Countercultural Academia: Why We Chose Home Education
Dr. Lisa Dunne, 2017
My biological family heritage includes a long line of educators: professors, principals, and public school teachers. In fact, I had never even heard of the concept of homeschooling when I became a parent. But once my child was approaching “school age,” I started noticing the fruits of the educational system.
When our oldest child was four, we moved from Florida to California. We knew California was considered more “progressive,” but we were surprised to find that the liberal teachings were not only overt in the public system, but also in the private “Christian” sector. We put our child in a very expensive private Christian school for kindergarten, because that’s the only model we knew. However, instead of being encouraged and strengthened in his spiritual and academic walk, we found our kindergartner coming home with all kinds of liberal, anti-male philosophies. And, for the first time in his life, he didn’t seem to like learning. We were stunned.
When I met with the teacher to discuss my observations, I realized that this well-meaning young woman, all of 23 years old and not yet a parent herself, had just graduated from a secular university, and she was teaching the children out of what she knew, her worldview. Later, we also learned that the school was struggling with high rates of promiscuity and drug dealing, which wasn’t exactly the fruit I was looking for in my children. So, it was clearly time for a change of course.
Someone told us about a then-new program called charter schools. In this particular program, students learned at home under the tutelage of a parent, who followed a state-directed plan of education. Parents were free to bring children in for weekly classes, which were offered two days a week, for supplemental learning. Parents were also free to choose their own curricula—with one exception: It could not contain any Christian references. When I met with the “education specialist” in the charter, she explained that the Department of Education prohibits teaching from a “sectarian” point of view during school hours (8am to 4pm). I looked on the Department of Education’s website to verify, and she was correct; it was right there, plainly stated. If I wanted to try to sprinkle in some Christian teaching at the end of the day when everyone was exhausted, that would be just fine, but I wasn’t allowed to teach academic subjects through the lens of a Christian worldview.
I showed her one of the literature curricula I had been considering, and she seemed conflicted. “The content is great,” she said, “don’t get me wrong. But the name of this curriculum has the word ‘son’ in it, and that word, the way it’s used here, stands for a Christian deity, so we can’t accept that.” I remained silent, completely in shock of what I was hearing. She went on: “Now, if you want to cut out the word ‘son’ before you turn in your reports, that might work.”
I wish I were making this up.
And the writing curricula I liked? “We can’t cover that one because it contains a prayer by Abraham Lincoln,” the educational specialist said. “If they take out the prayer, well, then maybe we could use it.”
So, in this system, I was allowed to teach my child at home, which was terrific, but I was only allowed to teach from a secular viewpoint—in my own home. Clearly, the charter option was not going to work for us.
Just as we were trying to decide what on earth we were going to do, we met a woman from church whose children really stood out to me. They all seemed to genuinely like each other (and their parents!). They were smart and confident. When I spoke to them, they looked me in the eye. They were able to connect well with both children and adults. They were godly, loving, intelligent, compassionate, and socially mature. Wow. We wanted that fruit in our children’s lives, so I asked the mom her secret. “Homeschooling,” she said.
I literally had no idea what she meant.
But thus began my journey into the realm of home education. In the 13 years that my husband and I have spent educating our own children, we have reaped a harvest of incredible fruit: compassionate, intelligent children who love God, their parents, and one another—a Luke 1:17 model. It has been an adventure beyond imagination.
A Brief Overview of the Homeschool Movement
Homeschooling is the fastest growing movement in US education, both because of the dissatisfaction with the traditional system and the success of the homeschool model. As you’ll see in some of the studies mentioned herein, homeschoolers are now outperforming their traditionally-schooled counterparts on standardized tests by 37 points on average, regardless of the level of education achieved by the parent doing the homeschooling. In our “expert everything” culture, this is a befuddling statistic for traditional educators (of which I am one!).
