Among the fondest memories of my childhood were our Saturday morning trips to the public library. I loved being around all those books stacked on beautiful shelves nested in mahogany-paneled walls. So it was not really surprising that, early on in my homeschooling career, we made frequent trips to the library and I would allow the children to pick out books on subjects that interested them. However, the more I became a student of R. J. Rushdoony, the more I realized that the public library was by no means a “neutral” place. In fact, I discovered that it was a repository of humanistic views diametrically opposed to a true Christian world and life view, cloaked in an illusion of “neutrality.”
One of the key myths of humanism is the idea of neutrality. It is held that the mind of man can be neutral with regard to facts and ideas, and that the scientific method is the way of neutrality. Man can, we are told, calmly and objectively approach and analyze facts and arrive at the truth.
Such a view presupposes neutrality in the knower and the known. With respect to the knower, man, it assumes that man is not a fallen creature, at war with his Maker. Rather, man is held to be a being capable of approaching factuality objectively and impartially, so that the basic judgments about the nature of things depend upon the mind of man.1
Upon closer examination, I realized that I needed to peruse a book in its entirety before I would allow my children to exercise their lending privileges. I would need to ascertain if the material was worth reading at all, and, additionally, would it serve my overall purpose in homeschooling—furthering the Kingdom of God? This didn’t mean I would automatically disqualify any non-Christian books from being borrowed. However, the value of a particular book (fiction or non-fiction) would be based on whether it would be useful for discussion and instruction.
For example, the library is full of books about nature: rock formations, marine animals, natural wonders, the insect world, and the multitudinous number of plants on our planet. While it is true these books often include beautiful photos, in almost all cases, without fail, each book contains bald-faced lies. Any book that does not credit the Creator of the universe for His handiwork, let alone attributes it to random chaotic processes, is the conveyor of an enormous deception, regardless of how well it is put together. In some cases, I would use these books to teach my children the fallacies of evolution and Mother Nature, instructing them about presuppositional thinking as I did.
Again Rushdoony was helpful in my coming to terms with this:
Man … is fallen in all his being; he is totally at war with God. Fallen man may manifest no hostility to God, but his indifference is equally an act of war, because he has ruled out God from all consideration in all things. He has in effect declared that God is dead for him, and therefore need not even be considered or thought about. (If my children act as though I do not exist, nor am to be thought about, spoken about or referred to, then they, without a word said, are manifesting hatred of me, and are warring against me.) Man is never neutral with respect to God, nor to anything that is of God. There is no neutrality in man.2
Never Say Never
The need to build up our family library became obvious to me during one of our visits to the local library. We had been listening to a series of lectures on American history and the speaker referenced Blackstone’s Commentaries (actually Commentaries on the Laws of England by Sir William Blackstone) as often quoted by those in early America. I thought it would be a great exercise for my son to see what was contained in them.
When we could not find the entry in the catalogue of books in a neighborhood library, I suggested my son ask the librarian if these books might be in the reference section—able to be read but not borrowed. She agreed to look. She came back after about twenty minutes apologizing that it had taken her so long. She put a book on the table and explained the delay was due to the fact that the book was in the children’s section. We were presented with a small paperback book entitled Blackstone’s Magic Tricks for Children! It would have been funny if it were not so tragic. She truly had no idea what we were asking for.
The last thing I ever imagined myself doing when I was in school was to become a librarian. My reasoning was due to the fact that I had a stereotypical idea of a quiet person sitting behind a desk admonishing noisy folks to “shhh,” only to be trapped into running errands for patrons to locate a book that they could not find. Little did I know that a librarian’s role includes choosing which books should be in the library, having a very powerful position indeed. Despite my faulty predictions for my future, I became a librarian for my family and for our ministry.
