Category Archives: Education

Biblical Worldview Apologetics for Teens

argumentTeens like to argue. Have you noticed? Some find it invigorating to argue with people who don’t have the same beliefs. Some will try to argue the superiority of their own belief systems. Some will argue just to argue.

When it comes to apologetics, though, you want your teen to have a solid grounding in biblical worldview before he ventures out ready to argue. For some teens, having just a little information is like putting a gun in their hands before they know how to aim it.

The Apologist’s Mind

I like knowing that teens have a foundation in the Word of God. Since His Word never fails, and since it will never come back void (Isa. 55:11), we know that a teen who knows his Bible is well-armed against his opponents.

I also love to teach teenagers Logic. That course teaches students how to think and how to order their thoughts. It helps them organize information that is coming at them and helps them to see arguments from a different perspective–not totally emotionally. Douglas Wilson and James Nance wrote Introductory Logic and Intermediate Logic, which I have used for many years.

Teach Doctrine to your student. How will he know what he is defending if he doesn’t know doctrine? Teach from Luther’s Small Catechism and the Westminster Shorter Catechism. I also love the Heidelburg Catechism. Teach from Paul Little’s Know What You Believe and open up Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. Grudem also wrote Christian Beliefs: Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know, which might be instructive for doctrine.

Learn together the different belief systems of other worldviews. You need to understand their beliefs and backgrounds in order to counter their arguments. Together you and your teen can pray for the people who fall into those beliefs, knowing that there is only one true Creator God, and His Word is the only measurement of absolute truth. The world is starving for truth and searching for it in unlikely places. God’s Word has the answers. Josh McDowell has written several books on other religions and worldviews, such as A Ready Defense and The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict. David Noebel wrote Understanding the Times and its smaller companion, Battle for the Truth. These are all good resources.

Study the works of apologists. McDowell’s More Than a Carpenter, CS Lewis’s Mere Christianity, and Little’s Know Why You Believe are all solid foundation-builders. Lee Strobel wrote his powerful book The Case for Christ, followed up by The Case for Faith and The Case for a Creator, all great resources by a former atheist who set out to prove Christianity wrong. Greg Bahnsen’s Always Ready was my constant companion when I taught high school apologetics. I’m sure my readers will write in with many more great resources.

The Attitude and Lifestyle of an Apologist

Being grounded in God’s Word and then armed with all the resources named above, you would think that the teenager will be more than ready for the confrontation when it comes. However, he’s only part way there.

All that learning can make a person proud, can puff up, as 1 Corinthians 8:1 says (out of context). As you are building up your store of knowledge, remember that Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (ESV). When learning is dedicated to God, when you take the time to ask for His wisdom in the midst of what you learn, your pride and boasting takes a different direction. Rather than boasting in yourself or in your vast treasury of knowledge, you will boast in Jesus Christ, your Savior, who enables all of this learning. With this perspective in  mind, what will follow?

Avoid arrogance. “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4, emphasis mine). Apologetics is not a rivalry, not an opportunity to come out on top. This is a battle of light against darkness, and only the Lord will secure the outcome. When you have the best interest of your “opponent” in mind, you will not consider this a debate contest in which to earn points.

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Tim 2:22-26, emphasis mine)

Bahnsen used the term “humble boldness,” which I love to use. Teens can see what that is supposed to mean. The boldness entails assurance of what you know, while humbleness speaks of someone who considers others before himself.  Boldness also speaks of fearlessness in the face of opposition, and the following passage in Philippians addresses that beautifully.

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. (Phil. 1:27-28, emphasis mine)

Realize from whom all your words come. Paul reminded the Corinthians that when he came to them, he “did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:1-5). Paul makes it clear it is not his great mind that did the work of saving the people of Corinth, but God himself through the power of His Spirit. Keep in mind that you can draw attention to yourself or to your great God with the apologetics you use.

Finally, be prepared (1 Pet. 3:13-17). You may not know the next time you are called upon to defend your faith. This is one reason that the Bible urges us to wear our armor (Eph. 6:10-20), so that we can always be in a defensive position. This same passage in Ephesians reminds us to pray always, too, for the right words, to declare them boldly.

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Biblical Worldview for Teens: Watching, Reading, Listening

“That’s my online stuff. It has nothing to do with school or with church.”

So goes the teenage (and the adult) mind. A wide gulf separates churchy stuff from school stuff and from media. Never they will meet, in the teenage mind. In other words, the teen things, what I do in school has nothing to do with the movies I watch. What I say and do in Youth Group has nothing to do with my online activities or the songs I choose to listen to.

Unfortunately, God does not see it that way. If all things belong to God–and they do–then everything under the sun is His. All my time, all my thoughts, all my goals, and all my media belong to Him.

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!  You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.  (ESV Ps 139:1-6)

We think about God in the appropriate places: in class if we are in Christian or home school. In church and Youth Group. With our Bible study friends. But walk out the door and that gets left behind.

Teach  your teenager to think biblically about all things, whether school or church or home. Teach him that whatever goes into his mind is subject to worldly thoughts or biblical thoughts. Teach him to filter all things through his biblical worldview. And that includes media. Teach him that to love God is to love Him “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).

Do not allow him to separate the secular from the sacred. If media is out there, it is being watched, read, listened to, and discussed. Talk with your teen about the media he uses. Don’t be afraid of it!

kid on computerBe purposeful with your teenager about media. Talk about his social media: what he does online. Who does he follow on Twitter? What does he say on Twitter? Follow him to find out! If it looks sketchy, like he is taking risks talking to people who have uncertain reputations or followings, then take action to block your internet service on all of his devices. Ask your phone provider how to block his internet use on his phone. Talk to your service provider about parental controls. Load Covenant Eyes onto your computers. It is impossible to disable and sends a report to you about his internet activity. We have used it for years. Your job is to guard their hearts, and to teach them how to guard their own hearts, by guarding their media. See Ps. 139:23-24 and Prov. 4:23.

