Teach your child at home?

MINISTRY editor J. R. Spangler interviews Dr. Raymond Moore, director of the Hewitt Research Foundation and longtime advocate of home schools. Many pastors and churches are becoming increasingly interested in home schooling. What are the advantages? The disadvantages? How long should home schooling continue? What about State truancy laws? Can a parent be an adequate teacher, and is home schooling for every child?

J.R. Spangler is editor of Ministry

Q. Since the 1950s you have had a long career in education, first as head of schools and college president, then as a Federal education officer. In recent years, as director of the Hewitt Research Foundation, you have become a well-known family and educational activist. Yet you are saying that the home, not the school, is the greatest producer of childhood achievement and that most homes can enjoy success in this area.

A. That's right. And on the religious front our research indicates that evangelism generally cannot enjoy its great success unless the young child spends more time in the home.

Q. Such ideas have not been popular in many circles. I know, in fact, the controversy surrounding you has caught the attention of hundreds of radio and TV shows ranging from Focus on the Family and the" 700 Club to secular shows such as Donahue and Today. On the one hand, James Dobson, Bill Gothard, and Tim LaHaye promote your books in their religious arenas, and conservative individuals such as Charles Stanley, of Atlanta, and Paige and Dorothy Patterson, of Dallas' Criswell Center, are generous in their support of you. On the other hand, Columbia University and other liberal institutions are publishing you in secular circles.

A. It is an extreme range. Our research on the child and family and school has been largely secular, yet its assumptions are Bible-based. We find no discrepancy between the results of replicable research and the Word of God, for both are true. God is both the author of science and the only source of truth. Remember too that our support for the home school has a highly positive effect on institutional schools. school has been largely secular, yet its assumptions are Bible-based. We find no discrepancy between the results of replicable research and the Word of God, for both are true. God is both the author of science and the only source of truth. Remember too that our support for the home school has a highly positive effect on institutional schools.

Q. What has brought all this about?

A. We have been fortunate in our timing. There is a pervasive educational need in society today, as you know, and a real vacuum of sound solutions. Our study of history and our research combined with common sense have brought us exciting and fulfilling answers that have been largely obscured for many years. Our goal is to restore the family and create fertile soil for the gospel. And we are trying to keep good parents out of jail!

Q. What do you mean?

  A. There are occasional attempts by school or social department officials and teacher unions to harass parents who teach their children in home schools. This is an important fight that ministers might well share. The United States Constitution, as interpreted by the Supreme Court for more than sixty years, clearly guarantees parents the prior right to determine the education of their children. As long as parents are responsible for their children, they, not the state, must have authority over them. The state's only compelling right is to see that citizens have basic skills, sound citizenship, and health and safety. A sincere religious conviction is an important factor in most of these cases, and we are winning nearly all of the few that get to court.

Q. Do you have any problems with Romans 13, which counsels obedience to duly constituted government?

A. Occasionally. But Acts 5:29 usu ally clarifies the issue: There are bad laws that must be tested, and the criterion is that "we ought to obey God rather than man." If there is any question about specifics, Deuteronomy 6:7 is very clear.

Q. What is it, specifically, about your research that seems to be getting parents and educators either upset or excited?

A. Social change is one of the most ominous threats in the world. When you cut across tradition and popular practice, right or wrong, you can expect determined opposition. When Galileo contradicted Aristotle's thesis that the earth is the center of the universe and told his fellow churchmen that the world revolved around the sun, the theologians branded him a heretic. In fact, they threatened his life if he continued to declare his convictions publicly.

Q. Yet the church just this last year exonerated him!

A. Yes, after four centuries. My answer to your question may sound just as stupid as Galileo did to the intellectuals of his day, unless you are interested in history, research, and common sense. When I was with the U.S. Office of Education, we handed out fortunes—on Federal terms, of course—to colleges and schools. A kind of regimentation took over. Educational creativity was largely guided by a few Federally captive minds. As a result, the somewhat diffused humanism that has mainly guided American education since the Civil War came into focus like sunlight through a magnifying glass. It has burned the nation and virtually cauterized God out of the schools. Although godly trust is still written into our Pledge of Allegiance and is printed on our currency, it is all but burned out as a guiding philosophy in the operation of our schools. During the past fifteen years that we have been analyzing this humanistic trend, we have come up with some promising solutions, although they are not quite conventional enough for many Christian minds!

