WHY YOU SHOULD CONSIDER
I experienced a very unusual childhood being educated at home, at least compared to most children in America. I spent very little time doing “lessons” each day while the majority of my time was spent outside on our farm, reading, and working on my own projects. My mom received a lot of unsolicited advice regarding her children’s education: that we wouldn’t be independent adults, we wouldn’t be able to handle the rigor of college classes, and we would be so socially awkward that we wouldn’t be able to serve missions or function in society.
My mom felt the call to educate her children at home, but sometimes people’s opinions made her second guess her choice. Fortunately for us, none of those things happened. It turns out my family is not the only ones who have escaped the “side-effects” of home education; in fact, I cannot find a single study that shows people educated at home are statistically more likely to have any of those problems. Studies actually show the opposite: people who are educated at home turn out to be more mature, score higher on tests, and have less behavioral problems than their public school peers. I have met my fair share of weird homeschooled children, believe me. These people were quirky in their humor and hobbies, and maybe a little shy but were perfectly able to carry on a conversation and read social cues. I would rather my children do what they love and be themselves than sacrifice who they are to be accepted by their peers. It is important to not confuse social skills with conformity.
What Does Real Learning Look Like?
After substituting in the public schools and studying human development/family studies in college I have come to the conclusion that we live in a society that has only a limited view of what true education looks like, and we need to have more faith in the power and value of the Family. For the vast majority of Americans and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, education looks like this: children are required to attend school and they are in a class with 15-35 other children of their same age. In order for students to learn they:
- sit and listen to a teacher present a lesson about what he/she has read and feels is important for students to know,
- fill out a worksheet or are engaged in an hands-on activity that mimics real-life experience, or
- read textbooks which are compilations of facts and secondary sources.
This system of education has only been around for 150 years, yet it has dominated the way we think about education in America since its founding. John Taylor Gatto, an award-winning public school teacher, has written multiple books on his experiences as a teacher in New York State. His books and other resources I recommend can be found in the “Resources” section of the website. I strongly encourage you to read at least one of these books to understand the history, politics, and ethics behind the public school system. I acknowledge that we live in a fallen world and there is a need for schools to educate children whose parents do not live up to their responsibilities and potential as teachers. Although I believe home-centered learning is superior to the public school system, not everyone has the opportunity to educate their children at home. The purpose of this article is not meant to shame parents for choosing any one form of education; the purpose is to inform parents about eternal principles of teaching and learning and help them see the educational value of a Christ-centered home.
“…no large-scale reform is ever going to work to repair our damaged children and our damaged society until we force open the idea of “school” to include family as the main engine of education. If we use schooling to break children away from parents…we’re going to continue to have the horror show we have right now.”
JOHN TAYLOR GATTO
Have Faith in the Family
The family has the potential to be “… the ultimate setting for learning, living, and becoming.” (David A. Bednar) Research studies support this truth: children do better with one teacher over many years (source), learn better social skills in mixed-age classrooms (source), and retain more information when they engage in real, meaningful life experiences. The family is not an earthly institution, but an eternal structure. The more I’ve learned about the Plan of Salvation and eternal principles of education, the more convinced I am of the value of the family unit to teach and train the children of God. In the beginning, God did not institute schools for children to learn; in the beginning there was a family and in the celestial kingdom there will be families.
“I think that by the end of the millennium, for those who occupy the celestial kingdom, the home will be the only media for teaching children. Teaching will be through the family.”
ALVIN R. DYER
As members of The Restored Church of Jesus Christ, it is our duty to prepare ourselves and our families to be centers of learning for all subjects, not just religion.
In 2018, President Russell M. Nelson revealed a new way of teaching the gospel to the church: Come, Follow Me. In this revealed method of teaching, most of the learning happens at home, with parents teaching their children and the church supporting that teaching once a week. It is my personal opinion that the prophet is doing this to prepare us for the Second Coming of the Savior and a higher law of education. In the past, home-education was sometimes not possible or practical. Parents worked long hours on the family farm or in factories. They did not have the knowledge or materials to educate their children. Today, however, is very different; mothers are more educated and better prepared to teach their children than ever before. Technology and libraries have made it possible to access almost any book in the world, not to mention the greatest music and art available for free right in our home. Technology has also freed women from time-consuming, labor-intensive housework so they have more time to learn with and teach their children.
“The Lord intended parents to be the primary teachers of their children. He is not concerned about credentials, degrees, curriculum and such–only about parents’ love for their children. He expects parents to sacrifice for their families. He expects learning and the search for truth in all areas to be a family quest and a lifetime pursuit. He expects excellence, integrity, and refinement. And He stands ready to pour out blessings and directions upon the family. With the heavens working with us, how can we fail?”
The family was created with everything a child would need for development: mature, loving adults to mentor them, mixed-age peers to play with, and real-life experiences. School outside the home can supplement this teaching, but should not replace it. The Lord gave parents stewardship over His children and He has commanded them to teach and train them. Parents will be held accountable for the information their children learn and the habits they develop while they are under their stewardship, whether that is in school or at home. Teachers, administrators, and governments will not be held accountable before God for your child’s education.
