By Carolyn Forte
As soon as you break free of the orbit of received wisdom you have little trouble figuring out why, in the nature of things, government schools and those private schools which imitate the government model have to make most children dumb, allowing only a few to escape the trap.
– John Taylor Gatto (A Conspiracy Against Ourselves)
Christian homeschool parents almost universally assert their intention to provide their children with a Christ-centered education. They carefully select books and materials with a Christian worldview and actively seek guidance from Christian homeschool leaders. They worry about “doing it right” and “picking the best curriculum,” as they survey the vast array of choices in catalogues, web sites and curriculum fairs. Many stretch the family budget to buy curriculum packages complete with tests, workbooks and even videos or satellite classes.
They are often aware of the problems in the schools, especially when it comes to worldview issues, but few recognize the inconsistency in copying the system they claim to have rejected. They readily replace secular textbooks with Christian materials but seldom do they examine critically the methods used. In ignoring the methodology, Christians have allowed the secularists to have the last word, for the methods used in today’s textbooks, whether secular or Christian, actively promote a secular worldview by advancing a humanist/socialist model for child training and learning.
Those who designed our modern school system were largely atheists and social Darwinists whose goal was to create a benevolent paternalistic/ totalitarian system of world governance. They included Carnegie, Rockefeller, Morgan, and others. Knowing their ideas would be rejected out of hand by the overwhelming majority of Americans in the late 1800’s, this powerful group devised a system in which God was acknowledged with Bible stories, hymns and references while the educational methods employed actively militated against the Biblical worldview held by the vast majority of Americans. The public schools actually looked Christian for the first half of the 20th century. The books contained Bible stories and scripture references. Students learned famous hymns and other Christian songs, but gradually, beginning in the 1960’s, biblical references and materials were removed from the nation’s textbooks and with them, all traces of the Judeo-Christian worldview. At this point, Christian textbook companies stepped up production in an admirable attempt to bring the Judeo-Christian ethic and worldview back into textbooks for Christian schools.
However, when Christian publishers designed their books and materials, they copied the methods and traditions of the secularists, which had been the standard for several generations. The age segregation and the sequence of concepts used in the public schools were and still are adopted uncritically by Christian schools and publishers. If the secular schools have fifth and seventh graders studying world history, so do the Christian texts. If public schools push “literary analysis,” formerly studied in the 10th grade, on fourth graders, the Christian books soon do likewise. When the public schools invented “pre-algebra” and “pre-calculus,” stretching four years of high school math into six, the Christian publishers quickly followed suit. Soon after the public schools moved algebra (traditionally taken in the 9th or 10th grade) to the eighth grade, the Christian publishers did the same. No one questioned whether pushing very abstract higher math into junior high was a good idea; the goal was to provide a replacement for the godless texts, not to create an educational program that actually followed biblical or even remotely sensible principles.
In the last 60 years, arithmetic content has been accelerated a full two years, forcing first graders to deal with concepts that third and fourth graders learned in 1950. To make matters exponentially worse, these same first graders are also required to perform mathematical tasks once reserved for ninth graders! “Algebra” and “Statistics, Data Analysis & Probability,” are now mandated from the first grade! This is not even sane, let alone proper from a child development standpoint. Yet, Christian publishers blindly follow this absurd tack toward mathematical oblivion. A more perfect plan to destroy all interest in math in most children is hard to imagine. In Endangered Minds, Jane Healy, Ph.D. reveals brain research that shows how young children develop inappropriate brain pathways when given tasks for which they are developmentally unprepared. The result is that they often arrive at a dead end, greatly impeding further learning in that area. The plan appears to be working; many parents today, victims of the “new math” of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, are afraid to try to teach their own children fourth grade math! They have only a vague understanding themselves and are quite afraid of math.
