In my last post, I considered an intriguing piece of Luther’s commentary on the 4th Commandment–specifically the idea that all temporal authority proceeds from parental authority–along with its key implication: All temporal authorities exist for the sake of families because they are delegated by parents to assist in their responsibilities.
I also considered one of the most insidious ways these authorities become abused–usurping parental authority by absorbing their functions. Schools are, of course, the first place this has tended to happen in the West. Having been created for the sake of assisting parents in educating their children, they’ve largely become institutions that indoctrinate according to the ideologies of professional educators over and against the will of parents (consider, for example, a story a commenter on that post pointed out.)
Our public schools, of course, are where this abuse has most severely advanced. When it comes to respect for Christian values and the parents who hold fast to them, individual school districts and buildings are a crap-shoot at best and spiritual poison at worst. If they’re not already indoctrinating your kids on abortion, gender insanity, sexual degeneracy, and progressivism, they’re only a single teacher, administrator, or lawsuit away from beginning to do so. That die has long been cast.
Unfortunately, our private religious schools are often on the same trajectory. In many cases, they ape the values of secular education for the sake of things like public appearance, submission to the ideals of accreditors, SJW convergence, and the like. But even where they’re not adopting worldly standards and practices, many of the more insidious cultural attitudes can easily persist. For generations now, most religious parents have effectively been outsourcing the education of their children to modern schoolmasters rather than merely seeking their assistance. That is simply the normal way of looking at it in our society, and people must be convinced to adopt alternative perspectives.
Homeschooling is, of course, a wonderful alternative. However, it does not altogether eliminate parents’ need for assistance. Christians should not complacently allow homeschooling to become the *only* alternative for our brothers and sisters for two simple reasons:
First, not everyone can homeschool. Yes, I know: there are a whole lot of people who really could homeschool, but aren’t willing to make the necessary sacrifices. I completely agree. That might even describe a majority of families. Nevertheless, there are other families dealing with relatively unique situations who genuinely cannot manage it on their own. Perhaps the family includes children with special needs that complicate matters in peculiar ways. Or perhaps one spouse isn’t on board with homeschooling for some reason or another. After all, even if the other spouse is convinced that homeschooling is the best path, it’s nearly impossible for them to do it unilaterally with antagonism in place of support. Even if most families really can homeschool, that doesn’t mean they all can. We shouldn’t be sanguine about leaving our brothers and sisters in Christ behind in this way.
Second, not everyone who really can homeschool believes that they can. Sure, folks in this category are incorrect in their belief. But like it or not, that error is a reality that must be dealt with. The old saw that you can do anything if you just believe is a lie, but at the same time, not believing is a very real obstacle. You’ll never accomplish something that you’re convinced is impossible for you. Once again, we need to consider our roles as brothers and sisters in Christ. Do we abandon them behind the obstacle they’ve made for themselves, or do we help them over it? We can’t do it for them, but it is possible to lower the barriers to entry.
With this in mind, what then might schooling look like? How could we conceptualize a school that assists parents who need it without either deliberately or absentmindedly absorbing their responsibilities? There are no doubt many workable answers to that question, but this is what I would like to see out of Lutheran education: We need schools that are designed around students having customized dual-enrollment in both traditional and homeschooling.
This means that there would be a school-building of some kind with employed teachers and regular classes that cover the necessary subjects of a classical education. However, the typical student would not be attending for the entire school day. Instead, they would be instructed in subjects of their parents’ choice at school during part of the day while their parents cover the other subjects at home. Some children might be in the classroom for 75% of the day, others for 25% depending on the child’s circumstances and the parents’ needs. In addition to the school’s paid staff, some parents would volunteer to serve in various paraprofessional roles in the classroom on a rotating basis–perhaps in exchange for some reduction in tuition or fees.
Assisting parents through this kind of model would come with a number of substantial benefits:
1) It would re-integrate parents into the education of their children.
As I wrote last time, we have the institutions we deserve. As parents, we facilitated the usurpers. Merely sending kids off to school to let the professionals handle it created considerable distance between parents and their children’s education. One of the reasons Christians have to worry about what kind of nonsense our children are being taught in government schools is because it’s become normal for us to be on the outside of education looking in. Rather than schools assisting parents, it’s become a matter of parents assisting schools–helping with homework, providing resources, making sure the bureaucratic procedures are followed, and so forth while schools take primary responsibility for educating.
