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.

Covered Wagons and Bumps in the Road

Google image Image ID: 403795

My post on my retirement from home schooling yesterday stirred some wonderful memories and sweet contact from people. I was intrigued by a question someone asked me about why some home schooling moms today seem to lack the joy of teaching their children at home that they remembered in their own home growing up. (If it came from one of my kids, they certainly would have been sporting a selective memory!)

When those of us in what is referred to as the first generation of modern home schoolers started down this road in the late 70’s and early 80’s, a part of the fuel that energized us was that we were pioneers. We had all been educated in public schools and were looking for an alternative for our children. (Again, please know that I am not criticizing readers who have chosen this route for your own children…it could be the right choice for your family!)

Pioneering isn’t for everyone. During westward expansion, I’m sure there were lots of really wise women who chose not to hop in covered wagons to set out to an unknown territory to face dangers about which they had only heard. In fact, remaining in the comfort of their homes was probably the envy of all who chose otherwise!

When we decided to home school “for one year” in 1983, we had two curriculum choices; regularly reminded our kids how to graciously respond to eyebrow-raised questions about why they were at the grocery store with Mommy rather than in school; worked hard to convince friends and relatives that I could actually teach them to read and add; and prayed that we wouldn’t be have “what in the world were we thinking???” regrets someday when our kids couldn’t get into college or support our grandchildren. Now, educating children at home is the fastest growing education choice in the country, according to the National Center for Education Studies, with a whopping 2 million children being taught at home.

Our home school covered wagon had it’s share of scary situations along the way. The first year of Josh’s standardized testing was when I realized that I — not he — was actually the one being evaluated. Then there was the money wasted on colorful looking workbooks we never got to and curriculum that didn’t work out. And I can still remember the day about 3 years into our journey when baby number five was on the way and Benny came home to a crying wife saying, “I cannot and will not do this anymore!” I was ready to pack up the wagon and head back east!

Then something happened.

Too often our love of ease and comfort tempts us to too quickly give up when obstacles line our path. A toddler throws a puzzle piece across the room when they can’t get it to fit on the first try. A new reader feels “stupid” because he can’t read as well as his older sister overnight. A teen walks away from a longtime friendship rather than take the risk of trying to work things out. A dad quits another job because of relational conflicts with a boss.

Or a home schooling mom gives up when the weariness or ingratitude or jealousy of watching friends who have more flexible schedules set in.

The crying wife Benny came home to that day was all of those and more. Weary. Feeling unappreciated. Jealous. But I was also facing the normal obstacles that line every path of every life in every season. Babies fall but get back up and try to walk again. Kids keep trying until they can finally ride their two-wheeler. High school students apply to college after college until an acceptance letter comes. Devoted spouses choose to overlook yet again, rather than camp on the road of bitterness and withdrawal. You and everyone you know is facing challenging situations that need grace and wisdom.

I don’t remember specifically how I worked through my “I can’t home school anymore” crisis. Should God have led us to put our children into a structured school, it would have been fine for me to stop then. But I knew in my heart that God was leading our family through my husband to persevere. He didn’t “make” me. I am blessed to have a husband who takes my thoughts and counsel seriously, and he certainly wouldn’t have wanted me to be miserable in our covered wagon.

What I do remember is experiencing the grace of God to follow my husband. It was his idea to start homeschooling in the first place. (I’ve laughed with other home school moms about how the guys who leave home every day have such faith for us to be at home teaching their kids!) And it was his desire for us to continue heading west. He didn’t communicate it strongly or in a way that obligated me. But I knew.

My biblical paradigm informed my conscience that unless my husband was asking or expecting me to sin I needed to trust in God’s loving and sovereign plan. He chose Benny and me to be married. He knew we would have a bunch of kids close together. He ordained my life and had brought me to a place of desperation, weakness and the normal weariness of life with small children.

Joy came when I looked up. God was at work. He was in charge! And the path to which He had called me came with a promise of strength and grace. I had been created and called to orient my life to the man He had given me and to have faith that my obedience would be met with His every promise of help.

Obstacles are meant to be overcome. Imagine the consequences of women not having the courage and perseverance to get back into their wagons when disease, delays or discouragement tempted them to turn back.

Charles Spurgeon said, “Many men owe the grandeur of their lives to their tremendous difficulties.” Amen. I owe the privilege of home schooling my kids to the power God provided to persevere through the daily challenges our education choice brought.

They use to sit around the dining room table doing school. Now they’re adults who are all taller than me! (Pictured here at Janelle’s wedding in May 2011.)

My prayer is that young moms who are considering or who are already on the road of home schooling will find joy there. Joy in being the one to teach your toddler to sound out his first sentence or watch the look on his face when it clicks that 2 plus 4 is always 6. Joy in having your oldest offer to do a math lesson with her younger sibling because it makes her feel smart and needed. Joy in getting those standardized scores back and knowing you did a really good job this school year. And joy…lots of joy…when they finally get old enough to come back and say, “Thanks, Mom.”

