Loving your Neighbors
My friend, Lydia, asked a great question in a comment on my previous post. Here’s what she asked:
My biggest reservation about homeschooling is this: will it hinder my children's ability to love the lost in our own neighborhood if they have limited opportunity to have relationships with non-Christians? I don't worry about traditional socialization, but rather about teaching compassion (versus "tolerance") for people around us lost in a non-Christian worldview.
Before I get going, I have to tell you that this is not an area of strength for me, and as time goes on I am more and more aware of my failures. I fail to speak when I ought, and way too often I fear men more than God. At CGS in the past several years there has been a concerted effort to help us change from being primarily inward focused (meeting the needs of only our body) to really reaching out. It’s a big shift, and one that doesn’t come easily for many of us, but it is very good. We’re finding that the younger men and women in our body are leading the way, encouraging us more slow-to-get-with-the-program folks. Pastors Bayly and Baker have given a couple of very challenging sermons related to this the past couple of weeks. If you are able, I’d strongly encourage you to download and listen to their sermons from 7/20 (Tim Bayly) and 7/27 (Stephen Baker.)
Ok – now back to the question. Will your children be less able to love their non-Christian neighbors, friends and family if they are homeschooled? There’s no doubt some homeschool families are so concerned with “protecting” their children that they grow up very insular, rarely interacting with, let alone learning to love and care for, nonbelievers. The same could be said for some who send their children to Christian schools. On the other end of the spectrum, some children from Christian homes attend public school and rather than loving their neighbors and standing for truth, they instead learn to blend in perfectly, which is not what we want either.
As I’ve thought about the young people in our church who most exhibit true love for those who don’t yet know the Lord, those who are constantly getting to know their neighbors and co-workers, sharing truth with them, bringing them to worship and to home fellowship groups - I can see no common denominator in their schooling. Some were homeschooled, some went to Christian school, others attended public schools, while still others attended some combination of these.
More important than how you choose to educate your children will be the attitudes and examples of you, your husband, and your church family. Lydia, your children will largely pick up their attitudes toward non-Christians as they see you and Nathan loving and praying for your neighbors (family members, colleagues, etc), inviting them into your home, and speaking the truth in love. What your children see and hear at church is hugely important too.
Second, homeschooling doesn't necessarily mean limiting relationships with the lost. It is true that HSed children are not sitting in classrooms with peers every day, but there are oodles of opportunities to be involved with your local community. One difference is the HSers tend to interact and be comfortable with people on a broader range of ages, though. HS kids I know are involved in sports, 4-H, community drama organizations, orchestras, serving the poor, and all kinds of other group activities.
Furthermore, homeschooling allows you time to prepare your “arrows” to be well-aimed and ready to enter the battle, rather than sending out little ones full-time into the fray too soon. The primary reason Tim and I homeschool our children is that we believe it gives us the best opportunity to disciple our children. (With the number of children we have, we could not do this very effectively if they were away from home the bulk of each weekday. The basics of life are just too consuming! Teaching them daily allows so many opportunities to teach character and biblical truth, both from our history and science studies and from life situations as they happen.)
We don’t try to isolate our children at any age, but as they mature we look for ways to give them increasing freedom and release them gradually. As teens they volunteer at community locations like the hospital, a science museum, and our township neighborhood organization. They have jobs and take classes at IU and IVY Tech. They tend to talk to us pretty readily about new or difficult situations they run into. Bloomington being what it is, they meet all kinds of people! What we have found is that our children have no trouble at all loving non-believers and faithfully presenting truth naturally as they talk with their fellow students, roommates, co-workers, and labmates. As Tim and I were talking about this, we realized that our grown children clearly have a greater love for the lost than we do.
Added to that, as is typical of kids who have been homeschooled through high school, they are not nearly as concerned with what people think of them as I am, and they have more confidence to speak boldly of their faith. The flip side of socialization is peer dependency. I've noticed as I have observed the homeschooled kids my children met in college, these homeschooled graduates tend to be far less peer-dependent than other kids and more confident to be their own (sometimes quirky, but wonderful!) selves. As a woman whose greatest sin results from being a man-fearer, I think this is a pretty significant advantage, and it allows these men and women to speak lovingly to non-believers with less fear.
Does this mean I think homeschooling is a panacea or the right choice for every Christian family? By no means! Though over time Tim and I have been increasingly confident that this is what our family ought to do, for a variety of reasons it is not necessarily the best choice for everyone. Having homeschooled for about twenty years now, I’m pretty aware of the drawbacks that accompany this non-traditional means of education. Each couple needs to trust God to make clear the best path to godliness, life preparation, and academic instruction for their particular children. There are a number of reasons why a family might decide not to homeschool, but socialization, including loving and caring for your neighbors, is not a valid strike against home education.