Approaches to Homeschool: Puritans’ Home School Curriculum

Dear Reader,

I recently became aware of the curriculum put out by the Puritans’ Network.  Since I have been looking at different approaches to homeschool, I thought I would tackle this one as well.

I really wanted to like this curriculum. I was excited to find something from  a  reformed perspective, and particularly something that makes use of the psalms (I discuss our psalm studies in many posts; here is an example). I would agree with them for probably at least 90% of their theology, including what I would consider the most important bits (how we are saved, etc).

I should say before I get into it, that this is a curriculum in progress. They admit that it is not yet complete. They have begun with a conviction that education should be done from a Reformed perspective. In many areas, they simply defer to other curricula (Saxon or others for math and Worldly Wise for spelling for example). Even were it complete, this is not a boxed curriculum which lays everything out for you. A lot is left up to the parents’ discretion, particularly when it comes to setting goals for high school and beyond.

I like that this curriculum begins from principles about how education should occur. The whole reason I am doing this series of posts is to try to examine the beliefs behind different approaches to homeschool because I think that what we believe is so important and should work itself out in how we educate.

I should also say that this is not going to be the curriculum for everybody. It is based on certain beliefs and if you do not share those, this won’t be for you. Theologically, they come from a reformed (reformed as in the Protestant Reformation, meaning Calvinist) perspective. They are even at a particular end of this spectrum which maybe not appeal even to all reformed Christians (like me). They are also strict 6-day creationists which is not so unusual among Christian homeschoolers. In the subject of American history, they take the view that the Revolution was a sinful rebellion against authority. I am sure there are other specifics involved in their curriculum but these were the big beliefs that struck me as I looked through their materials.

The four questions I am asking of all these approaches are:

1. What do they assume about how learning works?

2. How do they view children?

3. How do they view human nature?

4. What do they believe is the goal of education?

Because this is an approach based on principles, many of these questions are easy to answer. The goal of education for the Puritans’ Home School Curriculum is to “train up a child in the way he should go” (meaning God’s way) so that “when he is old he will not depart from it.” This is taken from Proverbs 22:6 which is the central verse on which this whole curriculum is based. They emphasize strongly the need for training and discipline both to keep the child from sinful paths and to prepare them for the calling God has for them:

“Training and discipline also consists in preparing the child for his God-given role. Formales, this means they must be especially prepared to be husbands, leaders, fathers,superintendents, and providers for the family God will one day – in great likelihood –give them. For females, this means they must be especially prepared to be wives, homemakers, mothers, teachers and nurses for the family God will one day – in great likelihood – give them. Both males and females need to be very well educated, but in various aspects the training should be specialized to prepare children for the special role God has for them.” [J. Parnell McCarter, “Teacher’s Manual for Implementing The Puritans’ Home School Curriculum”, p.10]

[The issue of the education of girls versus boys is another huge issue which I have touched on in my discussion of classical Christian ed but which probably deserves its own post in the near future.]

The ultimate goal of this training is expressed as follows:

“Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. These words capture the objective of all of life, including education.” [J. Parnell McCarter, “Teacher’s Manual for Implementing The Puritans’ Home School Curriculum”, p. 14]

With regard to the second and third questions on the human nature and children specifically, they say:

“Children are conceived in sin, and their naturally depraved hearts will – if left untrained – seek to depart from the revealed will of God. But God has given them parents to steer them in the right direction. He has given them Christian parents because these children are covenantly set apart to walk and behave and believe as Christians, and thereby to enjoy the blessings of Christians. They should be baptized in infancy and made disciples of Christ. Of course, salvation is ultimately all in God’s hands and totally of His free grace (thankfully, or else we would all be lost in our sin and misery), but Christian parents are to obey God regarding the means whereby He normally accomplishes the end of salvation.” [“Teacher’s Manual,” p.9]

Thus we see a two-fold belief, that on one hand children are innately sinful but on the other they are to be considered as members of God’s covenant community and to be treated as disciples not as those outside the church. They are also being prepared for a “special role” God has for them which speaks to the uniqueness and value of the individual.

Personally, I am generally on board with their goals and beliefs thus far. I think they capture the two aspects of humanity: the image of God in sinful people. I have some problem with their view of girls (which is not at all unique to this curriculum) and I think they emphasize the discipline and training aspects more than I would and practice them in ways I would not (I have lots of other posts on discipline), but in terms of general principles, I am on track with this curriculum so far.

