I met Tony Jones during my recent blogging trip to Sri Lanka with World Vision (please click HERE to help me sponsor ten children from the community we visited!). Tony is a great guy, someone I consider a friend. He is a super smart theologian, a successful blogger, and a widely read author.
He values community involvement and being a good neighbor – not just to his fellow Christians, but to everyone. So when he republished one of his older posts regarding his opinions on homeschooling, I wasn’t surprised to read that his dedication to being missional (allowing his love for those around him to be a witness of Christ’s love) led him to call for the death of homeschooling.
Having the view that homeschooling and being missional are mutually exclusive is such a commonly held, yet mistaken, belief.
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If it wouldn’t be so judgmental, it would almost be humorous, the way we think we can speak into the lives of others on behalf of God in no uncertain terms. It is as if we cannot accept that the Spirit might be among the populace, moving and nudging and encouraging people to do things we cannot understand, even things we do not agree with.
And this is the heart of my disagreement with Tony. I do not dispute his right to believe that public schooling is the best way for his family to be a missional family, reaching out to those in his community. He knows his family best. But to throw a net so wide as to cover every Christian in this country, to infer that homeschooling is a mistake in every instance, seems overly simple to me.
Tony writes that “to withdraw my children from public education is to not play my (God-given) role as a missional member of society.” If he genuinely meant his own family in that statement, then there is no way that I could disagree with him. But it is obvious from the way that the article is written that he speaks not only for his own family, but for every other Christian family out there.
I am not surprised by the tone of the article – this is how we as American Christians communicate about issues these days. There is an alarming lack of humility. There is very little seeking to understand. We continue grasping for formulas on how to live, what to believe, or which political party to endorse. We argue over the best way to raise, discipline, feed, diaper, and clothe our children.
Guess what? There is no formula.
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For over a year my wife took our older two children to a local food bank, the three of them teaching people how to make healthy meals with the food they were receiving. For four months we traveled the country, uniting writers and other creative folks, giving money to awesome organizations we found along the way, meeting in person people I had only known on the internet. We made friendships with total strangers at the various campgrounds we visited. For two springs I coached or helped to coach my son’s baseball team, getting to know the parents and kids in our community. In the past my wife has taught cooking classes to children. We have friends of many different religious and ethnic backgrounds come to our house for dinner and who invite us to their homes for birthdays or nights out.
Can a family homeschool and still be missional? Of course. Can a family send their children to public school and remain isolated? Of course. We have not “opted out of the societal contract” any more than someone who sends their kids to public school has automatically opted in. Perhaps twenty years ago the choice of whether or not to homeschool was an accurate litmus test on a family’s desire to be isolated or protect themselves from the evils of society, I don’t know. But even if it was then, it no longer is now.
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What does surprise me is that Tony’s dogmatic stance towards homeschooling is an attitude I would normally expect to find among the fundamentalist crowd (simply aimed in the other direction and about some other topic like what books you are allowed to read or which political party is God’s party) – not the emergent group. I guess it goes to show that we all allow our own personal axe of judgment to fall from time to time, no matter how open and accepting we may otherwise be.
You know what would be compelling? If there was greater cooperation between the homeschooling world and the public school world, if there wasn’t so much animosity, judgment, and misunderstanding. My wife and I would LOVE to spend time at our local public school, reading to children or doing creative writing classes or volunteering in any way – but I generally feel like an outsider among most of the public school administration and faculty. And Tony’s approach only serves to widen the gap between the two communities, rallying public-schoolers around the perceived negatives of homeschooling and pushing the homeschoolers to circle the wagons in a defensive posture.
I think it’s clear to most that the level of education in our country is faltering. Perhaps if we committed to working together, instead of further splintering the various groups, our children would all benefit – homeschooled, public schooled, and private schooled alike.
Finally, a quote from NT Wright’s Surprised By Hope (via Jason McCarty):
“Of course, no one individual can attempt more than a fraction of this mission. That’s why mission is the work of the whole church, the whole time. Some will find God nudging them to work with handicapped children. Some will sense a call to local government. Others will discover a quiet satisfaction in artistic or educational projects. All will need one another for support and encouragement.”
As a parent, I could use your support and encouragement, as I’m sure you could probably use mine.
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You can check out Tony’s original post here: Death to Homeschooling!
Or, even better, you can help me reach my goal of getting ten kids from Sri Lanka sponsored. Click HERE and scroll down for their names and profiles. Thanks!