You Can’t Lace Geography Lessons with Jesus: A Response to Israel Wayne
By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator
For Israel Wayne, homeschooling is not about education. It’s about discipleship. His recently viral blogpost, “A Shift in the Homeschooling Movement,” testifies to this fact. In it, he suggests that we “shift” homeschooling towards the “lordship of Jesus.” In order to understand the post, one must understand that, for him, homeschooling must be religious or spiritual in its essence — education, academics, those are disposable accouterments to the goal of evangelizing your children.
Israel Wayne is the son of Home School Digest‘s Skeet Savage and a repeat speaker at the Homeschool Alumni National Reunion. He runs BiblicalBetrothal.com, which features writings from betrothal advocate Jonathan Lindvall and child marriage apologist Matthew Chapman. He himself has written for Above Rubies, Brannon Howse’s WorldviewWeekend.com, and Answers in Genesis, and has authored a number of books, most notably Homeschooling from a Biblical Worldview. You can read his bio at his organization Family Renewal here.
In Homeschooling from a Biblical Worldview, we get a basic picture of Wayne’s perspective on homeschooling and education. Essentially, all education is religious and — as the book’s own summary so neatly states — “Beginning with proper biblical presuppositions will enable students to make sense of the world around them.”
Fail to have the proper biblical presuppositions, and students fail to make sense of the world.
This is reiterated in Wayne’s recent post. The post itself is long and meandering. It addresses a variety of topics, including the history of the modern homeschooling movement and how different “camps” within the Christian Homeschooling Movement have competed and/or cooperated with one another. His post also proposes “new” paths for Christian homeschoolers to consider (though, as I will articulate here, these paths are anything but new). The post has been quite popular and many people have been taken in by Wayne’s rhetoric. (In my mind, however, it should give everyone pause that Kelly Crawford — an outspoken advocate of Patriarchy — thought his article was “very well done”, considering that his article was prompted by the Doug Phillips-inspired “Patriarchy” controversy as of late.)
There is so much one could say about Wayne’s post. But for this response, I want to focus on one particular passage of his. And heads up: I am going to approach this solution of his from a Christian theological perspective. I feel it is important to engage Israel Wayne on his own turf in this instance because it is necessary to show that this turf is incorrectly grounded.
The relevant passage from Wayne’s post is as follows (emphasis added):
If we ever forget that the homeschooling movement is NOT about academics at the end of the day (they are a means, not an end), then Jesus will abandon us to our own devices. The homeschooling movement must NOT become ultimately about methods and tools (curriculum). It must be about Jesus, and His Lordship over our families.
…We need to pick a few hills that are worth dying on, and be willing to allow a few others to fall by the wayside. In my view, the authority of Scripture is a hill to die on… The Lordship of Jesus Christ over every sphere of our existence is another. We cannot merely marginalize the Lord Jesus Christ as an optional plugin to our homeschooling endeavors. He demands supremacy over His people and demands to be recognized as our rightful head.
…The leaders of this movement…must continue to hold up these banners as supreme, or else our Lord will leave us to our own devices, and the homeschooling movement will denigrate into another expression of humanism.
To put it simply, Israel Wayne has constructed a false dilemma. A false dilemma is when you present as an either/or a problem that can actually be resolved in more than two ways. Here Wayne presents “academics” and “the lordship of Jesus” as distinct entities (and either we uphold the latter over the former, or the whole world will burn). Why do I say this? Well, because if they are not distinct, then pursuing academics as the end of homeschooling would not necessarily exclude pursuing the lordship of Jesus in one’s life. But in Wayne’s mind, pursuing the former as an end means one is — to one extent or another — not pursuing the latter.
This is a crucial point — Wayne rejects education as a legitimate end in itself. It is so crucial because the Christian Homeschooling Movement’s similar rejection has led to many of the problems we are seeing today. The fact that Israel Wayne continues this rejection, just as his elders did, means that he will not be able to promote any significant change in homeschooling.
This solution — eloquent though it may be — is all sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Lana Hope has already articulated one reason why this point is key:
The fact that homeschooling was seen as a Christian method is, in my opinion, what went wrong with baby boomer homeschool parents. It started out as an education model, but when it became about religion and the preservation of a Joshua generation, it went [sour]… The Christian homeschool movement, because it was all about religion and not academics, became about censoring certain information and stuffing Christ into other information.
Lana is spot-on here: the Christian Homeschooling Movement, as a movement, has used education to indoctrinate, not to empower. And when education becomes a tool of indoctrination, rather than being valued as an inherently empowering process, it gives rise to exactly what we at Homeschoolers Anonymous have called out for the last year: twisting homeschooling into an ideology-first movement, rather than a children-first movement.
I am not interested in debating a definition of “indoctrination” here. That’s not the point. What I conceive of as indoctrination is not limited to Christian education, Buddhist education, or even “secular” education. It is simply when education is used to pass on an ossified set of ideologies (a closed system) as opposed to being an embraced process whereby all children freely, enthusiastically, and wisely discover life on their own terms and at their own pace (an open system).
