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Learning Is a Privilege, Not a Right

In a homeschool setting, it is very easy for the students to slip into the mode that they are doing their parents a favor by studying or learning a subject.

Andrea G. Schwartz
  • Andrea G. Schwartz,
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Most parents can relate to the following dialogue (or some variation), often taking place while shopping:

Child: Mom, can I have those sunglasses?
Parent: Where are the sunglasses I bought you last year?
Child: I don’t know. But I need some. Will you buy them for me?
Parent: No, but you have money. Buy them for yourself.
Child: Forget it.
[No purchase made.]

I’ve had that conversation more times than I can adequately count. When I was buying, my children were more than willing to receive. When it came time for them to shell out some of their cash (whether earned or received as a present), they were much less likely to make a hasty purchase. What’s my point? Simply put: something that one earns is deemed far more valuable than something just given.

In a homeschool setting, it is very easy for the students to slip into the mode that they are doing their parents a favor by studying or learning a subject. After all, the entire day and the structure of the household are geared toward making learning a part and fabric of home life. Each of my children over the years has slipped into an attitude of entitlement — as though he or she were owed the educational opportunity that was being provided. Moreover, the children would manifest this gross misconception at times by showing disrespect for me as a teacher and failing to abide by my rules and deadlines when it came to academic areas. The more I tried to explain and persuade how and why their behavior was unrighteous, the less impact it had on them.

One day, I came up with a plan that proved to be effective in handling my stubborn, defiant student who was refusing to learn — I simply suspended him from school! At first, he looked at me with a joyful disbelief as if to say, “My penalty is that I don’t have to do any school today?” I turned that grin around quickly when I then told him to go to the bathrooms and clean the toilets and to return to me when he was done. From there he progressed to cleaning out closets, washing windows and floors, cleaning the oven and refrigerator, and other not-so-pleasant tasks. I reminded him that if he refused to learn, certain options would be closed to him and I was preparing him for what he might have to do to make a living as an adult.

At first, he would handle a job and then say, “Okay, what’s next?” But after a couple of days he was tired of having little time to read or take part in the aspects of schoolwork he did enjoy. He would ask if he could “go back to schoolwork.” My response was to give him another job. Finally, he went to his dad and asked if he could go back to school, fervently requesting that he intercede with me on his behalf. When my husband approached me, we both agreed that the lesson had been learned; however, I told my husband with an impish grin, “I really do want that garage cleaned up. Can’t I make this go one more day?” So, after that task was completed (and quite well, I might add), my student was reinstated.

It was only after having the usual become the unusual that he valued his school time. In other words, now it was his time that was being spent, and he placed a higher value on spending his own time than he had placed on wasting mine. Moreover, he eventually realized (over time) that the benefits he was receiving of one-on-one academic training would make it so that when it came time to choose his occupation, stronger academics would provide him with greater options than manual labor.

Over the years, my other two children earned their chance at being suspended. Some suspensions lasted longer than others, but weren’t complete until I had a student who was taking as much responsibility for learning as I was taking for teaching. Moreover, since they had witnessed the previous sibling’s ordeals, many of the lessons had already been learned vicariously.

People (including children) value what costs them something. Learning is a privilege, not a right. Combine these two maxims with the reality that our salvation is very much a privilege rather than a right and you begin to see how our faith must permeate all aspects of our lives and thought. If one doesn’t see or feel the need to be saved, the message of the gospel is foolishness to him. If one doesn’t see the need to learn and be able to utilize instruction for the glory of God, then academics becomes a punishment rather than a blessing. Education must be a deliberate enterprise, rather than one in which children are “tricked” or “coddled” into participating in the activities designed to make them useful for God’s Kingdom.

Homeschooling allows parents to provide a royal education for their children, similar to how kings and queens in the past prepared their offspring to rule in their stead. As children of the King of kings, we should value the opportunity and circumstance we’ve been given to do the same, being careful not to allow this high calling to be demeaned in any way — especially by our children.