have been part of the Christian school movement ever since 1962,
when I read R. J. Rushdoony’s 1961 book, Intellectual
Schizophrenia. His 1963 book, The
Messianic Character of American Education, only reaffirmed
what I already believed.
I came into
contact with Robert and Rosemary Thoburn, the creators of the profit-seeking
Fairfax Christian School, sometime around 1969. Mrs. Thoburn taught
a generation of Christian school entrepreneurs how to teach children
how to read through phonics. The founders of the A Beka program
were taught by her.
Over the years,
I have watched the parallel development of Christian home schooling
and Christian day schooling. I have come to the conclusion that
home schools are superior on average.
There are reasons
for this. Here are a few of them.
more interested in their children’s performance than salaried teachers
are. Teachers must concern themselves with a room full of other
people’s children. A mother concerns herself with a room full of
her children. It is a smaller room.
Let me cut
short a mistake. Beyond the second or third grade, parents should
cease worrying about individual instruction, unless the child has
a learning disability. The concern over student/teacher ratios is
a concern of the teacher unions. It should not be a concern of parents.
The older the child is, the more true the statement is.
I feel sorry
for the high school students of parents — meaning almost all
parents — who wail, “I want my child to have a low student/teacher
ratio.” That child is being set up for a crisis on the day he or
she walks into a college class of 1,000 students. The mega-class
is a cash cow for colleges. Faculties assign their lower-level non-tenured
assistant professors to teach them. These classes are graded by
who has learned how to learn in a tiny class is now thrown to the
lions. “Good luck!”
This is even
more true of home-schooled college freshmen. Momma is back home.
Momma can’t help. Momma set up her child for an expensive lesson
in the only education that matters in the long run: self-education.
curriculum sells for $200, once per family, it is the best bargain
in the history of education. But it is not for parents of Momma’s
boys and girls.
The best thing
about the Robinson Curriculum is that it ends forever the seeming
legitimacy of the complaint, “We just can’t afford private education.”
A family can buy this curriculum for $200 — the cost of a pair
of running shoes — plus the cost of a set of the Saxon math
books. After that, it only costs paper and toner.
parents are generally more concerned with protecting their children
socially than with training up intellectual warriors, Robinson’s
approach to education is not widely accepted in Christian circles.
The fact that a student who gets through this curriculum can quiz
out of his first year of college, and possibly two years, does not
impress such parents. This is because so few of them ever mastered
the skills of self-education.
parents’ desire to provide social environment rather than intellectual
tools of combat, I still think conventional home schooling beats
private day schooling. Parental concern is very great. Parents have
not only pulled a child out of the humanists’ established church
— the public school system — the mother has also decided
to skip entry into the wage-earning work force for the sake of her
children’s education. This degree of commitment, even when accompanied
by the well-meant but ill-conceived pedagogy of showing children
how to solve problems with mother’s help rather than by themselves,
overcomes the low common denominator problem of the k-12 classroom.
sent a successful day school’s headmaster an inquiry regarding the
possibility of adopting a curriculum like Robinson’s, but with greater
emphasis on success in business rather than training for a career
in science. I am now working on it. Such a curriculum might be suitable
for both home schools and day schools. Or so I thought. Here is
what he wrote to me.
looks very good to me. It would sell to me on content alone —
because I know your work and admire it. Many do not, and that’s
why packaging would be so critical for initial market success. One
substantial item that would be needed would be user-friendly teachers’
guides. This would be necessary even if the teacher were just a
facilitator, but especially if the teacher actually did some teaching.
I’m finding substantial parental resistance to the idea of their
students learning in non-traditional (teacher/lecture) ways. But
I think it can be overcome if the students buy into it. But most
significant in today’s undisciplined, child-driven culture is getting
the students to buy into it. Parents will do whatever their kid
wants today. If the kid likes the material, it will help sell it
— not necessarily initial purchase, but long-term.
I wrote back
to him the following response.
guides. So, this means gigantic extra work at my end to sell to
day schools. I don’t think that would pay off. I think I’m fighting
too much tradition. The home schoolers are much less traditional.
They also tell their kids what to do. I think day school parents
are less confrontational. If I sell to a final buyer — a
parent — it’s a simple sale: immediate benefits for your
child, with a one-year money-back guarantee. If I sell to a day
school director, the benefits are indirect: force your change-resistant
teachers to change, force your students to change, and maybe the
parents will accept it . . . but probably not. You may get fired.
would you rather sell to? But you have clarified my thinking.
isn’t it? Yet it took me 20 years of watching the home school movement
develop to come to this conclusion.
This late conclusion
may be an example that runs counter to my theory of child pedagogy.
