Category Archives: Homeschooling

Homeschool: Plan the High School Career

graduateIn my years of advising and teaching, I have met some parents who seemed to be surprised that they had older teenagers who actually needed to finish high school with enough credits to enter college.

However, for as many poor planners I have met, I have encountered just as many parents who deliberately plotted out their students’ high school paths so that they would be ready for college.

It’s important to set out your student’s junior high and high school years, to know what is required for graduation in your state and for entrance to college. Some high schoolers do not intend to go to college, but isn’t it wise to aim them there, in case they change their minds? Better to be prepared than caught off guard.

Check with your state’s requirements for graduation. As a homeschool parent you should know these things, since your state may require reporting of you each year they are homeschooled. Go to HSLDA to find your state’s requirements.

Plan out those six years

While a transcript only needs to report the four years of high school, it’s best to start planning in junior high or earlier so that you know what to expect. Plot out the progression of math, science, English, history, and foreign language you want him to take. Carefully regard what is considered high school versus junior high curriculum.

For instance, Physical Science and General Science are not considered high school courses; they are for junior high. Colleges want to see high school science courses (some with labs) on the transcript. Those would be Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Anatomy & Physiology, and so forth. Plan accordingly.

Math, too, must be dealt with carefully. A transcript should show an upward progress in Math. Algebra 1, for example, is a junior high class, so make sure your student is aimed toward Algebra 1 then, not in high school.

On the reverse side, some parents want to give their children high school classes while in junior high. Be careful with this. You can cover some high school subjects earlier, such as Math, if your student has an aptitude for it. But there are some subjects, like science, English, and history, that require maturity in all areas of thinking and are therefore ill-advised for junior high. Let your child be a child for a while. I covered this in an earlier blog.

What does my child need to get into college?

Each year of study is one credit. A one-semester class is a half-credit. Meet the requirements  for your state, but also keep in mind that colleges may have more stringent demands. Contact the colleges of your choice or browse around at College Board to see what colleges are looking for.

My own polling of colleges–including military academies, Ivy League, state universities, and Christian colleges–shows that on average these are the credit requirements for entry:

  • English–4
  • Foreign Language–3
  • History/Social Science–3-4
  • Math–4
  • Science–3-4
  • Electives, including art–1 to 4.

Included in that Social Science category is 1/2 credit of Government and 1/2 credit of Economics. Those are usually taken at the junior or senior level of high school. Keep in mind that the college you’re looking for may have other numbers, so take a careful look for yourself.

A word about English, since it is a passion of mine. Don’t just think that a few books and a couple of essays a year will suffice for High School English. An English class must teach literature, grammar, and composition purposefully. (Grammar can be left behind on or about 9th grade if your student’s understanding is sufficient.)  One incredibly popular writing program used by many home schoolers is sufficient up toward junior high, but it will not do as college prep for high school. Its formulas help set the foundation for good writing, but your child needs to grow beyond that formula very soon. See my past blog on writing well. You do your child no favors if you try to take shortcuts with his writing.

In addition to a good transcript, colleges have their eye on a few other criteria. Of course they will look at your transcript. Then they will, in essence, say, “prove it to us.” They want to see if your student’s SAT and/or ACT scores match up to what you say he has taken on his transcript. Some colleges may also require some placement tests upon entry. I have known students who had to take a foreign language placement test on the first day of Freshman Orientation at college. Just because the transcript said there was a foreign language, didn’t mean the student had met their standards.

Colleges also want to see a few other things when looking at the transcript, application, recommendation letters, and college essays:college pennant

  • Excellent academics
  • Special talents
  • Community service
  • Leadership
  • Initiative
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Jobs held

I often recommend showing some of that by attaching an Appendix to a student’s transcripts, listing the curriculum and books read each year, as well as extracurricular activities, honors, sports, community involvement, and so forth, so that colleges can see your student is well-rounded.

What about CLEP, AP, and Dual Enrollment?

By all means have your student take the CLEP exam upon entering college if it is offered. The tests cost, but if a student earns credit you will save money in the end. AP exams are a good idea, if your child is prepared for them. Some homeschool programs offer AP courses. They are a lot of work, but they are excellent preparation for college. The growing trend these days is more toward AP in homeschoolers, and I welcome it; just make sure your child is well-prepared for the AP classes. Don’t pile them on; two a year is sufficient, and honestly, the junior and senior year is the time for those classes–no earlier. Again, we are talking about maturity of the student as well as maturity of the subject matter.

I have written about Dual Enrollment before. There are hazards inherent in such programs, including the fact that your little darling will be spending part of his day in the presence of countless adults on a college campus, while he may not be old enough to drive. Be sure your child has the maturity to be there. Also, be sure that the college he plans to attend will accept the dual credits he is earning.

