The American Precedent for Home Schooling
In the early period of American history, home schooling was the primary means of education. As Christopher Klicka notes, "From the founding of this country by the Pilgrims in 1620 and the Puritans in 1630 to the late 1800s, most education took place in homes, with either the parents or a tutor (usually a pastor) providing the instruction."1 But with the rise of modern public schooling in the 1800s, the accompanying propaganda to justify it,2 and the ultimate triumph of statist public education, home schooling died out almost completely in America. Today, the majority of the American populace (Christians included) believes what they have been told for the last one hundred years or so: state-controlled, taxpayer-financed public schools are the best possible means of education for children; that this is a lie is becoming more obvious with each passing year. Public education in America has become a colossal failure. With this failure there has been an increasing return (especially among Christian parents) to the pattern of home schooling as practiced by our forefathers.
The Revival of Home Schooling
The return to home schooling among Christians is due in part to the decay of public education and the desire of parents to protect their children from the dangers and humanistic influences of the public schools. But the reason why Christian parents (such as my wife and I3) home school goes much deeper than the fiasco of the public schools and the promise of a superior education at home. They have chosen to home school their children because they believe that this means of education best fulfills God's will for them as parents. They are convinced that they are doing what God has called them to do in his law-word. The purpose of this article is to give a summary statement of the Biblical basis for home schooling.
The Requirement of God's Covenant Law
God's covenant governs all of life for the believer. God saves men on the basis of his covenant promise, and governs his people on the basis of his covenant law. God is the originator of the covenant and as sovereign Lord he establishes the terms of the covenant. Entrance into the covenant is based on repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. For those who meet these terms (due solely to God's electing love and grace), the terms of life in the covenant are loyalty to God and obedience to his law. The Bible contains the revelation of God's law — the stipulations (commandments) that men are to follow in their love and service to God, and their love and service to their neighbor. The stipulations of the covenant set forth in clear terms the path of obedience that the covenant people must walk if they are to be faithful to their Lord. Believers are bound by a solemn oath (for what else is true repentance and faith?) to submit to the Lordship of Christ and obey the stipulations of God's law.
Thus, the first duty of Christian parents in regard to the education of their children is to discern what God's covenant law requires of them. They must ask: What has God commanded concerning the education of the children that he has placed in our care? The stipulations of the covenant must govern all of our decisions relating to the education of our children. The next duty of Christian parents is to faithfully obey the commands of God without compromise or wavering. Accordingly, the starting point for Christian parents as they consider the education of their children is not the realm of pragmatic concerns, but the realm of God's covenant law. After all, they have taken an oath of allegiance to God, and they are required to obey all that he has commanded (Dt. 10:12-13). Being in covenant with God, they do not have the freedom to educate their children as they please but are bound to educate them in the way that God has specifically commanded. The law of the covenant is very explicit concerning the responsibility of parents in regard to the education of their children:
All these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children.... (Dt. 6:6-7; cf. 11:19-21)
...the Lord said unto me, Gather the people together, and I will make them hear my words, that they may learn to fear me all the days that they shall live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children. (Dt. 4:10)
The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law. (Dt. 29:29)
For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments. (Ps. 78:5-7)
He that spareth the rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes. (Pr. 13:24; cf. 19:18; 23:13; 29:15, 17)
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. (Pr. 22:6)
And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. (Eph. 6:4)
These verses place the authority and responsibility for education squarely in the hands of the parents. They also define the nature of education: children are to be taught the law of God and directed in how they may glorify him in all that they do in life. The stipulations of the covenant require parents to lead their children to love God with all their heart and mind, and to give them a comprehensive Biblical world view that will guide them in all spheres of life. The stipulations of the covenant law thus provide a solid basis for the practice of Christian home schooling. Let us consider more closely how this is so.
First, God's law places the authority and responsibility for the education of children in the hands of the family rather than in the hands of the church or state. God has appointed three primary institutions for governing and ordering human life. In his word, he delineated the sphere of authority granted to each, and the duties assigned to each. Without question, God has given the responsibility for the education of children to the family. The state has no mandate from God to direct the education of the children within its borders. If the state does (as in the United States), it unlawfully transgresses into an area reserved by God for the family. The state has no business in education; the state-controlled public schools of today are a violation of God's law.
But what about the church? Doesn't the church have an educational mission? It most certainly does. The church is the bulwark of truth in the world, and it is the guardian of God's word. The church is to disciple the nations by teaching all that God has commanded. But God has not delegated the responsibility for the education of children to the church. This does not mean, however, that the church has no relation to the training of the children of church members. There is an indirect relationship. God has commanded the church to teach the Scriptures so as to equip believers to carry out the work and ministries committed to them by God. In regard to the education of the children of its members, the church equips the parents through the faithful exposition of the Bible so that the parents will be knowledgeable in the truth and prepared to teach their own children (cf. Eph. 4:11-12; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). The church helps to equip the parents to carry out their calling to be the educators of their children. But it is not the church's role to usurp the parents'position and assume the duty of teaching the children of covenant families.
