Years ago, in the enthusiasm for both “modernity” and “efficiency” (pertaining to public education), the classics were abandoned for content. Teaching methods embraced the ideals that demanded a “liberation” from the old, antiquated (and soon to be labeled wholesale as “politically incorrect”) ways of equipping children to be wise and virtuous men and women. The litany of replacements has come and gone. The search for comparable alternatives to classical education have run the gamut through the years but one after another failing to replicate the success of what used to simply be known for centuries as an education. Currently the emphasis is almost entirely consumed by generalized testing in the breadth of trivial knowledge (in its modern sense) rather than the depth of a few basic subject areas. This was the strength and practical wisdom of the seven liberal arts. The trivium (grammar, logic, rhetoric) grounded students in the basics of language, the heart of effective communication, beginning with fundamentals and advancing to the more difficult subjects within in logic and rhetoric. The quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, musical theory) trained the student in mathematical thought, and disciplined precision. All together, the liberal arts prepared the student for the rigorous study of philosophy and theology (with history featuring a prominent and rich place in the school, originally equivalent with the home).
In the haste to turn out students or “products” who are informed of what is deemed acceptable to know, conclude, think, and most of all, say, the wholesome and developmental standards that once characterized most public schools are now distant memories. Those who still fondly recall the higher quality of education growing up in past generations equates such recollections to the classical methods of instruction which now are barely found in public classrooms today. C. S. Lewis took the role of classics in the public classroom one step further when he stated that, “In those days a boy on the classical side officially did almost nothing but classics. I think this was wise; the greatest service we can do for education today is to teach few subjects. No one has time to do more than a very few things well before he is twenty, and when we force a boy to be a mediocrity in a dozen subjects we destroy his standards, perhaps for life.”
Those who attempt to claim “homeschoolers” are backward, non-socialized misfits have clearly never met one in person. The current “average” public-educated student, raised daily by peers, seems discouragingly stalled by apathy, behavioral immaturity, and an intellectual and social stunting. Whereas when one observes a “typical homeschooler” converse with all ages, relate with human interest in all its diverse elements, and apply themselves with exceptional results to practical and academic pursuits, any observer quickly identifies an educational contrast as stark as night and day or life and death.
Educated in both the public and home schooling environments, I have seen the difference firsthand. I, like Thomas Jefferson before me, have supreme gratitude for those who imparted the treasure of classical education to my mind and spirit, the earthen vessel in which I dwell. Education as it once instructed how to reason not what to conclude. It encouraged questions, provoked investigation, challenged presuppositions, and tested assumptions beyond the examination of one’s knowledge. It tested the whole individual because each of us is more than a collection of many atoms. This public educational system from generations past, and the current homeschool paradigm, uses dialectic methods to embrace a process of lifelong learning rather than fostering a lifelong loyalty to a specific political or social outcome indoctrinated through the classroom. Most importantly, the classical-based former public education system did not fragment the world into isolated, specialized pieces handled as unrelated and incomprehensible to the whole. Public educational systems from past generations taught the comprehensive and interconnected nature of knowledge, that understanding the “big picture” was both attainable and desirable. This was not to master the minutiae for trivial testing (to then be mentally dumped after the test) but to equip the person for a lifetime, preparing the soul, maturing the spirit, growing the mind, and fortifying the body.
I went through school at a time and place during a time when backers of political correctness were vying for a place in the classroom (at least in our area), and as a result, my family became one of the early pioneer families in the region to take on homeschooling. We did not have nearly the quantity of resources now available in the home school movement today. Yet, we took it on, stepped forward into uncharted territory and emerged far better from the experience. We had days when distractions were high and morale low but we stuck to it, seeing the glories of the finish line from a distance. The rewards for my parents’ decision and steadfast endurance through the years (when it would have been far easier to give up and hand the responsibility to someone else) continue to be
elt, abounding long after graduation. What must that say about the quality of what was given? How many can still say the education they received was remembered let alone employed years later?
We understand some parents are unsure where to start, overwhelmed by the grueling nature of homeschooling, and unaware of the abundant resources that are available to assist families who can participate in the contemporary homeschooling educational system.
Some parents envision homeschooling with anxiety and dread: parent and child sitting alone at a kitchen table, snowed in by mounting bills, insurmountable algorithms and impassable texts, depriving children of “normal” social interaction, deficient in life skills, and doomed to crumple at the first exposure to “the world.” All such visions of foreboding are the expected prospects anytime someone ventures into the unknown. They simply aren’t real.
The consistent outperformance in test scores and academic measures alone defy the notion that homeschooled children are left ill-equipped for life. As for “normal” social interaction, homeschoolers engage in it with ease toward all ages, not just their age peers. Simply meeting one reveals this supposed hurdle is no obstacle at all for homeschoolers.
Homeschoolers are being brought up to be mature adults one day, not perpetual juveniles. As such, it is not the convenience of keeping them entertained and disengaged that is the supreme value. It is an indicator of how popular culture and current public education systems have acclimated parents and students to accept these lowered expectations. If that is what defines “normal” in child development and education, then active home school families are not seeking normalcy, they are seeking merit-based exceptionalism. How loving can we parents be to thrust our children upon a faithless and corrosive popular culture before first building a foundation strong enough to withstand its pressures? All children, whether home schooled or not, will face “the world” soon enough; secularizing our children leaves them brittle and shallow, unable to be independent thinkers when pressures from popular culture mount. We have been entrusted with our children not to feed them to its predations and depravities but to empower our young men and women with wisdom and character. A growing number of parents see the grave series of mistakes made in education and refuse to surrender the souls (not to mention minds) of their children to become apathetic cogs in a dysfunctional assembly-line.
Home schooling is not for everyone but neither is public education. Instead of throwing money at the long list of problems facing our current public educational model, we would do better to rekindle a strong range of choices, allow each to compete fairly independently without artificial supports. The growth and diversity of the home schooling movement takes the wind out of any argument that parents simply have no alternative to placing their kids in the custody of public institutions. They most emphatically do. Educational cooperatives bring families and educators together, pairing talents with interests, building wholesome relationships, and supplying parents with the tools to succeed. It is how the university system began. The supposedly colorless and ignorant Middle Ages created the great Universities when students, hungry to learn, sought out the best teachers in the subject and paid them to teach what impassioned them. Organizations like Family First Educational Services in Ocala, Florida, where I play the role as an instructor in several academic fields, exemplify the possibility of such a vibrant community. It matches the individual student’s needs to the unique skill required without demanding conformity as found in the current public educational system found in Citrus and Marion counties.
What greater gift can we provide our children than access to a classical education focused on the individual’s capacity for learning instead of the individual’s capacity to perform on standardized testing as a basis to receive funding?