On Giants' Shoulders

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Failing to Pass the Torch

What this election season has demonstrated to me in stark colors is the fact that a prediction that Mike Farris made in The Teaching Home a couple decades ago is coming to naught. He was convinced that because homeschooling families were having more kids and that Christian homeschooling families were instilling their values that the culture was going to change and that by now we would "be winning.". What I am observing, at least among the homeschooled adults who were in our homeschool group, that to a very large extent what has happened is that the culture changed them. Their certainly are exceptions, and I cherish each and everyone of those exceptional people, but it has to break the heart of homeschooled moms to find that their daughters are reading Fifty Shades of Gray or putting rainbow flags on their profile picture. I am watching kids who grew up in pretty orthodox homes falling prey to the emergent church movement, or abandoning Christianity entirely.

 I honestly can't explain it. It's not what happened in our home, despite the fact that my kids socialized a lot with unchurched kids, and went to a secular university. I keep hoping that it's an anomaly among the population of first generation homeschoolers, but I've seen enough bloggers online from that community to recognize that isn't the case. The stricter the family, the more rigid the curriculum, the more it seems like their kids abandoned the faith entirely.

 I'm now watching a new batch of first generation homeschoolers who seem to believe that they can discipline their kids into following the faith and countering the culture. I continue to believe that it is more important to put kids in touch with the good, the true, and the beautiful, and to place relationships ahead of a rigid curriculum. I'm now watching my daughter look for a group of homeschoolers that are less rigid than the one she is in. She feels a group of unschoolers would be more accepting of her 'teaching from rest" approach than the group she is currently in where she's viewed as a bit odd. I know the feeling well, having been for much of my homeschool life a pariah to at least some of the Christian homeschoolers in our county because I did odd things like read John Holt, and occasionally serve wine at dinner. I got uninvited from the very first small group of homeschoolers I was in simply because I didn't use ACE curriculum and I was well aware that even in our far more accepting Christian homeschool group I was pretty widely regarded as liberal. I even got criticized for having my lit class kids read C.S. Lewis's space trilogy because it had "bad language" in it, despite the fact that it was one of the best indictments of current cultural trends out there. I have to say, that only one of the kids who read that trilogy has fallen by the wayside (and it wasn't the cape wearing rebel that everyone but me would have predicted). Most of them are solidly orthodox Christians of either a Protestant or Catholic stripe. 

A number of of the kids who fell by the wayside from our larger group were children from that very first homeschool small group that I got uninvited from, every single family lost at least one of their kids to the larger culture. I'm not at all saying that I got it all right, and they got it all wrong. I could outline for you exactly where I totally blew it. Some of their kids are faithful (although one family I'm thinking of has scored a four for four failure to pass the torch rate), I'm simply observing that Mike Farris's approach doesn't seem to have had the overall effect he predicted (whether it worked perfectly in the Farris family I have no idea).

 Somehow the public schools seem to have been much more effective in inculcating their message than many homeschool families have been. It was easier for them because the media was working hand in glove with them. It was easier for them because the path of least resistance is always easier. Passing on the torch to the next generation is a lot more difficult than Abeka teachers' guides made it look, but it sure looks to me like the kids who came out of homes where the teacher's guide was abandoned early in the game have ended up with more kids who have picked up the torch to pass it to the next generation. Those moms who homeschooled more with read alouds than with Abeka nit picky tests or ACE thermometers seem to have kids who are more apt to be following the faith. I'm thankful for friends who used Sonlight, or simply library books, and who dared to send their kids to my lit class, even when they questioned some of my selections, or considered my approach rather liberal. I'm thankful for the kids who eventually learned how not to change tense in the middle of a paragraph and learned to appreciate the wisdom of a C.S. Lewis in a world where the controllers are becoming more and more a problem.