And honestly, what might you lose by taking away an electronic device or two while you wait for his behavior to improve? Does he really need it all? Don’t be afraid to be a parent to your teen.

If your child doesn’t want to be your FaceBook friend, then he is not old enough or mature enough to have an account. Your child–this may seem shocking to you–does not have a right to privacy in your home since you are his parent and he is a minor. If he is secretive about his social media, there is probably a reason.

Watch TV and movies together with your teen, if you allow television. Even if you do not watch regular TV, you should be getting together to watch movies and discuss them, just like it is part of a class activity. Get out a sheet of paper and write down the following questions about the movie. Take notes during the movie. As a family, discuss everyone’s notes. Ask these questions about what is contained/portrayed in any piece of media you read or watch together.

The Seven Worldview Questions (thanks to David Quine, Cornerstone Curriculum):

  1. What is the nature of God as displayed in this (movie, book, TV show)?
  2. What is the nature of man?
  3. What is the nature of the universe?
  4. What is basis of morality and ethics?
  5. What is the cause of evil and suffering?
  6. What happens to man at death?
  7. What is the meaning of history?

Do the same thing with books that your teenager reads, either for class or for leisure. Choose classics, and choose contemporary books that other kids are reading. Don’t be afraid of them. Kids are reading them, and you bet they are talking about them, so you might want to examine, from a biblical worldview, what they are talking about so that your teen has an answer for the faith that lies within him. So that he is not taken captive by empty philosophy because no one talked with him about it.

True story: I was afraid of the Harry Potter books and forbade my children to read them. They argued with me. “Mom,” they reasoned, “how do you know they’re bad if you haven’t read them?” I just asked them to trust me. And then a few years later a student’s mother told me that she wouldn’t let her son read a horror novel like Frankenstein for my class. We read that book from a biblical worldview, and it produces some great a-ha moments for my teenage students. I argued with the mom. “How do you know it’s a horrible book if you haven’t opened it to read it?” I went home fuming to my family. My oldest son just looked at me, and I read his mind. I had given my son the same answer to the Harry Potter series without even having cracked them open.

Once I read the books, I could see the beautiful worldview depicted in JK Rowling’s world, and I highly recommend it to every parent. The sacrificial love, forgiveness, redemption, and friendship in that book are incredibly poignant. I apologized to my son.

Fearlessly view and review your teen’s media together. Talk about it from a biblical worldview. You will learn something as well as he does. And neither of you will be able to view media the same way again. I called that “spoiled for good.”

watching moviesMovies to ponder from a biblical worldview.

(Remember, I am not limiting this list to Christian media, or to “safe” movies. We live in the world and are not of the world. We view media and discuss it biblically. Examine it for truths and for lies. Spot them and discuss them. With the above discussion guide, it should get easier to discuss.)

  • Pocahontas
  • The Island
  • The Village
  • Star Wars
  • The Hunger Games
  • Lord of the Rings
  • Mulan
  • The Truman Show
  • Brave
  • The Lion King
  • Avatar
  • The Dark Knight
  • Signs
  • Life of Pi
  • I, Robot
  • Surrogates
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • Star Trek: Wrath of Khan
  • Les Miserables

Books to discuss from a biblical worldview.

You can do the same with books, using the seven worldview questions.

  • Frankenstein
  • The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray
  • Heart of Darkness
  • Macbeth
  • Hamlet
  • Tale of Two Cities
  • Hunger Games
  • Harry Potter series
  • Lord of the Rings series
  • Narnia series
  • Lord of the Flies
  • Animal Farm
  • 1984
  • Anthem
  • Ender’s Game
  • Last of the Mohicans
  • Les Miserables
  • Moby Dick
  • Count of Monte Cristo
  • Brothers Karamazov
  • The Iliad
  • To Kill a Mockingbird

Be wise, and don’t fear. Together you and your teen will survive these years, and with prayer and wisdom, he will come out the other side holding onto his faith more strongly than before. And he will be armed with information and ideas to take out into the world to his friends as an apologetic tool (1 Pet. 3:13-17). See my next blog on apologetics for teenagers.

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Biblical Worldview Homeschooling for Teens

I don’t know what I believe.

Six in ten young people will leave the church for an extended period of time, according to a Barna study from 2012. Kids who grew up in the church, spent time in Sunday school and Youth Group, many of them, will leave when they get to college.

Lots of people are studying why this happens, and many of the answers are instructive. I’d like to suggest that if you have children, and you homeschool (or plan to), you should put a plan in place for instructing your child in biblical worldview. See my earlier blog on biblical worldview and the young child. In fact (and I really don’t need to say this), anyone who parents a teen should  find this instructive, homeschooling or not. 🙂

Biblical worldview instruction begins with the very youngest and doesn’t end until the child has moved out. It doesn’t need to be all classroom instruction, but the aim of biblical worldview education for the teen is so that he can assuredly, eloquently, passionately give a reason for the hope that lies within (1 Pet. 3:15).

An interview with some of my teenage students showed me some of the things they think about and showed me the importance of biblical worldview teaching for teens.