Although most people realize that math teaching has changed over the years, few realize that a much more subtle transition has been at work for a hundred years in all subjects. Memorization of facts has replaced thoughtful reasoning. Mindless busy work and fruitless drill has replaced logic, extensive reading of complex material, reflection, discussion and debate. Something called “comprehension” has replaced understanding. History texts which race through the centuries at breakneck speed, barely touching on the most salient events and personalities, have replaced the real, living books that students over age 12 or 13 used to read. All this was done while American parents looked on, passively trusting the professionals to know what was best for their children.
No doubt, being steeped from childhood in the methods and design of the public schools, the Christian publishers never thought to question the way “education” was scheduled (scope and sequence) or how it was delivered. They probably thought that simply putting God back in the books would provide an adequate fix. People gravitate to that which they are used to, even if it is unpleasant and unproductive. It takes some research into the origins of the current public school model to find the cleverly disguised yet very effective methods designed to dumb us down and remove our ability to think logically and reason Biblically.
Fortunately, a number of brilliant authors have taken the trouble to research the birth and development of American public schools and connect the dots for us, focusing a searchlight on that which was intended to be too obscure for the average citizen to discover. Samuel Blumenfeld’s heavily documented NEA The Trojan Horse in American Education takes us back to the 1830’s and the early push to impose a Prussian style school system on the most literate country in the world. His research puts the lie to the idea that America ever had a need for government schools.
John Taylor Gatto, in his Underground History of Education exposes the Prussian connection further as German trained or influenced leaders undertook to remake America’s schools between 1890 and 1910. This is when the high school was born in an effort to artificially extend childhood an extra four years. Kindergarten and age graded classes were imported from Prussia along with “scientific” systems of training and management. No part of these changes was biblically based or intended to promote a highly educated populace. The opposite is true. Our public schools were literally created to feed dumbed-down complacent workers, trained to follow orders uncritically and to endure “boring, repetitive tasks for long periods of time,” (Toeffler: The Third Wave) to the Industrial Revolution.
In 1928 a physics teacher named O.A. Nelson was invited to a private meeting of high-level education planners, which included Dr. John Dewey and Dr. Edward Thorndike of Columbia University as well as Dr. Ziegler, Chairman of the Educational Committee of the Council on Foreign Relations. This is what he reported:
“The sole work of the group was to destroy our schools! We spent one hour and forty-five minutes discussing the so-called “Modern Math.” At one point I objected because there was too much memory work, and math is reasoning; not memory. Dr. Ziegler turned to me and said, “Nelson, wake up! That is what we want…a math that the pupils cannot apply to life situations when they get out of school!” (Charlotte Iserbyt: The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America pp.14-15) Yet today, Christian leaders uncritically accept all the methods introduced by these utopian secular humanists.
So, what are these methods, imported to America barely 100 years ago with the intention to remake America and create a godless socialist utopia? John Taylor Gatto’s essay, The Seven Lesson Schoolteacher, published in his first book, Dumbing Us Down, provides a good introduction. He shows how every teacher outside of an extreme alternative school teaches children that skill in the game of schooling, not learning, is the path to success. Although some of the “lessons” listed are specific to schools, homeschools that use contemporary curriculum materials and methods fall victim to many of the same problems. In adopting the methods of the school, even homeschool families can unwittingly teach many if not most of Gatto’s seven lessons:
- Confusion: Too many unconnected facts to “learn” while the deeper meaning of history, science, etc. is given short shrift.
- Class Position: Being locked into a grade level regardless of ability.
- Indifference: Don’t get too excited about what you are doing because you will soon have to switch to something else.
- Emotional Dependency: This is normal in a family-not usually a problem for home school families.
- Intellectual Dependency: You need a teacher/curriculum to learn (a HUGE problem for many homeschoolers)
- Provisional Self-Esteem: You’re only worth something if you’re a “good student.”
- One Can’t Hide: There is no privacy. (Usually not a problem in a home setting.)
