A Homeschooled Son’s Letter to His Father: Ethan’s Story
CC image courtesy of Flickr, Kevin Dooley.
HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Ethan” is a pseudonym.
I grew up in a homeschooled Christian family, oldest of eight children. For the past several years, conversations with my mother indicated her weariness of homeschool education and a belief that public education was no longer the great evil she once considered it to be. Despite her view, her expression of this exhaustion to my father was limited to periodic bouts of frustration that were dismissed by my father as ‘evidence that Satan doesn’t want our family to keep homeschooling’. I was, to exaggerate by understatement, mildly angered by his cavalier dismissal. Given my financial dependence on my father throughout college, though, I wasn’t in a position to risk his anger by addressing the strain homeschooling was placing on Mom. Now that I am in my last semester with a six-figure job lined up after graduation, I elected to voice my thoughts (in a much cooler voice than would have been likely in person) to my father in an e-mail, included below.
This is a long e-mail that was supposed to be a conversation in person, but I didn’t realize y’all were leaving for the wedding and timing just kind of didn’t work out.
I want to preface this with two notes. First, please understand that this is not written from some resentful / I-hate-my-childhood perspective, because it’s not. Second, I beg you to realize that my opinions are not automatically invalid because I haven’t procreated and raised offspring myself.
Section 1: On The Theory of Homeschooling
Homeschooling has highly variable outcomes – some families end up on prime-time news for abuse and incest, some families send all their children to Harvard / Princeton / Yale. I have no problem with homeschooling per se.
To the contrary, growing up in that community gives me a unique view on its pros and cons.
To the extent that Christian parents have a duty to guide the moral development of their children, parents may (ought, even) elect to control the influences, environments, and material available to a young child. Homeschooling in the religious right originated because of a belief that public schools were dangerous, anti-moral institutions that threatened the development of Christian beliefs, and that belief is not unfounded. Public schools are not religious, and are often anti-religious.
It’s important to understand, though, that any child will inevitably be exposed to these ‘great evils’. Homeschooling does not allow a child to enjoy life sans secular influences. In some cases, it delays exposure to said influences. In some cases, those secular influences reach a homeschooled child through different channels. In many cases, though, homeschooling simply creates a unique set of ‘secular’ problems.
Homeschooling doesn’t solve the sin nature – as ideal as that would be.
In a homeschooled environment, some sins will bubble to the surface. In a public school environment, some of the same sins will arise, but it’s likely a different set will be primary concerns. The point here is that homeschooling does not eliminate the need to address human failure, it just changes the topics being addressed.
In economics, there’s a concept of diminishing marginal returns (DMR). DMR basically says that doing something for a certain amount of time has high value for each incremental action, but beyond a certain threshold, very little value is added. I think this is models the homeschool environment quite well. In early years, there is immense value from a Christian environment to build a foundation for moral thinking and behavior, but as the age timeline and the ability for self-reasoning progresses, you [generic you] reap very little incremental value from environmental restrictions.
[As an aside, I always found the quiver and arrows argument about shooting children out into the world very interesting. It was used to justify homeschooling and protecting children from the outside world until adulthood, but the process of making arrows is very different. Arrows are made from greenwood, then allowed to “season” / “mature” in an outdoor environment (while still under care of the archer) until they are ready to be shot out. Protection is not always good].
With one exception, all my Christian friends at [university name] were public schooled from day 1, and it’s arguable that their faith is more sincere than mine. This is perhaps a criticism of my focus on things of God in recent months, but is stronger evidence that the method of education is not the determinant of faith. Morals, godliness, and Christian belief stem from a God-given desire to follow those things.
As a summary: homeschooling has value, but it is not an intrinsic good. Beyond a certain point, it may be detrimental to the rigor of one’s faith and one’s ability to thrive in the outside world.
Section 2: On Finances
This is a somewhat short section, but merely exists because I think it’s important to recall one thing: the thousands of dollars the family pays in taxes every year fund, in part, a school system recognized as one of the best in the nation. From a financial stewardship perspective, electing to not utilize public resources is an unmitigated waste of those dollars. Given that family finances are increasingly stressed, prudent management of available dollars seems important.
Section 3: On Patriarchy
I am attempting to word this section very carefully to avoid giving offense. I apologize in advance if I fail to achieve this goal.
Fathers are recognized generally as ‘head of household’ within Christian tradition. Unfortunately, this tradition systematically has taught that fathers are the only heads of the household, that their decisions are final, and they are endowed with a ‘divine right’ to teach and train members of their family as they see fit.
At a very basic level, this is extra-biblical at best and abusive at worst.
It is especially pernicious because Mothers have been taught to accept the aforementioned patriarchal role without question.
