Saturday, August 22, 2009

Do It Well, But Keep It Humble

"Homier than thou!" A bunch of years ago, Mike Farris of HSLDA wrote an article about being “homier than thou” (a pun on the old phrase "holier than thou") in which he cautioned home educating parents against arrogance and self-righteousness, especially when relating to other people who have chosen (or have no choice) to do things differently. I can’t remember all that he said, but the phrase stuck with me. Unfortunately, I find that it still applies. I read several blogs about Biblical womanhood, family life, and home schooling. I truly appreciate each one of them, but occasionally I stumble on a post or subsequent reader comments that make me cringe. Usually, the writer is trying to make a case for home schooling, or having a large "full quiver" family, or respecting your husband's leadership, or following the courtship model, or training daughters to be "keepers at home" or whatever the worthy issue is. That’s good, up to a point. The problem is when this turns into a diatribe and ridicule against those who either may disagree with them or who are simply asking sincere but pointed questions because they really want to understand what all the fuss is about. This grieves me. This is not Christian grace or humility. It is not "speaking the truth in love." I see it as a huge turn-off to those whom we really do want to win. As the old adage goes, "You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." I’ve always treasured the home schooling lifestyle for the positive benefits that it can bring, rather than as a negative reaction against public schooling. Sure, I think home schooling is better! That’s why I’m doing it, despite all of the challenges! That's why I spend so much time writing and speaking to encourage and equip other moms in this Grand Adventure. But that doesn’t mean that someone is “bad” or “brainwashed” if they don’t (or can't) home school. (Yes, I have seen those exact words used…)

Coincidentally, my friend Stephanie sent me a note the other day which confirmed my thoughts: "I cannot thank you enough for your example of not only homeschooling, but of godliness and love. You never PUSHED homeschool on me or told me how awful it is to send your kid to public school or anything like that. Your children have flourished in both the collegiate and business worlds as well as in their social endeavours. You did what you believed God would have you do and did not push those beliefs onto others. I thank you for that. My children and I have been blessed by the years I was able to teach them and have them home 100% of the time. Starting my final year of homeschooling , that is why I wanted to say thank you to you for helping me travel down this glorious road." Then my friend Michelle wrote just this morning, "You have been a wonderful inspiration, not because you are perfect , but because you are not, and you help me believe maybe I am really doing a good job."

You see, we really don't have to be obnoxious or strident to get our point across. When my younger kids bicker (as they often do) I remind them that the only thing you prove by calling someone an "IDIOT!!!!" is that you yourself are one. Of course I am preaching to myself as well! We simply cannot build ourselves up by tearing others down. We will only prove how immature we are! Maybe this little article itself will seem like a diatribe. It’s not meant to be. My aim is to bring a little necessary correction in an area where I too have been guilty. We home school moms can take a certain amount of satisfaction in how our children are turning out. I’m certainly proud of my ten terrific kids, even though I see their weaknesses and they definitely see mine! Where this parental contentment takes a turn for the worse is if we smugly give the impression that the reason why we are having so much outward success is because we are so good at what we do! Bosh! Whatever we do is sheerly by the grace of God. It is this grace that will also pick us up again after our pride leads to the inevitable downfall. If you ever get to the point where you recognize things in your own heart or your children’s lives that make you gasp in shock, then thank the Lord for his enlightening mercies! This is the opportunity to embrace the gracious gift of humility and to plead for his help. We need to be keenly aware of our continual dependence on God. Sometimes he allows these bumps -- big and little --to shake us out of deathly complacency. Brokenness brings so many blessings, not the least of which is a new and deeper compassion for hurting people. You see, no matter how good things look on the outside, folks are struggling. We may hide it well, but we all have fissures beneath the surface. Some of us have even experienced internal earthquakes. I am full of gratitude for the very painful, eye-opening seasons of my life, even the ones that continue to make me gasp. They were (and are) the mercy of God to wake me up, to spur me to pursue change, to help me to bring compassionate grace and healing to others, to make me see how his power is perfected in my weakness. In our home school, it is Mom who is really being educated!

So, dear friends, whatever you do, "Do it well, but keep it humble!"

P.S. If the topic of humility and motherhood hits a tender spot, please read my article "Be It Ever So Humbling, There's No Place Like Home". Another short article related to legalism, "Your Unique Home School Family", accompanies my poem "This is My Song and I Sing."