These are the hidden lessons of modern schooling, but there are more visible methods, with which we are all familiar, that both promote and expand the hidden lessons. None of the great thinkers who helped to found America had what we would think of today as a formal education. Even what they called college would be totally foreign to us although it was far more intellectually rigorous. Somehow, these men designed a radically new system of government that has stood the test of time without ever having been exposed to:
- Multiple choice tests
- Fill in the blank tests
- Age graded text books
- Standardized national tests
- Inane questions at the end of the chapter
- Study guides
- 13 years of formal schooling before college or beginning work
- Scientifically sequenced (programmed) learning
- Rigid time schedules (what must be learned at a specific age)
- Grades, labels and Carnegie Credits
- Inflexible curriculum designed to teach a little bit of everything, seldom with any depth and usually useless and/or irrelevant in a practical sense
None of these is mandated by Biblical principles and most of the above violate God’s principle of individuality. Each child is created in the image of God as a distinct and unique human being with his own set of talents, interests, passions, learning styles and developmental schedules. This is the opposite of the philosophy of the Social Darwinists who invented a system, which would “manufacture children like nails.”
Most early homeschoolers, including this author, did not have access to formal curriculum materials. We improvised and creatively sought ways to provide our children with a good education. These children, now adults, are modern proof that a giant stack of text and workbooks is neither necessary nor desirable. It occurred to me many years ago that Abraham Lincoln never filled in a single workbook page. In fact, he had less than a year of formal schooling. Benjamin Franklin had about three years. How did these brilliant men learn so much without school? The answer is that they knew how to learn and were able to teach themselves.
As it happened, my children didn’t much care for the few workbooks available to us, so I found other ways to reinforce learning. We discussed the books they read and used math in daily life. We played games, cooked and created businesses instead of drilling math facts. We looked for real life opportunities to learn, which included:
- Create many small businesses
- Volunteer in multiple situations
- Actively explore our region
- Find a pen pal
- Enter contests
- Get involved in different sports, clubs and activities
- Develop many skills and hobbies
- Take classes when available, appropriate and affordable
- Learn musical instruments/ join a choir
- Read, ponder and discuss
The result of this approach was a busy, happy and amazingly productive homeschool experience and daughters who know they can learn anything they put their minds to (with or without a teacher). Like the Colfax family who sent three sons to Harvard, we made no attempt to copy the school system. All of the so-called “requirements” are highly flexible. What is required, is that your child be prepared to take the next step in life. If calculus is vital to that next step, then he had better study math through calculus. However, if algebra II is never going to be needed, why waste time learning something that will be forgotten almost as soon as the last final exam is completed? Most colleges will accept students with no more than high school algebra! In fact, one doesn’t even need a high school diploma or the equivalent to go to most colleges. Colleges across America are falling all over themselves to recruit homeschoolers, many of whom have not followed any formal “requirements.”
A truly educated person must have the skills to critically evaluate (with research if necessary) whatever he encounters. This takes more than skill in reading, writing, math and a base of common knowledge. It takes wisdom and discernment. Whatever the many goals of our public schools may be, there is little evidence that the acquisition of wisdom is among them, especially since God and the Bible are banished from the schools. However well meaning the Christian publishers may be, by using the methods of the social Darwinists, they consume vast amounts of our children’s time in trivia and busy work that will yield scant fruit socially, morally or academically.
Although valuable wisdom can be gained from books, especially the Bible, children generally need guidance and a model. Tests, quizzes, study guides and questions at the end of the chapter are unlikely to provide this. These materials typically waste time that could be put to more productive use. The minor details of any book (the Bible excepted) are not usually of life altering import. It is the issues presented and the character of the subjects portrayed that provide fruitful topics for exploration. Parents who want to promote a strong Biblical character must be actively involved in discussions prompted by the issues students encounter in their reading. It is not necessary to read every book your child reads in order to discuss the books with him. Although a short summary of most books is readily available online, even this is not necessary. Simply begin by asking your child to tell you about the book:
“Tell me the story of the book.”
“Where/When did it happen or is it fantasy?”
“What character or event impressed or interested you the most?”
“What do you think was that person’s most striking or important trait or contribution?”
“Did you approve of that character’s actions?” “Why or why not?”