Extending Our Reach
Over my twenty-eight years of active homeschooling, as I bought materials for my family, I realized that I was building a library that could have greater usefulness than just for us. It seemed wasteful not to share my collection after one of my children had used the material and it would be years before the next one needed it. It seemed wasteful to have it just sitting on the shelf. So I made a point of lending out certain curriculum materials to other homeschooling families who couldn’t afford their own. This arrangement allowed them to use the materials for the entire school year, or, alternately, as a way to peruse a book or curriculum to see if it was something they wanted to purchase and, if so, they could use my copy until theirs arrived. I also began a collection of historical novels that were a huge hit with my children. Since reading was something that they loved, it became my mission to supply their appetites. Anytime I’d hear of someone “stalled” with their children in their homeschooling pursuits, I could highly recommend some of the fiction we had as a way to revitalize their interest.
To build this library, I spent a considerable amount of money at conferences at the book table. I would often go to such places with book-buying as my major interest. Additionally, if I saw something advertised in a magazine or catalog that looked interesting, I would immediately order it, not being certain it ever would be advertised again. While a portion of my selections would include primary source materials, I kept an eye out for subjects that interested me in fulfilling my role as wife, mother, and home educator. After all, can anyone have too much knowledge?
Your Library Says a Lot about You
When I visit people, I often peruse the books they have on their shelves. It tells you a lot about their world and life view. I imagine I get the same treatment when others visit me. Although I’ve passed along many of the homeschooling materials I used when actively teaching, I still have quite an assortment of books on a variety of subjects: health, history, theology, music, art, biographies, novels, survival guides, VHS lectures, DVDs, most versions of the Bible, sports, exercise, anatomy, languages, catechisms, how to books, counseling, physics, architecture, marriage, the Constitution, Christian Reconstruction, philosophy, economics, the Federal Reserve, and more.3
Have I read all the books that fit on my many bookshelves? No. Have I looked through and read parts of most? Yes. Do I have favorites that I read over and over? Most certainly. And I am most delighted when during a conversation, a topic arises and I can recommend a book from my library.
I have a propensity for buying good material in all forms: hardbacks, paperbacks, Kindle books, etc. But I must admit that, while the digital format is convenient on so many levels,4 I like the feel of a book and the sense of accomplishment when I finish the last page and place it back on the shelf. One can easily share a book with another, something that is impractical when it is housed on your personal device.
Building a Lending Library
Over the years I have used a wide variety of curricula and audio/video resources to help me in the home education of my children. Some of these were used by all three children; others were acquired to suit the particular needs of one’s individual learning style. In the process, I was building quite a good library and a body of knowledge of the various publishers. Then, I began to purchase resources (both new and used) that I felt would be helpful to me to further educate myself to be the best teacher possible for my kids. In time, I needed more and more bookcases to house what would become useful tools for my own children, those I tutored or taught, and eventually to become part of my homeschool lending library. This has been a great outreach for my family as we’re always lending out materials for review or a year’s worth of use to new homeschoolers and veterans alike.
I suggest that homeschool co-ops and churches make a concerted effort to grow similar libraries in their own cities and communities. With the increasing number of families making the choice to provide a distinctively Christian education to their children, being ready to help is a very pro-active endeavor. By way of example here are some general guidelines included in our library agreement:
- There is no fee to borrow materials. However, library materials undergo normal wear and tear, so we encourage donations to help us replace worn-out materials and to expand the library.
- Lending period is for two weeks (unless special arrangements are made).
- Books and other materials are to be returned in the condition they are received.
- In the event library materials are not returned in useable condition, we require that the borrower pay replacement costs in addition to a service fee of $10.
- Any problem with library materials should be brought to our attention immediately.
- Materials are lent to you and your family and should not be lent to other individuals or families. If other families wish to borrow materials, they need to fill out an agreement in order to borrow directly from us.
- It is the responsibility of the borrower to return library materials as agreed and not the responsibility of the library to call and pick them up. However, convenient arrangements can be made for pickup and delivery.
- Lending privileges may be revoked at the discretion of the library staff.
