Approaches to Homeschool: the Principle Approach

Dear Reader,

It’s amazing how many approaches to homeschool there are, isn’t it? Just when you think you have heard of them all, there is one that is new to you. That is how I feel about the Principle Approach. I have been reading up on it for my continuing series on different approaches to homeschool (see the intro, unschooling, CM education, classical, TJEdChristian classical, Montessori, and the Puritans’ Home School Curriculum, not to mention some follow-ups and related posts).

The questions I am asking of each of these curricula 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?

I would like to begin, however, by giving an overview of the Principle Approach, also sometimes called the Biblical Principle Approach and abbreviated BPA.

To me, it seems that there are two layers to this approach. I am not sure that its practitioners would like to see them separated out, but that is how I see it. The first layer is a conviction that one should teach based on the principles that underlie each subject area. The second layer is a set of beliefs about what these principles are. The Principle Approach derives these principles from the Bible though I don’t see why someone without faith in the Bible could not have the same sort of philosophy about their principles and just base the specific principles upon different things.

I love when an approach has a philosophy behind it and is clear about what it believes. This is definitely true in the case of BPA. Here, in a nutshell, are their primary guiding principles:

“God designed us to live best when we live according to principles.” [from]

“There is no better textbook than the Bible. Everything we need to know about how to live is contained within its pages.” [“The Principle Approach,” from]

“[The Principle Approach a]cknowledges America’s Christian history (Christ, His Story) and Biblical form of government, teaching them in every subject.” [from]

So to sum up, BPA believes that we should live (and learn) according to principles, that the Bible contains all we need to know about how to live, and that America has a unique history and government based upon the Bible which should inform and underlie our methods of education.

To my mind, these are three separate ideas. I like the first one, that principles or guiding ideas are important. I mostly agree with the second, that the Bible is our main guide, though I would not say it as they do and I think we mean slightly different things. I would not say the Bible contains all we need to know. I would say it is “the only infallible rule for faith and life.” The last idea, that our government and history are unique, Bible-based and biblical is where it all falls apart for me. But I think I will deal with that in another post (stay tuned!).

So to return to my four questions, the first asks how learning works. In addition to its philosophical underpinnings, BPA also has something to say on this score. It relies heavily on notebooking as a way for students to record their unique, individual observations on a  given topic. It does not see education as a one-size-fits-all deal. I would equate the notebooking to narration in Charlotte Mason’s approach. It allows each student to interact with the material on their own and acknowledges that not everyone will come away with the same knowledge. Home Hearts puts it as follows:

“Generally speaking, you won’t find “fill-in-the-blank”-type work in the Principle Approach. Each student develops his own textbook by completing a notebook. The notebook includes vocabulary and applicable Biblical principles along with the student’s thoughts and meditations. This is truly individualized learning!”  [“The Principle Approach,” from]

BPA also uses a particular method in working with the material. They call this the 4R’s for research, reason, relate and record. Again, Home Hearts has a good summary:

“The Principle approach uses the 4-R method of study: research, reason, relate and record. The 4-R method starts with researching God’s Word to identify His principles on a topic, reasoning from cause to effect in applying the principles to the subject at hand, relating the applications to the student and recording the individual applications. The 4-R method of study is not just for our children, but also for us as adults desiring a more in-depth study of any topic and how it relates to God’s Word.”  [“The Principle Approach,” from]

I suppose the big element for BPA is that learning works best when principles are considered. One does not just memorize facts, but the emphasis is always on finding the principles behind the area of study and on teaching the child to reason through the materials. They see this as emulating the Hebrew way of education:

“The Hebrew system of learning edified and nourished through teaching while leading the child in critical thinking, teaching through debate and discussion how to evaluate and conclude. The child was not a passive collector of information who regurgitated facts and figures. The child was led by example through mentoring and interaction with adults to think, argue, reason and relate.” [“Biblical Classical Model,” from]

It should be noted, however, that while there is a lot of individuality in this approach to education, there are also right answers. That is, there are certain principles that are believed to be the biblical ones and there is an eternal Truth (with a big “T”). There is something that is being taught to the child here as the right way. Indeed, there are right principles for every subject area:

“All Principle Approach learning prefers primary sources rather than secondary texts to identify the purest stream of knowledge in every subject.” [“Biblical Classical Model,” from]

There is no sense that my family can have one set of principles and yours another.

