“Death to Homeschooling!”? Some Thoughts Regarding Tony Jones Recent Blog Post

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!

32 Replies to ““Death to Homeschooling!”? Some Thoughts Regarding Tony Jones Recent Blog Post”

  1. Shawn, I actually believe that whether people are fumdamentalist or mainline or emergeng or whatever, the majority actually are dogmatic aboug their own stances. And I’m pretty dogmatic about believing that.

  2. Well said. Our progeny are out of the house now but when they were still of school age we actually had experience with Public school, homeschooling AND Christian school. They all had a place in our education choices for our daughters. And in the end, after having them in Christian grade school and then public school and for our oldest daughter a year of homeschooling, we chose a college prep, Christian Jr. Hi/High School not because we felt our local school system was evil, far from it. We live in a school district that is academically superior. It was just that our daughters were all high achievers and weren’t challenged enough in the public school. We chose the best option for them academically which happened to be a school that was a 35 minute drive from our home and which cost us money and time. Because it was Christian based was not the primary concern for us, although that was a secondary perk. We have many friends who have had their children in public school for their entire school life OR Christian school for their entire school life OR homeschool for their entire school life. And all did well as far as we can see.

  3. I agree with you that Mr. Jones should not throw a wide net over everyone who homeschools and speak against it. However, I have taught piano lessons in a Home School Co-op for the past 5 years and I’ve met families that have the attitude that they homeschool to keep their children “safe from the world.” I have also met parents that send their kids to private Christian schools with the same attitude. I don’t agree with that attitude because eventually, those children are going to grow up and have to “live and work in the world.”

    I’ve also noticed that in some cases of trying to protect their children by homeschooling, these parents are doing a disservice to their children. Their children have speech problems that are not addressed, they are unable to communicate well, they are behind in reading skills and writing skills and they are not socialized well.

    There are definitely advantages to homeschooling vs. public school. My days off with my children are decided by the district. When the school year starts and stops is dictated by the district and state laws. Travel days are limited to 5 days a school year. However, I knew before I even had children that homeschooling was not for me. I’m not disciplined or organized enough, nor tend to have enough patience. Once I had children, it was clear that homeschooling would not work. Personalities clashed. It was better for someone else to be the teacher and for Mom to stay Mom. I graduated from public school and my husband went to public for his elementary years and then private for MS and SH. We live in the district that I graduated from. Our children went/go to the same elementary school my husband attended. Public school was familiar and comfortable for us.

    Like I said, homeschooling has wonderful advantages compared to public schools or even private schools. However, if parents are doing it mainly for protecting their children from “the world,” then I do not agree with it, especially if the children’s education needs are not being met. Does that make sense?

  4. As a public school teacher, I must admit that I am a little sensitive when it comes to this issue. I have struggled with exactly this question of being missional. I wrote a post asking the thought behind the decision and got some wonderful responses. I understand that each child needs different things at different times. I also understand that most people who make the decision to home school their children work very hard to ensure their children have an all around education. My hesitancy and sensitivity comes with those who lash out at the public school system. I know we are not perfect and each district faces their own issues. However, I also know many teachers that are very committed to their students and their school. Many of us spend much more time with our students and fellow staff members than we do with families. We work very hard to give our students the best despite the restrictions and demands put on us by the legislature. Lashing out at one group or another is not helpful. And in fact it is hurtful.

    In the spirit of working together, I have a few suggestions of how you could help out at your local school. Just yesterday we were discussing this issue of volunteers. Often when we have volunteers we are a little unsure of what to do with them. Many times this is because of inconsistency. When we see people irregularly, we do not have the time to ‘train’ them with the ins and outs of how our building works. When we have repeated volunteers that we can ‘train’, then it becomes helpful. So my advice, email a few administrators with your desire to volunteer. Bring them a few ideas of how you can help out with a program. Don’t expect to be contacted right away. However if you have not been contacted after a couple weeks and are serious about volunteering, I would try again. Show a willingness to be trained on their particular reading strategy (or whatever you would like to volunteer for). Tell them that you can wait until they have the time to train you properly. Do not just show up. And to be most effective, be prepared to be volunteering for a while and not just a day or two. I hope these suggestions can help you to find a common ground with your local school district to create a partnership that benefits all children no matter of their schooling choices.

