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.

Bites and Hair Pulls Now: Friends Later

This is my oldest daughter, Jaime, with PJ and their adorable kids. Jaime is guest posting today as I continue a series on sibling relationships.

I have always said I should have been born first.  Instead, I was the second of seven. This meant that once I got old enough to babysit I did the cooking and cleaning; bathed the little ones; and was the one who reported to Mom and Dad when they got home, but Josh was still “in charge”.  He loved bossing me around until I was an early teen – that’s when I grew taller, stronger, and more athletic than him. (All of which he’ll probably comment on at some point, but believe me instead.)

Hey, we’re only 9 and 10 here…so certainly I out grew him soon after this! I’ve always loved my big brother!

But I am not here to talk about Josh’s past nightmares and bitterness but about how my parents did their part to help us kids to love each other.

I used to hear my mom introduce us as her “liter” at times.   She would laugh about how we all had to do everything together and never wanted to be alone.  I thought she was crazy since, at that time, all I wanted was to be alone. I idolized my neighbor friend, Christina, who was an only child who had her own room; daydreamed about what it would be like to not have Janelle tagging along and breaking everything I owned; wished I didn’t have to worry about Jesse saying something strange and embarrassing me in front of friends or total strangers; and resented Josh being the boss when I did all the work.

The reality is, Mom was right.  (She loves it when we say that!) Regardless of the moments when I craved solitude or sinless siblings, I wanted them around. This became most clear to me when I got married.  I found myself still going to pick up a kid or two to go to a movie, the playground or the grocery store.

The age gap lessened and now they really are my friends.

How did this happen?

First, we were homeschooled.  (Disclaimer:  I do not believe that you have to be homeschooled to have good sibling relationships or that homeschooling is for everyone. I am only sharing ways my parents instilled a love for each other in our particular family.)

Back when my parents started homeschooling there no homeschool co-ops and they knew only one other family in our entire county who was homeschooling. (No, we didn’t live in the hills of West Virginia but in suburban Washington, DC.)  Our “socialization” come from each other.  We were the basketball, front-yard soccer and street hockey teams; study partners; tutors; field trip partners and debate team competitors.  This created an environment where we had to rely on each other for friendship that other kids could easily find elsewhere.  Although annoying at times, and something I sometimes greatly disliked, I am grateful to be one of those rare people who is still best friends with those I went to school with.

Second, like Jake said on Friday, mom forced us to pursue reconciliation and and to ask each other’s forgiveness. That’s right, she literally forced us to apologize to each other. And she didn’t just make us apologize but also had us look at each other’s eyes and hug one another! Although that may sound like it was “fake” or wrong because it was mere outward behavior, it created in us the habit of righting wrongs.  Yes, at 14, when I had to apologize to 8-year-old Janelle (again) for yelling at her, my heart was not all there.  I may have been faking my regret, but I was developing a habit of going back and admitting I was wrong.  And Missy was developing a habit of practicing forgiveness. Regardless of what was going on my heart at 14, or 10, or 4, that habit turned into a conviction. Now I pretty routinely go back and ask for forgiveness when I have wronged somebody – even if I still don’t feel like it. In the process of asking my siblings for forgiveness hundreds of times, we  learned that having a tender conscience resulted in realizing we really did love one another enough to “get right” with one another. Over the years I learned my siblings not only know me best but were the first to genuinely forgive me – even and especially when my weakness and sin hurt them badly.

I may not have had the full regret and remorse of my actions at 14, but at 18 my actions rocked my sibling’s world; yet they were eagerly waiting to forgive me.  That heart continues. Last week I reacted impatiently and harshly to my brother, Joey. When I called to work things out with him he responded with,“I know you and knew we were already fine before this call.”  We may not have been so quickly “fine” as young children, but the practice of having to humble ourselves and be reconciled (at least on the outside) — instilled in us by my parents as young children – means now that we’re adults an apology isn’t even always required to forgive one another.

Through the many trials through which our family as walked, many people came and went. I’ve learned (the hard way at times) to rely on God, my parents, and my siblings…no matter what.  The trials were small when we were young (like having to share a room with my little sister) but as the trials have grown we now run to each other to reconcile.

Finally, and what might sound a little strange, is this: my parents told us to be and act like friends.  I can’t count the number of times we had conversations about the importance of friendship with our brothers and sisters.  As Mom has mentioned, she learned this from my Nannie and her siblings.  I hated the “I dream that someday you and Missy will be friends so you need to start treating her like one now” comments. I listened politely but argued in my heart. Yet, it had an affect.  I was a mean sister to her. But even when I thought I had damaged my relationship with Janelle too much, I had a glimmer of hope because Mom said it could happen.

Biting and hair pulling? These two cuties? Yep! But they do love each other.

After a recent fight between my two youngest girls (ages 4 and 6) I sat them down to talk. One had bit her sister, and the other retaliated by pulling her sister’s hair.  They were both crying and giving each other mean stares.  I asked them if their Aunt Nelly and Mommy were friends.  6-year-old Anniston said, “Yes, like best friends or something.”  “Yes, we are. But when I was your age I didn’t like Nelly. She drove Mama crazy and I wanted to bite her and pull her hair.”  They both stared at me with wide-eyed shock. I explained to them that they could be best friends when they grew up, were going to love each other so much and needed to treat each other kindly now because of that.  Afterwards, I “forced” them to ask forgiveness.  🙂

She loves to hear him come into her house...

Recently he surprised me by driving back from law school late one night…I love it when I hear him come through the door.

Days later I heard Danae tell someone that Annie would be her best friend. I smiled. I smile when I hear Kayla say the same unkind things to Annie that I did to Janelle or treat Wyatt the same way I treated Jesse.  Why does this make me smile?  Because I know that they are getting to know each other. They will know each other’s shortcomings more than anyone else. I smile more when I see them playing basketball out front together, or watch Kayla help Wyatt with math, or listen to one of them try to convince everyone to get in to pool because it’s more fun to all be together. I hear Mom in my own voice when I explain to Kayla that Wyatt is way younger than her now — but someday she will probably get really excited when she hears the front door open and realize it’s him coming over to talk about politics or sports or to watch a show with her. Yeah. Like when our hearts jump because Uncle Jakey just walked in.

My husband, an only child, now benefits from the relationship with my brothers and sisters as well.  They are his brothers and sisters and his best friends, too. I’m thankful that Mom and Dad homeschooled us, forced us to forgive (and love each other at times), and told us to be friends. Although it was certainly annoying as a child, I am now annoying my own children with faith that one day the first person they call when something annoying, happy, sad, devastating, or just random and funny happens is one of their siblings.