Q. You're saying you've found some solutions to the problems of American education?

A. Yes, and keys to reversing some ominous trends. For example, history records that forces have always been bent on dividing the family. War is one of the worst. When men go to war, women usually have to take their places in the working force. We put children out to pasture wherever we can. The Greeks and Romans used slaves to care for children; we call it "day care." Children are war's greatest losers. When the war is over, women are often restless about returning to domestic life. Psychologists and teachers are always on hand to take over the children—for a price. Earlier and earlier institutionalizing of little children, regardless of their readiness to leave the home nest, is the natural outcome. And history records that the earlier you institutionalize your children, the earlier they institutionalize you!

Q. Are you saying this picture is the result of war through the ages?

A.  Yes, sometimes more, sometimes less, but always with the heaviest damage to the child. Such trends in America today are definitely related to World War II. Then when Sputnik whirred over us in 1957, we became scared that we were lagging in learning, and we began pressuring our young children to learn academics long before they were ready—like needling a tadpole to make it hop. So now for a generation we have reaped the whirlwind with a steady increase in two things that usually go together learning failure and delinquency.

Q. What evidence do you have that, in fact, children are going to school too early? If we kept them home longer, what would we do with all the working mothers?

A. Your last question first: Many mothers today seek jobs because of the emptiness in their homes when children have gone to school early. A job outside the home has become the thing to do. Once these mothers find that for normal children the "goodness" of early schooling is a myth, they are often ready to help manage finances more carefully so they can stay home. Tens of thousands are leaving their jobs to become full-time mothers.

Q. So specifically you are calling for more parent education and less institutionalizing of little children?

A. Yes. Home schools are much more cost-effective financially and education ally, but they especially foster family togetherness, which is so crucial for the gospel seed to take root in young lives. This is the main reason, Bill Gothard tells me, that he has set out to make home education the center of his ministry. James Dobson tells us that he receives up to three and four times more mail on this issue than most others. And the daughter of Tim LaHaye (who has a very large Christian school) is our home school leader in San Diego.

Q. What evidence do you have that Children are going to school too early? If we kept them home longer, what would we do with all the working mothers?

A. Your last question first: Many mothers today seek jobs because of the emptiness in their homes when children have gone to school early. A job outside the home has become the thing to do. Once these mothers find that for normal children the "goodness" of early schooling is a myth, they are often ready to help manage finances more carefully so they can stay home. Tens of thousands are leaving their jobs to become full-time mothers.

Q. So specifically you are calling for more parent education and less institutionalizing of little children?

A. Yes. Home schools are much more cost-effective financially and educationally, but they especially foster family togetherness, which is so crucial for the gospel seed to take root in young lives. This is the main reason, Bill Gothard tells me, that he has set out to make home education the center of his ministry. James Dobson tells us that he receives up to three and four times more mail on this issue than most others. And the daughter of Tim LaHaye (who has a very large Christian school) is our home school leader in San Diego.

Q. What evidence do you have that Children  are going to school too early?

A. Children are not ready for formal education in terms of vision, hearing, physical and mental coordination, mental stamina and consistent reasoning ability until at least 8 to 10 years of age. Twelve or 13 is better. In Bible times, 12 was the earliest age for school. William Barclay points out that the home school was the only school among the preexilic Jews. It was the key educational center for all Jews before Christ. The institution, not the home, was the surrogate. Moses and Christ are examples of home school students. Christ went back home because the rabbis did not provide the quality of education His mission required. Today we have many concerned parents now teaching their children systematically at home for that very same reason.

Q. Is that your definition of a home school: Concerned parents teaching their children systematically at home?

A.Yes. Parents who follow a systematic program of study and work with their children find that they themselves are far better teachers than they thought possible. This has been true through the ages.