 I wish Mike Farris had been right, it would be a happier situation if he had. However, we live in a generation where once again the words of Tertullian are proving to be true: "the blood of the martyrs are the seed of the Church." Muslims are converting in places where Christians have been killed, exactly as they did in ancient Rome. Sadly, some of our children have chosen to side with the culture, even some of our children who still sit in pews every Sunday morning because the pews that they sit in are in churches who have also chosen to side with the culture. It may, sadly, take real persecution to help them see the truth and beauty of what their parents tried to teach them. I wish Mike Farris had been right in his prediction, but I suspect that he was wrong in his prediction precisely because vehicles like The Teaching Home were wrong in the approach that they were advocating. Right at the point that I got uninvited from that ACE dominated group I discovered a book called For The Children's Sake that showed me that I wasn't crazy, that you could both be Christian and homeschool your children in a manner that truly respected them as persons. These days I still recommend that book, but there are two newer ones that I recommend as well" A Little Way of Homeschooling, and Teaching From Rest. They are the books I wish I'd had to read when I was 37 instead of 67. The authors of those books have discovered all the good things I did, but they've discovered some things I didn't. I'm just sorry that there is a whole new batch of first generation homeschoolers that are falling into some of the same  traps that many of my fellow homeschooling moms fell into.

Don't get me wrong. These were good families. They loved their kids. They wanted to do right by them. These were moms who sacrificed careers and lifestyles in order to be home with their kids. They drove their kids all over the place to co-op classes, to ski lessons, to field trips. They paid out of pocket for things the public schools provided for free. They were really and truly trying to do the best. They simply got sold a bill of goods by people whose idea of education was rooted in a philosophy that saw children as basically corrupt, instead of one that really listened to the teachings of Jesus, "let the little ones come to me."

One of the things I observed was that there was little joy in that type of education. There was a lot of discipline, but not a lot of enjoyment of learning. In Teaching From Rest, the author asks how we would like our adult children to describe their homeschooling experience. I actually know how my adult daughter described it.  Someone asked her when she was in college what it was like being homeschooled. Her memory was this " We got up in the morning and mom made cocoa and muffins and we sat on the couch and ate while she read aloud to us." One of her friends said that homeschooling sounded like school with all the bad parts left out. That's what I hope they remember. I hope they don't remember fights over math sheets. For us there was for years a lot of pressure to complete a certain amount of stuff for the dreaded portfolio. These days, people have portfolios that are much slimmer, and there's a real recognition that not every kid moves in lockstep at every grade level. They may make big strides this year in math and next year in reading, and the year after that in writing. They may spell horribly at 18 and by 21 be the best speller in the family by far. They may hate history and geography until they discover the joys of it while teaching their own kids. 

At the end of the day we aren't teaching curriculum, we are teaching children. So much of what got thrown at our generation of homeschooling mothers was all about curriculum. It was hard to buck that and sit on the couch and read. The good, the true, the beautiful,  really giving them a Christian worldview that they hold clear down to their bones, that was the goal. It was supported by Tolkien, and Lewis, by Stephen Lawhead,, Dorothy Sayers, and Madeline L'Engle. It was nourished ultimately by Chesterton, and the early Church fathers. None of that, not one single little bit of that was encouraged by Abeka or Bob Jones University Press, or The Teaching Home. I only know that when my daughter talked about what formed her Christian worldview a couple of summers ago there wasn't one canned textbook on her list of influences. I'm not totally opposed to canned textbooks. If we use them like our servants instead of our masters, they can prove useful in moderation. The problem as I see it is that too much of the time the books, and all to frequently the correspondence school that may be providing them, becomes the master in our homes. Their interest is in curriculum, not in the child who is in front of the parent. When the assignments become overwhelming for both parent and child, when there is no longer time for the read aloud books, or nature walks, or an afternoon cooking in the kitchen together, than something has gone horribly, horribly wrong. I would really encourage this generation of homeschooling families to read Teaching From Rest. The author puts the whole thing much more eloquently than I have.  I hope that Mike Farris's prediction eventually does come true, and that eventually families do pass the torch in such a manner that their kids can explain the hope that they have in them to those who are currently without hope at all. Teaching from rest, teaching with joy, may have a large part in that.

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