“What lesson did you learn from the book?”
“Would you recommend this book to your friends?” “Why or why not?”
There are many other questions you can use to get a discussion started. Learning from a book is quite different from learning about a book. Most so-called study guides or quizzes are simply about remembering details. That is busy work with little if any educational value. If you can’t take the time to discuss a book, ask your student to write about the book. Young students can relate something of the story, but by age eleven or twelve, they should be starting to focus on an important theme, character or event that seemed significant. Remember, developing your child’s character takes your input. Children can be swayed to unbiblical worldviews by books. There are subtle messages in every children’s book which convey the authors’ worldviews. Where adults will simply see a cute story, children make all sorts of inferences regarding the relationships and behavior portrayed by the characters. Young children are concrete thinkers and will often take a fantasy story at face value, confusing reality and fantasy. Without guidance, they may come to admire character traits we wouldn’t approve. You can avoid that by regular and ongoing discussions on every possible topic.
Adults as well as children absorb information bit by bit from many sources. Schools were not designed to expose children to a wide variety of literature. The constant inane questions to “check comprehension” slow down the reader and use much valuable time that would be more productive if used for reading and reflecting. The constant annoyance of writing out answers to questions can also serve as a deterrent to reading. If a student thinks that he must answer a list of questions for every book read, he may either avoid reading or skim the books looking only for the answers. Thus, far from instilling a love of learning, we are sending this student in the opposite direction as he develops avoidance strategies.
You may have noticed that a great deal of the Bible is concerned with history. This is no accident. Over and over, God admonishes His people to remember their history and the great things God did for them. He even wanted them to remember the names of all their ancestors all the way back to Adam! Most American Christians, however, can’t place Martin Luther in the correct century. That is, if they even know who he was! This is because the Social Darwinists developed a history “program” that was so boring and irrelevant that few will go near anything that sounds like history for the rest of their lives. Thus history has been forgotten, along with its lessons. People who do not understand the lessons of history are easily led, usually to their doom. This is a universal truth; Americans are not exempt.
Although the Christian curriculum publishers have done an admirable job in improving on the secular texts by giving a more complete and thus more interesting history, they have retained the methods of the Social Darwinists by teaching enormous chunks of history in short time periods and by including lots of questions (mostly busy-work) and many tests and quizzes. History may be quizzed for fun, but to learn the lessons of history, discussion with a more mature mentor is mandatory.
I can hear the howls of protest already! It is very likely that you don’t know much more history than your children. I was there once. Nineteen years of “education” left me with a very fuzzy picture of history. You are older and wiser than your children, so learn it along with them and search out the answers to their questions. Above all, the history you give your children must be riveting! History is very, very exciting. It’s not hard to find good books that contain you-can’t-put-it-down stories from history. However, these are never textbooks. Stay far away from textbooks if you want your child to love history and learn its lessons. Also, slow down. History must be digested. Don’t ever try to cover 6000 years of human history in one year (World History). That is like trying to “learn” U.S. Geography by boarding an airplane in New York and flying to L.A. looking at the terrain all the way. You will notice, and even remember, quite a lot, but you won’t really have much understanding of U.S. geography.
History must be learned piece by piece like putting together a puzzle. Each story has a lesson and several stories put together have a larger lesson. When many, many stories are learned, the lessons (understanding) get bigger and bigger. You cannot “teach” your children all the lessons of history; they must continue to learn their whole lives. If you help your children love history, and teach them that history has much wisdom and many useful lessons to teach, they will continue to learn on their own, finding answers to many of the great questions of life.
Much of the Social Darwinist’s plan involves endless busy-work with little thinking required, or even allowed. Educational rhetoric notwithstanding, creativity is definitely not encouraged. Even in the study of English composition, the rules are designed to stifle expression:
- 5 paragraph essays (why 5?)