The second question to address is how does this approach view children, and the third which is similar is how does it view human nature. I think there is a lot here that elevates the child. They are seen as beings able to reason and relate to the material before them. They are also appreciated as individuals. Each child is a part of Christ:

“The child and the subject are extensions of Jesus, the Author and Governor. We connect them together and we develop a student who can reason biblically and take dominion over all subjects.” [“Biblical Principles,” from]

This is a fairly high view of human nature. While I assume that as Christians its practitioners believe in sin and our sinful human natures, the emphasis here seems to be on the positive — what people made in God’s image can do — and not on the negative and the need for discipline and correction. Personally, while I feel there is always a balance between these two aspects of our nature, I would prefer to err on this positive side as well. Compared to Charlotte Mason’s approach (which is often my basis for comparison since it is the approach I use), I think there is a similar view of the child and a willingness to let them interact with and process the material in an individual way. However, the BPA is more structured both in the 4-step process of how material is analyzed and in the guiding principles it seeks to instill. Charlotte speaks on ideas which the child incorporates and while there are worthy and worthless materials in her approach, there are not so many right answers (and correspondingly wrong answers). Because there are right answers, the BPA requires a lot more of the teacher. They must have and understand these answers. It is not a matter of simply placing the right materials before the child as in CM’s method. In CM the parent or teacher is not to stand between the child and the living books they encounter. In BPA, the teacher or parent is the living book which educates the student:

[BPA u]pholds the teacher and parent as a living textbook, the essential mentor, example and mediator of learning to the student ” [from]

The fourth question is about the goal(s) of this curriculum. A few quotes will begin to show us the goals here:

“[BPA t]eaches students to reason Biblically for themselves, producing excellent Christian scholarship [and] Nurtures individual self-government in each student, causing him to take responsibility for his own education and growth”  [from]

“The Jewish home was concerned with identifying the child’s unique God-given individuality in order to cultivate its full expression. The respect for his individuality and personal calling caused education to conform to his real needs and be made effective to his own unique personhood rather than forcing all children to conform to a single educational process as though they were all the same. The parent and teacher must observe each child to insightfully direct him to fulfill his particular providential purpose.” [“Biblical Classical Model,” from]

“Americans across the land are realizing there is something terribly wrong with our country. The Foundation for American Christian Education gives both the knowledge and the method of teaching Christian character and principles of liberty–a task that is imperative in each successive generation to sustain American liberty for its Gospel purpose.” [from]

“Education alone today will determine the type of government, the quality of culture, the influence of the Church, and the economy of our nation tomorrow”  [from]

“The question that will be asked of our age is not “What scholars did you produce?” or “What standard of living did you see your children attain?” but “What did you do to secure freedom and proliferate it while it was in your power to do so?” We enjoy today the results of the
sacrifice of the lives, wealth, and sacred honor of our forefathers. It is our duty to embrace and further the cause of liberty for those who come after. Principle Approach education is the tool of doing so.” [“Biblical Classical Model,” from]

These quotes and others like them make me think of the Thomas Jefferson Education method which also stressed the development of the individual but with a larger purpose for society in mind. Here too the beginning seems to be a dissatisfaction with the current state of our American government and/or society. The solutions each looks for are in education and more specifically in creating individuals who will help our country to regain its lost roots and ideals. So just as with TJEd, I am going to say there are two levels of goals. On one level, there are the goals for the individual. These include enabling the student to fulfill his unique God-given calling and helping him to develop “internal government” which I equate with something along the lines of self-control or self-regulation. Either if these two goals I would agree with as noble aims. There is also a strong thread of individuality in BPA, however. More than I feel is biblical. I have not gotten into the principles in the Principle Approach yet but there are definite principles which are adhered too. As I said before, their interest is in Truth with a capital “T,” and they are happy to elucidate what this Truth is. The first principle of BPA is the principle of individuality. To quote one of BPA’s founders, “Everything in God’s universe is revelational of God’s infinity, God’s diversity, God’s individuality. God creates distinct individualities. God maintains the identity and individuality of everything which He created” [Rosalie Slater, GACE, p.31]. This topic probably deserves a whole nother post (and I do plan to do at least one follow-up on this approach because I have so much more to say) but suffice it to say for now that I, personally, feel they take this idea too far and emphasize the role of the individual too much.

