We are both homeschooling parents. One of us is a pastor. Both of these roles bring with them common conversations. One can bet that at any gathering of pastors one is sure to be asked, “How is the work going?” It sounds like an innocent enough question. But you can be sure that those who ask the question have ulterior motives. Those who don’t ask it choose not to ask because they don’t want to answer. Those who do ask do so because they want to be asked. They want to be asked because “How is the work going?” is polite language for “How many warm bodies show up each Sunday morning?” It is the pastoral equivalent of being asked at your local gym how much you can bench press.
Homeschoolers often start with a similar question. It too is about the size of one’s flock. Usually it begins with, “How many children do you have?” One can hope that this is a genuine question, which the inquisitor only wants to share in the joy. We have six blessings with us so far. The next question, which also is utterly appropriate is, “What are their ages?” The question after that, which is more like a statement, is the one that gets our collective goat. After listing our children’s ages, 9, 7, 5, 4, 2, and 1, we are asked/told, “So you only have two or three in your homeschool?”
The question troubles us not because we want to get all appropriate credit for the sacrifices it takes to homeschool six children. Rather it troubles us because it belies a failure to understand the nature of education. It demonstrates that even homeschoolers who have rejected the government school have a ways to go before we have a thorough reformation of our thinking on education.
The classical model is built around the trivium, the so-called three stages of learning. It notes, rightly, that children in what we remember as the grammar school years, are good at memorizing, in taking in facts, bits of data. They are little sponges. Next, in what might roughly be considered the middle school years, children delight to argue, and so we harness that to explain the logic, or the interrelatedness of the facts they have been learning. And then they reach the third stage, roughly high school, where we teach them the glories of rhetoric, or how to communicate well all that they have learned.
Yea and amen. But what happens before they reach the artificially established age of five—the beginning of the grammar stage? Do we simply park our children from the time they are born, until they are ready to enter the hallowed halls of our classical school, whether it be at home or elsewhere? In like manner, what happens after the rhetoric stage?
That we measure our children’s lives between the brackets of matriculation and graduation reminds us that there are yet more ruins to repair. Milton, you will remember, argued that this is what education is, The end then of learning is to repair the ruins of our first parents by regaining to know God aright and out of that knowledge to love Him. To imitate him, to be like Him, as we may the nearest by possessing our souls of true virtue, which being united to the heavenly grace of faith makes up the highest perfection. To know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love Him is not something we wait on for our children. Nor is it something they complete by the time they register for the draft or leave and cleave with their recently acquired spouse. This is not only a lifelong process, but is the very purpose of our lives.
Our children then, before they reach that age at which bureaucrats require them to be in school, must be about the business of being educated. They must have their loyalties established. They must learn those truths that will never change. This process begins in our home before the children reach our home. Each of our girls, after they are born, cleaned off, and held by their mother, hear first from their father the description in Proverbs 31 of the godly woman. “This,” daddy tells his new born girls, “is what you are to become, what your mother and I will be laboring toward. For you are a daughter of Abraham.” Our son receives much the same instruction, except the first words he hears are from Proverbs 3 (and, of course, is told he is a son of Abraham.)
This is why, I pray, we go through the trouble of either homeschooling our children, or sending them to a classical Christian school. Our goal is not to create scholars who are in rebellion against their Maker. Neither, I pray, is it our goal to have our children have an anemic faith, but a robust intellect accompanied by a robust faith. Of course these things are not at war with each other. These things are not set at an inverse ratio. We do not raise stupid children for God’s glory. But we have to keep the horse before the cart. We don’t love God that we might have great minds, but we train our minds that they might be set to love our great God.
This is not something we wait to do. Nor is this something we finish doing. If we forget Christian on our way to classical, then we not only fail to repair the ruins, but ruin the very souls of our children, souls which will last longer than the Coliseum. If we forget Christian on our way to classical, we are simply raising up heroes of the city of man. If our children know all their Latin paradigms, but know not that man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, then we can be sure that they are not set first toward the glory of God. And such ought cause us to worry if they will enjoy Him forever. Our children, and we pray yours as well, are made for greater things than this. They exist not for their glory, but for God’s glory. And it is for this that we educate them, each and every one of them, when they rise up and when they lie down.
By Denise and R. C. Sproul, Jr.