- Rigid formula for a paragraph (try to find one quickly in a real book that has a topic sentence, three supporting sentences and a conclusion)
Gradually, all creative and individualistic avenues of expression have been eliminated from our public schools. Art, music and drama still lurk on the fringes of the Christian curriculum, but they are considered to be frills, hardly necessary or important. By focusing almost exclusively on the so-called academic subjects, by disconnecting science from art and math from music, American educrats have created a dull, almost useless educational experience. By making every topic of study dependent on measurable “benchmarks” of learning, they have squeezed the life out of our schools and drained the vital energy necessary for developing true understanding and wisdom out of our students.
Some homeschool veterans have taken great pains to design curriculum materials for other homeschoolers that are more suitable for learning than the textbook model. They are all good for some children and they are all unsuitable for some children. Sadly, there are also many that copy heavily from the secular model, providing large doses of busy work. There is no perfect formula, no style or set of materials that is suited to everyone. If you pick a creative program, remember that it still must be modified to fit your child and your family, not the other way around. Put another way, the curriculum is your slave; do not enslave your child (or yourself) to the curriculum. Just because the author of the homeschool program liked a particular list of books, does not make those the best or most educational books for your children. It is fine to look to a more experienced homeschool mom or dad for advice, but always remember that your children are unique.
Use discretion when choosing and using materials. If your children balk at a particular book or activity, consider prayerfully whether it is truly the best way to proceed. There are many lists of recommended classics, from ancient to modern. Feel free to roam through them with abandon. There are many “classics” that I personally loathe and would not recommend to anyone, yet others actually love. Each person has different tastes, loves and interests. A book that is boring or repulsive to me, can speak to others. Therefore, if your child hates a book you have assigned, take a look at his learning style and pick another book that is better suited to him. There are thousands of great books to choose from, so discarding one will hardly harm his education.
Start to deschool yourself and learn what you missed. As you become more enthusiastic about learning, your children will learn from your example. Stop worrying about schedules and “keeping up.” You are merely trying to keep up with a train to nowhere! Abandon that fruitless track and learn to explore and examine, create and investigate anything interesting that comes your way. Become aware of the learning opportunities all around you and begin to take advantage of them. Remember that most of our ancestors were prepared for college or career by age 14! It doesn’t really take very long to learn to read, write and calculate well enough to survive as a competent adult.
The time wasted plodding through a modern 13-year curriculum is truly appalling. Eliminate the busy work and your children will have time to create a business, study a passion in depth, become expert at something, invent a new process, write a novel, build a generator, develop a talent, explore a career.
Children who are allowed to take responsibility can do amazing things. I know a homeschooled man who was a licensed locksmith at age 12 and a very competent carpenter by 14. My daughters could run a bookstore by age 12. On one occasion, the owner was asked for a certain book. She told the customer to ask my daughter, because Tenaya knew the store better than the owner! Children become far more competent and responsible when given the opportunity to do real things. Dr. Raymond and Dorothy Moore researched the most successful homeschool methods and developed The Moore Formula, as a practical application of their findings. It is explained in their book, The Successful Homeschool Family Handbook.
Finally, take great care in choosing the educational model you follow for your children. Examine the methods, regardless of the labels used to dress up the program. For example, labeling a program as “classical” is a current fad. Many authors have written “classical” curriculum materials. They don’t all agree on what constitutes a “classical education” and just because a program or curriculum carries an attractive title, does not mean it is good for your children. You must get past the rhetoric and look critically at the actual methods and materials used to decide if it is truly “classical” or just a progressive pig dressed up with lipstick and cloaked with Christian rhetoric. If the materials and the methodology pass, you must also decide whether it is suitable for your unique children or whether it can be made suitable by tweaking it here and there.
Above all, keep learning yourself. Parents are busy and homeschooling parents are often exhausted, but you can learn with your children by playing audio books in the car and having family game, movie, or read-aloud nights. Be sure to build into your schedule plenty of time for fun and relaxing activities. Remember that God created music and art as well as math and science. The homeschool experience should be a happy one that fosters a love for learning.
And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:
And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.
Deuteronomy 6: 6-7