This article was first published by The Gospel Coalition with the title “Why I Downplay Homeschooling When I Talk to People” on September 22, 2019. With many families prayerfully evaluating educational options in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, I hope it is a helpful repost. You might also like Help! How Do I Homeschool? and What Does a Typical Homeschool Day Look Like?
Each fall, I see the yellow school buses navigating side streets. I see clusters of parents walking their children to the neighborhood elementary school. I “like” pictures of friends’ children posing for the first day of school. Then I turn around and see four of my children huddled around the kitchen table completing math problems as my toddler places colorful ABC magnets on the refrigerator.
I’m deeply grateful that my mom chose to educate my four siblings and me at home during our formative years, and it’s my privilege and joy to instruct my kids at home also.
But I try not to talk about it much.
For parents, choices about our children’s education can be some of the biggest decisions we make. Homeschooling in particular can be a controversial and countercultural choice that parents often feel strongly about. As a result, it can be tempting for homeschoolers to spend a lot of time defending and explaining their choice.
I’m aware of this tendency, so unless I’m talking to fellow homeschoolers, I rarely mention our choice to homeschool.
Right Choice for Us
It’s not that I regret homeschooling. Homeschooling affords many wonderful opportunities. As an educational choice, it meets the needs of our family in a unique way. The freedom to choose this option for our children is something my husband and I value and never want to take for granted.
I don’t want our educational choice to climb onto the altar of first importance.
Not only does homeschooling create a unique context for spending time with and discipling my children, but it also happens to be an excellent option given that three of our children share a serious genetic condition. When one child is sick, though all are at risk of catching it, some are more vulnerable to complications.
Teaching my children at home limits exposure to viruses and eliminates the potential challenge of struggling to keep up with classes due to numerous sick days. When illness does strike, we simply modify the workload and adjust the schedule as needed. We often do lessons in the car and while sitting in the waiting room at specialist appointments.
Despite these advantages, however, when I talk and write about parenting, I downplay homeschooling. Why? I don’t want our educational choice to climb onto the altar of first importance.
Altar of First Importance
As moms, it’s easy to put many things on the altar of first importance. It often starts with what we feed our babies—breast or bottle? Organic or non-organic? Sugar or no sugar? Meat or vegetarian?
We rightly navigate our children through many of their early decisions, including what they eat, wear, read, watch, and listen to. Once they reach school age, we decide whether they’ll go to public or private school—or, as Americans, we may choose to homeschool them. What we decide depends on a variety of factors, and not everyone starts with the same options.
Though as Christian parents we all have a biblical responsibility to train our children, how this plays out differs greatly from one family to another. And, in all areas of life, we need to be on guard against elevating something we personally value to first importance.
We ought to regularly evaluate to whom we give allegiance and where we find our primary identity—and this applies to how we educate our kids. In Christ, am I primarily a home educator? Is my friend primarily a PTA member? Of course not.
Where Unity Lives
Equally significant, I downplay our decision to homeschool because it’s not the gospel. Not only do I want to keep our educational choice from becoming the focus of our attention, I want to form relationships focused on the gospel. The good news—that Jesus offers forgiveness and hope for those who trust him—is available to all parents, not just a target group who choose to educate their children a particular way.
Over the summer, some Chinese friends hosted our family for a delicious dinner. The following night, a Haitian family welcomed us. And a single, working mom trusted me to watch her son three or four days a week. All three families are part of our church small group. We feel privileged to enjoy fellowship and friendship with them. We learn from them how they pray, love Jesus, and faithfully apply the gospel to daily life. None of these families homeschools their children.
Our fellowship and friendship in the gospel—expressed in our shared church life—unites our hearts. By God’s grace, our educational choices don’t create tension. Actually, our families look different in many ways—ethnicity, number of kids, season of life, socioeconomic status, and more. Our common faith brings us together.
What Matters Most
For all people, the most important thing in life is knowing God through his Son. This means that our Christian identity is primary, and ought to dictate our priorities. Our unbelieving neighbors know that our family homeschools, but they also see us drive to church each Sunday, regularly host our small group, and do a number of other countercultural activities.
As they witness our lives, I want my neighbors’ interest to be stirred, not about our educational choices, but about the One who motivates everything we do. If I’m going to explain a lifestyle choice to my next-door neighbor, I want to talk about Jesus and the gospel. If talking about homeschooling is a means to that end, I’m happy to talk about homeschooling.
But homeschooling is only one aspect of our lives. Christ is our life.
That’s why I often downplay homeschooling. As grateful as I am for the privilege to make this educational choice and for the custom way it fits my family, I never want to elevate it—or any other decision—to the place reserved for Jesus. He alone is worthy of worship, and he is the One I want to proclaim.