It has become an established truth that any new and good movement in the church will first meet the opposition of the scribes and the Pharisees in the church, i.e. of those who sit in the “chair of Moses” and enjoy some influence among other Christians because of their positions of leadership in the churches, or in the seminaries, or simply because they have a way with words that helps them look wise and smart and helps them gain influence. Liberal – and theologically liberal – activism never seems to upset the church leadership and the influential churchmen; but activism and movements that are conservative and faithful to the Bible can safely bet they will have to deal with the pastors’ fury and rejection first.
Homeschooling isn’t an exception. Even today, 50 years after its revival and the multiple theological and factual proofs that only homeschooling produces children that are morally, psychologically, and intellectually healthy, the hierarchy in the churches still refuses to make peace with it. Very few are the churches where homeschooling families are comfortable. Homeschooling still remains a grass roots movement with very little support from the institutional church. Most readers of American Vision probably remember that Joel McDurmon and I wrote about Tom Stein, a pastor of a PCA church who publicly called for more government intervention in Christian homeschooling families because government bureaucrats were cheating:
These days I had the chance to see the same bias and hostility against homeschooling on the FB wall of someone named Phil Johnson, a popular blog-writer and Executive Director at Grace To You media ministry which is owned and controlled by Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, CA, the church whose pastor is John MacArthur. I am not a reader of Johnson’s blog (I find it rather logorrheic and devoid of clear meaning) but for some reason I have ended up being his FB “friend” and therefore forced to read what he publishes on his wall. And this caught my attention:
“It is possible to take the homeschool argument too far: http://t.co/YIpmWmr .”
In short: The article in the link is about a woman who has mental problems. She’s read the Old Testament and watched a few YouTube videos and decided to circumcise her son. She ended up making a mess, with her son bleeding uncontrollably and in intense pain. She called 911 and the boy was rushed to a hospital. Nothing about homeschooling, not even a single word. But for some reason Phil Johnson saw in that mentally ill woman the “homeschool argument” taken “too far.” If you thought that only the secular media arbitrarily use news to lash at homeschooling, you are wrong. MacArthur’s own executive director does it too. He didn’t show any connection between that example of “homesnipping” and homeschooling. He could have made the connection with having children at all: “It is possible to take the family argument too far.” Or watching YouTube. Or reading the Old Testament. Or living in Oregon. Or any other arbitrary, conjured up connection. But he picked homeschooling.
Never slow to defend truth and expose stupidity for what it is, I replied to the post that the remark was stupid, that Johnson obviously had a bone to pick with homeschoolers, and that he should apologize. The admonishment to apologize fell on deaf years but Johnson replied that he also homeschooled. Not a very convincing argument, over all, given the fact that Soros, Buffett, and Gates have all made fortunes in a capitalist free market and yet all three hate capitalism with a passion. Later on in the discussion Johnson made it known that he looks at homeschooling as “just another DIY project.” Apparently his homeschooling was not based on a moral Biblical conviction – as are most homeschooling parents – but was something of a hobby; much in the way other people do carpentry or renovate their houses themselves. The difference in the moral significance between any DIY project and giving your children Biblical education was not an issue he was open to consider.
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Whether Phil Johnson is willing to admit it or not, comparing homeschooling – and especially Christian homeschooling – to a mentally deranged mother who harmed her son in an insane act is nothing less than slander; and that slander reveals a deep bias against homeschooling. One doesn’t normally go around looking for anecdotal gross examples of mental illness to connect them to homeschooling; one has to have the specific purpose of discrediting homeschooling to do it. And such open bias and hostility to homeschooling is not limited to Johnson; like I said above, we saw it in Tom Stein who found a case against homeschooling not in something homeschoolers have done; it was the fraud committed by government bureaucrats that gave Stein the occasion to call the state for more control on homeschoolers. In this they do not differ from any statist educational bureaucrat or from the MSM who find excuse for lashing at homeschooling in every news about family or education they present. We have pagan enemies of Christian homeschooling; but as usual, our worst enemies are those in positions of power and influence in the religious establishment.