By directly providing some portion of their child’s education–both at home as teachers and in the classroom as paras–parents return to their natural integral role. They just don’t have to do it alone. Teachers and parents can word side-by-side with transparency and well-defined roles to mitigate many of the current tensions. Students can benefit from the experience and knowledge base that professional educators can provide. Parents can benefit from the teachers modeling effective techniques for them. Teachers can benefit from the parents’ experience in dealing with their own children’s personal quirks and challenges. Everyone could potentially benefit from this kind of cooperative arrangement.
2) It would gently introduce parents to homeschooling in a guided fashion
Whenever parents look into the mechanics of homeschooling, the first thing we hear is always something along the lines of “you can do it however you want!” While that may sound exciting to some, the open-ended nature of the challenge is incredibly daunting to others. When you’re just starting out, you have no idea whether “however you want” is actually good for your child. Plus, while finding or building small homeschooling communities and cooperatives comes naturally to more extroverted parents, it can be extremely hard for introverts to ensure their children don’t end up in isolation. All-in-all, homeschooling takes an incredible leap of faith at the beginning before you find your footing, and to many parents, it feels like gambling their children’s education. That uncertainty is only magnified by a wider culture and older generations that are antagonistic and distrustful of the entire concept.
Having an established institution built around dual-enrollment could help ease this transition. Instead of having to figure out what “however you want” means for their children all at once, parents can use a comfortable school environment as a foundation as they discover for themselves that educating their children isn’t voodoo. They would be immediately surrounded by fellow believers who are at different points on the same schooling journey. They could begin with most of the teaching taking place at school, while they take advantage of the school’s resources to learn to teach at home. As they grow more comfortable, they may transition to more of a pure homeschooling approach. Or, perhaps their peculiar circumstances might still make that a bridge too far. Nevertheless, they can continue to be assisted in educating their children all the same because it can be easily customized.
3) It would be better equipped to serve children with disabilities.
This is an enormous drawback at most parochial schools. All you need to do to trigger a deer-in-the-headlights stare when you’re touring a Lutheran school is ask about a disability. To be sure, this isn’t really the school’s fault–most don’t have the resources to be truly adaptable to these kinds of challenges. They can’t forcibly extract funding from the general population the way public schools can. Nevertheless, it leaves parents of special needs kids out in the cold all the same. Some have no choice but to subject their child to a public school where they can arrange an IEP (individualized education program.)
In contrast, a school based around customized dual-enrollment would have a lot more options. This is where parents volunteering as a kind of paraprofessional would be truly invaluable. Rather than leaving the school to figure it out on their own, they could bring their own expertise on their child’s condition to the table. If they need one-on-one assistance in the classroom (as many IEP students do), a parent who is already used to handling the student’s condition could be there as-needed. And because other parents also serve in the classroom on a regular basis, it might create less of a stigma. While some disabilities might still be too much for the classroom to accommodate, this model is nevertheless far more adaptable than traditional schooling. It could always do more than merely saying “good luck with that” as fellow Christians are very politely guided out the door.
4) It would help build better communities among Lutheran families
This is something we desperately need in our churches, and it’s something that traditional schooling just doesn’t provide very well. It’s simply the nature of outsourcing work to professionals–fellow clients don’t usually form communities among themselves. And no matter how many PTO’s you put together, parents always remain on the outside of education looking in. But a school built around customized dual-enrollment would put parents on the inside. What’s more, they would actually be alongside one another as they’re facing the same challenges–getting to know each other and each other’s children. There’s far more potential to bond with one another in this kind of setting than in simply dropping your kids off at the same building every weekday and spending an hour or two in the same building on Sunday morning.
Families need communities based on more than mere proximity. American culture has become more antagonistic towards faithful Christianity–and even basic natural law–than ever before. Instead of making each family stand against these forces alone and figure it all out for themselves, why not have them stand together as they collaborate on resisting the darkness? As our institutions and communities fail all around us, we have no choice but to build new ones–why not do so rooted in a common confession of faith and common cause?
This is a bare-bones idea to be sure. I’m not in a position where I can supply the millions of little details that would make it work in practice. Nevertheless, when I ponder the challenges of Christian education today, I find my thoughts continually returning to this kind of arrangement. Christians in America are, I think, at a crossroads of sorts. Do we continue to drift along with our culture into oblivion, or do we reassess and rebuild according to what we say we believe?
Family inevitably lies at the heart of that decision. For those who do invest our flesh and blood in the future, our foremost responsibility is to raise our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Every parent needs to find a way to make that happen, but there are advantages to doing so together instead of in isolation. Whether it ultimately looks like this or like something completely different, I hope and pray that we find a way to replace or rebuild our failing institutions while we still have an opportunity to do so.