    1. I appreciate your suggestions, Andrea. We are moving in November – as soon as we get settled, I will try out your approach and contact our local elementary school.

  5. I have experienced both worlds. I have two sons who graduated from public school and a soon to be 14 year old daughter who is being homeschooled. I feel they are both valid based on what is best for your family and what mission God has called you too. People are very passionate about their callings. This passion sometimes makes it hard to understand that God’s calling is not the same for everyone.

  6. Shawn, my post was polemical, and it was meant to be. That’s what provoked the conversation that has ensued. Thoughtful, nuanced posts simply don’t garner the engagement that this one has.

    What’s interesting to me about your response and most of the others is that they are so incredibly self-centered. They’re all about you and your family. No one has yet responded to my analogy about immunizations. Do you opt out of those? Because this is about a societal and missional call, not about protecting our own kids.

    Anyway, thanks for your thoughtful response.

    1. I don’t opt out of immunizations.

      I would guess that most of the responses were, in your words, self-centered, because you wrote your post in a very personally attacking way. If you decided to wrote a more open, thoughtful post, while the engagement would perhaps be less, I think you would find more thoughtful, less defensive responses.

      But I think it’s a great conversation to have, and I certainly found myself wading through a lot of difficult questions.

    2. Tony, you’re saying that your decisions on how to raise your family and what you think is best for your children to be missional isn’t about you and your family? As long as we are arguing based on knowledge that we think is the right knowledge, we are all being self-centered. It’s an impossible accusation to throw around and not be hypocritical about.

  7. I have two kids and while I don’t believe in homeschooling I think you should be allowed to do it, which is how I feel about abortion. I don’t like it but people should have the right to make that choice.

  8. Oh. Tell you what. The comments are nearly more telling than the original post by Jones or your response, Shawn. People homeschool for a variety of reasons. Ask me why I homeschool two of my three children. People send kids to public (or private) schools for a variety of reasons. Ask me why our eldest has been in private, home and public school. See? Each family and each child is different, and what an amazing thing it is to have choices.

    Yes. We make grand proclamations about what people should or should not do, failing to recognize the circumstances, and minimizing their ability to make informed choices.

    I have more I could say, but I’ll just zip my lip.

  9. I have experienced all three venues for schooling my children. In fact, my husband was the principle of a Christian school. I agree totally that some people are not created to home educate their children. Likewise, some Christian parents are not well-grounded enough in their faith and in training their children for their children to have an effective missional impact on their peers in a public school. Each family is responsible to God for how their children are trained.

    We have four children. The older two were educated outside the home, mostly in Christian schools. The younger two spent their preteen and teen years in home school. The younger two are much more mission-minded than most young people in Christian or public school. The Lord continued to bring me back to the purpose of training them to seek first the kingdom of God. We were involved some in reaching out while they were in school, but as adults, they take it to a whole new level. They both live to expand the kingdom of God, while engaged in “secular” jobs.

    I might add that we were more self-centered when training our younger children and were less intentional in their training. They are serving the Lord faithfully, but there motivation to reach out to others is not as great.

    What matters is what the Lord directs for a particular family. It is more important for the parents to intentionally model and train the hearts of their children to love the Lord and to be mission minded than it is to follow an imaginary “right” path to get there.

  10. Well said. It’s my understanding (and I could be wrong) that homeschoolers can often participate in local school activities and classes to a certain degree. So there’s an opportunity many may be missing out on, aside from volunteer opportunities.

    If we remember everyone’s on a journey, perhaps we can be a bit more accepting of all and work towards a healthy collaboration. That in itself would be a huge life lesson for the children!

