In a new essay at First Things, “Homeschooling and Christian Duty,” Sally Thomas responds to the charge frequently leveled against homeschoolers that “By withdrawing from the larger culture, homeschoolers aid and abet the culture�s failings,” and the call to send our children to be “salt and light” to evangelize the public schools:
The idea of sending a child daily into a hostile environment�if not actively hostile, as in bullying, then certainly philosophically hostile�expecting him not only to withstand assaults on everything his parents have told him is true but also to transform the entire system by his presence, seems sadly misguided to me. There may be many valid arguments for sending a child to school, but that one doesn�t wash.
Her response is a good one, mostly based on common sense and a sense of the proper order of things. And she points out that homeschooling can actually provide many greater opportunities for evangelization.
She makes a striking observation, that I want to think more about later:
Some people worry about the state of the schools; I tend to worry about the state of the American neighborhood. In an age of working parents and before-and-after-care, most middle-class neighborhoods effectively become ghost towns between 6:30 in the morning and 6:30 at night. Our societal habits suggest that, when we say community, we mean something we leave home to find: at work, at the coffeehouse, at the gym, at school. Home is where we go when we�re sick of everyone else. We go inside, we shut the door, we turn on the television. Walk down a typical residential street at twilight and you�ll see cars in the driveways, but the houses look deserted: curtains drawn, lights off, the blue glow of the television the only evidence of habitation.
And I particularly liked her concluding paragraphs:
People often say to me that bringing up children is a thankless job. They intimate that there�s something wrong�saintly, maybe, but wrong�with somebody who chooses to bring up children in the 24/7 style that my husband and I have chosen. While there are plenty of days when I wonder what else I might be doing other than saying �Don�t lick your sister� for the four-hundred-and-seventy-third time, I can�t believe that this project is any more thankless than that of trying to nurture the local public schools.
One child might ignore you; the school system certainly will. A child can hear or not hear; the school system is a deaf, dumb, blind juggernaut that doesn�t generate its own values but imports them from the developers of curriculum and the schools of education. You can talk to the teacher, you can talk to the principal, you can talk to the board of education, but there�s no one person, anywhere, who will say to you, �I am responsible for this mess.�
A child ultimately may or may not reward your sleepless nights, your lectures, your rule-making, your example-setting, or your anguished prayers, with a life that shines light on a darkened world; but for my money the child is the surer investment. The challenge for homeschoolers, then, is not to embrace a kind of spiritual Marxism, in which a limited amount of parental nurture and Christian witness is redistributed, in diluted form, to the masses�or to feel guilty if they don�t�but rather to bear persistent witness to the worth of children, the rewards of family life, and the hope that lies in nurturing culture on a small but potent scale, soul by soul by soul.
Read the whole essay here.