The Pendulum Justification: Part 1

976717_458665630884154_1497325775_oNote from Sheree:  Today and tomorrow my youngest son, Jake, will be guest posting. He is currently in Law School at the University of Florida and loves a good argument. I’m assuming this post may start one and we welcome your comments. Jake and Sarah will be getting married in December; Benny and I are excited about welcoming another New Girl into our family!

There are plenty of good reasons to send your kids to public school.  Offhand, I thought of several:

  • Personal finances require that both parents work full-time, and thus neither homeschooling (time) nor an actually good private school (money) are feasible
  • Your district’s public school is fantastic and welcomes parental involvement
  • Your child is the George Whitefield of elementary school.  Conversions are breaking out in school and your child’s explosive evangelistic talents would be wasted on his or her (already saved) siblings.  With a little more grooming and a dash more Jonathan Edwards reading, your child’s public high school will turn into half school/half revival meeting.

However, there is a growing trend of justifying the decision to send kids to public school by what I think is a very poor reason.  It’s the age-old Pendulum Justification (okay, I admit I made that phrase up) and it’s as expansive as it is overused.  That is, the Pendulum Justification is used in many categories (not just educational choices) but its growing use in conservative Christian circles is somewhat troubling, in my (humble) opinion.

With my thesis out of the way, let me ruin what could have been a well-constructed essay (that was a joke) by building some bridges.  My point here is to critique the Pendulum Justification as a reason for doing anything, not to criticize public schooling per se.  If I wanted to critique the decision to use public education in and of itself, this would be a lot more about how increasingly inferior public education is in the United States today, even in the opinion of many educators in the system.  If you’re in one of those amazing neighborhoods with a great school where your kids are thriving socially and academically, I’m sincerely glad for you. But as Joey said yesterday, exceptions are just that.  Exceptions. Obviously public school is a perfectly viable and even preferable option for plenty of people.  Please don’t read this post as me (or my parents) communicating a categorical denial of the worth of public school education. We know people whose kids have been or are in public school due to parents believing this is the best choice for their family, and we support them. The Pendulum Justification, however, is a terrible reason (by itself) to do anything; I’m using public schooling as a case study.

The Pendulum Justification goes something like this: “you know <spouse/friend/self>, maybe we need to rethink some things.  Maybe the previous generation and those in the current generation who behave a lot like the previous generation got it wrong.  I mean, sure, they have some good ideas and they were probably trying to please God, but maybe they took some good ideas to the extreme.  <Sips alcohol because, you know, freedom> Maybe the pendulum has swung too far in one direction, so we should decide to do X because we can think for ourselves and need to help bring that pendulum to the moderate middle.”  Don’t we hear and use this all the time? The pendulum swings back and forth at various times, culturally and personally.  But we, at least this time, are going to be reasonable.  We aren’t going to get caught up in the momentum of everyone around us.  We aren’t going to let taking a certain position define us as Christians.

I would argue that there are two reasons, one general and one specific to homeschooling, why the Pendulum Justification is wrong.

Generally, the Pendulum Justification is wrong because whether its analysis of a specific issue is true doesn’t tell us anything about the relative moral worth of the decision.  For instance, the previous generation made a lot of strides in areas of race relations; are we going to all go join the KKK or the Black Panthers to try to balance the pendulum of racial reconciliation? On the other hand, there might be some areas where the previous generation really has gone too far and the Bible would mandate pulling back from the position as a church, family or society.  But the mere fact that those older than us have a position different from most of the world today – or  different from those before them — is not necessarily a bad or good thing.  The fact that the pendulum has swung in one direction does not mean we should try to swing it back.

The problem is that not too many people love a fanatic.  There’s a reason why Ron Paul never had a chance to be president.  However, the Bible has some pretty fantastic things to say and requires a pretty fanatical way of life.  And it seems that when we use the Pendulum Justification, we aren’t making an argument that a certain position is wrong so much as we are saying that we don’t like the people that hold that particular position.  Maybe we don’t have a hard-set conviction against drinking and gambling so much as we just don’t like drinkers and gamblers.  Perhaps we don’t really have a problem with homeschooling as much as we don’t much like some of those who homeschool.  We end up sounding like whoever made up the quote “I loved Christianity until I met Christians” and then attributed it to Gandhi.

We should do things or not do things because they are or are not biblical.  We should do things because God is calling us to do them, or vice versa.  And so on and so forth.  But we shouldn’t do things or not do things to balance any swinging pendulum.  Sometimes God has called us to do things that are crazy, weird and that don’t make sense to us or to the world.  The mere fact that previous generations have swung the pendulum in a certain direction doesn’t tell us anything about whether that is the direction we should be going.

Specifically, the Pendulum Justification is a poor reason to send your kids to public school because, well, it’s not true.  The idea that our parents (or the parents of our friends who were mostly homeschooled) got the whole “homeschooling thing” wrong — or went a little too far in their distrust of the world/government and became psycho Little House on the Prairie wannabe’s — is just an historically false (and kind of silly) way to think.

There’s still more of world history in which homeschooling was the only option than not.  Public education wasn’t even a thing in the U.S. until the 19th century, and even then it’s hard to call it public education because it had no federal or even state involvement.  It was more of what we would call a co-op.  Public education didn’t exist as we know it today until the middle of the 20th century.  If anything, it was people who lived in the post-World War II era up until the late 70’s that were the radicals.  Our homeschooling parents were the moderates, swinging the pendulum closer to where it had existed for all of history.  It is simply false to think that homeschooling was something that people in the generation right before us came up with.

That’s not, of course, a defense for why homeschooling is better than public school.  After all, the 20th century led to plenty of things that were both new and better.  And maybe the modern public school system was one of those things.  But let’s just remember that the idea of government-mandated and government-run education was considered the radical idea not too long ago.  If your reason for not homeschooling is because “maybe our Christian circle has been getting it wrong” well, maybe the ones getting caught up in the momentum of those around them aren’t the ones who are homeschooling.

As I said before, there are plenty of good reasons to send your kids to public school.  But don’t send your kids to public school because you’re pretending that homeschooling was cooked up in our parents basements using the embers of their burnt Rolling Stones albums as part of a hippie, Jesus Movement overreach as they sang Keith Green and avoided watching Charlie’s Angels.  Doing so merely means that you are avoiding the lessons of history…and avoiding history is the exclusive domain of public school elementary students.

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