I wish that someone had pointed it out to me earlier. It might have
saved me two decades. But I might not have believed it. Self-education
is the best education as a general rule.
I can understand
a headmaster’s problem. He is dealing with child-directed parents.
He is dealing with teachers in an under-funded niche profession
that pays 60% of what a public school teacher is paid. These teachers
are learning on the job. They were taught in public schools. They
are (or should be) re-learning everything in their field of interest.
They don’t know where to begin. They need a teacher’s guide in their
own field. This is horrifying, yet it is apparently the case.
Christian school textbooks are baptized public school textbooks.
If you think I’m wrong, see what they say about the anti-Federalists
of 1787, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, World War I, World War
II, and the other great crusades of the modern messianic American
They are by
necessity low-common-denominator products. They are very expensive
to produce. To get back the investment, they must be sold by the
tens of thousands each year. They are printed on paper — the
Achilles’ heel of education in an era of the Web and CD-ROM and
DVDs. Think of the printed version of the Encyclopedia Britannica.
It could not compete against Microsoft’s Encarta (under $100), let
alone the Wiki encyclopedia (on-line and free). It is gone. But
students are still assigned printed textbooks.
Show me a printed
textbook, and I’ll show you a book written to get through a committee
with a final market of average students.
I am not interested
in average students. Their needs can be taken care of by others.
I want the best and the brightest. More important, I want self-starters
and self-learners who can quiz out of college mega-classes in high
school, and walk straight into upper division — saving themselves
two years and their parents $25,000 to $75,000.
We need a hard
core of graduates who are prepared to challenge the statist presuppositions
of this era and the one to come. We need college students who can
think for themselves, research for themselves, and develop comprehensive
alternatives. Such students should not be asked to feast on the
dumbed-down pabulum of the committee-screened high school textbook.
A pastor I
met years ago once complained about the situation he found at a
new church. “I wanted to enter an armory. I found a nursery.” This
is why there is a market for textbooks.
do not want confrontation. So, most parents allow their children
to be educated in the public schools.
school parents are more confrontational. They have broken with the
public schools. But they still want their children to have the social
experience of bureaucratic education. They cannot resist the lure
of league sports and proms and pom-poms.
There are a
few day schools that are self-consciously designed to train up students
who are ready for lower-division collegiate intellectual battle
at age 17. There are not many schools like this. They are saddled
with Christian school textbooks. They must go to special effort
in the classroom to get around and beyond these textbooks. These
schools are the products of their headmasters’ vision. Three years
after they retire, the schools may drift back to a baptized version
of the local public schools. Dogs do tend to return to their vomit
are rowing against the tide. The students coming into Christian
high schools today are almost as committed to the welfare State
ideology as public school children are. There is a small organization,
the Nehemiah Institute, which provides a test for entering
Christian day school freshmen regarding their attitude toward statism.
A handful of Christian schools use it. It is called the PEERS Test. The test results
are universally grim: in the 30% range. After four years of Christian
education, the scores usually go up in those schools that run the
tests, but nowhere near 100%. Maybe 70%. A good test of how good
a day school’s program is, is the PEERS Test. Ask to see the results.
If the school does not use it, look for another school.
With home schooling,
students miss out on league football games, pom-poms, and high school
reunions. Whether they get prepared for intellectual confrontation
is dependent on what their parents choose to assign them to read,
and then on how well they master the assigned material.
directly responsible, meaning that mothers are directly responsible.
Fathers usually delegate home schooling to mothers.
In other forms
of education, both parents delegate this responsibility to hired
tutors. The question is: Hired by whom? The State or the parents
or a local church?
parents were willing to be 100% responsible, there would be few
non-profit Christian day schools. They would be run as family or
corporate enterprises. The fact that most Christian day schools
are non-profit organizations reveals the reality, namely, that parents
are looking for subsidies from others: tax deduction-receiving donors,
church members in churches the parents do not belong to, or the
parents avoid this dilution of responsibility. This is why home
schooling is the wave of the future for leadership development.
Each generation of home school mothers is likely to be tougher than
the previous one. Better trained, too.
has come a long way over the last two decades. Technology is on
the side of home schooling: the Web, CD-ROMs, computers, and DVDs.
This technology is both decentralizing and individualizing. There
are local home school associations. There is the division of labor.
future of tax-funded education can be seen in the schools of Washington,
D.C., where legislators do not send their children.
We are winning
North [send him mail] speaks
at home schooling conventions on this topic: Home Schooling
Works for College, Too: Cheaper, Faster, and Safer. Parents
like the idea of saving $50,000, and students dream of getting
half the money parents save as a college graduation present.