Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Do I have a Right To Homeschool my Children?

I love my children. Let's begin there. I don't always love them well (though I always want to), but I love them fully. For the past ten years, I have filtered all of my parenting choices thorugh the sieve of my ultimate goals: that I should contribute in every way possible to my children loving God and loving others. Because I love them, I steer them toward love -- love that costs. Love for enemies. Love for difficult people (and sometimes I know I am one of the difficult people).
Preschool seemed a natural choice. Olivia was reading some and writing pretty proficiently by the time she was 3, and gravitated toward learning new things in the ravenous, touching way that all three year olds do. I studied, visited, popped in on, and otherwise scoured all of the preschools in our community during the course of her second year until I found a montessori-based Christian preschool that didn't rock our financial world. I stood in line (in alternate shifts with my mother, who stood in my stead while I went home to nurse my baby Josiah) from 4 until 8 in the morning --- blizzard notwithstanding! -- to enroll her. She screamed every morning for 9 months, sometimes only leaving the car after the teacher peeled her arms from around my neck. She couldn't start a zipper. She wanted to peek in on other kids' projects during rug time. So many ways to fail. My beautiful, social, brilliant baby girl was a Montessori flop (and, by extension, so was her mama).
When I informed her teacher that I wasn't reenroling her for pre-k, she warned me of the social deficit she would face in coming years. She stayed home with me the following fall, and we preschooled at home three mornings a week, with field trips every Thursday. (When my big kids were still little kids, they told their dad that they knew mama loved them because of field trip Thursdays === we really had a blast). The spring before kindergarten, she was reading well, writing well, able to understand basic computation, and socially amazing. I chose one of the few half-day kindergarten programs in town because I thought I could continue with some homeschooling after she got out of school mid-morning, in case school didn't challenge her enough. It didn't, and I didn't. During the day, she often got assigned to struggling learners as a kind of peer tutor, and the teacher remained unaware of the extent of Olivia's abilities for most of the year. I, having outsourced my daughter's education and intimidated by the fact that I taught her to write using the wrong alphabet script (so many ways to fail!), left schooling to school and retained only field trip Thursdays.
After much prayer, I decided that public school (which was also the catalyst for Sunday night trauma during the entire year ---- tears, tears, tears) was out unless she was chosen to attend a magnet school that promised project-based learning and multi-leveled, technology-rich learning environments. We didn't get chosen, so I amassed a curriculum that seemed to suit us, and threw my hat into the homeschooling ring. Then her name was pulled from a waiting list -- we accepted. Then we were chosen to parent infant triplets. So it all seemed like a gift, this school, these five, this year of hanging on together with professionals educating Olivia, encouraging her to grow and learn. Our teacher was sick --- on and off for nearly six of the nine month school year. They never had enough notice to call in a certified teacher, and I have a hard time putting my finger on anything she learned during first grade --- apart from what we learned as a family as we were newly grown.
But Josiah. Josiah didn't hate preschool. He struggles with some schoolish skills, and his teacher was solid, encouraging, playful, and sweet. So we headed toward his Kindergarten year optimistically. The babies had grown enough that Grandma could watch them one morning each week while I volunteered in the kindergarten and second grade classrooms. Remember, my goal for my kids was never to be as smart as they could become. Homeschool would have seemed an easy answer then. My parenting goal was to support them as they learned to love God and others --- especially the people who were difficult to love. Where else can you find such a high concentration of difficult to love people upon whom we could exercise love skills besides public school?
But have I equipped them to love difficult people (and aren't I often difficult? and aren't they?)? Second grade was an academic wash, but Olivia led her class in a campaign to put a well in Africa, a successful effort for which she openly (and rightly) gives God all the credit. Kindergarten inspired my son to offer his "personal best" every time. (We, gratefully, enjoyed the best teacher in the district for his inaugural year of public school.) Helping my children see the pathway to love with bullies, clubs, inclusions, exclusions, angry friends, and bad choices sent us to the Word and to prayer (two excellent places to head with your children). We got to observe, first hand, prayers answered as ways to love the people who hurt us became more apparent. And this year, I have felt extremely nigh unto a breaking point! My daughter confesses, every day, her shortcomings for at least 20 minutes on the ride home from school. She loses sleep to worry. She has stumbled upon filth during online research, despite the school's copious filters. She and her friends traded thigh measurements to see where they "fit." Each day I feel like I spend the entire evening wiping crap from her face and her heart with a gentle cloth and filling her tiny bucket to send her into tomorrow's thirsty, blazing world.