More important than the academic success, however, is the character growth that is modeled in a homeschool environment, where children are mentored by their parents rather than by their peers. Since the introduction of the Values Clarification Movement in the 1960s, the United States has seen a steady decline of the moral output in its youngest citizens (I have written about this movement extensively in my book Emerge—see the Books tab for more info). The US is now a world leader is youth homicide, youth suicide, youth drug abuse, and STD rates (8,000 US teens contract an STD every day in the US). Little wonder, truly, when 55 million children are taught daily in the public sector that they have no purpose, no destiny, and no reason for hope or joy. Romans 1:20 tells us that God’s nature is evidenced in the created realm—that we can learn of God’s character and qualities through studying his world; however, the traditional model has purposefully dissected Christianity from the foundations of learning, leaving behind a heartless, sterile, disingenuous model of academia.
As a teacher in the traditional system for over 18 years, I would say that the homeschooling process is counterintuitive to almost everything I learned in my undergraduate studies. The model I was taught in Instructional Design 101 was based on the failed pedagogical approach used in the traditional system of education, an ideology launched in the bygone Industrial Era. The homeschooling model is actually more akin to what we use in graduate level studies, which are based on an androgogical (adult learning) rather than pedagogical approaches. In my opinion, the works of Vygotsky, who wrote extensively on scaffolding and the apprenticeship model, best explain the success of homeschooling in general, providing a framework for teaching the homeschool demographic. It’s a mentor model. Homeschooling has, I believe, made me a better college professor, as I’ve learned to draw knowledge out of students, to help them become more self-directed in their own learning process.
The traditional worm-dispensing ideology places the responsibility on the teacher, whereas the homeschool model places the responsibility on the learner, fanning the flame of learning that Yeats inspired in his well-known quote: “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” Students are far more effective as lifelong learners when they are driven by intrinsic rather than extrinsic motivation. Though government schools defend their “commitment” to lifelong learning, the truth is that most students in the traditional system are often simply surviving school, not thriving in it. They have come to despise learning, not crave it.
A few years back, a Newsweek article studied public school culture and found that by the age of 7, most boys say they “hate” school. Little wonder, really, when they are forced to sit still in a chair for hours on end, taught by anti-Christian and/or feminist ideologies, and squeezed into an educational model that is proving less and less effective each decade. America is currently at the lowest rung on the global ladder in academia. It was just a few short years ago when Bill Gates actually requested permission from the government to hire more foreign workers—because Americans simply weren’t “smart enough” to fulfill the intellectual needs of the job.
Plato once said the two most important questions for every culture to consider were these: Who teaches the children, and what are they taught? To answer that question in good conscience, we must consider both the heart of the teacher and the heart of the subject. These are the foundations upon which Christian homeschooling is built.
History of The Homeschool Movement
Prior to the Industrial Era, most children were educated at home. Family life was built around the context of transmitting the values and the craft of the family to the next generation. In the Industrial Era, however, people were viewed as commodities in a larger machine, resulting in the growth of schools that would train students in a “factory model” of education. A one-size-fits-all modality of academic instruction became the norm, and this trend has continued to the present day.
Though the industrial system took students out of the home, for many years, these public school systems did continue to replicate (at least in some form) the values of a Christian culture. Children were taught to read with Bible verses. Disciplinary action supported a biblical model. The school culture supported and reflected the values of the family. My grandmother taught in this model for 50 years. Her public school prayer books and hymn books paint a very different picture of life as a teacher in the 1930s to 1950s in America.
However, in the 1960s, an educational strategy called the Values Clarification Movement (VCM) swept through the public system and stripped schools of their foundation in classic Christian education. Teachers were no longer allowed to speak of morality. Reading primers that once taught children through principles of Christianity, such as McGuffey’s reader, “in Adam’s fall, we sinned all” were silenced. Prayers were removed from books and classrooms, and history that once reflected the faith of our nation’s founders was scrubbed clean of any Christian principles. The early Christian foundations in the school system gave way over time to the pull of secular humanism, and gradually, God was completely and intentionally dissected from the academic sphere.
