Homeschooling has suddenly become a hot topic among Southern Baptists.
"It's amazing what God does," said Elizabeth Watkins, founder of the Southern Baptist Church and Home Education Association (SBCHEA). "We tried and tried for two years; we just couldn't make headway — and suddenly, wham! Now we're getting tons of email from pastors and families all over the country."
This June the national Southern Baptist Convention rejected a proposal to urge its members to pull their children out of the public schools. As the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, a Southern Baptist walkout would have removed millions of children from the government schools (see "An 'Exodus' from Public Schools,” archive, July 1, 2004: http://www.chalcedon.edu/articles/0407/040701-2duigon.php).
Bruce Shortt, a Houston lawyer and homeschooling father, who presented the resolution to the convention on the floor, predicted that the homeschooling movement would grow.
"We all have to start becoming evangelists for homeschooling," he said. "Then we'll see more change."
Mrs. Watkins, who has homeschooled her two daughters, has asked the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) to endorse her group as an official Southern Baptist ministry.
"My world has changed," she said. "I got a nice letter from the executive director of the SBTC, Dr. Jim Richards, saying he would present my request to the appropriate authority and personally explore how we can work together."
The group has already been invited to attend the North Texas Southern Baptist Convention meeting on October 30. Recognition by the SBTC will allow it to participate in any Southern Baptist meeting or convention.
"We'd be able to exhibit at the annual national convention," Mrs. Watkins said.
Elizabeth and Curt Watkins decided to homeschool their eldest daughter, now 14, when she was midway through fifth grade.
"She just was not reading at grade level," Mrs. Watkins said. "We had to remediate her at home. Now she's taking honors courses [via homeschooling 'packages' produced by colleges, available online]."
The Watkinses removed their younger daughter, now 10, from first grade for similar reasons.
Mrs. Watkins worked in the insurance business until her children were born. She has also owned and operated a shop. Currently, however, she teaches Latin to children in her neighborhood homeschooling cooperative. Her younger daughter, a fifth-grade student in the cooperative, is studying Plutarch's Lives — once a universal staple of Western education, but long since abandoned by the public schools as too advanced.
"Homeschooling is much less expensive than you'd think," Mrs. Watkins said. "A lot of the online materials are free, and others don't cost much at all. And there's the free public library as a valuable resource."
Mrs. Watkins' homeschooling group has grown to 35 families. Most of them have joined cooperatives, permitting parents to specialize in various subjects.
The group hopes to set up a network of retired Christian teachers, coaches, and musicians to serve homeschooling families.
The purpose of homeschooling, Mrs. Watkins said in an essay, is "to impact our culture for Christ."
"We are living in an age of intense spiritual warfare," she wrote, "and like the prophet Daniel and the Apostle Paul, Christian youth need to be the best educated, [most] thoroughly grounded, intensely disciplined citizens in the country .…"
"The things that go on in public schools today," Bruce Shortt said, "are so outrageous that people think you have to be making it up."
"Homeschoolers for years have been under siege, having to explain themselves," Shortt said. "That's why people like Elizabeth Watkins are so important. She has a way of winning people over."
Shortt plans to attend the next national Southern Baptist Convention and re-submit his proposal.
"I'll be back," he said.
"Most Christians send their children to public schools because that's the way we've always done it," Mrs. Watkins said. "But that's not what God wants us to do. We are never to do anything by default, especially when it comes to our children."
The Southern Baptist Church and Home Education Association has its own website, sbchea.org, which provides contact information, a mission statement, essays by leaders in the homeschooling movement, and information on accredited Christian colleges where homeschooled students are welcome.