Two Articles: Bored Kids and Homeschooling

Dear Reader,

I ran across these two articles in my feed today:

The Homeschool Math Gap: the Data from Coalition for Responsible Home Education (2 September, 2014)

Why our children are so bored at school, cannot wait, get easily frustrated and have no real friends? from Your OT (May 16, 2016)

The first article, from CRHE, cites statistics, contrary to those w usually like to cite, showing that perhaps homeschooled students actually do do worse on standardized tests, particularly in math, and that they are less likely to choose majors in math and science. The article suggests that this may be due to teaching styles and , frankly, the inability of homeschooling parents to teach math.

I think it’s good for us to hear honest feedback on homeschooling. I do question a lot of aspects of the numbers and the article itself. Homeschoolers are to some degree a self-selected bunch. We are more likely to be those for whom traditional schools don’t work so perhaps it should not surprise us that homeschoolers have a harder time meeting traditional school’s criteria. Maybe homeschoolers are just worse at testing. I know mine probably are, because we have done very little of it. But testing isn’t life. Which brings us to the next point: this article is good in some ways in how it analyzed the data, but it never asks or answers the question of how success is measured. Maybe homeschoolers do worse in STEM subjects because they are more creative. Maybe they are drawn to the humanities and arts because they don’t have STEM shoved down their throats as the definition of success (pet peeve of mine here; can you tell?). Maybe homeschoolers do in the end have less worldly success. But maybe they are happier. Maybe they know who they are.

I think the CRHE article is important. I think it is good for homeschoolers to read. But I also think we need to start by knowing what success means for us and then ask if we are achieving it. What we don’t need to do is read some statistics in SAT scores and then panic.

The second article, from Your OT, is not about homeschooling., and I think we need to take it with caution as well. We can’t assume that it doesn’t apply to us because we homeschool. We too can give our kids too much technology and overindulge them. But I loved this bit:

“We created an artificial fun world for our children. There are no dull moments. The moment it becomes quiet, we run to entertain them again because otherwise we feel that we are not doing our parenting duty. We live in two separate worlds. They have their “fun “world and we have our “work” world. Why aren’t children helping us in the kitchen or with laundry? Why don’t they tidy up their toys? This is basic monotonous work that trains the brain to be workable and function under “boredom” which is the same “muscle” that is required to be eventually teachable at school.  When they come to school and it is time for printing, their answer is “I can’t. It is too hard. Too boring” Why? Because the workable “muscle” is not getting trained through endless fun. It gets trained through work.”

It’s not that I don’t think school work should be enjoyable, but it is not our job to make it entertaining. In fact, this approach will often, as the article says, backfire. Because then they can’t do anything that isn’t entertaining. (See this recent blog post on more on that.)

That’s what I’ve been reading. How about you?


Geography Study Idea

Dear Reader,

My 14-year-old did this on her own so I can’t really take any credit, but I thought it would be a wonderful idea for geography study.


What she did is draw our state (Massachusetts). She did this by hand just looking at a picture. Though we have never done this in school, this part is actually just what Charlotte Mason would do — have kids learn to draw maps freehand. Then she looked up facts about the state and added things in zentangle fashion. If you look around, you should be able to see in this our state flower and state bird, a sport invented in MA, the state flag and more. You can also then use this page as a coloring page. If you’d like to color her image or print it out for inspiration, I just ask that you do to her blog,, to do so. Look for the “free adult coloring pages” link.


Thoughts on Education from To Kill a Mockingbird

Dear Reader,

One test of a good book is whether you can read it multiple times and get different things out of it. I am rereading To Kill a Mockingbird which I hadn’t looked at since I was in school. My perception going in was the stereotype — “this book is about race.” I’m finding now that it is very little about race (at least half way in). But I am loving what it says about education.

The story is apparently set in the early days of John Dewey’s educational philosophy. The two main kid characters, Jem and Scout, are a bit confused and call it “the Dewey Decimal System.” Scout’s pretty young teacher Miss Caroline is an afficiando of this new, revolutionary way of teaching kids. This method involves a lot of flashcards but few books (though Miss Caroline does start the day by reading the first graders a storybook none of them like). It is also a professional way of teaching, meaning it should be left to professionals. Scout is reprimanded for having learned to read from her father who though he never went to school is a lawyer.