Israel Wayne clearly has no interest in education as an open system. This is evident in his “you must start from ‘proper biblical presuppositions’ or you have no chance ever of understanding the world” mindset; these so-called presuppositions automatically ensure a closed system. Yet in order to reject the concept of open system, notice what he has to do: he has to argue that education is not in itself an end. In other words, to Israel Wayne, education is not inherently valuable. It is only valuable insofar as it furthers “the lordship of Jesus” (whatever that means).
Wayne does this — and so have many others in the past and so do many others today — because everything is supposed to be subsumed under his idea of a “Christian Worldview.” Wayne’s Christian Worldview is a giant sucking sound, a Total Institution under which everything must be subjugated. It therefore sets up all other ends — in this particular case, the end of education — in diametric opposition to his end, the end of the Christian Worldview, e.g., lordship of Jesus.
Here’s the irony: the whole concept of “Christian Worldview” originated primarily with Francis Schaeffer, who wrote in Escape From Reason that this dualism — the very species of dualism Wayne advocates for, while saying he advocates against it — was causing the downfall of Christianity in the West. Schaeffer’s project — indeed, what the whole project of the “Christian Worldview” movement was supposed to be — was to cast aside the dualism and opposition between “faith” and “reason.” But whereas Wayne and others think this means “sell reason as a slave to faith,” Schaeffer meant it as embrace the entirety of the world as inherently valuable, informative, and empowering. This is why Schaeffer could boldly declare that, “Man is something wonderful.” Obviously that’s not what the Worldview Studies Movement has become within American evangelicalism or homeschooling curriculums. But that was Schaeffer’s goal.
When you begin with this closed system of presuppositions, you lose the very idea that human beings are made in God’s image.
You lose the fact that, no, you don’t have to start from any presuppositions at all because God gave each and every individual the same insatiable curiosity, rational thinking processes, emotional receptors, and desire to figure out life. You deny this fact and you deny a cornerstone of the biblical narrative. And doing so leads to (as Lana Hope pointed out) the stilted, articially “religious” environment that the Christian Homeschooling Movement was and continues to be, which denigrates the importance of academics and thus fails at responsible stewardship of children’s education.
There’s another way here, people. Academics can be the end of the homeschooling movement when we conceive of academics as inherently valuable, an end in themselves. Dedicating what resources you have to educate your child as best you can – what if this is very definition of making Jesus lord of your life?
There is no need to conceive of “academics” and “lordship of Jesus” as distinct or opposed. In fact, I am just going to call out Israel Wayne as preaching a false gospel here. The Gospel is not about the totalitarian, totalistic imposition of Jesus on every aspect of our lives. The Gospel — as preached by Jesus — is a transformation, a process that becomes radically relevant, informing, and empowering to each individual in each individual’s unique context. In the context of a parent who has the resources to teach a child, that parent has a responsibility — call it God-given if you want — to give that child the very best education possible in the most nurturing and loving environment imaginable.
That is making Jesus lord.
And if that parent hides those educational resources out of fear of what that child may do with them, that is a rejection of Jesus as lord.
To conceive of homeschooling as “discipleship,” and education as inherently “religious,” is to reinstate the dualism whereby you can teach something like geography in a “Christian” way but also in a “non-Christian” way. No. That is pure nonsense. You either teach your child geography or you don’t. There’s no “Christian” way to teach geography, any more than there is a “Christian” way to change a tire. To say so ignores the fact that the simple act of teaching your child geography — in the context of homeschooling parenthood — is the definition of discipleship. You don’t have to artificially force “religion” into a geography lesson, like Kevin Swanson’s bizarre suggestion at the 2009 Men’s Leadership Summit that, “We’ll shock everybody when we begin confessing our sins in the geography class.” And note that Swanson gives the exact same reasoning as Wayne, that education isn’t an end in itself:
We need to call [Christians] to use words like discipleship and nurture. Stop talking schools with me. Don’t talk about education with me. Let’s not talk about home education and Christian education, Christian schools. Let’s talk about discipleship. Let’s talk about a focus on faith and character. Let’s focus on the discipling of a child.
Sorry, but you can’t lace geography lessons with Jesus in the hopes of drugging your kids into Heaven.
Teach them geography well, as well as science, math, sex education, and so forth. Show them the world and do not instill fear in them.
That is making Jesus lord.
When you equip your child for life — when you teach them academics as a valuable end in itself — when you empower your child to face the storms that life will present, to wrestle with ideas, to master reasoning and humility — when you protect your child from abuse, and show your child you will protect other children from abuse as well — when you become Jesus to your homeschooling community by standing up for the abused and the marginalized — when you, like Jesus, say “Let the little children come to me,” to be safe, to be educated, to be empowered to succeed —
— that is making Jesus lord.
Homeschool parents who are afraid to educate their children thoroughly, who withhold from their children information about the world out of fear that it might “lead them astray,” need to imagine a bigger God.
When we start imagining a bigger God, when we start prioritizing children over ideology and children’s lives over our so-called “freedoms” — that’s when we’ll actually see a shift in the homeschooling movement.