Learning my lines . . .
. . . discovering what it means to follow Jesus, seeing my story swept up into his . . .

Youth Workers and Homeschoolers. . . .

This might be the topic that sets me up for the most pushback. . . but bear with me here. I’m writing this because of the one questions youth workers have been asking me more than any other over the last couple of years. The question typically comes after I teach on engaging kids in discussions on how the Scriptures speak to real-life topics and situations thrown at them by a rapidly changing culture. . . things like movies, books, music, social media, and other cultural artifacts that form the beliefs that yield behaviors.

The question typically goes something like this. . . “I get what you’re saying and totally agree. But in my church I get pushback from the homeschool parents who don’t want their kids talking about these things. What do you suggest I do?”

homeschool 2Over the years this question and variations of it have come more frequently and with greater and greater frustration on the part of the inquisitive youth workers. I’ve come to understand that typically, the tension comes when youth workers who are concerned about the influence of culture on their kids, and parents who are equally concerned about the influence of the culture on their kids choose markedly different approaches to the question of how the Christian faith should relate to the culture. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but generally speaking, youth workers desire to equip their kids to engage the culture, while the parents desire to protect their kids from the culture by shielding them from the culture. To be fair, that’s not what motivates all homeschool parents to homeschool their kids. But it is a motivation for many. Both sides (if I can reduce it to taking sides) are motivated by their love for God and their kids. In other words, the motivations of both are good.

Recently, my approach has been to encourage youth workers to always show grace, to endeavor to understand, to avoid undermining the authority of parents, and to encourage parents to take a more realistic and Biblical approach to matters of faith and culture. The night before his death on our behalf, Jesus prayed the will of the Father for his followers in all times and all places. . . that we would be in but not of the world. He prayed that we would endeavor to maintain a faithful redemptive presence as salt and light. His will was not that we would be out of and not of the world (John 17).

I’ve also encouraged youth workers to read and pass on a very helpful article to homeschool parents. It’s from a respected homeschool advocate, Reb Bradley, who after homeschooling his kids, began to reevaluate the homeschool movement. And, in a noble way, he critiques the movement’s liabilities and errors. In the article, “Solving the Crisis in Homeschooling: Exposing the 7 Major Blindspots of Homeschoolers,” he writes. . . .

In the last couple of years, I have heard from multitudes of troubled homeschool parents around the country, a good many of whom were leaders. These parents have graduated their first batch of kids, only to discover that their children didn’t turn out the way they thought they would. Many of these children were model homeschoolers while growing up, but sometime after their 18th birthday they began to reveal that they didn’t hold to their parents’ values.

Some of these young people grew up and left home in defiance of their parents. Others got married against their parents’ wishes, and still others got involved with drugs, alcohol, and immorality. I have even heard of several exemplary young men who no longer even believe in God. My own adult children have gone through struggles I never guessed they would have faced. 

Most of these parents remain stunned by their children’s choices, because they were fully confident their approach to parenting was going to prevent any such rebellion. Some were especially confident, because as teens these kids were only obedient.  Needless to say, the dreams of these homeschool parents have crashed, and many other parents want to know what they can do to prevent their own children from following the same course. (Read the rest of the article here).

Youth workers, your job is to come alongside parents and assist them as they engage in what’s an incredibly daunting task. . . parenting kids in the 21st century. It’s difficult. Support them. Encourage them. In addition, you must function with your entire church culture to equip the saints for the difficult work of living in but not of the world. For those parents who take a laissez-faire approach to parenting with no knowledge of how the culture shapes kids, the church must help them see their need to equip their kids for counter-cultural life in the world. And for those parents (homeschool or not) who take an escapist approach to parenting with no knowledge of how kids are to be equipped to live in and shape the culture, the church must help them see their need to equip their kids for counter-cultural life in the world. Reb Bradley’s article is worth passing on. . . with humility. . . to this latter group.

(For more on a biblical approach to understanding the right relationship between faith and culture, you can check out my book Engaging the Soul of Youth Culturewhere I’ve worked hard to offer easy-to-understand explanations of the various approaches to matters of faith and culture).