The Fruit of a Godless Education System
Harvard University, the first college American, was founded by Pilgrims in 1636 with a very specific goal in mind: To establish an educational system for the next generation that would prevent the teachings of Scripture from being passed along to an illiterate population. In other words, they wanted to protect and preserve the truth of God’s word for generations to come. How tragically far the modern day education system has fallen from that initial objective!
Today, significant challenges face the public education system in the US. Since the introduction of the Values Clarification Movement in the 1960s and 70s, the United States has seen a steady decline of the moral output of its youngest citizens. The US is now a world leader in youth homicide, youth suicide, self-injury, prescription drug abuse, and sexually transmitted disease (8,000 US teens contract an STD every day in the US), teen pregnancy, cohabitation, and desertion of the faith. A few of these sobering statistics follow:
- Violence—The Center for Disease Control says that the US is a world leader in youth homicide, the second leading cause of death for 12-19 year olds in America and the leading cause of death for Black and Hispanic youth.
- Suicide and Self-Injury: Cornell University has shown that 17% of US high school students have made at least one plan to take their own lives, and 1/5 of the students in our nation’s top schools are cutting or burning themselves in an attempt to relieve emotional pain.
- Promiscuity: According to Indiana University School of Medicine, 64% of US residents age 14 and over have at least one sexually transmitted disease. In 2013, 8,000 US teens contracted an STD, with three million teens becoming infected in one year. However, in 2016, the Center for Disease Control released an even more shocking report:50% of the 20 million (!) sexually transmitted diseases in the US every year are represented in the 15-24 year-old population. This means that over 10 million teens and young adults are engaged in promiscuous lifestyles that are resulting in STDs.
- Teen Pregnancy: According to the Heritage Foundation, the United States leads the developed world in teen pregnancy: 3-10 times higher than other developed nations. Social scientist Dr. David Popenoe calls the fatherlessness of today’s generation “our most urgent social crisis.”
- Cohabitation: Over 50% of Millennials are now cohabiting, living together in a sexual relationship instead of choosing the covenant of marriage. Social science research demonstrates that cohabitation leads to a greater likelihood of abuse, fatherlessness, and relational insecurity, among other challenges.
- The Rise of Secularism: The Millennial generation is walking away from the Christian faith in droves. According to research by Josh McDowell and Ken Ham, 85% of students who grow up in Christian homes but attend public school walk away from the faith by 12th grade, with the majority abandoning their beliefs by the end of junior high. Any semblance of Christian home life is being polluted by the indoctrination of the secular school environment, and students find themselves unable to rationalize the existence of the God of the Bible.
- Academic Failure: A 2017 Pew Research study showed that academic achievement in the United States lags behind many other developed countries. An NAEP study ranked 40% of 12th graders as performing “below basic” in science, and a 2015 Pew report showed that 46% were below average in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). In comparison, 23 countries outperform the US in science and reading, and 38 countries outperform the US in math. According to a 2013 study by the US Department of Education and the National Institute of Illiteracy, 32 million adults in the United States can’t read, and another 21% read below the 5th grade level. Today, 19% of high school graduates are illiterate.
In short, once God was removed from the educational sector, the acceptance of sin skyrocketed, and the tragic fruit of secular humanism was harvested in the lives of our nation’s children. Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy one is understanding.” Without the fear of the Lord, we cannot fully and accurately explore or understand the universe he has created. “He is before all things,” says Colossians 1:17, “and by him all things consist.” Dissecting the God of the universe out of the educational sphere has impacted the next generation of children academically, socially, and morally—creating a spiritual bankruptcy unknown to previous generations in America.
In the 1980s, well-known Christian authors like James Dobson, former president of Focus on the Family, began warning parents of the dangers of a godless educational system and instead began promoting the values of home education. Parents responded. The modern homeschool movement was birthed out of the desire to provide the next generation with a faith-based system of education, one that refuses to sever God’s name from the studies of the universe He created. Today, largely in response to the academic and spiritual crisis in America, homeschooling is experiencing a cultural resurgence. As of 2017, over two million students in the United States are now educated at home. In fact, the US Department of Education calls homeschooling the fastest growing movement in American academia. San Diego represents the largest hub of homeschoolers in the state of California.