Key Reasons Teens Need Biblical Worldview Teaching

1. Helps to give me an identity. Teens struggle with who they are. When they are comfortable with who they are–and I mean who they are in Christ–they can wade through the identity struggles of their teenage years. (Eph. 2:1-10)

2. Helps me navigate the dangers of adolescence. anchorThe teen years are more dangerous than when you and I were young. They receive endless messages from media, from peers, from teachers, about who they are and about what is true. They must battle their way through temptations we never imagined. Rebellion, sex, pornography, drugs, alcohol, eating disorders, self-abuse–and that doesn’t even begin to touch on the dangers Christian kids face from unbelievers who will try to pull them away from their faith. They get hardened. They begin to pull away. With a solid foundation of faith–with a solid biblical worldview–their feet are firmly planted in soil that will never give way. They will not be “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (NASV Eph. 4:11-16, esp. v 14).

3. Helps me to combat other worldviews and ideas that come at me. My students were adamant about this one. They know that “out there” they will meet much smarter people whose ideas will be strong and who will argue forcefully. When a teenager knows what he believes–and believes in it with his whole heart and mind and soul–he will not be so anxious when someone is forcefully arguing. He may also be able to counter an argument with one of his own. Biblical worldview teaching means not just learning about your own faith. It means learning about other worldviews so you are not knocked off your feet by every stray idea that comes along.

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. (ESV Col. 2:6-10, emphasis mine)

4. Helps me to remember that there is an absolute truth. Children and teens receive guidance from older Christians, but teens are busy challenging authority, ideas, peers. Teens are pressured by situational ethics that challenge their understanding of the truth. Homosexuality, alternative lifestyles, sex outside of marriage, friends who are pregnant from date rape and don’t want to keep their babies–these all challenge absolute truth. Where do I stand on these? The answers are hard, but the truth is still the truth.

The pressure to rebel is huge, but if a firm foundation has been built in them–knowing that there is an absolute truth, and it is found in scripture, and it never changes–they can fall back on that guideline when all else fails them. “The sum of Your word is truth, And every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting” (Ps 119:160).

5. Helps me to own my own faith. Children follow along their parents’ leading, and that lasts for several years. But somewhere along about the early teens, the questions begin to form. The challenges increase. Children begin to grow into thoughtful adolescents who need to understand for themselves what is right and true. If you teach them early, that foundation will have begun to take root. Make sure not to stop when they hit their teenage years. Make sure that during their teens they are surrounded by adults who will teach, exhort, and challenge them to grow and to grasp the faith to make it their own. When Christ prayed for his disciples, he prayed knowing that his disciples needed truth to hang onto when they lived in this world. He prayed,

But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. (John 17:13-18)

6. It keeps me disciplined. “We have more freedom as teens. We are making more decisions for ourselves. So we need to have a firm foundation to use when we are deciding what to do.” I liked that idea, and I think that even we adults can learn a thing or two from these wise teenagers. As long as I learn that I am not my own, that I belong to a sovereign God, then my decisions should be based on that knowledge, and that should free me (1 Cor. 6:12-20, esp 19-20; Rom. 14:8; Rom. 12:1-2).

7. It helps me to keep things in proper perspective. Some of my students told me they were bothered by how easy it is for teens to separate themselves from their Sunday School or Youth Group personae. (It is something that bothers me about adults too!)  A solid biblical worldview will show a teen that all of life is God’s. There is nothing–not one thing–that is hidden from Him. If there is not a thing that He does not see, then how can we go about our daily lives acting like the unsaved (Ps. 139:7-12)? Well, I can tell you it is because we all sin and have fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). Keeping in mind that every single thing belongs to Him, and that I am at the mercy of my sinful self, makes me want to press in to Him even more so that I do not separate my Sunday self from my weekly self.

Finally, my students wanted to give advice to parents and to teens: Stay in the Word. Their prayer for teens and their parents:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,  from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named,  that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth,  and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Eph. 4:14-21)

Amen.

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The Why of Biblical Worldview Homeschooling

“Why” for the younger child

When the Pilgrims migrated to the New World, they did so because of their faith. They were persecuted in Europe for their stance on the truth of scripture, and they wanted to find a place where they could practice it.

Within one or two generations, though, these Pilgrims had begun to drift toward the despotism that they had tried to escape. They imposed strict religious principles on their communities and placed their definition of Christianity inside a tightly controlled box. Any deviation from their idea–man’s idea–of the way a Christian should act was fiercely punished. This led to, among other things, the terrible time of paranoia, hysteria, and idiocy called the Salem Witch Trials. Why? One contributing factor was the early Pilgrims failed to pass their faith onto the next generation. They failed to pass on that fervor, that great faith it took to leave one country, cross a terrible ocean and start life in a strange land.

Psalm 78:1-8 instructs us in our faith: pass on the faith to the next generation: “We will not conceal them from their children, But tell to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, And His strength and His wondrous works that He has done” (v 4). In all, this passage refers to at least four generations of descendants, directing the faithful in careful teaching of their descendants. Faith was meant to be carried forward through the generations. Parents and grandparents are urged not to forget nor to neglect the teaching of the faith.

mom and child with BibleMany parents homeschool in order to teach their children their faith, train them up in the way they should go (Prov. 22:6). Establishing a strong biblical worldview foundation is the vital stage in homeschool parenting for younger children. (In another blog I will address the absolute necessity of biblical worldview for teens.)

Very young children can enjoy the songs and stories from the Bible that teach lessons and show the majesty of our great God. Even very young, children can be taught a high view of God and of scripture. This is where biblical worldview begins. We follow the instruction of the Bible, which tells us in a beautiful manner about how to train a child:

Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (ASV, Deut. 6:4-9)

When my children were little we took time to wonder at the beauty of nature and of the God who so meticulously created it. We talked about each season in turn, and took special care during Christmas to talk about the symbolism of every decoration we hung with intention around our house: the lights, the stars, the angels, the nativity scene–all of it. We purposefully talked about it as we walked, as we lay down, as we drove, as we worked.