[As an aside, mom knows nothing about this e-mail and i have not solicited her feedback in composing it. Any anger you have should be directed at me, not at her]
Over the years, the concept of ‘[Family Surname] Team’ and ‘family vision’ [quotes are not used ironically, merely to indicate specific phrasing used] have come to be despised by at least [second born sibling], [third born sibling], and myself because they didn’t represent a family vision – they represented your vision, which was to be accepted without question or argument, unless we wanted to face the consequences. While this is as much the fault of our immaturity as any other factor, I think it’s problematically indicative of a family trend – anything that happens must have your seal of approval, regardless of how trivial it is. And any choices that ’the family’ makes are, ultimately, just choices that you have made for us.
You have made some stellar decisions, please don’t get me wrong. This is not a blanket critique of everything that has ever happened. But the family is driven by a centralized power, and it’s abundantly evident whenever a unit of the family attempts to make an autonomous decision that you will brook no autonomy.
The ATI ‘umbrella of authority’ is transformed all too often into a suffocating blanket of my-way-or-the-highway.
Why am I talking about this? In all fairness, it’s often true that attempts at autonomous decisions by children are misguided and in need of parental ‘editing’, but the same should not, and in the case of our family, cannot be said of Motherly autonomous decisions.
I’ve seen the quality of your marriage deteriorate meaningfully for the past few years, and while that may be due to other factors, I’m convinced the largest contributor is the choke-hold you have on Mom’s ability to say, do, allow, or think anything related to the family. [second born] / [third born] and I often comment on the legitimate fear we see in her eyes whenever she allows a younger child to do anything without running it by you first – frightened anticipation of your anger at her for not fulfilling your vision for how the family ought to be.
Any marriage will have differences of opinions, that’s life. But communication, grace, and willingness to not always get your way are how marriages survive. I may not be married, but it’s not rocket science to figure that much out.
Where am I going with all this? Homeschooling is your vision for the children. I may be wrong, but I’m confident Mom no longer has a desire to homeschool. She continues her days in the car, her nights up to 2am managing different children’s classes, her constant fights with children over turning in homework and proctoring exams, in some desperate attempt to fulfill a vision that you have required her to implement. This is not healthy.
As a summary: The power dynamic in the family is driven by your fear, fear that you will lose control. If you made a genuine effort to give Mom freedom to be an independent entity, I think you would discover your vision for family education is sub-optimal.
Section 4: On College, aka, Finances (Again), Choice, and Resources
This is about college. College is expensive, as we’ve all found out.
And homeschooling can [it doesn’t have to] severely limit leadership opportunities / transcript development relative to a public school.
This has a direct financial impact on scholarships, college acceptances [different colleges have very different aid packages], and, consequently, the affordability of higher education. Presuming that blue-collar work is not the optimal adult life track for all the children, doing all that is possible to minimize college tuition is important.
Every child is different. Homeschooling through high school was great for me and I’m sure if I went to public school I wouldn’t be where I am today. But that doesn’t mean homeschooling is optimal for everyone. At the very least, children should be given the option of going to public school for high school, so that they can best position themselves for college applications.
Additionally, public schools have offices designed to educate students on college options, administer standardized tests, prepare transcripts, guide students through the application process, etc. These are professionals, people we’re already paying [via tax dollars], in the richest county in America, to send students to optimal colleges for each family.
Section 5: Action Items and Everything That Didn’t Fit in Earlier Sections
Will public schools open up a new set of problems? Probably. Will continued homeschooling kill Mom? Probably.
Will continued homeschooling eliminate the conflicts that current exist at home? Probably not. Will continued homeschooling ensure that all children love Jesus forever and ever? Probably not. [That was a bit snarkily phrased, I apologize].
Maybe no one wants to go to public school. That’s entirely possible.
But I suspect there is an interest, and I more strongly believe that certain children would massively benefit from it.
[fourth born child], [fifth born child], and [sixth born child] are all IMMENSELY intelligent, and young enough that they have years ahead to shape their high school and college opportunities. If other children went to public school, that would likely allow finances for them to play travel soccer and develop advanced skills there. [fifth born] is fascinated by computer science – if that can be fostered, he would love [elite science / tech high school nearby] as an intense scientific high school. There’s immense potential here.
I 100% support continued homeschooling up to middle school, maybe even through middle school, or perhaps through high school [again depending on individual children’s preferences].
But please, have the humility and intellectual honesty to engage with Mom in a genuine conversation about what she wants, and then implement what she wants.
The world will not end and we will not all become heathens if public schools are opened up as an option.
Who knows, maybe the reduced financial stress and replacement of “mom & dad” with “professor x” as academic task-masters will improve family relations.
Above all, this is about creating a truly family driven vision and contributing to a healthy, high functioning, family unit.