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Classical Homeschooling: An Oxymoron?

by Christine Miller

Why We Homeschool

There is no doubt that homeschooling is a rigorous undertaking, so why do parents do it? The reasons are many and varied, the most important probably being that God has ordained parents to be the primary teachers of their children. Education is the parents’ responsibility.* Other reasons are tied to that one--the idea that the family is a whole, rather than a group of individuals that just happen to reside at the same address; the idea that learning is integrated with life rather than separated from it. These fundamental beliefs keep a family homeschooling even when there are good schools in the area. Other reasons, such as academic excellence, continuity in communication of values, or financial constraints are real and important.

So what do our reasons for homeschooling have to do with classical homeschooling? Plenty. All of us have probably read or heard discussed the idea that “regular” homeschooling is okay for average parents, but classical education requires the cut above; that classical homeschooling higher than the grammar stage may be something of an oxymoron. Is that true? Are our reasons for homeschooling applicable to all forms of education except for classical education? I believe not.

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Parents as Teachers

Let’s go back to this: God designated parents to do the job of teaching. We can look at this statement the normal way, the way most of us are used to looking at it: that parents are the ones responsible before God to provide a superior education, usually through coming up with the big bucks to have the top-flight professionals to do the job. This assumes almost automatically that top-flight professionals are betters educators of children than parents, solely on the grounds of their level of familiarity with their subject matter.

Or we can look at it this way: that God ordained parents to be the teachers of their children, because parents are the best teachers of their children. You are the best teacher for your child, and your neighbor is the best teacher for his child, and I am the best teacher for my child. Not because of our education or lack thereof; not because of our conformance to man-made qualifications or lack thereof; but because we are our child’s parent, because of our position, not our familiarity with some subject matter.

We would not dream of having a quarrel with the idea that our husbands are our best providers and protectors because of their position, not their qualifications. They are tied to us by inseparable bonds; they have a wonderful, mysterious, holy relationship with us. It would be ludicrous to have our neighbor be our provider just because he makes more money. The fulfillment of the job of providing and protecting is our husband’s because he is our husband, and has nothing to do with how much money he makes.

In the same way, parents have the job of teaching their children. We have this job because of the inseparable bonds with which we are bound to them, because of our position as their parents. It has nothing to do with qualifications or knowledge. We have a wonderful, mysterious, and holy relationship with our children that makes us particularly and singularly right for the job of teaching, not just any children, but our children. It would be ludicrous to have our neighbor teach our children just because he has more knowledge. The fulfillment of the job of teaching is ours because we are the parents, and has nothing to do with how educated we are ourselves.

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Content and Delivery

Although formula will sustain our babies, why do they thrive on mother’s milk when mother’s milk has been chemically analyzed and duplicated in ingredient and proportion in formula? I believe it is because there is more to nurturing than content, than x amount of ounces of milk in his tummy to provide x amount of calories for physical sustenance. There is delivery too, and the nurturing and feeding of a little one’s heart and soul that goes on while he is nursing from his mother is of great importance.

This principle of content and delivery is a vital one. A child from a destitute but loving home will be infinitely happier than a child from a wealthy but cold one. This is such basic common sense that it seems ridiculous to even mention it. But it is true because delivery is as important as content, and this case would suggest that it is even more so.

There is more to learning than content as well. Delivery plays an important role. And learning within the family, from the parents, from the God-ordained root of life, learning and nourishment for the young saplings around our table, cannot be downplayed as to its importance. Now that we have established our grounds for homeschooling, we have the delivery end of the equation set on solid footing. What about the content end? We chose classical education for our children because it is the best method out there for producing truly educated individuals. But then, because the subjects of the curriculum are rigorous and specialized (Latin, Great Books, Logic and Rhetoric are not something to be picked up off the street, after all, like auto mechanics or waitressing might be) we parents (and everyone else) may feel that in this case it would be better to have the experts at the institution do the teaching; in other words, we feel that content should take precedence over delivery.

Is it really true that for classical education, at least, the amount of knowledge, the familiarity with the subject matter, the content, should reign supreme? After all, of the two, content or delivery, which one is easier to make up? Content, of course; but the years that we have with our children while they are under our care and open to our influence are limited - there is a definite window of opportunity that can never be made up once closed. We believe at CCH that parents that homeschool for any length of time at all are benefiting their children, and parents that homeschool through high school, yes, even with classical education, are benefiting their children immeasurably more.

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Classical Content

However, I do not mean to give the impression that content is unimportant. Content is important, especially in classical education. If a parent is lacking in their own education, they have a responsibility to continue their education, so that they can do the job of teaching even better. A student will not be greater than his teacher, so the teacher has the responsibility to be as great as he can be, with the help of the Lord.

But this is a doable thing. As parents, we can learn and educate ourselves. The articles on this website are here for that purpose: introducing the subjects to provide a sign-post for further research; outlining the subjects to help parents determine their strengths and weaknesses, for the purpose of knowing where to supplement. The greatest teachers in the world, in the form of the Bible and the other great books, are available in any bookstore for any parent to read. Parents can purchase texts and teach themselves. They can take continuing education classes through the local university or take internet tutorials themselves as an adult student. Parents can pool their resources with other parents while still remaining at the center of life and learning for their children, through co-ops, enrichment classes, and so on. Internet tutorials, such as with Schola Classical Tutorials or Escondido Tutorial Service are a promising, promising solution to the dilemma of content: the highest quality content right in our own homes, the highest quality delivery; truly the best of both worlds.

Classical homeschooling is not an oxymoron, but a viable, vigorous reality. It is the prayer of CCH that we can be of service to parents in making it a viable, vigorous reality for their homes and families as well.

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Some Final Considerations

All of the above is our opinion based on our own family, experiences, understanding of Scriptures, and walk with the Lord. Just as, I feel, we have to be careful in discouraging parents that have chosen to homeschool their children classically, we should be just as careful in discouraging parents that have chosen to send their children to a local school. We cannot judge how our neighbor educates his children, only how God has called us to educate ours. If any of us feel convicted to homeschool even with good private schools in the area, then we are responsible to follow that conviction. And if any of us feel convicted to have the private schools in the area educate our children, then we are responsible before God to follow that conviction. It is before a parent’s own Master that he stands or falls.

But I felt compelled to speak out on this subject, as parents that have chosen to homeschool their children classically have been discouraged, and many still struggle with feeling that it is the second-best choice. This is simply not so. Yes, classical education is rigorous, and no, it is not outside of the province of parents. Parents that are parenting and schooling in accordance with the Scriptures and against the norms of society should be commended and encouraged, rather than be discouraged because we don’t all have degrees from Classical U. If there are other ways that CCH can encourage parents that are homeschooling classically, please contact us.

*Genesis 18:19, Deuteronmony 4, 6, 11, Psalm 34, 78, Proverbs 1:8-9; 4, 23:26, Isaiah 38:19, Ephesians 6:4.

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Cross and crown of thorns, the symbols of our Lord’s suffering for our sakes

Classical Christian Homeschooling / Christine Miller / Last revised November 1999
Copyright 1997-1999