While we drove in the car we sang along with Bible verses put to music, sometimes stopping the tape (yes, cassette tapes and CDs–it was the 80s and 90s) to talk about it.

When I asked some of my current teenage students what helped them to develop their biblical worldview as children, they gave me a variety of replies. Some of them said Sunday School and Veggie Tales were instrumental. Another student chimed in: “Don’t worry about Sunday School–have them listen to the sermons each week!” Some mentioned that time in the Word as a family was key for them.

One student mentioned something I emphasize to families all the time: the integration of media into your family life. No matter what you watch on TV with your child, stop and talk about it with them. Everything has a worldview–even (and especially) children’s programming. Disney has a definite worldview that could keep you talking for hours. I remember taking my children to see Pocahontas in the theater, and we talked all the way home about its deceptive worldview. (Today I still use that movie with my students as a great worldview discussion.) There is value in even those things that mistakenly get shown to your children–for instance, if they are at someone else’s house and see something of which you might not approve. There is a great opportunity not to freak out, but to talk.

While your child is young, make sure of your purpose for homeschooling: not to isolate your child from the world, but to insulate him. There is a huge difference, and it has to do with biblical worldview.

Some parents will homeschool out of fear, and this will drive them to isolate their children from the world. They don’t completely withdraw; they have their church friends and other homeschoolers to play with. But they unplug from the rest of the world and create their own little community, separate and apart from everything else. This is not completely wise, in my humble opinion.

Raised in relative isolation, these children will not know about the world in which they live. They will not know about how other people think and act, and why. They will know nothing of the depravity of the world in which they live, and this will also produce another effect of having no idea of the depth of the sin from which they are saved. When the song says “Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!” I wonder if our children know what wretches we really are, and how deep grace really is–that sweet and severe balance of Law and Grace in our lives.

I am not advocating the soaking up of every bit of news and immersing your children into the depths of darkness. However, talking frankly about some of the bad things that go on in the world will help them to see our world’s need for a savior. About the sad lack of truth in this world. We shared some news stories with our children and talked about them openly, answering their questions as best we could. Because we had a fearful child, we didn’t go into detail, but we prayed together about the bad things and the need for our presidents’ wisdom over the years. (On a side note, as I grew up my parents sheltered me completely from the Vietnam War that was raging. I saw and heard the hippie protest songs, but I had no idea what they were for. I was in junior high before I had any clue there had been a war, and in high school before I was taught what it was about. I felt pretty stupid!)

This is reality parenting from a biblical worldview. Letting them know that “out there” is a world full of pain and ugliness, but that God has a plan through it all. Let them know that people do not have any idea what truth is, but that the Bible is the measuring stick for absolute truth, and truth can be found within its pages.

armorofgod350We talked a lot about character, about the fruits of the spirit, about the armor of God. We read plenty of good literature that posed moral problems the characters had to work through. We talked a lot about that literature, fostering in them the love of reading. We helped them choose good books rather than trash at the library. But we talked to them about why that novel was trash and not edifying to read.

Have a high view of scripture and of God in your home. Teach them those central passages of scripture that show the vitality and truth of the Bible and its importance in their daily walk. Show them that Christ is the center of all things (Col. 1:16-20), and all things hold together in Him. When examining a flower or a butterfly, talk about the care God took to make even these small, beautiful items, and how much more He cares for His people.

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Homeschooling is not unschooling

unschooled“Just let your child follow his interests!” say unschooling advocates to unsuspecting young parents. As free spirits, not wanting traditional schooling, some naive individuals will unplug from the grid and unschool.

Unschooling gets a bad rap. And deservedly so. Its principles–if you can find them–are to let your child learn what he is interested in. Let him go with the flow. If he shows that he likes sciencey things, then let him do some science. If he likes to take apart the toaster, give him the space heater too.

I’m simplifying, but not too much. For some in the post-hippie world, it sounds, like, great to let your child raise himself and teach himself whatever he wants. For those of us who teach–even those of us who have homeschooled for many years–unschooling is a disaster waiting to happen.

I am certain that young men and women who come out of unschooling are nice, respectful, kind, and love their parents. No doubt they were raised by parents who loved them. I will ask, though, if it is loving to pull them so far out of academia that they cannot function to meet the goals they might have liked for themselves farther down the road?

For instance–and I can give you MANY very similar instances–a mom of a 17-year-old told me her child wanted to go to college, and she proceeded to ask me about what classes he needed for his final year of high school. We began with math. “He is just now finishing Algebra 1,” she said. She explained that he really wasn’t interested in math as a younger child, so they didn’t do it. A college bound teen needs four years of high school math in his tool belt. Algebra 1 does not even qualify as high school math, since it is normally taken in 8th grade. So he is already three years behind. After a long pause, the mom admitted that she had probably done her son a disservice.

“My friends just told me to let him do whatever he wanted!” she protested.

Did that mom love her child? Undoubtedly–most definitely. So remember, I am not equating unschooling with unloving. I just want to remind parents that loving your child means doing hard things once in a while. Sometimes it means saying no. Sometimes it means insisting on doing hard work.

Yes, math is hard. My children often reminded me that it was painful. Yet because we loved them, we insisted that the hard work needed to be done, and done well. They learned from the DOING as well as from the subject itself. Doing the hard work built their little characters. It showed them how to apply their hard work to other areas. It showed them how to be disciplined, how to manage time and frustration. It instilled a work ethic and taught them the VALUE of hard work done well. It taught them how to think.