But she isn't mine. And we have so much water here. And the world is so thirsty. SO thirsty. How can I justify a family water party when there are so many parched babies in public school classrooms.....with no water....anywhere. And the call of the kingdom is higher than the call of maternity (right?). Though they are not at odds, when the choice stands between serving His priorities for His family or my priorities for mine....well, there doesn't seem to be a choice. (That verse about hating mother, father, children, etc. as prerequisite fitness for Kingdom service comes to mind). Furthermore, they are not my children. They are His. And children drink fresh, clean water because my little ones share (literally and figuratively), every day. That's why they often come home so empty.....and so parched. (And perhaps the sacrifice to love people, face up -- not just far away, is their inheritance.)

But I want to bring them home, in my heart. To let them learn; learning and teaching alongside them.

How can I when Jochabed and Hannah go before me? Consider Moses and Samuel. First Moses: to protect her second son from the scourge of persecution, Jochabed places him in a river in a basket in God's hands. Miriam (his big sister) follows him until Pharaoh's daughter pulls him from the river, and at Miriam's suggestion, allows him to be nursed by Jochabed and returned to her upon his weaning (which, according to Hebrew custom would have been around 3 years old). Then comes, what I consider one of the most heart-rending faith leaps imaginable (made more tangible to me in the three children entrusted to my care by another): Jochabed returns him to the palace. Knowing that he will be raised to worship idols, to participate in sacrifices and oracles and palace privilege built on the broken bodies of slaves --- of her own family --- she turns him, again, over to the care of God. Surely, if the voice of God can make its way through the clamour of Pharaoh's palace, it can pierce the din of public education.


What about Hannah? Persecuted by her husband's other wife and by the whole of Jewish society for her childlessness, Hannah prays for a child whom she promises to give back to the Lord, in his service. Eli accuses her of drunkenness as she prays. When she confesses her heart, he prays for God's blessing., and so enters Samuel. When Samuel is weaned (again, presumably around three), she returns him to the temple for a lifetime of service, seeing him thereafter only once a year during a ritual visit and to bestow upon Samuel a coat into which she wove a twelve months of loving handiwork. But to whom did she entrust her toddler? Certainly not to Eli, whose prior forays into parenting yielded two of the most heinous exploiters of the priesthood in history. Hopni and Phinneas caroused with worshipers in the temple court, ate the fat off the sacrifices, and generally desecrated and mocked the holy things of God -- with no apparent reproof from Eli, whose only appearances in scripture paint him as mostly gluttonous, lazy, and short-tempered. She turned him over to the care of her God, who raised him into a prophet and lover of God and God's people. Surely, if God's voice can call out to Samuel over the cacophony of carousing and neglect, then He can handle public school.

And the gift to my kids of faith in a God that can stand and heal and fill and feed, again and again --- doesn't that outweigh my instruction and their insulation? Doesn't it?
But I long to bring them home. Just for a rest. To learn and drink and go strong. But when will it be enough? And how many will succumb to thirst in the meantime?

(The encouraging points in Hannah's and Jochabed's story, and they are many, bolster up my enjoyment of the early years I share at home with my kids. Apparently, the first years, the nursing years, lay a foundation. And maybe they teach a love upon which God can reach through years of mess to build. Hopefully I haven't screwed that one up too much!)