What is Home Education?
By definition, home education is a system of family discipleship where parents take on the responsibility of educating their children at home through a variety of methodologies and systems. For most Christian families, this means providing a Bible-based education that centers on both spiritual and academic formation. Most importantly, homeschooling is a purposeful and powerful methodology for ensuring the transmission of the faith from one generation to the next.
Home education is not a new concept. As Olsen (2004) demonstrates in Learning for Life: Educational Words of Wisdom, many historical leaders, authors, university presidents, and creative geniuses had the benefit of being homeschooled for all or part of their educational career:
- Benjamin Franklin
- George Mason
- James Madison
- George Washington
- Andrew Jackson
- Thomas Jefferson
- Abraham Lincoln
- Theodore Roosevelt
- Winston Churchill
- Alexander Hamilton
- Patrick Henry
- Albert Einstein
- William Blake
- Claude Monet
- Leonardo da Vinci
- Alexander Graham Bell
- Thomas Edison
- Orville and Wilbur Wright
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
- Hans Christian Anderson
- Charles Dickens
- Robert Frost
- S. Lewis
- Beatrix Potter
- Walt Whitman
- Laura Ingalls Wilder
- Timothy Dwight – Former President of Yale University
- William Samuel Johnson – Former President of Columbia College
- Fred Terman – Former President of Stanford University
- Frank Vandiver – Former President of Texas A&M University
- John Witherspoon – Former President of Princeton University
Homeschooling Growth and Academic Success
How successful are homeschoolers? As studies by Dr. Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute show, homeschoolers consistently outperform their traditionally-schooled counterparts on standardized tests by 37 points on average, regardless of the level of education achieved by the parent doing the homeschooling. They are more involved in their community, and despite the unfounded rumors to the contrary, they are better socialized than their public school counterparts. That doesn’t mean there aren’t exceptions, but we don’t judge a program’s success on outliers.
As Drs. Nabor and Mate point out in their book Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers, healthy socialization is not developed through spending all of one’s time with a peer group, despite this pattern being constantly reinforced in the age-segregation of the public system. Instead, healthy socialization requires connection with those outside of one’s peer group—a pattern reinforced in home education. We need ongoing connection to both mentors and protégés to develop to our fullest academic, moral, and spiritual capacity.
More important than the academic success, however, is the character growth that is modeled in a homeschool environment, where children are primarily mentored by their parents rather than by their peers. Deuteronomy 6:6-9 instructs parents to impress God’s laws upon the hearts of their children, to talk about them as they travel on the highways and the byways. In the traditional system, unreasonable schedules dictate much of the home life: Students attend class for 7-8 hours, and then they have another two to three hours of homework each night. Frantic, overfilled schedules significantly limit the opportunities for family discipleship.
As mentioned earlier, Ham and McDowell have documented the tragic decline of the Christian faith in today’s generation. According to their research, 85% of teenagers who grow up in Christian homes but attend public schools walk away from the faith by the time they graduate (conversely, only 5% of Christian homeschoolers walk away from the faith—a staggering contrast!).
As Barna’s 2016 State of the Church research demonstrated, only 20% of Christian families read the Bible together at home outside of church, and only 10% worship together. Clearly, the discipleship model is not living and active within the majority of Christian homes in America. However, the homeschool model creates an intentional opportunity for parents to invest daily in the lives of their children and train them up in the way they should go.
Many people in modern culture believe that the teen years are “destined” to be full of turmoil and relational distress, but this construct is both historically inaccurate and non-Scriptural. Social science did not validate the onset of teen rebellion until researcher James Coleman first noted a shift in behavior in 1966 (a notably tumultuous time of rebellion in the US). Coleman said that a perceptible behavioral shift was taking place, and teens were “beginning to care more about what their peers thought than about what their parents thought.” Ironically, Coleman’s contemporaries actually mocked the observation, saying that “a disassociated teen culture” would never exist. But indeed, it was the beginning of a social shift where teens started to pull away from the biblical model of family discipleship and relationship and orient themselves toward a “modern teen” mentality.