- Since we are now expanding the lending privileges, other conditions may be added to this agreement as experience dictates. In that case, you will be notified in writing of such changes, if and when they occur.5
Preparing for the Future
Young people need to build a library of books that they will continue to refer to and have on hand as they mature and begin their own families. Books that have meant a lot to them but belong to their parents’ library should be noted and acquired, either through purchase or entered on a “wish list” for family and friends for birthdays, etc. As C. S. Lewis noted, “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally—and often far more—worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.”6
I make a point of giving books as presents to graduates. My top choice is R. J. Rushdoony’s Institutes of Biblical Law. I’ve often commented that if for some reason I was told we were going to a deserted island and I could only take three books with me, Institutes, along with a Bible and a survival guide would make the cut. I usually let the gift recipient know why I’ve selected this volume. While I have given books as presents over the years, I prefer to lend books. That way, I can find out if the person actually reads it. Give a book as a gift, and it seems pushy to keep inquiring if it has been read. But, lend one out, and your inquiries and reminders are built-in ways of seeing if the book is available for the next person. I have found that the time limit on borrowing helps get the material read!
Chalcedon’s Digital Library
R. J. Rushdoony left a legacy of books, essays, journal articles, and lectures. Chalcedon sells many of them and has as one of its primary missions keeping his materials in print. Thus, there is little excuse for people not to have a good collection for their libraries. However, a number of years ago Chalcedon went one step further. By offering the entire Rushdoony collection accessible online at no charge, we made it possible for his profound insights to be shared with anyone with computer access. There are even some individuals who have categorized and organized the collection, making retrieval easy.7 Thus, there is no excuse for willing students of God’s Word not to make use of this resource.
Truth as embodied in the Lord Jesus Christ is what the focus of education should be all about. A library functions as a preserver of that truth by being a repository of information and learning that is deemed of value to us in our calling to serve God’s Kingdom. Sometimes the information is of the “how to” variety. At other times, materials contained in a library might fall into the “learn what not to do” category, demonstrating the deleterious effects of doing so. Without a reliable and available library of information, we are at the deficit of only operating on those thoughts and ideas that are easily accessible and retrievable in our minds. Having a useful library gives us the tools to act in obedience to the Great Commission. But it must be self-consciously built to provide its users with the tools necessary for dominion. It must be founded in the truth of God’s Word.
Truth is never abstract, nor is it some vague idea floating in the heavens. Truth is always relative to whatever is ultimate in our faith. If matter is ultimate for us, then truth is relative to matter, if mind, to mind. If man is ultimate, then truth is contingent and relative to man. For us however, all things having been created by the sovereign and triune God, are relative to Him and to His word. Because the Lord is the ultimate and sovereign Creator, He is therefore the truth in all its fullness, and all else is true in terms of its relation to Him. The more we understand the relation of the physical world in relation to God and His order and purpose in creation, the more we know the truth about creation …
Humanistic philosophies of education, and the state schools, are expressions of a religious faith, faith in man … Ours is another faith, and we must stand in terms of it, consistently and faithfully.8
Substitute the word “library” for “state schools” and Rushdoony is making the case for a Kingdom-driven library!
1. R. J. Rushdoony, The Philosophy of the Christian Curriculum (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books,  2001), 165.
3. I once tried to computerize my library attempting to make a record of all my books. I planned to place them on the shelves according to subject matter. But after a major earthquake my husband insisted that paperbacks get placed on top shelves while bigger books remain on the lower ones. Such ended my ambitious project. I keep track of books “on the shelves” when I go looking for a book I want to reference. It does take time, but the process reminds me of what my library contains.
4. There’s nothing quite like being able to carry an entire library on one device. For long plane flights, waiting at an appointment, or jury duty with long down times, I find I have a variety of reading options so rewarding, it almost feels like I’m cheating!
5. This section is taken from an essay that appeared in my second book, The Homeschool Life (Vallecito, CA: Chalcedon/Ross House Books, 2008), 113–114.
8. Rushdoony, The Philosophy of the Christian Curriculum, 168.
- Andrea G. Schwartz
Andrea Schwartz is Chalcedon’s family and Christian education advocate, and the author of eight books including: A House for God: Building a Kingdom-Driven Family, The Biblical Trustee Family: Understanding God’s Purpose for Your Household, Empowered: Developing Strong Women for Kingdom Service, Woman of the House: A Mother’s Role in Building a Christian Culture, and The Homeschool Life: Discovering God’s Way to Family-Based Education. She’s also the co-host of the Out of the Question podcast, and Homeschooling Helps (weekly live Facebook event). She can be reached at [email protected].