  11. I’m a preacher’s kid and grew up with a lot of homeschool kids at our church. They were quite angry most of the time and after being in their homes I could see why. These are the ones that whose parents were trying to protect them from the world. Hannah Murphy’s mom sat with us throughout The Princess Bride just so she could fast-forward over the “sonofabitch” line, etc. (And she miscalculated and landed squarely on it and was very upset. This remains one of my favorite memories). All the six Murphy kids have significant anger problems, a couple have drug habits, that sort of thing. But then hey, I’m really mad too, and I went to public school and was raised in what was supposedly a Christian home. It comes down to being brave enough to wrestle with your doubts and really feel everything that is underneath your impulses to protect your kids or to send them out into the world, and deal with what that means for you, because otherwise the unlived life of the parents will rear its head in the most ugly way in the psyche of the kids and then they’ll have that to deal with. It comes down to Christian parents knowing they don’t have anything really figured out except that they are intrigued by this Christ person and are trying to balance what he was on about with all their physical and monetary and moral and emotional struggles while simultaneously raising and also learning from their children. It’s amazing any of us make it, really.

    1. I love your comment, Stephanie. Thanks. And that story of Hannah Murphy’s mom had me laughing out loud.

      It is amazing. You’re right.

      1. Aww. Yeah, we just have to remember that our own experiences inform our views. I saw a lot of bad stuff come out of the homeschooled homes and that has to factor into why I don’t want to homeschool my kids (I have a 7 and a 10 year old) but bloody hell, a ton of bad stuff goes on in public school. And also a ton of good stuff, and good stuff of course happen at homeschool too. So my initial response when someone says they homeschool is to groan inwardly (because Phyllis Murphy vs. Princess Bride and her kids’ meth habits and grandchildren in foster care, etc.) but homeschool isn’t actually the problem. Truly missional community is about remembering that our experiences inform our views and everyone is doing their best and who IS Jesus anyway and how can we seek truth along with our kids and process ancient stories with them and celebrate the Christian tradition along with them? What does THAT look like? I’m a public school proponent, but I know you don’t need to be in public school to do that, and that is what is missional to me.

  12. Well said! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this oft divisive issue. I wish that we could connect more with our local public school; I am deterred by the real or imagined “red tape” involved. It would be a good use of our school taxes to staff each school with a community liaison person who could connect homeschool kids to public school activities, and public school kids to homeschool outings, like nature walks, drawing lessons, etc.

  13. Hi Shawn, as you know I have been a public school teacher for 15 years.– and a Christian for probably twice that long. ( I hope I’m not giving away my age) haha…. I realize now that this is where God wants me. I could easily teach in a Christian school among Christian kids and families, however, that is not where God has placed me. I think each person, family, parent, needs to consider where God wants them to be.. I am the only Jesus, some of my students may ever see. As for my children, do I worry about them being exposed to things, I don’t want them to know about?–yes. But at the same time, I know what I teach them, and trust that they are being watched over. One day they will have to enter the world on their own, and I hope their public school experience will prepare them for that. As far as being involved in school, any parent, can get involved in their school. I have parents in to read and help me with things all the time, It’s what you put into it that makes a difference–not your location.

    1. I thought about you while writing this post, Jessica, because I know what an incredible teacher you are and am sure you play a huge role in the lives of the children you educate. Our decision to homeschool does not reflect a lack of confidence in the ability or dedication of teachers (although I do get concerned about the ability of teachers like you to be effective as class sizes continue to balloon, at least in our local schools).

      The work you do is important, and I appreciate it.

  14. We have homeschooled our 2 girls from the beginning. Not as an effort to be isolated but to liberate them in such a way as to serve more and better. We now live in a rural area of Paraguay, South America. The transition was that much less taxing because they were homeschooled before. They know that after school they will be participating in some “missional” activity. It’s honestly our only acceptable option here.

