In my travels as a "circuit riding" homeschooling mentor and lecturer, I have observed that the institution of the family, by God's design, is like a well-made machine. Nothing that man has devised serves the function of nurture and care better than this building block of society. The family, however, just like a finely engineered car, needs a tune-up now and again. Failing to do the necessary upkeep will produce a God-ordained institution that functions poorly. There are telling signs that adjustments are in order.
The enthusiasm that usually accompanies the decision to homeschool can over time deteriorate into a sea of overload, self-doubt, and guilt. If the major goal is to do a better job than the local private or public school (grades, test scores, etc.), it won't be long before the mother/teacher begins to burn out and become convinced she has embarked on a losing proposition. A home school will never run like a day school. In fact, it cannot and should not. Instead of divorcing the acquisition of knowledge and wisdom from the day-to-day activities of family life, homeschooling allows for individualized learning and maturity to occur within the context of family life.
The best evidence of a well-functioning homeschool is the hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matt. 5:6) on the part of the children who with their parents express an appetite to seek first God's Kingdom and His righteousness (Matt. 6:33).
Hunger and Thirst
How do we apply the concepts of hunger and thirst to homeschooling progress? Webster's 1828 Dictionary defines the terms clearly:
Hunger: 1. An uneasy sensation occasioned by the want of food; a craving of food by the stomach; craving appetite. Hunger is not merely want of food, for persons, when sick, may abstain long from eating without hunger, or an appetite for food. Hunger therefore is the pain or uneasiness of the stomach of a healthy person, when too long destitute of food. 2. Any strong or eager desire. v.i. To feel the pain or uneasiness which is occasioned by long abstinence from food; to crave food.
Thirst: 1. To experience a painful sensation of the throat or fauces for want of drink. 2. To have a vehement desire for any thing.
R. J. Rushdoony points out in his book on the Sermon on the Mount referencing Matthew 5:6 that
Righteousness is the same word as justice; thus, it is the desire for righteousness or justice which our Lord speaks of here ... To be the blessed of the Lord means that we hunger and thirst after justice. The image is of intense physical craving, of a passion for righteousness or justice, which consumes our being. Apart from God's justice, for there is none other, we are starved and parched. Only His justice can fill and satisfy us. The promise is that we "shall be filled."1
Do you and your children manifest a craving to be filled with God's justice? We are told in Ecclesiastes 12:13 that the whole duty of man is to fear God and keep His commandments. If this is not the focal point of Christian education, then what is?
Many say they attempt to get their children interested in spiritual matters, but the children don't seem to have an appetite for the instruction. That is the precise reason why Christian home education is needed in our day. Children are deemed unable to understand the truths of Scripture unless they are taught moral stories by vegetable characters that don't reference God as He has revealed Himself. Not only does this underestimate children,2 it reduces the appetite for real Bible teaching. Just as improper nutritional choices cultivate a desire for junk food, children raised on "junk food" Christianity will shun the good food of the Word.
The environment of the Christian home school can immediately correct attitudes and ideas antithetical to a Biblical world and life view. By avoiding negative influences and temptations that arise in most classroom settings (e.g. back-talk, bullying, and moral compromise) the children aren't hampered by conflicting standards of behavior.
Identifying Their Calling
Young children thrive on imitating their elders, wanting to do the tasks they see their parents or older siblings perform. From the outset, the homeschooling mother should be self-consciously modeling behavior she wishes her children to emulate. If she complains about cooking, laundry, cleaning, reading, or studying, guess what? They will learn to parrot those attitudes. However, if, as she is carrying out all these functions, she explains how and why she is performing them, she is not only actively engaging her children in the importance of calling, but she is investing for the future time when she can delegate these tasks to them.
Another basic function of the family is motivation and guidance. The child is provided with the best kind of guidance, because the family is most interested in him, and the child is, in the Christian family, given the highest kind of motivation for his own future and present development.3
Motivation is a key component in obtaining cooperation and participation, whether in household responsibilities or academic learning. If the homeschooling teacher always has to entertain or coerce her children, she will become exhausted and frustrated. For this reason, the children need to understand why homeschooling is the family choice and for what purpose they are learning any given subject or task. When tied in to glorifying God and keeping His commandments, grumbling and complaining are rightly understood as offenses against God.
12. Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
13. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
14. Do all things without murmurings and disputings:
15. That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;
16. Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain. (Phil. 2:12-16)
How do you know if an activity is producing the results you desire? As my husband used to counsel me, inspect what you expect. This involves making sure your children know the expectations you have for them regarding their household chores and subjects you wish them to study on any given day. Bypassing this step usually results in the teacher and student having conflicting standards for excellence. It takes prep time and regular inspection on the part of the teacher, but will lessen over time as her children learn not to cut corners and to apply diligence to their work.
Incentives should be tied in to expectations for the student when it comes to academics. Studying the material in a cooperative fashion should hold just as much weight as grasping the material. At what point and how easily the material is grasped is secondary to the approach the student takes. That is why grades or marks cannot be the goal of learning. It is the acquisition of knowledge, properly understood in the greater context of God's Kingdom, that produces wisdom. How well the student can articulate what has been learned and how well he applies it to life are the yardsticks to measure success.