6 Responses

  1. Last May I completed 25 years of homeschooling my 5 children. I often found myself caught in the middle of two worlds. Yes, my children got all their academic education at home where I could instill in them Biblical and Christian worldview into their education. But their extra-curricular activities were a mixture of church youth group (where most of the kids went to public schools) and local sports teams (including playing high school sports at our local high school). I found doing things this way, my children were a little less “sheltered” and exposed to other ideas then mine. Allowing this to happen while they were still at home, gave us time to discuss and hash out other worldview while they were still at home and under my guidance to work through other ideas then what mom and dad were teaching them at home. This is not to say that my children have made perfect choices since they left home, but they have not totally rejected their upbringing. From the beginning, my purpose for homeschooling my children was not to raise “perfect little church going Christians”, but to raise my children to be Christian adults that were prepare to influence the world for Christ.

    1. As a longtime youth pastor AND longtime homeschooling parent I have often found myself caught between homeschooling parents who thought that youth ministry was bad, if not evil and unbiblical, and public school parents who thought that homeschooling was bad, if not evil and destructive. There have been times when I thought my job title was “human tug-of-war rope.”

      Cathy’s comment addresses the most common concern of the public school parents in my experience – “How is your child ever going to learn to interact with society?” Our approach has been similar. Our kids have been intentionally involved in Scouting and sports in the community in order to insure that they have “less-shielded” venues in their life. We didn’t choose homeschooling in order to shelter them from society, but in order to take ownership of their education in a school environment in which they would have floundered and of their exposure to the adult world where reasonable. So we want them to interact with culture and with their peers on a reasonable basis with some degree of intentionality where possible.

      We also seek to talk openly about culture at home and to keep a running dialogue about issues that come up. Now that my oldest is 13 and in youth group, those conversations are occurring more and more regularly. Time will tell if we have made the right choices, but thus far our children are doing fine. They are not culturally-absorbed children exposed to a thousand things that inhibit a healthy childhood while at the same time they are not leashed and kept behind closed doors with total control.

      The question is a legitimate one that we took into consideration from the get-go. The flipside for the public school parent is to ask what measures that parent will take to counteract the influences their children are exposed to prematurely in many public schools. There are errors on both sides and somewhere in the middle is wise parenting, whatever the choices in schooling, which exercises faithfulness in protecting children when and where appropriate and walking alongside them then the time comes to face adult realities. Too much too early is harmful. Too little too late is harmful.

      As Walt stated… balance.

  2. Great post Walt, as always! I’ve been involved in Youth Ministry for nearly 25 years. My wife and I have also homeschooled all of our four children for at least a portion of their school years. What I have learned about homeschooling families is pretty similar to what I’ve learned about youth workers. They come in all shapes and sizes!! Some homeschool parents will be the first to question a youth worker’s judgment because these people take their role as parent seriously. They also may not trust the youth worker who hasn’t gone through parenting him or herself, but often they will want to understand matters so positive discussion can happen at home. On the flip side, some homeschool parents are trying to build fences around their children to protect them from the world. My wife and I believe God calls all parents to Biblically direct their children. We decided the most effective way for us to do this was to make an extremely difficult decision- home school the kids so they could receive all their teaching through a biblical lens until high school. At that point we would choose a direction for them that we felt honored the Lord and the child while preparing them for life beyond high school. BUT, we also decided to allow the kids to be involved in as many activities as we could possibly, sanely allow. This would allow us to process how their interaction went with other kids after a 90 minute soccer practice or 60 minute ballet lesson instead of after seven hours of school. I’ll be the first to say this path is not right for everyone. It is exhausting. I also now fully understand why some reptiles eat their young! At the same time, I wouldn’t trade the path we took for anything. We have solid relationships with our imperfect but growing children, and fortunately . . . we only had to take youth workers aside a few times to lovingly discuss the direction of their lesson series. Keep up the great work Walt!

  3. My wife and I are glad you posted on this topic, Walt. We are a few days late possibly in sharing our thoughts, but I do wish to share a bit, especially in response to what seems to be a somewhat of an old-school view of homeschooling. This seems a bit ironic, given the idea of staying up with culture. No offense meant by that – it just appears to be that overall, what you shared that youth workers are sharing with you and the article you linked and quoted from both paint homeschooling with this “sheltered” mentality which in my opinion simply isn’t the main drive behind a family’s choice to homeschool.