Just as I would not let my toddler run out into a busy parking lot without holding my hand, I also would not let my child decide his own path of schooling. Some unschooling, I propose, happens because parents don’t want to hear the whining of little voices lifted in protest. It is easier to take them to the children’s museum than to plan a four-week science curriculum. Go to the museum, call it science. If he liked it, get him a couple of books at the museum gift store. Done. science kid

One mom told me her daughter was a “real science kid.” In fact, she wanted to focus on science when she got to college. But heading into 9th grade, the child had never done any science before. Fortunately she will have time to get some training from some science teachers so that she will be able to pursue what she says is her real love–science.

My daughter and I had a conversation recently about schooling. She graduated from home school, graduated from university with a Bachelor’s degree, and is moving to graduate school in just a few weeks. I reminded her how much she hated doing school work when she was younger. She got tears in her eyes. “But I am so thankful that you made us do that hard work,” she said. “I don’t know anyone I went to school with who regretted doing hard work in school. They complained, but they appreciated having done the work.” We insisted she do hard things so that she could be ready for whatever. Her “whatever” begins at grad school in not too many weeks.

Let me be honest: we have tried all sorts of schooling: public, private, and home. Never “un.” One child graduated from a public high school and a public university before getting his masters degree at a private university. We didn’t always do it right. We were, however, quick to make changes if what we tried wasn’t working. We admitted our mistakes and moved on. But we never once regretted having our children learn to do the hard work of their academic classes.

“Why do math, if you can’t find math in the real world?” I found this question on an unschooling web site. Really? There is no math to be found in the real world? On what planet? Math is not just about numbers or finding the value of x, which I always found just a bit confounding myself (and thus the reason I majored in English…). Math is about thinking well, logically applying knowledge learned in one area into another. Math is about cars and cell phones, travel and technology, recipes and retirement accounts, measurements and medicine. Math is about statistics and economics and politics. Lack of understanding in math may really get you into trouble with  your bank or your boss. Think you can just hire someone to do it for you? Then you need to be smart enough to earn enough for that.

(I thought, with an English degree, that I could just escape math altogether. God has a sense of humor, though, because my first job out of college was as a communications consultant in an actuarial firm. Translating math-speak into English.)

Look, there are lots of kids out there who will never go to college because they don’t want to. Because they have figured out their own path to life. Because they have already been hired somewhere and earning enough. That’s fine. But what about those kids who unschooled all the way through, like our unfortunate 17-year-old at the beginning of this article, who has doors closed to them because they were unprepared for what they really wanted to do later on? How did unschooling work for him?

See related blogs:

Homeschooling means seeing reality

Homeschooling means pursuing excellence well

Homeschooling well means writing well

Read good books

Rising above mediocrity

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Homeschooling with excellence means seeing reality

genius baby“My daughter is extremely gifted,” a mother informed me. (I wish I had a dollar for every time I hear that one!) I waited for her to go on. “No really. She tests as ‘profoundly gifted.'” That’s wonderful. What are your plans? “Well, she needs to be challenged, because every class she sits in, she is terribly bored. She is going to be 11 soon, and I want her to take an upper-level high school English class. I don’t think she is ready for Advanced Placement (AP) yet.”

Probably not. In fact, I urged the mom to think about the kind of advanced discussions, topics, and types of literature that are read at the upper high school level. Did she really want her daughter exposed to the level of maturity required of students in 11th and 12th grades? Mom hadn’t thought much about that. She just knew her little one needed challenging. Let’s go ahead and challenge your gifted child, but in a way that she can handle it at her age and maturity.

This is reality schooling. While your little sweet one may be extremely advanced, you need to think “big picture.” Is your child ready for the maturity of the other kids in the room? Is she able to hold her own in the discussions, manage the logical, higher-level-thinking going on around her? Maybe for a while. But can she maintain it, realistically?

A  well-designed humanities class develops more than just “objective” academic knowledge. A student assimilates a body of knowledge and learns to analyze, to form ideas, to articulate. There is more to “readiness” for a class than academic ability. It also includes emotional and spiritual readiness. Choosing one or two subjects in which to move ahead, at the expense of other academic areas, doesn’t provide a broad intellectual base. What you get in the end is an unprepared student who is frustrated.

If you are tempted to move your gifted child way ahead in an area, first make sure he has a strong foundation in all academics, appropriate for his age. Some families (ours included) move their incredibly gifted children faster than they should, which often results in a child who is challenged but frustrated. Frustrated  because a) he is not mature enough to handle the material, b) he is not mature enough to handle the ages of the children around him, c) he cannot manage the advanced workload because he has not built a base of necessary work ethics/habits from which he can draw, or d) he ends up feeling inferior in many other ways not pertaining to academics. Or all of the above.

Some parents tell me that their children have earned enough “credits” to graduate at 15. Then what?

Think about it for a bit. The “then-what” means either college, working in the family business or an apprenticeship with a family friend to develop skills, or some other time-filler. Yes, today’s idea of the age of maturity is not the same as it was in Puritan times. So why did he hurry up to graduate? To go to college early?

Let’s talk about going to college early. You homeschool your child so that he can grow up in a protected environment with loving family members, supervised by you and nurtured to maturity. So at 16 he is ready to go sit in class with a bunch of adults who think a rite of passage in college is sex, drugs, and alcohol? “No, you have it wrong. My son will live at home.” Yes, and during the day he makes friends with a bunch of adults who think a rite of passage in college is sex, drugs, and alcohol. You really want that for your young teen?