Fruit of the Spirit
Galatians 5:22-23 defines the Fruit of the Spirit as love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These should serve as the objective evidence of godly learning: Are the children manifesting these attributes? In all areas of life and thought, the claims of Christ must be impressed upon the students. This standard should be the focus as a Biblical worldview is taught throughout the academic subjects covered. If not, even if you have a "straight A" student, you don't necessarily have a godly one. Likewise, if your student struggles with some aspect of the curriculum, the Fruit of the Spirit mindset will allow him to persevere in the pursuit of excellence.
All children need to understand that they were created to glorify God by carrying out His laws and commands. They will not do this naturally because they enter the world selfish and self-centered due to the stain of inherited sin. Only through training will they embrace their calling as son/daughter and brother/sister. Along with learning their native language and gaining self-discipline of bodily functions, obedience to parents is the first major trait that needs to be ingrained in a child. Next, the child should be working on becoming a useful member of the family, seeking ways to love one another with brotherly affection, and outdoing one another in showing honor (Rom 12:10).
Jay Adams, noted Biblical counseling author, has this to say about the Fruit of the Spirit as it applies in family life:
To be self-controlled ... is said to be a fruit of the Spirit (i.e., the result of the Spirit's work) in a believer. This work of the Spirit makes him a sturdy, dependable person to whom others turn for encouragement and help. It makes him the sort of Christian who rarely gets into trouble with others because of indiscretions of word or deed, and who, if and when he does offend, quickly rectifies the situation on his own ... His self-control, then, is not a control that comes from himself but from the Spirit, and it is self-control only in the sense that he is not dependent on other human beings for that control.
Discipline begins in a child's life as discipline by others: much of the work of child training ... has to do with bringing a child to maturity, that maturity consisting of his ability to discipline himself in the ways of God.
The process of child training that the Bible sets forth is one in which the control of parents is gradually replaced by the control of the Spirit through the Word as a child matures into a youth, willing and able to follow the Scriptures on his own without the continued, watchful instruction of parents. The mature person obeys not for fear of punishment or hope of reward, but out of gratitude to God who sent the Savior to die for him. He wants to please God rather than his parents, others, or even himself!4
This is the sort of training that is uniquely possible within a homeschooling setting as the instruction given in Deuteronomy 6:4-7 states:
4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord:
5 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
6 And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:
7 And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.
Adams points out that the Book of Proverbs, which is a Hebrew training manual for youth, has as its goal a person who walks according to the law of the Spirit in promoting a self-controlled individual.
The Book of Proverbs represents the work of the father and mother as bringing the child to this place of independence by teaching biblical truth which shall follow and guide the child throughout life, long after they are gone.5
As a mainstay of our homeschool, I took my children through the Book of Proverbs to show the practical application of the law of God as outlined in the Ten Commandments. In fact, the following passage in Rushdoony's The Philosophy of the Christian Curriculum inspired me to challenge my son at the age of seven to begin memorizing entire chapters:
At St. Thomas Episcopal School in Houston, Texas, children in the early grades memorize proverb after proverb, until the whole book of Proverbs is committed to memory. On one occasion, third grade boys were on the playground, when a teacher confronted one boy with an offense committed earlier. The guilty boy immediately pointed to a second boy, saying, "He made me do it." At this point, a third boy stepped up and remarked, "My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not" (Prov. 1:10). This is of course one of the advantages of knowledge of Scripture: it enables us to understand ourselves and others as well as to know God.6
As side benefits, this activity was useful for public speaking training, as well as handwriting training (as my son often copied the verses to memorize them). I began this when I noted how he had memorized many commercials verbatim from television and figured we should try the Proverbs challenge.
The Return of the Family
Sometimes families do struggle to maintain their calling to educate their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and there are many obstacles blocking success. But by re-orienting the purpose and mission of their homes and placing Biblical standards as the umbrella under which all other areas are assessed (academics, sports, the arts, and involvement in church and community activities), they will experience less burnout, especially the homeschooling mother. And while it is true that usurpation by the state is rampant and seemingly insurmountable, there is historically much hope. As Rushdoony notes,
The state has extensively interfered in the family's functions, and it has claimed vast areas that properly belong to the family. Does this mean that the family has been weakened? Does the future portend a decline in the importance of the family? On the contrary, the more the state has interfered, the more it has thereby underscored man's need for the family. The incompetence of the state as family has made more obvious the competence of the family as a family. The prevalence of sickness does not make health obsolete, but only all the more urgently needed and desired. Historically, every period of statism is followed by an era of an intensely family-oriented society as men turn from sickness to health.7
1. R.J. Rushdoony, Sermon on the Mount (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2009), 23-24.
2. Mark 10:15 instructs us to receive the Kingdom as a child, not to receive it childishly!
3. R.J. Rushdoony, Law & Liberty (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Book, 1984, 2009), 101.
4. Jay E. Adams, Handbook of Church Discipline (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1986), 40-41.
6. R.J. Rushdoony, The Philosophy of the Christian Curriculum (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1981, 2001), 28-9.
7. R.J. Rushdoony, Law & Liberty (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Book, 1984, 2009), 103.