  15. My sense of the problem for many nay-sayers is that they really don’t know much about homeschooling, and they may know some kid who was homeschooled and seems weird. But a lot of people don’t really know what it is or the hugely number of ways to do it. We actually UNschool our children, utilizing an organization called Self Design here in BC. I think it’s also a huge myth that people only homeschool to protect their kids. We do it because we believe in following the natural tendency toward learning that children already have. We believe it is better learning, but we are also willing to listen to our kids and see if public school might be better for them were they to begin showing or expressing that. If we are “protecting” our kids, it isn’t from the big bad world, although there might be some truth there, but it is from extremely poor systems of education. Yea, yea, I know, education is great and tons of kids around the world don’t have the luxury of free public education, but this argument is not a good one. Neither is the argument that one should send their kids to a shitty school in order to be missional. Missional at what cost? I’m also not so sure that kids should be taught to be missional. Kids should be kids and learn to be Christ like through their own development and desire to be humane and giving, from watching their parents and other role models. This comes out of many things we can teach children about being Christ-like, but doesn’t necessarily have to be an explicit throwing-them-into-the-world for one public endeavour.

    There is also a ton of research and documentation that immunization is worthless at this point. But who knows really? Who knows the best way to educate children? Who knows the best way to be a Christian? Who knows the best way to operate politically? None of us. But we are all making the choices that make the most sense to us and when people challenge that we get defensive as our choices are very much a part of us.

    I never realized until now, that it’s not just politics and religion that get people fired up, but also educational philosophies. Interesting.

  16. Hey Shawn, hope you are well. Homeschooling, as you know, isn’t as common over here as it is in the states so this topic is always an interesting one. One thing to say – I totally see the value in homeschooling and can understand why some parents opt for it.
    I guess the one fundamental flaw, or at least what concerns me about it is that the world is what it is. Like some people have touched on previously, there is a time when a child is not going to be a child and they are going to have to go it alone – they will have their own family to support and at some stage will have to be wise to the ways of the world for all its negatives and positives. Could it be said that homeschooling is a way of delaying the inevitable? Is it giving them a false sense of security and an unrealistic view of the world?

    1. Before I get into the meat of your question, I have to reiterate that Maile and I do not homeschool our children in order to protect them from society.

      That said, I think parenting is in many ways all about delaying the inevitable. I would imagine there are certain television shows or movies or other things you wouldn’t allow your daughter to watch at this point, even thought it is probably inevitable that she will watch them at some point in the future. There are types of people you wouldn’t trust her around right now that she will inevitably cross paths with in the future (e.g. jerks, criminals, pedophiles). And as she reaches different ages, there will be inevitable things that you will delay, as a parent, for good or bad reasons, based on your knowledge and intuition at the time.

      I have friends whose parents allowed them to enter situations way too early, and they ended up seriously addicted to drugs and alcohol because they didn’t have the maturity at that particular age to spend weeks on end with older kids, unsupervised for entire summers, who were doing drugs. In that case, I think the parents failed them by not “delaying the inevitable” until their children were mature enough to handle that scene.

      All of that said, I think it’s a fair critique that the evangelical Christian homeschooling crowd is full of people trying to protect their children from “the world.” But I don’t think it’s a fair representation across the board. In order to avoid this pitfall in our own children’s lives, Maile and I have sought out a “secular” homeschool co-op, comprised of hundreds of kids, where the emphasis is education and parental involvement. We start in January.

      Good thoughts, Ads, and thanks for your comment.

  17. I tried homeschooling my son when we lived in China, but it turned out he was already smarter than me, so I gave up.

  18. I think your response is appropriate, but Tony’s visceral rant is also appropriate (if ineffective because of its tone). A large segment of American evangelicaldom has created a perverse gated community suburbianity in which “leaving the world,” instead of renouncing privilege as it meant for Jesus, has amounted to a subversive justification of privilege by renarrating it as a way of avoiding Charles Darwin in biology class and all those (non-white) “thug kids” on the playground. Homeschooling should be a practical decision, not a peer-pressure enforced social norm as it has become in many megachurches. If my wife and I ever decided to do foreign mission work, we would have to homeschool. I’m sure there are other scenarios where we would do so as well like if we started a rural intentional community. But there is an anti-missional, privilege-justifying version of homeschooling that does indeed need to be called out.

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