    My wife and I are homeschooling our 8,6, and 4 year olds this year and this is a choice that we evaluate year to year. We sent our oldest to a public school for first grade after my wife did kindergarten at home with him the previous year and while we had no complaints about his teacher or classmates, we were concerned that the curriculum for his school did not have him progress at all in mathematics from what my wife had taught him the previous year. There were other reasons as well, but in short, we simply felt that my wife and I could teach our child more than the public school could. We discussed this with our son and he agreed and he has chosen to be home schooled each year since. It’s not easy to homeschool – we have five children total and have considered sending some of them to a public or private school just to help with some of the chaos of trying to teach at home with all our kids under the age of nine, but we value the education we feel we can give them more than the “ease” that we might have in sending them to school.

    In recent years, homeschooling has been looked at very differently than where it has sometimes traditionally been viewed. Homeschooling has been proven to allow an individual born into a lower socio-economic group to raise their children with a higher level of academic result. This can of course be proven to be the case no matter where a child might go to school, but the statistics show that a homeschooled individual has a higher likelihood of this happening. I would wager you could do a poll (I have not looked this up personally – this is off my own cuff) of the general view of public school vs. homeschooling nowadays and homeschooling would be seen as the better option, if doable for the family. The overall opinion of how the public school system is run currently is one of…disgust?…for lack of a better word. That’s the general feel – and that’s not from conversations with other homeschooling families. This is the opinion of pretty much everyone that I talk with in my current position as a nurse at a well-respected hospital with other RNs, RTs, NPs, PAs, and MDs. I am met with congratulations and affirmations that if possible, most people would love to home school their children because of the state of the public schools nowadays. I mean it – the majority response when I share that we homeschool is “Nice choice…Strong work…Good for you.” Across the board. And I’ll add that these comments are mostly from non-believers.

    The person you quote and link to shares a lot of personal stories that seem to lead him to generalize about the rest of the homeschooling families out there. I admittedly did not read every word of his very long article, but what I read led me to simply say – what he shares about is more parenting style, not necessarily tied to a choice to homeschool. I’ve seen public school kids turn away from faith as much as a “sheltered home-school kid”. I’m actually living proof of that, having gone to public school the whole way to high school graduation and then almost losing my faith while attending a “Christian” college (I take personal responsibility for that – they were, as they are for all children – my decisions to make, not a fault of the college I was attending, although that could be another discussion altogether). To God be the glory for me being where I’m at again with my faith and life – all thanks to Him, truly.

    I feel like I could say more, but I don’t want it to be an argument. Just a sharing. A sharing of perspective that desires to simply state that your posted overall slant toward homeschooling seems dated. My wife and I don’t homeschool to shelter. We feel quite strongly that our children get actually a much broader sense of community and history and culture by doing what we’re doing than sending them to a school room for the majority of their waking hours. Homeschooling allows children to experience places and opens their eyes to a much larger world and culture that the public school would and can never take them. We parent in a way that exposes them to culture and exposes them to aspects of faith in a way that we prayerfully submit to God as we ask for His guidance. On that note – we also feel strongly that Sunday mornings or even “youth group night” is not where our children will grow in their relationship with God the most. They only spend an hour or two max there. It’s not the church’s job to teach our children everything they need to know. It IS our role as parents to walk with them in this journey and not just leave it up to the Sunday School teacher. If youth workers are (blanket statement, assumedly) having problems with homeschooling parents having issues with “engaging culture”, my suggestion is to do exactly what you said, Walt. Respect the parents – they are, after all the ones who should have more of the responsibility here with this issue. And have conversation with them about it. If youth workers “everywhere” are stating they’re having this constant problem with homeschooling parents, then I would offer to them to learn to swirl the ladle in the soup that is around them and recognize that homeschooling will probably only continue to grow, especially if the state of the public school system continues to decay.

    Thanks for posting Walt – you said that you expected some responses for what you wrote. Thanks for sticking your neck out. Overall, I appreciated what you shared, but as for the quote and the link – I personally think that you should update to another source or author other than Reb Bradley if you’re offering an article that speaks about homeschooling for today and what it’s about. Reb seems to paint this picture that kind of appears to drift into your post that the homeschooling family is still being stereotyped as this backwoods, off-the-grid, no contact with the world, Branden Fraser in Blast from the Past type of setup and its quite frankly not telling of the culture we are living in today.

    1. Thanks Nate! Reality is, the post was triggered by a series of conversations I had in January with several youth workers who approached me with the question. It’s a present struggle/frustration for them. While you guys are taking a balanced approach and having a balanced experience, that’s not the case with what these folks have been seeing.

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