Q.  What do you mean by "through the ages 

A. Family schooling was the practice of the ancient Hebrews, and of kings throughout history. Home schools claim as their alumni "common people" like Philipp Melanchthon, Andrew Carnegie, Thomas Edison, Cyrus McCormick, and Leonardo da Vinci; at least six or eight U.S. Presidents from John Quincy Adams to Franklin D. Roosevelt; generals such as Stonewall Jackson, George Patton, and Douglas MacArthur; artists Andrew and James Wyeth; modern leaders such as Winston Churchill; and women—Pearl Buck, Agatha Christie, Sandra O'Connor, and Tamara McKinney, current World Cup holder in women's skiing. Some of these geniuses, like Edison, were not considered very bright by their teachers. Yet their mothers, though simply educated, inspired them to brilliance. For educational excellence, the one-to-one tutorial system has never been equaled either in remedial or original education.

 

Q. Are you saying that in fact parents are the greatest creators of genius?

 

A. Yes, both by heredity and environment. But we often assume that all depends on genetics and do not give environment enough credit. The home is far more often the seat of genius than the institutional school.

Q. What support do you have for such a statement?

 A. Remember that the home, not the institution, was the original school. Rightly conducted, the home has at least five distinct advantages: 1. It provides the free exploration—of colors, textures, smells, birds, bees, mud, sand—so crucial to early learning, whereas the regular school is more of a "book cage" to many children. 2. It can provide a single adult example without dilution by peer morals—the "social contagion" rampant today in most schools. 3. It provides one hundred to three hundred daily adult-to- child responses, compared to an average of three or four such responses per day in a typical classroom. And these personal responses develop great learning power! 4. The home supplies a partiality that the young child needs but that the school is not allowed to provide. 5. Parents can concentrate on a single child or children who come out of the identical value systems of a given family, while the schoolteacher usually has to account for the variable—often conflicting—values of say twenty, thirty, or forty students in class.

Q. Let me be the devil's advocate for a moment. First, what if parents are not accredited or do not have. teaching certificates?

A. I know no objective educator who gives strong support to accreditation for basic education. Even studies from the Brookings Institute in Washington, D.C., doubt its cost-effectiveness for general education, other than for the professions of law, medicine, et cetera. Certification's primary contribution, if any, is to help teachers know how to take care of a large number of children from varying backgrounds on a classroom basis. For the informed educator, the need for certification for general teaching has never been established except in the minds of those who have vested interests who have something personal or institutional to gain or protect. There is seldom, if ever, a problem in a home school when a parent is uncertified. Let me ask you: How many college professors have teaching certificates?

Q. Not many, I suppose. But how, then, do parents keep ahead of bright kids?

A. How do many teachers do this? It is a myth that teachers must always know more than their students after, say, age 8 or 10. Teachers are there first to inspire, to point the way, and then discreetly get out of the way and encourage free exploration. Our book Home-Spun Schools tells how the Leslie Rices took their daughter, doing poorly in the sixth grade, out of school. They taught her one-to-one from a home school curriculum about an hour and a half a day and brought her up nearly three grades in nine months! This is not unusual among family schools. Studies comparing home schools with other schools show them significantly higher in achievement.

Q. But how about all the school extras such as art and music and physical education?

A. First, decide which are more important, those "extra" subjects or the power of a parent's influence on his child—an influence that is so easily diluted by his peers. Second, make sure those "extra" subjects are really needed. I have been superintendent of both public and private schools and have found that emphases on extra curricula are greatly exaggerated. For example, most physical education offered in schools is not as profitable as commonly thought. It seldom holds a candle to gardening or other exercise generally available at home. Third, why couldn't a family school work with a regular school in those things the home can't supply? Home schools often become satellite schools to public or church institutions—which is fine as long as the latter don't try to dictate to the parents.

Q. Do you feel that even a poorly organized home—perhaps with an alcoholic father—is better than a kindergarten?

A. If the kindergarten provides the best developmental climate for a child, then let's send him to kindergarten. The young child should have the most favorable possible environment. Yet let's not be too quick to write off even the unfavorable home. Dr. John Bowlby, head of the early childhood program for the World Health Organization and himself a London child psychiatrist, suggests that little children who are institutionalized before they are ready may in fact be more damaged than the children of an alcoholic father. He points out that the child of an alcoholic at least knows that he has a home, whereas the child who is put out of his home before he is ready often senses emotional rejection. And emotional rejection can cause more serious injury than that incurred by a physical blow. Dr. Martin Engel, who is with the National Institute of Education and was formerly director of the National Day Care Demonstration Center, agrees with Dr. Bowlby based on his experience in the United States.