I was a pioneer. You can be, too. Having joy in whatever season we find ourselves in is taking the road less traveled. I think joyful home schooling in the midst of all the challenges could be the road west for today’s home schooling moms.

A friend asked me recently what my life will look like now after decades of home schooling.  I’m not sure. But I’m thinking it will involve another covered wagon.

I still want to be a pioneer.

My Retirement Snuck Up on Me

The Class of 2012
(Mostly Home Schooled)

I’m interrupting my series on homemaking to share some personal thoughts about my weekend. Last Saturday I moved the final tassel from right to left at a child’s graduation from high school.

Graduation day is a memorable one for all moms. Whatever your schooling choice, moms sacrifice in various ways to see that day come: helping with homework, spending countless hours carpooling to school and sports activities, shopping for clothes and supplies, reminding about assignments, worrying about test scores…the list goes on.

As a home schooler, though, last weekend was especially meaningful because it brought nearly 30 years of teaching my children at home to an end. Every parent is a home educator. We all teach our kids to walk, talk, be respectful, clean their rooms and not talk with food in their mouths. We impart to them our values, train them not to cross the street without looking both ways, sit up late with them while they study, and warn them about the dangers of choosing the wrong friends. So if you’re not homeschooling, please don’t read this (and other) posts I write about my experiences teaching my kids at home as a suggestion that you’re not teaching yours, too.  You are!

A themed “Hollywood” party started off their fun weekend.

The thing I’ve been able to do is have more time with my kids than if they were in school elsewhere all day.

The fact that my adult children are smart and have good jobs after getting post-high school educations without debt makes me smile.

Because in some ways, I really wasn’t a great homeschooler. I only built one baking soda volcano and it didn’t work. While my fun homeschooling friends were forming letters by strategically placing pillows on the floor to teach their toddlers the alphabet, I got colorful refrigerator magnet letters that ended up…well…I don’t know where. So my kids learned their letters with boring ‘ol pencil and paper.   And the only math game I remember having was the box of timetable flashcards Lady got ahold of when she was a puppy.

As last Saturday was approaching, I grew increasingly sentimental. A part of me certainly shared the relief of friends who celebrated when years of the daily grind of homeschooling came to an end. However, my retirement from home schooling snuck up on me and most of me isn’t glad it’s over.

My memories have been going to places like:

  • Having morning devotions that ended with watching my kids pray for each other…or with them having to ask forgiveness for irritating or being unkind to one another. Smile. Either was a meaningful end to our time with the Lord together.

    Our baby girl is now a beautiful young woman…inside and out.

  • Re-enacting a Civil War battle after lunch in the woods near Bull Run using bananas as weapons.
  • Listening to Jaime teaching little Jake to read from the other room while I went over a math lesson with Jesse.
  • Inviting a bunch of the kid’s friends for sleepovers when a snowstorm was approaching so tomorrow’s math could be learning fractions while measuring out cookie dough ingredients and doing P.E. by sledding down the hill on Shiplett Boulevard.
  • Rejoicing over Janelle sounding out her very first sentence all herself.
  • Seeing Benny’s eyes glisten when the kids recited chunks of scripture as their gift to him one Father’s Day.
  • Discovering tall, teenaged Josh asleep with baby Julia on his chest when he was supposed to be writing a English paper.
  • Using “The Peacemaker for Kids” to help the kids avoid the “slippery slope” of insisting on their own way, faking peace instead of making peace, and refusing to forgive me and each other from the heart.
  • Interrupting school to surprise them with a packed cooler in the van just waiting for us to have lunch and shoot baskets at Van Dyke Park.

And then came Julia.

When we brought her home from the hospital when Benny and I were 40, we drove  home amazed at such a gift — and laughing about how we would “be almost 60 years old before she graduates high school!!”  But that was so far away back then!  Benny joked that a big reason why I wanted to adopt this little sweetheart was to extend my home schooling years. The wife he begged to do this “just for one year” in 1983 had turned into a homeschool-loving, American history-teaching, field trip-planning mom-turned-teacher who got ridiculously excited when UPS showed up with next fall’s books.

I can still almost smell them.

Having a blast with my new photography hobby! Love this pic…and this girl.

Oh, I had my bad days. My kids can tell you about them. I’m sure a part of each of them was glad when their “no more pencils, no more books, no more Mom’s dirty looks” graduation day came!

But my memories of home schooling are full of laughs and tender moments and the joy of folding laundry while overhearing Jesse and Joey arguing about how many points Josh scored in his last game or Jake reciting the order of Old Testament books (Job, Psalms, Problems!).

So thank you, Julia. There are many reasons for which I’m grateful God brought you into our family. But, yeah, one of them is because I got to home school for five more years than I would have otherwise.