In the words of Scout —

“The remainder of my school days were no more auspicious than the first. Indeed, they were an endless Project that slowly evolved into a Unit, in which miles of construction paper and wax crayon were expended by the State of Alabama in its well-meaning but fruitless efforts  to teach me Group Dynamics. What Jem called the Dewey Decimal System was school-wide by the end of my first year, so I had no chance to compare it with other teaching techniques. I could only look around me: Atticus and my uncle, who went to school at home, knew everything – at least, what one didn’t know the other did . . . I could not help receiving the impression that I was being cheated out of something. Out of what I knew not, yet I did not believe that twelve years of unrelieved boredom was exactly what the state had in mind for me.” (Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird, pp. 32-33)

There is a great argument for homeschooling here, but the value of being at home is also in how we can teach. Let’s not just recreate what the schools do. I love the talk of Projects and Units. And I am so glad I have left these things behind. I also love the detail that between the two brothers they knew everything. It was not that one child necessarily got everything. They each got what they needed out of their education.


How Should Christians Decide Who to Vote for?

Dear Reader,

Have you had any political arguments this year? Have you had someone tell you you are not a true Christian because of who you may or may not vote for? I am not going to tell you if you should vote or for whom you should vote. What I want to talk about today is how we decide.

For too long Christians have been able to muddle along without too much thought on this issue. We have compromised our values. We have learned to separate a candidate’s personal life and character from his public office. We have voted on issues without carefully considering the people for whom we are voting. This election cycle it all seems to be coming to a head. Because we have not considered the principles behind how we vote, we find ourselves faced with choices that appall us and we, as a community, don’t know how to navigate these waters.

A lot of what I am going to say comes from a book I have been reading, Messiah the Prince: The Mediatorial Dominion of Jesus Christ by William Symington. This book was originally published in 1879. There is a more modern and easier to read follow-up, Messiah the Prince Revisited by J.K. Wall. I have both. Wall does a good job of boiling down what Symington has to say, but if you really want to understand the arguments I think you need to read Symington. If you find his language inaccessible, read Wall first but then go back to Symington for the fleshed-out version. Symginton’s books discusses Christ’s kingship over the church and over the nations and the relationship between them. For our purposes today, we are just interested in chapter 7, “The Mediatorial Dominion over the Nations.”

In his letter to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul tells us, “ And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17; ESV). We are not Christians only on Sundays. We are not Christians only at church. We are to act and speak in a way that brings glory to God every day of the week; at home and at work; with family, and friends, and neighbors. If every part of our lives if subject to Christ, then when we enter the ballot box we must also consider what Christ would have us do. Honestly, I think most of us still get this. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t beat each other up for doing the “un-Christian” thing. Here is how Symington puts it:

“But the choice od representative, it should be borne in mind, is a civil right, the exercise of which involves, to a great extent, the welfare of the nation. It is not the individual himself alone that suffers from an improper use of this privilege, but the community at large. It is, consequently, of immense moment, that he exercise it, not from passion, fancy, or prejudice, but under the guidance of sound Christian principle . . . Never can the circumstance occur which will warrant him to say, Now I mat drop the Christian and act the civilian or the man. It is not in matters of an ecclesiastical nature merely that he is to act as a Christian. He must conduct himself as a Christian at all times . . .” (Messiah the Prince, pp. 167-68)

The Bible actually has quite a lot to say on what makes a good ruler. These instructions, both the explicit and the implicit, are for both the rulers and for their people. “God,” Symington says, “has given [the people] in his Word a supreme rule of direction, in which the character of civil rules is described, and only such as seem to them to be possessed of this character are they at liberty to appoint” (Messiah the Prince, p. 164). In other words, if God says “appoint wise rulers” (see, for instance, Exod. 18:21; Deut. 1:13), we are disobeying Him when we appoint unwise ones.  Indeed to have a foolish ruler is a curse upon a nation (Eccl. 10:16).

