Orthodox America


  Thoughts about Homeschooling


      People are generally called intelligent through a wrong use of this word. The intelligent are not those who have studied the sayings and writings of the wise men of old, but those whose soul is intelligent, who can judge what is good and what evil; they avoid what is evil and harms the soul and intelligently care for and practice what is good and profits the soul, greatly thanking God. It is these alone who should properly be called intelligent. -- Saint Anthony the Great Early Fathers from the Philokalia,  Faber & Faber, 1973, page 21

 

From the beginning of our marriage and during courtship, my wife and I discussed our concerns about the breakdown in marriage and family life. We scrutinized our own childhood experiences with our parents and brothers and sisters, their subsequent marriages and our own fears, values and commitments. We were most concerned that our family be God-centered. We saw as specific threats to our family a value system that requires maximizing material successes. We also saw the public schools as a potential threat to our home life---the long hours, the bus rides, the values clarification, the atheism and the peer groups. We thought we would like to educate the children at home. This meant, of course, more time at home for both of us and some material and financial sacrifices. We have been home schooling now for nearly thirteen years, since the birth of our first child.

       Now home schooling has gained tremendous support nationwide and presents a substantial threat to the public schools in some areas, causing them to upgrade their activities and programs and to lend a newly listening ear to parents who insist on improvements. In our own state, home schoolers have increased in number nearly ten-fold in the last ten years. In the Russian Church Abroad, some of our own hierarchs have stepped out boldly to endorse home schooling as not only an alternative to public schools, but as a MUST in order to maintain an orthodox perspective on life.

      When we had first come to our parish, many of the older parishioners expressed real concerns about our children not being in public schools. Now, however, the prevailing comment is totally in support of home schooling, and of our keeping the children out of the public school. We have heard many concerns about home schooling, and questioned ourselves thoroughly on these concerns, and discussed some of them at length. The most frequently repeated concern is about socialization for the children. The other concern is about our ability to teach advanced subjects to our children.

      At first glance the concern about socialization seems valid. However, in most homes this is not a problem. 'First of all, we have an active family life and communicate freely with one another. Secondly, we are in Church and there our children's friends vary widely in age, experience, and culture, but have a common Orthodox Christian foundation. Thirdly, the children are in town and in the stores and libraries and circulate successfully, without the aid of the "socialization" of a public school. The image of the children in the Laura Ingalls Wilder series rises to mind frequently, as well as all the pioneer and missionary children in the world. They tend to do well, even though they may only see other children who share their own values and culture infrequently.

      The concern about our ability to educate our children is also valid, but the history of home schooling shows the home to often be a healthier learning environment than the classroom. Every parent is a natural teacher. However, parents cannot teach all things. We, personally, certainly cannot do all of it. For reading, we didn't need to teach our children to read; we only supported their efforts and they are fine readers. For math it has been the same. For history, biography, literature and science, the children are avid readers and gobble it up whether it is "assigned" or is for their own free reading pleasure. Of the more involved academic skills, we cannot really say from personal experience since our oldest child just turned twelve this year, but home school literature shows that home schoolers in general achieve their academic goals using a variety of resources other than the public school classroom that are available to the average family. There are the books available in nearly every subject. We have friends and neighbors in just about every major field of study who can often lend a hand to eager young learners. Recent statistics show that home schooled children as a whole score very highly on SAT exams.

      But these questions and concerns do not address our primary concerns as Orthodox Christian parents in the education of our children. Our primary concern for our children is that they learn to love God, to know God, and learn to love their neighbor as their own selves. This is the foundation of our home, and everything that is taught in our home despite our many shortcomings and fails. But something else altogether lies at the foundation of the public education system. It is not the spirit of God that breathes through the curriculum, but the spirit of Antichrist. The public school has become the channel for much subtle (and at times, very overt) and skillful persecution of the Christian Faith. The public school has also become the government tool for social and moral reform, most of which is distinctly new-age, relativistic and humanistic in spirit. This is of Antichrist. This spirit is a direct threat to our society and to our children. Of course, it is not only indigenous to the public school; it permeates every corner of public life. Our children are very vulnerable and impressionable and we have chosen to not submit them to forty or more hours of exposure at these tender ages to this anti-christian environment that threatens the very foundation of the Christian faith, and constantly pits its authority and the opinion of the "peer group" against our authority and that of the Church.

      It would be very convenient to use the public schools to provide our children with a basic education. But they seem dedicated to destroying our primary educational goals, rendering this morally indefensible for us. If, in the process of home schooling, our children do not have access to the latest lab equipment, advanced training in team sports, and opportunities to play in orchestras, or perform on stage, then so be it! These small deprivations are the least of our worries. If home schooling means added stress, financial sacrifice and a very, very full schedule, so be it! In the former Soviet Union, to even be known as a Christian was to severely limit the educational, economic and job opportunities of the individual, and could, at times, lead to imprisonment-even death. We are exceedingly grateful to God and our neighbor that we are able to home school in a manner that is obedient to conscience without persecution! We feel called upon to make these small sacrifices now by recoiling from a system that is so dedicated to its anti-christian work.

Priest Chad Williams

 


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