  1. Great post..and so needed in our community. I myself in my younger days was overzealous in my homeschooling ways. The Lord really convicted me that there is no one way but many ways He allows us to raise our children in the admonition of the Lord.

  2. Fine post, Virginia. I am always walking too close along the edge of Pride Ridge, myself, about to fall into the Chasm. One thing that irks me is the homeschooling T-shirts that are sold in various places. They always sound so defensive, and I think to wear one of them would make me look homier than thou.

  3. There's sort of an embattled mentality amongst some of the homeschooling folks out there.

    Some is understandable defensiveness, and some it just pridefulness, and it's sometimes hard to tell which is which.

    I'm the product of a home school, and my mom actually encourages me to send my kids to public school. (!!?)

    Someday I should gently open that conversation up with her; what did she feel was gained or lost by homeschooling? hmmm.

    I get the impression that she felt the burden of the whole project falls endlessly upon Mom, (if something goes awry, it's never Dad's fault!) and does not wish that upon me.

    You see that sometimes, with the older HS moms; once their own daughters are moms, it's harder to condemn them for being selfish or brainwashed or un-Christian.

    But I don't know exactly what the deal is.

  4. Interesting comment, Goldilocks!

    My opinion is that home schooling is for those who are willing and able. There's a lot we can do to help ourselves become willing and able, but it (like family size, etc.) is a personal decision each couple (or single parent) has to make.

    Your mom might have some insight into what didn't work well for her, which could honestly help you improve your own home schooling experience if you choose to go that route.

    My husband has always been involved in our home schooling. He sees it as his responsibility just as much as mine, even if he isn't involved quite as much in the day to day teaching. He's good with the logistics of making sure we're following through on our plans and doing a lot of the grading and adminisrative paperwork. I'm more the creative, intuitive one who likes to read aloud to kids and plan lessons. I think that can make for a good balance if the mom and dad can appreciate how their differences balance one another instead of competing or getting defensive.

    It is hard to tell where people are coming from sometimes. It's even hard for me to discern where I myself am coming from once in a while! Sometimes it is a simultaneous mix of a jumble of things all at once. I guess that's the way a lot of life is!

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, everyone!

    (BTW, my cousin's husband facetiously mentioned in a comment on this post's Facebook feed that dead squirrels attract even more flies than honey! Now that's a different perspective entirely! I'm not sure I'll try that one, Brian!)

  5. That sounds pretty reasonable to me. People are complicated! Even the story of just one person's life is such a maze of conflicting impulses and beliefs and experiences.

    I suppose only the continued grace of God allows our little brains not to implode.

    Mom was always the one who pushed for the HSing growing up, and that's part of why she did the lion's share of the work-- I think Dad was always sort of ambivalent about the whole "spiritual" crowd she ran with at the time, but he put up with it as long as he didn't have to do too much.

    Needless to say, this erupted in sinfully ugly recriminations years after the fact. Ugh.

    My memories of homeschooling are mostly fond ones, though (and yes, chaotic! crazy! MESSY! :D) and I do want my own kids to experience that, at least for a few years.

    I really believe it fosters a lifelong love of learning and a spirit of open inquiry.

    My husband thinks it's pretty out-there and unnecessary, though, and it's hard to frame the conversation about HS in a way that doesn't say, "Your own education was pitifully inadequate and you are too brainwashed to even know any better."

    AND, I really don't want to re-create the same dynamic about schooling in my own household that existed during my childhood, for obvious reasons, lol.

    Maybe I ought to try dead squirrels! ;)

  6. Some moms try the stealth approach to convincing their hubbies (or parents, or whomever) about home schooling. They teach their kids so well in the preschool years that it would seem such a shame to interrupt the success... "Kid's already reading? He'd be so bored in a kindergarten classroom!" Mwa ha ha! I'm not saying we should push our kids too hard just to prove a point, but you can at least show how much you enjoy it, and how you can handle it after all, and maybe that will buy you another year or so at home. There are also so many hybrid options like the co-ops that can make it more palatable and less stressful on the mom. I'm so thankful for our Providence co-op! I get to interact with other moms and my kids get to enjoy other kids and be taught by other adults, so it's not so much of a narrow cloistering deal.

  7. Oh, ladies, did you notice that I posted a link for a free PDF version of The Real Life Home School Mom in the sidebar of the blog?