Do the wounds our children receive in loving have greater purpose? They did for Mary's son. When it looked like the brutality of the world stole Him away --- there were divine arrangements being made for LOVE and eternal HOPE. But my children aren't Jesus, right? (Right!) But they have been chosen. And so have the 27 others in their public school classrooms. They just may not know it yet. And what if no one ever shows them --- shows them that they have been chosen to be loved?

Can anyone (please!) come up with an argument for homeschooling that is more sound?


jules said...

I read this last night, and have been mulling it over all day.

My opinion doesn't count, not really anyway--other than the fact that I love your kids, really love them, I am woefully unqualified, educationally speaking, and "life-stage" speaking.

But. I will say.

That you sufficiently convinced me of both arguments.

I want you to be able to nurture and pour into your babies, raise them up, protect them, and keep them from some of the horrific things that have been happening--which is mainly to say MEASURING EACH OTHER.

But. You're right. About the heart of it all. That they're His. And elementary school is a mission field, a terribly drought-filled mission field, and your sweet, sweet kids are bringing water, are bringing Jesus Christ right into public school, which isn't that the whole point?

So. I am still conflicted, Amy.

I wonder if there's a way to do both though. To have your kids home schooled and have more of a say in the input, so to speak--whatever is pure, whatever is noble, whatever is right, etc--while also pushing them out to engage in the community in activities with other kids, in serving in mission related fields.

I think your conflict, and your internal struggle over is an encouragement to me, as weird as that may sound. I think God sees your heart; I think you're asking Him the right questions. I think you are concerned about the right things.

So often I look to you and Josh, walking such a straight line, and I think if they only knew how just the ponderings they have and the questions they raise about how to live their life, shine light into mine.

That your struggle, Amy, is such a witness to God's own love for His children, and His willingness to do things that are not easy, or not safe to get his message home. To get us home.


Honestly, I just think you're great. I came here to say it. You're great. Your kids are great. And whatever your decision, they are going to grow up loving and serving our God, and loving and serving their neighbors. I watch how you and Josh live out your faith around them, and there is no doubt in my mind, that THAT witness is something that public school internet searches can never erase.

SO THERE IT IS. An expert opinion from your 23 baby, single, childless cousin. Hahaha!

I love you, Amy!

Valerie said...

Thanks for sharing your heart and thoughts. I know this has been a challenging road for you guys but oh have I benefited from your desire to walk humbly and lovingly toward other people. You gave a lot of great thoughts to consider- cant wait to be face to face soon and talk about it all we want. Haven't stayed up past midnight in a long time but I'm pretty sure I see that coming!

Cindi Clark said...

My dear Amy...

I cried the first time I read this entry...and struggled to keep from crying the second time. I haven't been there every day as you have faced the public educational challenges with your wonderful children, but, many times, I have seen the struggles that you shared.

How beautifully and eloquently you presented the significance of both the home and public school experiences. I am moved by your earnest desire to love your own children as you teach them to love others. You set such an amazing example for them by your seemingly endless and generous love for all of God's children.

As far as your home/public school dilemma...I have the perfect solution. You should start your own school...a charter school. You have an unmatchable passion for children and education. I just recently read about Marva Collins and the Westside Preparatory School and feel that you have her passion, love, and determination!

You are already making a tremendous impact on so many lives, but I can't imagine what would happen if you were actually able focus on the personal and educational development of a classroom or school filled with students.

Whatever you decide, I believe that God will bless you. I will help and support you in any way I can!

I love you with all of my heart...always have...always will...and you never make that difficult!


Sherry said...

Hey, let's get together again soon. We miss you guys at piano. Sean's soccer practice forced us to move to Wednesdays. I'd love to talk with you about this post. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your heart.

Barb said...

My sweet friend: First I have to remind you that you are an amazing woman, a true gift from God in my life. You are strong and good and light-years ahead of me intellectually and spiritually. You are a continual blessing to me. Thank you for that. I love you and I miss you terribly. I am also immensely proud of you and the woman you are–the Christian, wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, cousin, friend that you are.