It also leads into their other goals, those relating to government and society. The view of the BPA is that the United States’ form of government is the biblical, Christian one, that our country was founded upon biblical principles and that we need to return to or at least re-appreciate these principles. Education is seen as major, if not the major, tool is furthering this aim. If we educate our children correctly, they will transform our society is the idea. This we see goals like to “sustain American liberty” alongside the personal goals.

The last quote above (among those on goals) reminds me a lot of a quote from Charlotte Mason. She uses a similar construction when she says that at the end of one’s education (to the extent that education ever ends) we should ask not “what does he know?” but “how many relations has he formed?” and “how wide is the room his feet are placed in?” (Obviously I am paraphrasing here.) In each case, there is a rejection of the traditional goals of education. CM would agree with BPA, I think, in that the goal should be neither facts known nor preparation for worldly success. But the alternative, the real end game here, is phrased very differently. For Charlotte, it is about the individual still and how his life has been enriched and expanded. For BPA, it is about the benefit to society and how he is able to promote liberty and freedom. Ironically, I find myself now saying that though I think BPA errs in emphasizing individualism too much, I also think they go most astray when they leave the individual and focus on society and government (see how much you have to look forward to in that future follow-up post? I have oodles to say).

I suppose what really matters to me is what is behind these ultimate goals. I agree with CM and BPA in the rejection of worldly goals. But ultimately our goal should be to glorify God. Which of these does that? BPA would say (I think) that God is a God of freedom and individuality and that when we promote these things, we glorify Him in this world. I think Charlotte would say that as God is Lord of all creation and wisdom that when we form relations with many things and ideas, when we come to stand in a  wide room as she puts it, we are beginning to be all He intended us to be and therefore we glorify Him in this.

So really, I don’t think it is a matter of which one intends to glorify God, but of which one succeeds. We must ask how He is glorified which also leads us to ask first who He is and what He is like so that we may begin to know what glorifies Him. All of which makes me think that I am in way over my head. I also think that I did not have these thoughts in mind in all my previous posts on different homeschool approaches and that I should go back to all of them (or at least the Christian ones) and ask how they see God and how they think He can be glorified. Perhaps there are some I have been to too hard on because I have not understood how they see God being glorified.

Ugh. I think I need to end this post. I think I have answered my 4 questions regarding BPA. Obviously, there will be a lot more posts as I work through all this.


8 responses to this post.

  1. […] my recent post on the Principle Approach to homeschooling, I indicated that I had a lot more thoughts about this method that I would like to […]


  2. […] to bubble up in me. You can see the earlier posts and get a little background on this approach here and […]


  3. […] we are up to part 3 here. I first covered the Principle Approach (or Biblical Principle Approach, BPA) as a part of my series on different homeschooling methods, […]


  4. […] is a core in the Principle Approach (or BPA for Biblical Principle Approach) which I like. I like the idea that there are principles to […]


  5. […] before? That’s how I feel about my revelation about glorifying God. I had it in the midst of this post on the Principle Approach to homeschooling. I feel sort of stupid admitting that this is something […]


  6. […] Jefferson Education, Unschooling, the Puritans’ Home School curriculum, Montessori, and the Principle Approach). I am asking four questions of each of these approaches. They […]


  7. […] The Principle Approach and follow-ups 1, 2, 3 and conclusions […]


  8. […] Find my initial post on BPA here. […]


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