FOUR MYTHS OF
GOD HAS NO PLACE IN EDUCATION
“The idea that the religion of Christ is one thing and science is another is a mistaken idea, for there is no true religion without true science nor, consequently, no true science without true religion.” (Journal of Discourses, vol. 14 pg. 117
Where is Wisdom?
Russell M. Nelson explained in his talk “Where is Wisdom?” that the scriptures contain more than just knowledge about spiritual matters. He shares the story of how many, many people died due to the ignorance of infection. Yet, in Leviticus chapter fifteen the Lord explains to Moses, in detail, how to properly care for someone who has a contagious disease.
“Thus, our loving Heavenly Father had clearly revealed principles of clean technique in the handling of infected patients more than three thousand years ago! These scriptures are in complete harmony with modern medical guidelines. But during those many millennia, how many mothers needlessly perished? How many children suffered because man’s quest for knowledge had failed to incorporate the word of the Lord?”
A wealth of knowledge is at our fingertips, if only we would be wise enough to use them. We are doing our children (and ourselves!) a great disservice by not utilizing scriptures in our studies of all subjects.
Philosophers over the past two centuries have worked hard to get God out of our schools. John Dewey and Karl Marx were two of the most influential in this effort. John Dewey is the father of Secular Humanism, which is the belief that is taught in schools today; that there is no God and we do not need Him to become good people. Karl Marx was also an advocate of removing religious beliefs from public education. President Benson warned us of letting these men influence public education in a 1970 General Conference address:
“The Tenth plank of Karl Marx’s Manifesto for destroying our kind of civilization advocated the establishment of “free education for all children in public schools”…It is self-evident that on this scheme, if it is consistently and persistently carried out in all parts of the country, the United States system of popular education will be the most efficient and widespread instrument for the propagation of atheism which the world has ever seen.”
Knowing this, should it really come as a surprise to us that young adult retention in the church is at an all-time low? The retention rate for members of our grandparents and parents generations hovered between 62-75%. Now it is estimated that 25-46% of young adults stay active in the church after high school graduation (source). Twenty years ago Boyd K. Packer also warned us of this spiritual danger, and things have only gotten worse since then:
“In many places it is literally not safe physically for youngsters to go to school. And in many schools (and its becoming almost generally true) it is spiritually unsafe to attend public schools. Look back over the history of education to the turn of the century and the beginning of the educational philosophies pragmatism and humanism were the early ones, and they branched out into a number of other philosophies which have led us now into a circumstance where our schools are producing the problems that we face.” (Charge to the David O. McKay School of Education, December 1996)
When we separate God from all other subjects it makes it much easier to disregard His existence. And when we isolate eternal truths to religion only we are halting our own progression. Heavenly Father has knowledge of all truth and has promised “… the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance,” ( John 14:26, emphasis added)
DIRECT-INSTRUCTION IS THE MOST EFFECTIVE WAY TO TEACH
“[And] the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself … And because that [men] are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever … to act for themselves and not to be acted upon”
2 NEPHI 2:14, 16
Agency is key to the Plan of Salvation; Heavenly Father gave his children agency to choose between right and wrong. He did this knowing that we would sometimes fail, but He knew that we cannot learn without making mistakes, and that forced compliance is not real knowledge. As Charlotte Mason said, “Self-education is the only possible education; the rest is mere veneer laid on the surface of a child’s nature.”
Traditional education relies heavily on the teacher’s role to schedule, prepare, and impart knowledge to students. The student’s role is to show up, shut up, and listen up. Compare this to the new Youth Program the Church has recently released: a simple framework is given and within that individuals are free to choose their own goals, deadlines, and assess their own progress. Parents are there to guide and assist when needed.
Can you imagine how much more effective education would be if schools followed the example of this program? Home education can implement this easily and effectively, I have already started implementing this with my first grader and it is amazing to see him blossom when he takes responsibility for his own education. We want our children to be self-reliant, so we need to take them out of an environment where they are being acted upon and allow them freedom to choose and act for themselves.
CHILDREN LEARN HEALTHY SOCIAL SKILLS FROM PEERS
“If socializing with peers leads to getting along and becoming responsible members of society, the more time a child spent with her peers, the better the relating would tend to be. In actual fact, the more children spend time with one another, the less likely they are to get along and the less likely they are to fit into civilized society. If we take the socialization assumption to the extreme-To orphanage children, street children, children involved in gangs-the flaw in thinking becomes obvious. If socializing were the key to socialization, gang members and Street kids would be model citizens.”
This myth originated with John Dewey and his theory that children need to be removed from their homes where traditions of their parents were taught and be “socialized” in a central place with their peers. But like most philosophers his beliefs were based on theories, not facts. The changes made to public school based on Dewey’s theories has been a social experiment since it was instituted in the beginning of the 20th century. We’ve been told that “… by their fruits ye shall know them.” So let’s briefly look at the fruits of Dewey’s theory that children should be socialized by their peers. In his book, Hold On to Your Kids, Dr. Gordon Neufeld presents evidence to prove that ever since the mid-twentieth century children have slowly become oriented to their peers, and the results have been disastrous. Since that time aggression and bullying have increased in schools, suicide rates have quadrupled, and crime has increased by leaps and bounds.