Remember, please, that high school is not all about credits. It’s about preparedness for life. It’s about discipleship. It’s about maturing. I’ve seen some parents hoard high school credits like money, eagerly aiming their child to graduation by pushing them forward and cutting corners willy-nilly. “I can give him two credits here because he read a history book and wrote essays!”

pushy parentRealism dictates that we take a hard look at ourselves and at our families. Look realistically at where your gifted little love-bug is academically. Feed his mind with books and curriculum that will challenge him at an age-appropriate level while at the same time developing him in all his other areas–physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Refuse the temptation to make your child grow up before he is ready just because he shows some giftedness. Certainly give him Calculus at age 12 if he can handle it, but oversee him with his tutor–don’t shove him into a room full of 17-year-olds and expect him to do well with it. And maybe you also cannot expect him to move at the same speed of those 17-year-olds. So teach him at his own skill level and pace.

Gifted–maybe. Well-rounded in all things–doubtful. I urge you to look at your whole child rather than at just his one area of giftedness.

See related blogs: Educating with excellence, reading well, writing well, rising above the mediocre.

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Home Schooling in High School means pursuing excellence well

“This is why we home school.”

a-messy-roomI hear that phrase a lot, and I’ve said it myself. We choose to home school for so many reasons. Some families are athletic or musical, and they need more flexible schedules. Some just believe that the alternatives out there–public or private schools–are not desirable for them. And others believe that God has called them to raise and educate their children themselves, combining their faith with their children’s education.

No matter the reason you elect to home school, I want to speak to you. Whatever you choose to do in educating your child, do it well. Choose carefully. Don’t over-commit, when over-commitment means you cannot do everything well.

Years ago I had a long talk with a mom whose daughter had spent much of her youth in violin lessons and violinperformances. The child was very talented, said the mother. They had focused on her violin lessons, rehearsals, travels, and performances, almost to the exclusion of anything else. I know it may be hard for some of you to believe this, but the mom told me that her daughter, at age 15, had not had more than elementary math, no science, and no writing or grammar. She was anxiously seeking my advice, and this turned into a very difficult meeting. I had to be brutally honest with her about the reality of her situation. Her daughter might earn music scholarships to college because of her talent, but she won’t get accepted to those colleges because she couldn’t handle the academics. Mom refused to hear what I had to say, and I have no idea what she did for her child afterward.

The lesson here is balance. Yes, those music lessons or those athletic abilities are really important. In balance, however, what takes priority? Is it your child’s figure-skating success, or is it her ability to perform academically, think well, write well? If, on average, your child is not holding her own on those yearly standardized tests, you need to examine why, short of any significant learning disability that may get in the way (and I am not talking about learning disabilities).

Another parent asked my advice on a schedule for her daughter’s first year of high school. She had signed up for all the basics: English, history, Bible, science, math, foreign language, at our online school. Then she added that a local co-op had a Shakespeare class they really wanted, plus she would be taking dance, drama, and piano, and then taking one day to babysit at the co-op while other moms taught. (And she would participate in two major dramas a year.) Given the number of hours in a day, and what it takes to succeed in each academic class (much less sit in each class each week), that child was starting out with a deficit of time, and the hole would just get deeper through the year. “Be ready to pitch those non-academic commitments overboard when it gets to be too much,” I told the mom. They never did, and their daughter was completely burned out halfway through the year.

Choose well, and choose wisely. Be selective about what your children do. Maybe you are like us, with kids who had no outstanding athletic or musical abilities, just wanting to have fun in band or soccer. Our rule for them during high school was “Youth Group Plus One.” In other words, they could do Youth Group and add one more activity beyond that each year. It could be fall sports and a spring job, or band all year, or drama. This kind of restriction was set so that they could learn the layer of priorities in their lives. For our children, work and worship needed to be learned and reinforced in proper balance as they developed into young men and women. They didn’t need more things piled on top of them just so they could stay busy. We didn’t always do a great job at that, but it was a principle we tried to stay with.

exhausted kidOvercommitment plagues most of us. We love lots of things, want to be involved in every great activity.  “This is why we homeschool” cannot–should not–be used as the reason for signing up for more than can humanly be done. If that debate tournament schedule means you will miss too many classes or too many homework deadlines, rethink your priorities. You could say no to the class, but do you need the class more than the debate club? Sometimes you just cannot manage both–one has to give way. Choose wisely and well.

Think about a manageable formula. For each academic high school course your child takes, he should study 1.5 to 2 hours per day, on average. Some courses will take more time, some less. What kind of time is left? (I know I have already stirred a hornet’s nest for some of you, who disagree that any child should spend that much time studying. So be it.)

Sometimes homeschool families overcommit more than “other” families do, just because they use that popular phrase “this is why…” Could it be you and your children BOTH need a little lesson in saying no? Balance work and activity, fun and worship. Say yes to a select few things, and then proceed to ENJOY your homeschool.

See related posts here, here, and here.

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Slouching mediocrity: I already KNOW how to write…

broken pencilParental angst about writing instruction for their homeschooled children fills my email inbox. Somehow parents know that math and science and history are SO much easier to deal with: Answers are either right or wrong.

Children take personal offense, though, when mommy tells them that their paragraphs were wrong.

As a writing teacher, I totally get it. In order to maintain a good relationship with their children, some moms who are not as sure about teaching writing will hire someone else, go to some other source, for help. That’s wise, for parents who just are not comfortable. I maintain that there is a right attitude and a wrong attitude about teaching good writing skills. Let’s take a look at some who misunderstand.