Second, God's law indicates that parents are themselves responsible to teach their children. A careful reading of the Biblical texts given above reveals that the parents are to be the primary teachers of their children. God's law is not fulfilled by merely providing for someone besides parents to teach their children God's truth and how it applies to all of life. No, God appoints the parents to be the teachers of their own children. God's law-word is to be transmitted to children primarily in the context of the family and by the parents. This does not imply that parents can never employ the skills and knowledge of others for the education of their children. It means that the parents are the chief instructors of their children and all others serve as their assistants at their discretion.4
Third, God's law commands parents to train and discipline their children through the consistent use of the rod and reproof. A very important part of a child's education is the development of self-control and also of respect for and obedience to authority. This is achieved in large measure through discipline. God has put the rod into the hands of the parents to drive far from him the "foolishness" that is in the child's heart (Pr. 22:15). For the rod and reproof to have effect they must be administered uniformly and faithfully by the one charged with the administration — the parent! This can only happen if the child is under the constant supervision of his parents.
The Home as Instructional Center
Fourth, God's law establishes the home as the center for instruction and education. This is particularly plain in the texts of Deuteronomy 6:7-9 and 11:18-20. The physical location of teaching is identified with the home. In other words, the "school building" is seen as the family home, not another building in another locale. This does not mean that all education takes place within the confines of the four walls of the house, for the text speaks of learning in other settings. However, it does seem to stand against the idea of sending children out of the home to a designated building other than their own home.
Training in Real-Life Situations
Fifth, God's law denotes that the training of children should take place in real-life situations and settings. Parents are to teach their children "when thou sittest in thine house, when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up" (Dt. 6:7). There is a time for formal instruction and a time for informal instruction, but all is to take place in the real-life setting of the family and the activities of daily life (worship, work, play, travel, buying, selling, decision-making, etc.). The goal of education is to prepare the child to glorify God in real life, so the setting for education ought to be real life. Most modern education departs from the Biblical model in that it seeks to teach children in the artificial environment of a school surrounded by their peers.
Sixth, God's law requires that the education of children be thoroughly Biblical. By this we mean that the starting point for knowledge is the recognition that all truth is God's truth and that every subject must be taught from the perspective of Biblical revelation. Since all facts are created by God (e.g., the facts of language, science, math, and history), then these facts can be rightly understood only if we follow God's authoritative interpretation of these facts as given in the Bible. Education must be explicitly Christian if it is to be loyal to God's covenant. Hence, it is impossible for us to be faithful to our covenant vows if we allow our children to be educated by covenant-breakers in an anti-Christian environment (such are the public schools of this nation!). Each parent is responsible to make sure that his child receives a Christian education.
It is on the basis of these principles derived from the covenant stipulations regarding the education of children that home schooling is built. Since the family is the institution charged with the duty of education; since parents are commanded to be the primary teachers of their children; since parents have been given the rod to discipline their children; since the center for the training of children is the home; since education is to take place in the real-life setting of the family; and since parents are responsible to give their children a thoroughly Biblical education, we can conclude that home schooling is not only an acceptable means of education, it is the best, because it conforms more closely than any other model to the commands of God to parents.
1. Christopher Klicka, The Right Choice: The Incredible Failure of Public Education and the Rising Hope of Home Schooling (Gresham, OR, 1992), 112.
2. For an excellent and informative history of the rise of public education see, Samuel L. Blumenfeld, Is Public Education Necessary? (Old Greenwich, 1981).
3. Linda and I have eight children (the Lord willing, number nine will have been born by the time this article is published) and we have taught all of our children at home from the very start. Home schooling has been a great blessing to us, but it has required much of us and has not always been easy. We teach our children at home because we believe this is what God requires of us as parents who are in covenant with him. Thus we are able to persevere through the tough times, knowing that God has called us to this work and will enable us and sustain us in teaching and training our children.
4. Parents may need others (books and tutors, for example) to supplement their instruction in the more specialized areas of knowledge and skills. As children grow older, this need becomes more evident and significant. At the time when a young man embarks on his life's vocation, it is proper that, if necessary, he be apprenticed under the guidance of a Christian man skilled in that vocation. The contention that parents are the primary teachers of their children does not mean that they must be the only teachers of their children.
- William O. Einwechter
William O. Einwechter serves as a teaching elder at Immanuel Free Reformed Church in Ephrata, Pennsylvania. He is also the vice president of the National Reform Association and the editor of The Christian Statesman. He can be contacted at [email protected].