Where it all falls apart for me is on the first question, how education occurs. This is an approach based on ideas about theology and how children need to be trained. But it is not really a philosophy of education. When it comes to the specific methods of education, they have adopted  a very traditional school approach. They evaluate children’s work by assigning number and letters grades. They do emphasize the parents’ role and suggest that all material be read aloud to the child until high school so that the parent can help explain it to the child. This bit I like as we do a lot reading together still also. But when it comes to processing the material and having the child tell what they know, they use very closed-ended (is that a word? I mean the opposite of open-ended) almost fill-in-the-blank-like questions. Here for example are some of the sample questions and answers from their American history curriculum:

“1. Who led the first English expedition to Newfoundland? Sir Humphrey Gilbert

2. What was the name of the only ship which returned without shipwreck from the successful voyage to Newfoundland? The Golden Hind

3. Where was Sir Walter Raleigh’s colony in North America? In present day Roanoke, North Carolina.

4. What odd occurrence happened to this colony in 1590? It was lost, and its inhabitants never found.”

[J. Parnell McCarter, “The Nations Shall Worship Before Thee: Teacher’s Manual,” p. 7]

When it comes to the materials themselves, there is some effort made to include primary sources. I would not, however, say that they use “living books.” As I said above, at this point at least, one is referred to other sources for materials for math and spelling. The science portion of the curriculum is also a list of other resources. (There are also recommendations for computer programming curricula which I really like.)

The main new contributions of this curriculum are in the areas of history and literature. Here they have devised their own texts. In some cases, this takes the form of a framework into which long passages of primary materials are inserted. This is the case for their history of colonial times, The Nations Shall Worship Before Thee (J. Parnell McCarter, 2001). Personally, while I am in theory in favor of the use of primary sources, I can’t imagine reading this book with my elementary and middle school age children. I think they would have a very hard time comprehending or maintaining interest in this text.

In other cases, they have revised other texts to render them more in line with their own beliefs. For example, the Primary History of the British Isles is based largely on Charles Dickens’ Child’s History of England. This produces a much more readable and enjoyable text, in my opinion.

The literature portion of the curriculum consist of excerpts from important literary works. They do say, however, that this is “intended for those whose course of studies do not allow for the more extensive treatment of those separate textbooks” [“Literature by Era”, p.5]. So I am taking that to mean that they do encourage the reading of the complete works when possible. It should be noted as well that they are against drama (though some Shakespeare is included in the literature selections so I am not sure how that works) and against historical fiction.

My conclusions, then, about the Puritans’ Home School Curriculum is that its is ruled by a couple of controlling ideas, that children need to be trained and that all their education should be bounded by this particular branch of Reformed theology. That is, that our beliefs about God should influence all areas of education. Now, as I have said, I am reformed. But I question the proposition that all areas of education need to be done from a reformed perspective. I am assuming that since they have rolled out a curriculum without providing their own materials in some areas like math and spelling and even science that the writers of this curriculum would agree that our Reformed theology makes less of a difference in these areas.They do say, however, that Worldly Wise, the spelling curriculum they recommend, is secular and should be used with care and that the reading and language arts curriculum Sing, Spell, Read, Write which they also recommend “is bereft of any reformed distinctive” [“Teacher’s Manual”, p.34]. So presumably even in these areas they aspire to provide reformed materials at some point. Perhaps I am naive but I fail to see how a spelling curriculum can be distinctively reformed or why I would want it to be. Does this mean it uses only or mainly words from the Bible? But our language uses so many more words and langauge constantly changes. Does it mean that the sentences in which words are used are all biblical or refer to God in some way? I just don’t know.

With regard to the other areas like history and literature in which it is easier to see how one’s theology might have an impact, I still do not feel a need to be so selective or to make everything match my theology. Of course, if there are ideas brought up which I do not agree with, I point these things out to my children. But I also believe that there can be a measure of truth in many sources, even those that are not reformed and even those that are not Christian at all.

There is one more idea presented by this curriculum which I found very intriguing and would like to spend some time on, but as this post is long already I think I will save that for “part 2.”


4 responses to this post.

  1. […] (see the intro, unschooling, CM education, classical, TJEd, Christian classical, Montessori, and the Puritans’ Home School Curriculum, not to mention some follow-ups and related […]


  2. […] In my study of different homeschooling methods, I have run across various interpretations. The Puritans’ Home School Curriculum, for example, is one of those that seeks to make every area Christian (and Reformed Christian at […]


  3. […] Classical Ed, Christian classical ed, Charlotte Mason, Thomas Jefferson Education, Unschooling, the Puritans’ Home School curriculum, Montessori, and the Principle Approach). I am asking four questions of each of these approaches. […]


  4. […] The Puritans’ Home School Curriculum […]


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