Some parents exhibit a lack of understanding of just how important good writing can be. I wish I had a dollar for every time a parent told me, “We believe a good reader will turn out to be a good writer, so we just expose our child to good books, and we know that when he is ready to write, he will be great.” This is like learning how to cook by eating at gourmet restaurants. Surely you know a lot about good food, right? So cooking like a chef will be a breeze.

Reading a lot of great books will help you in countless ways (see a previous blog about that). Exposure to the timeless classics expands the vocabulary, broadens the reader’s world, allows him to make connections to literary allusions in other works, enhances critical thinking skills, and more. It may also help improve one’s writing simply because his vocabulary is so greatly increased. The practice of imitation in Rhetoric uses pieces of great literature so that the student copies, by hand, the words and thoughts of great writers. Doing so will enhance a student’s grasp of the grammatical flow and thought process of the writer.

However, just absorbing the words in a great book will not translate to making a good writer. It’s not as if he will read and read and then suddenly *poof!* he is automatically a good writer. Not at all.

Similarly, other parents have told me that writing and writing week after week has improved their children’s writing skills. Does he get feedback on his writing, I ask? Well, no, but he is writing. But then how do you know he is improving if he has no guidance, no direction, no correction in his writing?

So there are two elements in growing a good writer: the practice of writing, and guidance in writing. If parents are not comfortable doing that at their own kitchen table, I advise them to find someone who is able to do that for them. Interview that person: what are his or her qualifications? What standards does he use? What experience does he have? I often suggest finding an English major currently in college who wants to earn some extra money, or an English teacher who is retired or a mom at home now.

There is a plethora of online writing classes these days; if you go that route make sure you are getting what you pay for. Will your child get regular, guided, personal feedback on every piece of writing, aiming him toward better writing on his next assignment? Some online organizations just don’t offer that kind of personal service. They are good at assigning but not so good at grading. Remember: no feedback = no growth. Since I teach at an online school I can recommend a very good one to you–just email me and we’ll chat. 🙂

I’ve encountered other kinds of misunderstanding about writing from homeschooling parents. One is that parent who had a bad experience back in third grade with a writing curriculum and was then afraid to try anything again. My advice: don’t give up. (See my post about schooling with excellence.) Keep trying to find that next writing curriculum. Find someone who can help you if you feel lost. Don’t just pass that off as something your child will never be able to do well. Short of a learning disability–and often even with one your child can do well–there is no reason he cannot learn to write at a college level while in high school.

Another comment comes from the parent who tells me that her high school child has joined a “write a novel in a year” club. Someone hands out information on how to write dialog and how to create a good couple of characters, and off the child goes to write a novel. The instruction is vague at best, and the product may be a sweet little story, but this child has not learned college-ready writing skills.

Or the parent who wants to make sure her child is doing “every kind of writing.” Somewhere someone told a parent that her child will be a good writer if she learns every kind of writing. By that I assume they mean journalism, poetry, compare/contrast, opinion, persuasive, short story, and whatever else I may have left out. Let me get you straight on this one: All that is great to know. However, the one basic skill a high school (and even a junior high) student needs in his tool box is Expository Writing: the essay that proves a thesis. College-level writing.

What are those college writing skills of which I speak? The expository essay presents an idea in a thesis and then proceeds to argue that thesis–prove it–with support through an essay. Call it a five-paragraph, ten-paragraph, or twelve-page paper, that is the writing skill your child will need to be ready for those college-assessment tests. Teach him how to incorporate and cite quotes, how to prove his thesis with argumentation, to introduce and conclude well. Teach him to do it in a paper or in an essay. Teach him to do it in a timed format (40 minutes and then 25 minutes, for example), because those college-assessment test writing portions are timed. If you can’t do it, then ask someone to do this for you.

Think of it this way: Your child wants to be a musician and picks up an instrument to play beautiful music. Instead, out come horrid sounds. Give that child lessons and theory; teach him how to play scales and chords; teach him the classics of the masters on that instrument. Then he can go and play all sorts of other types of music on that instrument to his heart’s content. Just as in writing. Teach that expository essay, and that child will be able to do all sorts of other kinds of writing as well, with practice.

See related blogs here and here.

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Moving away from mediocre: Read good books

Kids-sitting-on-booksThe only time I watched “19 Kids and Counting,” that TV show about the Duggars, I nearly choked. My daughter was interested in it, so I sat down with her and turned it on. They are a home school family, and they are Christians, and I will not criticize them too much for any of their choices, because–God bless them–they are doing what they believe God has called them to do, raising that big bunch of kids.

But (you knew there would be a “but, didn’t you?) this one episode had the family visiting a public elementary school and talking to kids about their big family. Essentially they had become ambassadors for homeschooling. A student asked one of the older girls about her favorite book of all time. She smiled and named something that made me groan. Honestly, I don’t remember which book she named, but it was not a classic by any stretch of the imagination. When I had looked it up, I found it was some sort of Christian fiction novel that oozes romance, bonnets, and formulaic simplicity. (See my blog on those silly books here.) I had SO wanted to see someone stand up and tell the world that she was a well-read homeschooler by announcing that her favorite book of all time was something like Les Miserables or The Scarlet Letter. Instead, she showed the shallowness of so many parents who just don’t reach beyond their comfort level and challenge their children with excellent literature.

So why the groan? Need you ask? (Please read my post on the need for excellence in home education here.) Let’s think of good literature like we think about food for just a moment. And in many ways, we can do that because literature is food for the brain. Consider what happens when you consume a steady diet of junk food for very long.

fat-kits-eating-mcdonalds

Not very attractive, is it? (Poor kids.) The same can be said about literature. Consuming mushy, senseless literature creates mushy thinking. There is no challenge for the mind to hang on to, no deep thinking to draw upon, no great themes to puzzle over. Mindless reading may be good for a day at the beach, but a steady diet of it will stultify the brain just like empty calories and high sugar content will create sluggish little bodies.