What then are the qualifications for a ruler? Symington puts them in three categories: natural, moral, and religious (pp. 164-65). We seem to have jettisoned them in reverse order. First we said it doesn’t matter if a candidate is Christian. Then we overlooked his personal moral failings, and perhaps even his public ones. Now some even disregard natural qualifications (or the lack thereof).

Does a candidate need to be a Christian in order for us to vote for him? Symington would say yes, that is the first but not the only qualification. This election cycle has me wanting to agree with him. Perhaps it is an overreaction to want to push the line back that far. But my point here is that we have let the line slip. We have said that it doesn’t matter if a man cheats on his wife; that is personal and doesn’t affect his political role. Then what if he cheats on his personal income taxes? What if he is deceitful in his public role? Even this we as a society seem ready to overlook.

King David was one of the best Israel ever had. He was a man after God’s own heart. But his personal sin (adultery with Bathsheba) became a professional sin (sending his own general, Uriah, to his death) and ultimately led to a plague upon his people.


The Purpose of Education, and Life

Dear Reader,

My local Charlotte Mason group is discussing “Education is the Science of Relations” this week. As I prepare for that (I’m leading this time), I am struck once again but just how biblical Charlotte’s philosophy was. There are points at which I know she and I would disagree theologically, but again and again I find that her view of children and of education dovetails perfectly with what I find in the Scriptures.

I also love that ideas matter so much to her. Education is not just something we do to fill kids’ time. For Charlotte, education is life. And the purpose of education is really the purpose of life. What is that purpose?

“I have set before the reader the proposition that a human being comes into the world, not to develop his faculties nor to acquire knowledge, nor even to earn his living, but to establish certain relations . . . ” (School Education, p. 69)

The first and foremost of the relations we are to establish is with our Creator. In other words, we are put here in order to get to know God, to form a relationship with Him. This is our primary call, but subsidiary to it are two other categories of relationships: relations with creation, that which God has made, and with people, our fellow creatures whom we are called to love and serve. This is the purpose of life so it is also the purpose of education.

There are three categories then in the curriculum Charlotte proposes: elemental relations, by which she means relations with the physical world; human relations, all things which help us know ourselves and our fellow man better; and relations to God. All areas of study should fit into one of these of else who should question why we are studying them. This program leads to a very broad education, but I don’t want to take time now to discuss what each area is. Chapter 8 of School Education is where you will find Charlotte’s lists of subjects.

Too many “Christian” curricula are still concerned with very worldly goals. We speak of virtue and service and our Christian nation (it’s not, but that’s another post), of being a good steward and supporting one’s family, but we miss the true goal. These are all good things of course, but anything that causes us to shift focus ultimately takes us off course. Here’s what Charlotte says:

” . . . when our ideal for ourselves and for out children becomes limited to prosperity and comfort, we get these, very likely, for ourselves and for them, but we get no more.” (p. 65)

What should our goal be? Only this: To know God. And education should serve this goal:

“When we consider that the setting up of relations, moral and intellectual, is our chief concern in life, and that the function of education is to put the child in the way of the relations proper to him . . . ” (p. 62)

Education is not apart from life. It does not even prepare us for life as if the work we have to do comes later and childhood is only an introductory period. Education is life because, on the one hand, God is already working in our children from birth and before and they are called to follow Him as much as we are and, on the other, the process does not stop when we graduate or reach a certain age.


On Voting for Stupid People

Dear Reader,

I’ve been on vacation and haven’t had time to write a lot so I thought I’d just share a quote from one of the books I’ve been reading. Draw your own conclusions.

“Both the Bible and common sense discourage us from choosing people who are not smart to rule over us.” (J.K. Wall Messiah the Prince Revisited, p. 121)


Book Review: The Liberated Imagination

Dear Reader,

I recently finished Leland Ryken’s The Liberated Imagination: Thinking Christianly about the Arts. This is my third (I think?) Ryken book and my overall impression of it is much the same as the others — a pretty good book that made me think but the author and I are not 100% on the same page when it comes to things Christian and theological.