Of course, neither Stein, nor Johnson, nor the other enemies of homeschooling would admit publicly as much – it would create repercussions on their positions of influence and authority. So they have an argument that sounds milder and “reasonable”: Homeschooling is not for everyone because many parents are unqualified and incompetent. Johnson made this the mainstay of his argument in the discussion between us. Tom Stein in his piece against homeschooling also used the picture of homeschooling parents who are “lukewarm, negligent, and unqualified.” (Why would a lukewarm, negligent, and unqualified parent take on the task of homeschooling instead of just dumping the kids at the public school is beyond me.) The argument of “unqualified parents” has been among the most used arguments of the opponents of homeschooling, second only to the socialization argument. The fact that the argument still survives after dozens of studies which prove beyond any doubt that the qualification of the parents has no visible bearing on the intellectual growth and the academic achievements of the children, shows unmistakably that it is a religious argument, based on blind bias against homeschooling. Stein, Johnson, and the others don’t really care about the qualifications or the competency of the parents – if they did, they would be just as critical of the competency and the qualifications of the teachers in the institutional schools; they are not. With the hundreds of examples of direct failures in public and private schools, I could not find a single reference in Johnson’s blog where he criticizes public or private schools; he only uses arbitrary cases to lash at the homeschoolers. I haven’t yet met a single opponent of homeschooling who even deigns to notice that public and private schools provide disproportionally larger number of children who are ignorant, illiterate, immoral, or simply indifferent to any idea of personal growth and achievements. So the “qualification and competence” argument is not a rational argument; and those who use it are not honest, not even a little bit. The argument is based on idolatry, and it is directly opposed to the Biblical teaching.
But let’s suppose it is an honest argument, and let’s analyze it and see if it holds water. Let’s imagine the concerns of those that conjure up images of “incompetent and unqualified” parents are honest concerns. Do they make sense? If they are right to worry about these things, shouldn’t we give our children to the “experts” because the parents would only mess up the education of their children? A reader and supporter of Phil Johnson’s declared in the discussion: “Homeschooling is the third best option to public schools and private schools.” Can we agree with such a statement, only because we imagine parents that are unqualified and incompetent?
I am not going to defend homeschooling in general; others have done that before me. My position is that education is not simply delivery of information, it is a lifestyle; and a lifestyle that places the child outside of the family – even if it is a formally Christian school – is a compromise that must be made in only the rarest of circumstances. We don’t give the children money to just go to McDonalds and have dinner there; there is spiritual and emotional significance in having dinner together, as a family. Sending our kids to institutional school to “get education” is the same as sending them to McDonalds to get a burger for dinner; the material is there but the spirit of education is lacking. Parents that seek every excuse to kick the children out of the house and hand them over to strangers to teach them are only destroying the souls of their own children. A child needs a father and a mother, not a “professional educator” and a pack of other children. But let’s get to the issue at hand – are there really incompetent and unqualified parents?
First, we must point out that such argument is no different from the argument of the Romanists which the Reformers had to deal with: That images and statues in the churches were necessary because most people were too uneducated to learn from the Word of God, and therefore could only learn from images. It is the same argument because (1) it establishes a fixed state of stupidity and incompetence for certain people that can not be redeemed, only catered to; and (2) it frees the church leaders from the responsibility to reach to those people and educate them. The Reformers replied to such argument: “The only reason the people are uneducated is because you who are responsible for their education haven’t done your job well. You shouldn’t find an excuse in it for your idolatry, you should educate them and take them to a higher level.” The response to Johnson and Tom Stein should be the same: If there are incompetent homeschooling parents it is only because you as teachers and preachers haven’t done your job well. It is only because Johnson’s boss, John MacArthur, is so focused on preaching one thing only – God’s grace in salvation – that he doesn’t bother going into other areas of Biblical instruction, like teaching fathers to teach their children. Somehow the teaching of God’s grace in personal salvation never translates into teaching God’s grace in the education of the children, or in anything else, for that matter.
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But this is not the only agreement between the opponent of homeschooling and the Roman Church. Another one is that when applied to parents, the very words “unqualified and incompetent” presuppose the emergence of a specialized class of “professionals” who must take over from parents the task of imparting values to the children. Education is not simply delivery of information, it is based on specific worldview, and it teaches specific worldview, and it indoctrinates the children with specific values. Thus, a teacher’s job is no different from a priest’s job; and in fact, both in the Bible and in the Christian history of Europe and America it was the church that controlled the universities. To declare that the children must be delivered in the hands of a specialized class of professionals who are “qualified and competent” is not different from the Romanist argument that the access to Christ – or to all knowledge and wisdom which are found in Christ only – can happen only through a specialized class of trained priests. The Reformers replied to this that every believer has a direct access to Christ and therefore is a priest; the reply to Johnson is that every parent is a qualified teacher by the very fact of being a parent, and therefore an educational priestocracy is not necessary. If there are specialists in education, they can not be used to violate God’s order by removing the children from the home; their job must be to train the parents to be better teachers.