A child naturally attaches to someone that they are physically and emotionally close to. If there is a void (either physical presence or emotional) then children fill that attachment gap with peers. When a child is peer-oriented they can never get enough peer interaction. They would rather be spending time with friends (in person or online) than spending time with family. They start to behave like their peers, believe what they believe, and value those relationships above anything else. Dr. Neufeld explains that children need to be attached to loving, mature adults in order to learn mature social skills. Children also need lots of self-directed play to develop their sense of self. Social interaction actually delays the development of personality and creative thinking, so social play is only needed in small doses.
Dr. Neufeld combines compelling evidence and professional experience to explain why children who are peer oriented are more likely to have low self-esteem, be difficult to teach and unable to learn, have behavioral problems, and commit suicide. Children were never meant to learn social skills from their peers, and there is ample evidence to prove it.
“And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” (Malachi 4:6)
What children really need is more time spent with mature adults, not less. If we want our children to develop compassion, responsibility, and integrity we must maintain healthy attachments to our children, and STOP pushing them away to spend more and more time with their peers. We are starting to see the “curse” of this mentality in today’s increasing social issues and crime rates.
TEACH ONLY WHAT IS NEEDED FOR REAL-LIFE
“The nearer we get to God, the more easily our spirits are touched by refined and beautiful things. If we could part the veil and observe our heavenly home, we would be impressed with the cultivated minds and hearts of those who so happily live there. I imagine that our heavenly parents are exquisitely refined.”
DOUGLAS R. CALLISTER
Since John Dewey’s progressive educational reform, public school curriculum have focused on what can be experienced with the five-senses and being trained for practical work. It sounded good in the beginning, except it has slowly warped into a system of information, worksheets, and testing. In the end it has ignored the emotional and spiritual aspects of the human soul; those things that cannot be seen, but are true. Faith, integrity, imagination, and compassion are just a few of those truths that cannot be experienced with the five senses. They need to be felt with spiritual senses, or in other words, the heart.
The heart consists of the faculties that sense beauty, eternal truth, and Christlike attributes. One beautiful definition for imagination is “The thinking of the heart.”(Samuel Silas Curry, Imagination and Dramatic Instinct) Marlene Peterson, the founder of The Well-Educated Heart, observed that there is a “sacred combination” when heart and mind are nurtured. History and scriptures are full of examples of both people who have nurtured their heart and mind, and those who have not. The phrase “hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds.”(Ether 15:19) is quoted many times to describe people who were wicked and would not believe in God or Jesus Christ. Right now we see a period when education neglects the heart and, consequently, there is a decline in creativity, compassion, religious belief, and an appreciation of beauty.
“In the curriculum of most of our institutions of learning no place is given to that instruction which has for its end, the cultivation of the imagination, and the sentiments through the refining of the perceptions and quickening of the love of beauty.
‘Education,’ say some of our legislators, ‘must give a means of making a living, our public schools must train up practical citizens, boys and girls must be educated in the practical arts of life. The ornamental has no place in the schoolroom.’They utterly fail to grasp the nature of the imagination and its relation to everyday life.”
CHARLES ELLIOT NORTON, quoted in Imagination and Dramatic Instinct
The heart, or imagination, is nurtured through stories, nature, music, art, dance, and poetry. Yet those are the subjects that are becoming extinct in most classrooms and homes because they are not easy to test and do not stand up to the standard of “real-world skills.” As Dr Curry mentioned, we disregard the importance of the imagination in everyday life, like understanding how another person is feeling (empathy) and believing in something you cannot see (faith).
Before children start learning the mechanics and information of a subject they should be falling in love with it; nature study before science, reading-aloud before grammar, and speaking before writing. Children understand and remember when they love something; when their curiosity and imagination have been sparked. This is the business of the heart, and it is vital to a deep understanding of all subjects.
“It is the business of the heart for a long time before it is the business of the mind.”
There are parts of our spirit and heart that are touched by the refined things of life: art, music, and poetry. Pure joy comes from creating something beautiful. We are children of a Heavenly King; the desire to create is in our nature. Education should nurture that divinity within us and prepare us to meet our Heavenly Father and someday become like Him; this is the reason we came to earth and this should be the purpose of education.
Teaching our children–like all other spiritual matters–is about progress, not perfection. We cannot consider ourselves as completing our duty as teachers by simply holding scripture study every day and family home evening once a week. Teaching is much more than a checklist, it is a matter of becoming. We may not feel prompted to educate our children at home because there are many variables that affect our circumstances. Becoming a more Christlike teacher may be leading more meaningful discussions during Come, Follow Me. It might be adding poetry, art, and/or music to your family devotional. Maybe it means educating your children at home or changing the methods you use because your children are not thriving with traditional methods. Whatever circumstance we are in, we should all be striving to become more Christlike teachers and have the faith to utilize a more excellent way of learning in all subjects.