So, yes, if after careful evaluation the kindergarten provides a better environment, let's send the child to kindergarten. But let's make sure that we make that careful evaluation and not just send the child away—usually for our own convenience or because everybody is doing it.

Q. Are you suggesting that parents can provide proper social experiences for the children 'apart from association with peers? Would you deprive a child of substantial day-to-day association with others of his age?

 A. I'm saying a child doesn't need such associations. Research and clinical studies over the past eighty years suggest that the more individuals there are around your child, the fewer will be his meaningful human contacts and the more he will be separated from the adult models he needs. Here is our most important concern: Cornell and Stanford University studies have demonstrated that at least until the fifth or sixth grades (ages II or 12) children who spend more of their time with their peers than with their parents will become dependent on their peers for their values. They shrug family ideals aside and adapt to their agemates' manners, habits, dress, drugs, sex, speech, and finger signs. They knuckle under to their rivalry and ridicule. And to the extent to which they yield or become dependent upon their peers, they suffer four major losses: (1) self-worth, (2) optimism or self-direction, (3) respect for their parents, and (4) even trust in their peers. What do they have left? Here are the sources for the rebels of the sixties and the drug users of the seventies—bright kids who were conned by social pressures.

Q. How does this relate to the home school?

A. Peer dependency amounts to a negative sociability. Positive sociability flourishes when children can grow up unpressured at home. In most family schools the children share the chores at home. They are taught responsibility, order, and productivity. They feel needed and depended upon—values that build self-worth rather than tear it down. They are not psychologically segregated by age, like most children, but get along with all ages. Most educators are not alert to the limitations that age segregation brings to children's development. When a home school child starts to regular school with his peers, say at 10, 12, or 14, he often becomes the leader—like Patrick Henry, Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, and Konrad Adenauer (all of them home schooled).

The family school is not a social straightjacket; the home schooler usually participates in church functions and 4-H and Scout-type clubs. And he often becomes a neighborhood leader. He makes things, sells them, and visits and helps the needy, elderly, or ill. In fact, this is a key part of his curriculum. He is a young manufacturer and visiting healer—with far more self-direction, social poise, and ability to relate to adults than most school youngsters.

Q.  What place do you see for the family school in view of various State laws and the prejudices of some against such innovations in social structures?

A. I see the home school as a laboratory for all education. We are preparing materials and directions that many parents have used to teach with greater success than the institutional school has been able to do, such as our Math-It courses, which California public schools have hailed. We have new "self-teaching" Moore-McGuffey readers in color, and Character House tapes. We place these materials in the hands of parents whose children are having trouble in school. And God uses them not only to develop higher achievement but also to bring children closer to their parents. And many public and church schools, which open their arms to family schools as satellites, find that later when the home schoolers do go to regular school, they enrich the schools with their achievement and behavior.

Q. Do you see, a large movement toward home schools?

A. Yes, in two areas: First, Bill Gothard observes that home education is already the educational movement of the decade, with thousands of new home schoolers a year. We are flooded with applications for our Hewitt-Moore Child Development Center Curriculum, which we : customize to each child's needs. Dr. Dobson ordered the first five hundred sets of our new self-teaching Moore-McGuffey readers in color, and at this writing he has reordered four times. *

Second, there is a return to balance in education—to the work ethic in both homes and schools. Children who work half time and study half time do distinctly better in behavior and studies than those who go to class all day. This is spectacularly successful when teachers or parents join students in the work. This counters the present "me-first" trend of narcissism that substitutes amusements and sports for productive, skill-building work and contradicts the gospel of Paul and the ethics of Christ.

The war between Christ and Satan is in fact a conflict between narcissism and altruism. This is Paul's concern in Romans 12:10—which gives pause to those of us who have been fanatics for rivalry sports. But the most fun of all for me is to see the involvement of the fathers—not just playing, but also working with their children and doing good deeds. And to see a new catalyst in marriage— the coming together of families, the fulfilling of Malachi's prediction that in the time of the end the hearts of children would turn to their fathers and fathers to their children.

I hope America's ministers will not wait as long to encourage the home schoolers as the church waited to forgive Galileo!!


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J.R. Spangler is editor of Ministry

March 1984

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