    Thanks so much for all of the encouraging comments! They mean all the world to me!

  8. Virginia,

    I appreciate your plea for humility. It is so important for us all as disciples of Jesus to "in honor prefer one another above ourselves" and to "not think more highly of ourselves than we ought".

    You wrote: Ususally the writer is trying to make a case for home schooling, or having a large "quiverfull family", or following the courtship model, or training the daughters to be "keeper's at home" or whatever the worthy issue is.

    This is what I so strongly object to: the idea that any of these issuse are anything more than a religious doctrinal preference.

    They have nothing to do with home schooling.

    Home schooling is a nurturing and natural form of education that flows out of family life. It does not belong to any religion.

    The fact that home schooling has been latched onto by this subset of Christianity so at odds with the rest of society does not redefine home schooling.

    As long as people continue to claim that quiverfull theology, arranged marriages and suppression of choices for daughters is intrinsically a part of home school then the home school freedoms we now enjoy are in danger.

  9. Shadowspring, I have no problem with people sharing what they believe to be the joys and benefits or their lifestyles. I don't limit my writing to home schooling and don't expect others to do that either. My entire life is integrated. The way we live is more than a mere doctrinal preference. Courtship itself has many forms, and most people who follow that model are reasonable people who are not advocating arranged marriages. Training a daughter (or a son) to take care of home and family is a wonderful thing to do.

    Like you and Karen Campbell of, I am distressed by the legalism that is rampant in the home school community. We must raise these issues when we see young people being hurt or unduly limited in ways that will affect them for the rest of their lives. Other than that, though, each one of us -- conservative or modern -- can make the choices that we feel God has called us to, and leave that some dignity to others.

  10. Did my response disappear? I responded to your reply yesterday.

  11. Shadowspring, I think it disappeared, and I don't know where it went. I didn't delete it and I'm planning to respond to it when I get a chance. (I'm in the middle of getting ready to teach at a literature seminar this weekend.)

    I still have it in my e-mail, so I'm pasting it in here:


    I would never use the adjective "mere" in front of the words "religious doctrinal preferences"! Religious doctrinal beliefs are probably the strongest motivator in human history!

    But looking at it honestly, as I know you will, all of these issues (QF, courtship, woman having only one possible role in society-that of stay at home moms who practice QF and courtship) are particular to religion.

    And even within Christianity,the main religion in America, these doctrinal beliefs are non-essentials of the faith. Our salvation does not lie in keeping up these doctrines, nor are all (or even very many) Christians proponents of these doctrines.

    The apostle Paul covered the way believers should approach one another about these issues in the letter to the Romans chapter 14. =)

    My point is that home schooling has nothing to do with one's religous beliefs, but that it exists as a method of educating children and raising families quite apart from ANY religion!

    That many who share your particular brand of Christianity have latched on to home schooling as the main tool for passing on your faith does not make home schooling "yours".

    It does not make home schooling the "Christian" thing to do.

    So while your opinion is that home schooling magazines should prosetylize more gently and agreeably for QF, courtship and gender role divisions, I submit that home school magazines should completely omit all such articles and concentrate on actual home EDUCATION.

  12. Shadowspring, I'm sorry it's taken so long to respond to this. For many of us, faith and education are closely integrated, and home schooling is one important tool in being able to train our children in the faith. That's why there is a market for home school magazines that don't stick strictly to education issues. I actually don't subscribe to print home school magazines anymore because I get enough reading about it on the blogs. I don't agree with everything I see, which was the point of this "Do It Well" post! But I know that each one is sincerely TRYING to do their best to teach their kids, serve their God, and encourage other moms to be the same. I glean a lot of good even when I can't agree with every last little thing. I just hope people will learn to be a little sweeter and not self-righteous in their enthusiasm. Perhaps they don't realize how badly this has hurt and discouraged other moms. I've been through quite a paradigm shift in recent years. That's just my perspective from two decades and ten kids worth of home schooling.

  13. Words are a witness when said in love, but a life exuding Christ is a living witness of what Christ has done in our hearts and lives. If we are pushy or "holier than thou" in our choices claiming "God told us to do so." What kind of a witness is that? The Bible may very well lead us to choices that are good and right and wise, but we are unwise when we lord those choices over others in an attempt to destroy them for not following suit. Thank you for the link up on my blog


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