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Volume 16, Issue 3: Childer

Parents or Social Engineers?

Douglas Wilson

Americans love fads, and when it comes to ideological fads we are no different. Of course, fads involve changing—first this way, and then that. While it does not follow from this that all change is the necessary result of faddishness, we should remember that fads do introduce change, often in the form of the sudden, impulsive lurch.

If a man wanted to plant a vegetable garden using the latest fad fertilizer, he is risking nothing more than next year's supply of cabbages. But if he wants to try the latest thing in ecology-friendly house-building, and forgoes the concrete in building his foundation, then his house will fall down in the storm, and great will be the fall of it (Matt. 7: 27). Moving upward, an even greater risk with fad-dabbling occurs when a man's children are involved. And yet many parents will try any new thing with their children, as though they were just so many cabbages.
But children are not at all like cabbages. If something does not work out, it is not possible to try something else next spring, starting the whole thing over. Of course it is possible to change whatever it is you are doing with them, but what you did is forever part of that child's story.
The first five years of a child's life are foundational. And if a child doesn't learn to read properly at the appropriate age, he will likely struggle with that problem for the rest of his life. The elementary years of a child's education are crucial—a host of prerequisites are established, without which a child will spend a good deal of the rest of his education in a state of bewilderment.
This is often granted in principle. "Yes, of course, prerequisites are necessary. Yes, of course, the early years are important." And so on. But then the means selected by many parents to impart what everyone acknowledges as necessary are often nothing more than some bright ideas cooked up by some fad-monger the day before yesterday. Lord Falklands once articulated the heart of conservatism when he said that when it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change. This principle is a wise one when it comes to bringing up children. If we are resolved to do something "different" with our kids, then we should have well-grounded reasons for doing so. And that ground is the ground of Scripture.
When Christian parents en masse began pulling their children out of the secular, government schools, they were certainly doing something "different." That was not how they had been brought up. Many times the difference was so stark that other members of the family thought they had lost their minds. The public schools were the American way, and so on. But given what Scripture teaches about the necessity of Christian education, this was a necessary change. It was often the same with home schooling as a choice. There were no godly schools available, or there were other pressing reasons that made home schooling a necessary choice.
But fads intrude wherever we go. Home schooling is not a necessary choice because schools as an institution are somehow "a Prussian invention from the nineteenth century designed to lead children into atheism." Rather, institutional schools have been used as an instrument of nurture by covenant parents since Ezra came back with the rest of the Jews from Babylon, and they have been used this way down to the present. That is approximately two thousand five hundred years of covenant history, and leave it to American Christians to not know anything about it. We drink grape juice in communion services too. Schools are no fad; they are not some recent innovation. It is in the highest degree likely that Jesus, and all His apostles, went to such covenant schools.
Nevertheless, in periods of decline and deformation in a culture, schools necessarily participate in this decline. And it is in such situations that godly parents will educate their children at home rather than turn them over to someone else (who wants the corruption to be accomplished with greater ease at some central location). But the problem in this scenario is the corruption, not the fact that the corruption was being adminstered by a hired teacher at a school. If we found out that the au pair was poisoning the children's breakfast porridge, we should remonstrate with her over the poison, not over the fact that she had been hired to help with the kids.
Home schooling is often a godly choice, and in our day it is frequently the only godly choice. But homeschooling when pursued as an ideological fad is nevertheless extremely dangerous. Whenever there is a commitment to any ideological fad, the scriptural, historical, and educational facts do not matter anymore. The modern experiment on the children must continue, and all in the name of what seemed like a good idea at the time.
The tragedy is that the results of what happens whenever unteachable people set themselves up as teachers is entirely predictable, and can plainly be seen twenty years later as their former pupils struggle with the simplest of tasks. And few things are more offensive than to see the old and proud rob the young and helpless.

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