Challenge  your child to read great literature. I have all sorts of good suggestions here. Give your child the wonderful struggle of good over evil, the theme that every conscience dwells on daily. Give them deep subjects to wrestle with, reaching slightly over their age level once in a while. Read to them from the non-abridged versions of classic literature and let their little imaginations soar. Once they get accustomed to a diet of rich literature, that junky, formulaic romance will no longer hold any sway.

Just like a good diet, though, you certainly don’t want to slip into old habits of sugary, fatty nonsense. Fill your bookshelf with classics that fire the imagination. Start them early with great selections from AA Milne, Shel Silverstein, Robert Louis Stevenson, Lucy Maud Montgomery, CS Lewis, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and more. Keep them going on that once they can read on their own. When they’re older, tantalize them with JK Rowling, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters. And once they have consumed all of this, they are ready for the really big guns: Victor Hugo, Ayn Rand, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Herman Melville, James Joyce, William Faulkner, Joseph Conrad, and more.

Why challenge their sweet little minds? Why not let them just read what they want? Because, left to their own devices, they will slink away to a corner and eat french fries and chocolate bars all day long. Left to their own devices, they will read Captain Underpants until their minds turn to fat, sweaty mush. Left to their own devices, they are suddenly age 17, wondering why they can’t pass their SAT tests.

Some moms have sweetly told me that while challenging their kids to work hard and well on their schoolwork is a good thing, raising them to be good people in a loving environment is much more important. I will always look those parents in the eye (figuratively, since I am speaking to them from the blogosphere) and remind them that one of the most loving things they can do is to teach their children hard work done well–a skill that will last them a lifetime, no matter what they do in their lives.

See related posts here and here.

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Daring to be mediocre

I recently attended a homeschool convention, one of the largest in the country. While I noticed many of the usual things–moms with rolling carts and rows of little heads following behind, little boys carrying wooden swords, little girls donning brightly colored…um…aprons and bonnets–I also noticed the plethora of educational material being sold to homeschool families. Not all of it excellent.

Yes, that is the purpose of the convention, for sellers to market their wares. And yes, this is an enormous group of homeschoolers ready to purchase next year’s collection of curricular materials. But not–absolutely not–is all of that material well done. Nor does it push students toward excellence. At best, it reaches the merely mediocre.

I’m not sure what came first–the poor curriculum or the parent who didn’t want to buy the best out there. Some of it has to do with money. But some, I am convinced, has to do with not wanting to challenge those little sweet children to work hard and do their best.

As a mom, I have heard my fair share of whining (and not all of it from my children). Plenty of times I have caved to that high-pitched, foot-stamping, grouchy-faced I-don’t-wanna. But not when it really mattered in the big picture. In the big picture, we were there, digging in our heels, telling them they were going to work on that hard math until it was done right. Digging in to tell them to rewrite that essay until it shined. Refusing them a coveted TV show until the science was studied. Withholding car keys until the grade was raised.

And when it mattered, we sacrificed and found them quality education where we could, when we could. In our patchwork quilt of educational choices, sometimes we didn’t always make the right decisions, but we were quick to change course the next year in an effort to find them the challenge they needed. Not all of their challenges were pleasant for them. But in the doing, they pursued excellence, and we pushed for it in them.

I wish I could challenge every homeschooling parent–AND other-schooling parent as well–to buck up and be unafraid to do what’s hard for your child. What is your end goal? It has to be excellence, doesn’t it? I’ve asked that question of many, many parents about their children. Some don’t have an end goal in mind, just keeping their heads down to get through one more year. Enduring the sour scowls and moaning meemies while simplifying the load just to get their children off their backs. I’ve watched them take their children to low-goal-setting homeschool co-ops where well-meaning moms teach subjects they might have once studied themselves. I’ve been asked to teach at such co-ops only to be rejected, told that my style of college-prep writing instruction was too hard for their high school students. They just didn’t want to make their children work that hard.

Set high goals for your students, and keep reaching. Don’t give up. (Real story, honest!) One parent told me, “We had a bad experience back in third grade with an English curriculum, so we haven’t done much writing since then.” How old is your child now? “Seventeen.” And he hasn’t written an essay yet. And he wants to go to college. When was reality going to sink in? At that point it was MY hard job to tell the parent that her son was not going to be ready for college in a year.

(Another real story!) Another parent asked, “Is that class going to be fun? My daughter only wants to take classes that are fun.” How old is your daughter? “Going to be a senior.” You have never challenged your daughter to enjoy the hard work. Remember, sister, that labor was hard when you delivered her? Was the hard work worth it? Of course! Why not allow her to do hard things once in a while, reaping the fruits of such labor as she goes along?

Parents: dare to reach for the excellent, the difficult. Challenge your child to work hard and to enjoy the doing of it. Hebrews 12:11 says, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” I want to produce in every child that satisfaction of a difficult job well done, having reached higher than he has done before. That’s why I ask my seniors in Rhetoric to write a 15-17-page thesis paper–and then defend it in front of their peers. And they do it well!

I want to see curriculum that stretches the mind and the imagination. Find material that reaches beyond your child’s abilities and urges him to grow. Set the bar high and run beside him as he pushes to get over it. Discard the simple, the “five finger grammar method” or whatever else is cheap and simplistic. Go for the challenge and avoid the mediocre.

See related posts here and here.

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