There is an even deeper level of argumentation here – the question of the nature of education itself. Phil Johnson supported his imaginary “unqualified and incompetent parents” with the specific example of moms who “can’t do simple algebra.” Of course, taken to its logical end, this argument will mean that there shouldn’t be homeschooling at all because no parents have a thorough knowledge of all possible subjects. Some can’t do simple algebra, others simple arts, others simple geography; let’s stop any homeschooling whatsoever for that reason. But is the goal of education to teach children simple this or that, or is it to train a child to obey God in all his ways? Is education a simple intellectual exercise, or is it moral training of character? The question is very important because it determines the very environment in which education must take place. If it is only an intellectual exercise, then a child can be “educated” by just being locked in a room with a computer and internet connection, using distant learning, without any contact with other people; a school these days is an unnecessary waste of money. But if it is moral training of character – as the Bible defines education – then the learning of that information must happen within a specific context of personal relationships, institutional settings, and underlying worldview that supports both the setting and the material learned. Education then becomes a holistic task, a unified whole where the parts – moral training, academic training, philosophical training, practical skills, etc. – can not be separated from each other without destroying the whole. The very process of education must be in harmony with the content of education. The methodology must proceed from the very same worldview, and from the very same Biblical religious and moral presuppositions that control the philosophy of the education. And if the method must be in harmony with the content and with the underlying religious worldview, then a Christian parent can’t afford to organize any different environment for the education of his children than God’s institution for education: The family.
In that case, to separate a child from his family and place him in a different environment for several hours every day because the parents are supposedly “unqualified,” means that a completely new philosophy and definition of education was adopted. It means that Phil Johnson has adopted a definition of education based on the dualism between moral training and intellectual training, and therefore on the dualism between the family environment and the school environment. What in the Bible is a unified learning process – moral and intellectual and practical together – in Johnson’s view is separated today into different spheres. Such separation is by its nature Gnostic and heretical; it presupposes the dualism of all reality. Contrary to Johnson’s claims of himself, he has adopted an essentially pagan view of education. And by association, since he works for John MacArthur in an important position, MacArthur’s worldview is essentially pagan too.
The Bible’s view is that parents are qualified and competent to be the teachers of their children by the very virtue of being parents; the Book of Proverbs presupposes that the fathers are able to teach their sons, and nowhere does the Bible advise delivering the children in the custody of strangers for their education. (The only exception, Samuel, was given in a religious dedication, as a form of sacrifice, to God in His Temple. Which tells us that giving our children to strangers is similar to a sacrifice to a god.) And if in our culture today the parents have lost their will and confidence that they can be teachers of their children, it is only because the influence of the Bible was lost in our culture. Allan Bloom, in his excellent study, The Closing of the American Mind, shows that the decline of Biblical knowledge in America is what led to the abdication of the parents as teachers of their children. It is not that the parents have become less qualified or competent than before; but because they have lost their vision as parents, they now don’t have the moral and the legal authority to guide their children in their lives; and therefore they have lost self-confidence. In the Old World (in Bloom’s words) the children lived in the context of the Bible and its stories of moral principles, moral obedience or disobedience, and God’s covenantal response of rewarding obedience or punishing disobedience. All education was conducted in this context, and since parents were those that were responsible for the religious education of the children, they also controlled and taught everything else necessary for life. By abandoning the Bible, they have lost any claim to relevance as teachers, and therefore had to deliver their children to “experts” who supposedly knew how to educate without having to go back to the religious and moral context of the Bible.
And the results of such education, according to Bloom, are that all his cousins who have been educated in the American way, are actually uneducated. Bloom says,
When they talk about heaven and earth, the relations between men and women, parents and children, the human condition, I hear nothing but cliches, superficialities, the material of satire.
Education, he says a few lines further, “becomes the vain attempt to give children ‘values.’” But if the family has no values, because the family has lost the Bible as its foundation, no one else can give values, neither schools nor professional teachers. The result is a caricature of education; the dumbing down of a whole generation of children, because the parents have adopted an idolatrous religion. If the parents are not qualified to teach their children, no one is qualified, no matter how many degrees they have.
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Education is moral training first, and everything else must be done in the context of that moral training. When declaring parents unfit to morally train their children, Phil Johnson actually admits that the culture of the Bible has been lost and the family is now obsolete in its God-given task to educate the children. But his solution is not a return to that culture; he has another religion to preach, and another god to please: The idol of “expertise” and “professionalism.” The ultimate service to that idol is sacrificing the children to the altar of impersonal, value-less, fragmented “education” that makes the family unnecessary because of the perceived “incompetency” of the parents. As Robert Dabney warned us about 150 years ago, the moment we place the wrong institution to control the education, very soon we will have the wrong religion taught to the children. The only way to return education to its Biblical foundation is to return it to its Biblical institution, the family.
Phil Johnson never apologized for his insulting comparison of homeschoolers to a mentally ill mother who butchered her three-year old son even though it was obvious he should apologize. But God is not mocked. The churches that despised homeschooling will eventually fade into oblivion because they won’t be able to train their children to continue the work. Children whose values have been shaped by spending hours away from home won’t feel bound by common values and vision with their parents. The judgment for the rejection of the Biblical command for the education of the children is coming, and is already here. This won’t be the first time God deals with scribes and Pharisees in history.
 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987), pp. 55-61. I am thankful to my wife Maggie for pointing to me Bloom’s connection between the declining influence of the Bible and the declining confidence of the parents as teachers of their children.
 Ibid., p. 60.