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Legalism is not just a problem that creeps into the church, it creeps into the homeschooling community as well. Let’s talk about legalism and homeschooling. Have you been the subject of comments like these:
“You let your kids read those books? Mine are only allowed to read wholesome, historical fiction.”
“You don’t teach your kids spelling? How are they going to learn to spell then?”
“The ______ method of homeschooling produces scholars. I want the best for my kids, so that’s what we do. Why don’t you use it?”
Good homeschoolers follow the checklist, don’t they?
The implication is that good homeschoolers do things a certain way. If you want to be a good homeschooler, then you will follow the checklist. That checklist usually goes something like this:
- Push classic literature.
- Focus on writing early.
- Use a specific math curriculum (that often emphasizes drill and memory work).
- Emphasize challenging, college prep science.
- Vigorous history lessons told through a Christian lens, often emphasizing names and dates.
- Early foreign language, often Latin.
There is often tremendous pressure to follow the checklist, whether from others or from within yourself. Some homeschoolers who embrace the list seem to have a certain self-righteousness about them, not everyone, but some. A combination of barely concealed pride and a subtle air of disapproval sends a clear message to those who don’t fall in line, particularly among Christian homeschoolers.
If the above list describes how you homeschool, please don’t interpret this as a criticism of you personally. If you feel that God has told you to do things that way, who am I to judge? These goals can be good goals. What I am pointing out is our propensity to project our opinions, our methods, our callings on to others. Legalism and homeschooling don’t go together, just like Christianity and legalism don’t go together.
Freedom means no legalism
A particular homeschooling method doesn’t guarantee our children will choose Christ. It doesn’t guarantee they will get scholarships, let alone go to college. It doesn’t even guarantee that they will learn what you hope they will. And, if your children make bad choices, don’t go to college, reject their faith, and don’t seem to remember anything you tried to teach them, it is not because you homeschooled them.
The freedom to homeschool means that there is no right or wrong way. Most of us get this and embrace it, but legalism still creeps in. We see what others are doing and feel self-conscious. Magazine ads question us, conference exhibits scream at us, and doubt sneaks into our thoughts. When we have several bad days in a row or we have a challenging year, sometimes we blame our homeschooling method. If we have to put our children in public school (or back in school) and teachers say they are behind, they blame our homeschooling method (along with our family, friends, and even ourselves). The thinking behind the guilt is–“if I had just used ____method, things would be different.” That is a lie from Satan. Truth is, no matter what method you use, you don’t control the outcome, whether good or bad. We cannot take credit if the outcome is good and we cannot blame our methods if the outcome is bad. And, in the same way, we must refrain from praising or blaming others.
The enemy wants to combine legalism and homeschooling to distract and destroy
Legalism in your homeschooling is a weapon of the devil. Guilt, comparison, self-righteousness, pride, discouragement, shaming, and all the rest come from the enemy with one goal in mind. His goal is to destroy your relationship with your children and your fellowship with other homeschoolers. He wants to bring division in the homeschooling community because they are impacting the world through a rapidly growing movement. He tries to derail individual families because their children are thriving.
We need to band together and stop bringing a legalistic attitude into our support groups and co-ops. What works for one family may not work for another family. Your children may be academically ahead and another family may include many children with invisible learning challenges. If you are one of those moms who looks down on others because they allow their children to read “fluffy” books and use Zome Tools as math instruction, please stop. (I have personally been on the receiving end of a mom who questioned whether my child actually has Asperger’s. Very hurtful, to say the least.) Many of us experience enough persecution at the hands of strangers, family members, friends and neighbors, church members, and sometimes pastors. Please see this post about that. Other homeschoolers need to be our advocates and allies.