I understand your pull to share the spiritual gifts of your children with a world so devoid of the things of God. It is a beautiful gift and worthy. I can’t say for certain what the God is speaking to you – I can’t even decipher what He speaks to me usually. I generally find myself frustrated and wanting to say “Speak English, please!” But of course God is spirit and speaks to my spirit. My poor spiritual language skills are not His fault but my own. I also can’t offer a grand “reason” for home schooling beyond the sound reasons you have already heard many times over in all your research.

I do have a small offering for you. Please remember that you are a work in progress. For your entire life you will be. Therefore, God expects you to sometimes make poor decisions, even mess up royally. He is prepared for it and has actually already accommodated His plan to incorporate it. Isn’t that beautiful? It doesn’t let us off the hook for doing our level best or for feeling terrible when we don’t but it does take some of the responsibility off our shoulders for the big outcomes. Yes, He has chosen the 27 little ones who share the classroom with your precious children. Yes, He can use your spiritually blessed children to reach out to them. But if you choose to keep your children home for a year, or 2, or 10, His plan will not be foiled. As Christians, we are to spread the Good News, but we can’t save anyone. The Holy Spirit must draw each person. God can arrange for that in the direst circumstances. I have read of the dreams sent to people in the heart of the most anti-Christian realms in the world – dreams that have drawn people to Christ in places where you could hardly believe possible. Miraculously. He will have those who would accept Him. He will.

And perhaps, just perhaps, you feel this strong pull because He has put the pull in your heart. His grand purpose could involve saving your children from something that you can’t anticipate today. The world is a scarier and crazier place today than I ever could have imagined. My instinct is for you to draw your children to you also. (That doesn’t mean I’m right though.) It is the same instinct that makes you throw your arm out in front of your child when you have to slam on your brakes in the car. Remember your Mom doing that? That is the feeling of the world right now isn’t it?

So, if I can love you so much no matter which way you choose, how much more so does God love you no matter which way you choose? (Yes, a pitiful rendition of Matthew 7:11 but true.) I am one to wring my hands and pull my hair over decisions, fearful of making the wrong one in the sight of God. A wise (and much more relaxed) friend of mine, frustrated with my agonizing over a decision, told me this good advice: “God expects you to screw up Barb. If you are going to screw this up, He has already seen it, planned for it, and worked it all out for you.” Whoa. That stopped me in my tracks, made me laugh, then made me think. Again, that doesn’t mean I should go around purposely making decisions lightly – but it does put things in perspective. God knows your heart Amy. All of it, even the things you could never put on the written page. And He loves you endlessly. Regardless of your decision. You have chosen Christ and you have chosen to raise your children in Christ’s love. Make the best decision you know how and plunge on. God will work it all out.

I can’t wait to read the next installment. Sending hugs. I’ll be lifting you up in prayer. God bless you, Josh, and your five beautiful children. Love, Barbs

Leah said...

Wow, what a blessing to hear your heart. I've been thinking thru a lot of the same things, thanks for articulating so well. Praying for your decision, I know God will bless it.

The Peek Family said...

Thanks for stopping by Sweater Vest Wednesday! Not sure you how you found my blog with it's massive (5) followers :)

Great post! The struggle between human responsibility and God's sovereignty is one that will go on for awhile, methinks. How this plays out in schooling is no different.

Honestly, I would have a difficult time coming up with a solid Biblical argument for homeschooling. Mostly because I don't think it was a cultural thing or something to be argued about. What we have to decide is what Biblical principles we will apply to the schooling of our kids. Also, answering the right questions is key. Do I want my kids to be Christlike disciples and kingdom builders? Or do I want my kids to be intelligent with a good education? hear me, this isn't an either or, just don't stop at the social and intellectual implications of schooling. Go deeper and you might see that it is different per kid.