I am not very informed when it comes to art, and especially to art criticism and the theory behind it, but I have one child who is  a born artist; my intention is to have her read this book next school year (she’ll be in 10th grade then; this is high school level or above). Though I’m sure I didn’t get all of what Ryken was saying since I am not familiar with other Christian works on art, this was not a very hard read. It was just newer material for me. There is a lot of what Ryken said, about education and literature particularly, that I liked and agreed with. I don’t know if he has ever heard of Charlotte Mason but I think he’d like her educational philosophy.

I’ll start with the negatives so as to not end on a down note. My sense from this and the other books I’ve read by Ryken is that his Christian slant is different than mine. In this context, discussing art and the Christian, it becomes clear that we have very different views of how worship should look. This is not a huge surprise since my view, and that of my denomination, the RPCNA, is pretty counter-cultural these days. I adhere to the regulative principle which says we should only worship God how He has told us to. What this means is no modern music (only psalms a capella), no statues, no pictires, etc. Obviously, this is going to lead to some difference when we start talking about using art to the glory of God. I believe art, of all kinds, can still be done to the glory of God, but most of it is going to happen outside of the corporate worship of the Church. Ryken doesn’t spend a lot of time on how art can and should figure into worship an dperhaps it is unfair to expect him to devote too much time to this topic but it is an issue Christians need to consider.

Beyond this, I think there is a deeper theological divide between us. Ryken, as he has in other books, seems at time to disparage the truth of the Bible. He speaks of “fantasy” in the Bible (p. 45). I will admit that many prophetic passages are fantastical, but when we label them “fantasy” with no caveat we imply that they are not true. I do believe such passages are true on at least the level that the prophet truly saw what he reports.

Near the end of the book Ryken speaks on people as being “capable of moral and spiritual choice” and even “capable of redemption” (p. 235). As a reformed Christian, I would not speak this way. His language goes even beyond the idea common in our day that people are free to choose the salvation provided by Christ. When he talks of being “capable of redemption” he implies that we have a hand, at least, in our own redemption, an idea which I utterly reject.

Despite these differences, Ryken does have  a lot to say that I like. His view of the role of art is good. When he mentions education, he is right on target, and his view of leisure time is quite interesting. I may come back to these ideas in future posts.

By far my favorite part of this book is how Ryken relates ideas and art. This is where he sounds particularly CM. “Art,” he says, “aims to convey not primarily the facts of life but the truth and meaning of those facts. Art is not about things as they are, but about things as they matter” (p. 26). He makes an intriguing and well-taken point that if we could boil down a work of art (I term I use broadly here to include music and literature as well) to just a list of ideas than we could just read those ideas, we would not need the art (p. 128). But this is not the case. We cannot remove the ideas from their casing, if you will. This is why, in a Charlotte Mason education, we give ideas in the form of living books (and art and music). It is not just a candy coating that makes the ideas palatable. The form, the environment the ideas come in, is just as important as the ideas themselves. You cannot take one without the other. The picture I get is not of ideas, like vitamins, in a sugary coating that is the art or living books, but of two vitamins which the body cannot absorb wthout each other. Both are vital but they must enter together.

But I am digressing but Ryken’s book. Here is how he puts it:

“Exactly what is it that enables the arts to express enduring truth? What do they add to the facts that the news does not? They give us the event plus the meaning. A science textbook gives us the physical facts about nature; a Constable landscape painting or a nature lyric by Wordsworth gives us a sense of the moral meaning of a landscape.” (p. 34)

Thus art (and again I speak of it here in all its forms) illuminates reality (p. 110); it opens is to new experiences (p. 36); it teaches us to cope with our problems (p. 27).

Ryken goes beyond this and, acknowledging that not all ideas are good and true (p. 126), gives us tools to analyze and consider art from a Christian perspective (see pp. 145, 152-53, 169-70, 172-73). Here I find his work very valuable on a practical level, especially as I have children who will be looking at and evaluating nay kinds of art.

Though Ryken and I might not see eye to eye on a number of very important issues, his book was quite helpful and I did enjoy reading it. More than that, I am quite happy to have found it for my daughter as it is a quite accessible, practical and helpful introduction to the topic of art and art criticism from a Christian perspective.



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