!
Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known. (Jer. 33:3)
God has promised wisdom to those who seek Him and learn and follow His word. The very same steps that enable someone to become a faithful servant of Christ are required to be a good teacher. A teacher of any subject or discipline must make a self-conscious decision to present the content with the primary, active intent to demonstrate how the student uses the knowledge acquired to glorify God. Many of the women I mentor express concerns that there is so much that they do not know. Their desire to provide a true godly, discipleship education for their children is outweighed (in their minds) by their lack of theological training. They are quite surprised when I offer (as part of the Chalcedon Teacher Training Institute) to help them become theologically educated. When I share with them how to get started, they are amazed with how easy Chalcedon has made it for them to begin.5
In the end, being able to think, speak, and act in a deliberately Biblical fashion is a life-long pursuit. So there never comes a point when a teacher has learned enough. Rushdoony, in his chapter "The Teacher As Student" has this to say:
Learning involves, among other things, discipline, a desire to learn, and communication. We cannot give others a desire to learn if we do not have it. Most good teachers enjoy studying. A teacher can teach pupils how to read, but a love of reading comes in part from a teacher who shares it ...
The teacher who does not grow in his knowledge of his subject, its methodology and content, is a very limited teacher, and his pupils are "under-privileged" learners ...
Our teaching must be well organized and systematic; if we ourselves are not prone to being orderly in our thinking, our teaching will not be so. Thus, the superior teacher is always disciplining himself in order to pass on disciplined learning to his pupils.6
And that is why teacher training needs to be an ongoing task for the home educating parent. Whereas it is somewhat easy to stay ahead of students in their earliest stages of learning, when children reach the point where they are doing extensive reading on their own and formulating questions, only a prepared teacher will be able to infuse a Biblical perspective into her answers. Unless you constantly upgrade your own understanding about current issues in light of Scriptural mandates, you will not be able to give your students the necessary tools so they can always be ready.
The Holy Spirit is the teacher of "all truth." Only those who by the Spirit know Christ as Lord of their salvation can know Him as the Creator, and the Lord of all arts, sciences, and learning.7
O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day. Thou through thy commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies: for they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation. (Psalm 119:97-98)
As a teacher, nothing is more gratifying than witnessing when your students get it. What a privilege it is to be present when your time, efforts, and prayers result in their thinking Biblically and putting legs to their faith (1 John 3:4).8 Remember that you cannot impart what you do not possess. So, rather than lament your perceived inadequacies, learn alongside your children. The best cure for inability is acquiring ability. By making the objective to understand all areas of life and thought through the glasses of Scripture, you can't help but impart that to your pupils.
Remembering that the goal is to raise up a generation ready to give an answer for the hope that is within them, it is good to be reminded that:
Children are a God-given inheritance for our conquest of the world for Christ. They are a means of subduing the earth and exercising dominion under the Lord. If we give our children to state or private schools which are not systematically Christian in all their curriculum, we are then giving the future to God's enemies, and He will hold us accountable for laying waste our heritage. We thus must have Christian schools and Christian homeschools for the Lord's children. We are commanded to "bring them up in the nurture and the admonition of the LORD" (Eph. 6:4). This is a necessary step for that great consummation of God's will, announced beforehand for us in Revelation 11:15:
The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our LORD, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.9
1. It always amused them that there was no routine grilling of students in state schools about their teachers' qualifications.
2. Rushdoony's Messianic Character of American Education, Intellectual Schizophrenia, and The Philosophy of the Christian Curriculum are good places to start. Sam Blumenfeld's Revolution through Education and Victims of Dick and Jane cement much of Rushdoony's thesis. In the documentary realm, Colin Gunn's IndoctriNation has an excellent segment visually depicting the roots and premises of what we know as public schools.
3. R. J. Rushdoony, Intellectual Schizophrenia (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books,  2002) 133-4.
4. R. J. Rushdoony, The Philosophy of the Christian Curriculum (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1981, 2001) 115.
5. Visit www.ctti.org. This program is tailored to individuals and/or groups who wish to make a concerted effort to be the best teachers for their children with an on-the-job training mindset..
6. R. J. Rushdoony, The Philosophy of the Christian Curriculum (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books,  2001), 132-4.
7. Ibid, 135.
8. Now that I am no longer actively homeschooling, I experience this with the women I mentor. There comes that point where I know that they have turned the corner and are thinking Biblically.
9. R. J. Rushdoony, In His Service (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2009), 20.