The Bible does not delineate individuals as teens (the word “teen” didn’t even become a separate category of adulthood until the 1950s). Instead, the Bible teaches a multigenerational system of discipleship as shown in Titus 2:3: “Teach the older women…to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.” This generational transmission of the faith does not happen by accident; it requires an intentionality that is fostered through the system of home education.
In the last four decades, the public sector has become increasingly and overtly anti-Christian in nature. The Department of Education now forbids the teaching of “sectarian” viewpoints during the school day, and California schools are now prohibited from allowing prayer, Bible study, creationism, or abstinence-only education. In fact, a 2nd grader in Palmdale, California received a home visit from the police in 2016 after he brought Bible verses to school and handed them out at lunchtime. The 51 million students who attend public schools in the United States are taught from a perspective of secular humanism. Not only is God overlooked from the educational system, he is purposefully dissected from the heart of the educational process.
By age 7, Newsweek reported, most boys in the US say that they “hate” school. Taught in largely feminist environments, public school students are rewarded for traditional “girl behavior,” like sitting still and listening quietly, and they are punished for traditional “boy behavior,” such as being physically active, talkative, or competitive. Classroom management absorbs 65% of the school day. These stifling approaches limit students’ creativity and their love of learning. Not surprisingly, we are seeing a rapid decline in college enrollments for males, which has dropped 10% over the last decade. Whereas men were once represented 90% of the college roster, today, they represent only 40%. Women are now outperforming men in the workplace, and more women than men are listed as the “head of household” on US Census data. Instead of providing an academic system that nurtures individual styles of learning, the traditional sector of education has catered to a feminist approach that undermines male behavior and crushes the male spirit. Both boys and girls need individualized learning structures that cater to their needs and allow them to succeed—but not at the expense of one another.
Homeschooling provides parents with the option to direct what and how their children learn. Instead of an Industrial Era, one-size-fits-all approach, parents can tailor the coursework and the studies to their child’s individual learning style. When it’s done well, homeschooling creates a love of learning and a curiosity that fuels research and inquiry. My most successful college students are not necessarily those who are gifted, but those who are determined. Character plays a powerful role in success. Colleges and universities are now actively recruiting homeschoolers for their academic performance, their commitment to volunteerism, their social maturity, and their real-world experience.
Homeschooling is an opportunity to:
- Connect the hearts of parents and children in a wounded world
- Teach, train, and be transformed through a Christian worldview
- Invest wholeheartedly in family discipleship
- Reverse the trajectory of atheism budding in the public sector
- Protect, defend, and further the cause of Christianity, helping families fulfill the Great Commission
In his book Education for Human Flourishing, Dr. Paul Spears gives this charge:
“If Christians do little to deflect the view that theological and ethical assertions are merely parts of a tradition…then they inadvertently contribute to the marginalization of Christianity precisely because they fail to rebut the contemporary tendency to rob it of the very thing that gives it the authority necessary to prevent that marginalization, namely, its legitimate claim to give us moral and religious knowledge. Both in and out of the Church, Jesus has been lost as an intellectual authority, and Christian intellectuals should carry out their academic vocation in light of this fact.”
From our research and our experience, my husband and I believe that the homeschool model restores education to its healthiest and most spiritually productive location, the shoulders of the parents. We also strongly recommend a healthy Christian community to encourage and strengthen you on the journey. We have launched homeschool support programs at many churches, and we would be happy to help you get one started. If you would like to know more about the homeschool process, there are many federal, state, and local support systems. Feel free to contact me via the website contact page, and I will help you locate one near you.
The fruit of home education is irrefutable. Though it hasn’t always been easy, and we have had to stretch and learn and grow along the way as parents, homeschooling has given us an opportunity to train up our children in the way that they should go, fostering a love of learning and a commitment to God and family that we would likely not have experienced in other academic settings. We hope this blog encourages you to consider home education as a viable option for your family–or your future family. As the Psalmist wrote, “Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord.”