Also understand that a college-semester math or science class will not cover everything that very same high school class covers. In essence, then, your child will not be learning the same amount as his peers. Whether that sets a strong foundation for college is up to you to decide. Sometimes the “free” tuition in some dual enrollment programs may not turn out to be so advantageous when looking at its down sides. Be wise in your decisions. Yes, Dual Credits seem like a good thing, but there seem to be some risks involved, so just be cautious.

Excellence is the key

In all you plan for your child, do not settle for less than excellence–in curriculum, in classroom opportunities, and in results. If your child is not headed to college, it doesn’t hurt to have a great transcript anyway, because in a few years your child may change his mind, or be required by his employer to take some classes, or just be ready to meet the demands of an increasingly competitive work force. Choose excellence for your child no matter what.

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The Pitfalls of Classical Homeschooling

You’ve done your homework, made your preparations, and purchased all the Great Books you plan to read during this year of Classical Homeschooling. What could possibly go wrong?

In previous blogs I lauded the merits of Classical schooling. I have worked in the Classical realm for 20 years and have watched many, many children move through their high school careers. I maintain that this is a marvelous method for educating young minds. And yet there are still some reservations to keep in mind as you go along.

glasses kidFirst, this method is not for everyone. It entails a huge amount of reading, and not every child has a natural bent toward reading. For some, reading takes a lot of work, whether from a mild to moderate learning disability, or because his mind is always on some activity he would rather be undertaking, or simply because he hates it. If the reading is just taking too much out of your child, then consider 1) testing him for a learning problem and/or 2) finding another path of learning for this one child.

Second, some in the Classical model have a tendency to overemphasize one area at the expense of others. For example, Classical is more heavy on the humanities; that’s just its nature. However, do not think that since you are “doing Classical” you can just put off math and science for another time, or minimize its importance. No, remember that all things are connected, and that we do not just separate out the subjects. All of this is part of one well-rounded, well-educated child. In fact, learning math and science helps a child to think more logically. That can help him to make connections during his Dialectic and Rhetoric stages. This is important in higher level thinking.

Third, some in Classical figure that this kind of program is only for the humanities kid, and not for the math/science student. That too is wrong. It’s not just the English major who needs to think well, to write well, and to learn history. Science and math students–yes, and engineers–need to know how to write reports and studies. All of them also need to make logical, compelling, and beautiful defenses for their faith. Don’t let your math and science kid convince you that he doesn’t need to go very far in his humanities. That’s just not correct. In fact, when Rhetoric is taught well, the math guy will like learning how to write for Rhetoric just as well as the humanities kid. (As the author of Biblical Worldview Rhetoric and the teacher of that class for many years, I can attest to the number of engineering guys who passed through my classes with flying colors. There’s something about the formulaic method in Rhetoric that they seem to love just as much as the potential English major!)

Fourth, the Classical method is not necessarily THE only way to educate. It is, in my opinion, superior in many ways. But it does not give a parent or teacher license to brag, boast, or snobbishly declare that all other ways are rubbish. That’s just irritating, unkind, and wrong. I urge all parents to educate their children WELL. Use what methods you can afford and what you have the time and inclination for. However, Classical schooling does not give you license to rub other people’s faces in it. Don’t let me catch you doing it.

In fact, in some places I have witnessed overemphasis on the METHOD of Classical and Christian education, rather than on the HEART. Once Christ has been abandoned as the center of all things, it will all fall apart quickly. Keep perspective, knowing that Christ is at the center, holding all things together. Never make Classical THE THING in your lives more than Christ is.

Fifth, some people will try to sell you on Classical models that 1) might not truly be fully Classical or 2) may be wrongly administered or 3) might just be low quality. Inspect the material well. Does it include answer keys, supply links and lists of extra reading? Does it cover enough material for 9 months of deep study? By high school, your child should be able to spend one to two hours per day on each subject. Is the curriculum providing enough rich materials for that kind of study? Or does it skip around from here to there, not focusing for very long? Does it offer opportunities for students to reflect on what they read and make connections to their studies?

One popular Classical set of studies, selling from Ancient to Modern syllabi, piles the reading on to the students but does not supply any kind of teacher guide so that the parent or tutor can help the student make connections throughout. That’s unfortunate. Some programs I have seen will provide classes for 8 weeks and then encourage parents to give their students full credit. I beg to differ; no 8-week course can give the kind of breadth and scope necessary for a full high school credit (hardly even for a half-credit). Nor should you, for example, award an English credit for some curriculum that has you read a few books and write one or two essays. Be reasonable. That’s cheating your child of valuable and necessary learning.

Sixth, and this is very important, the student in Classical all the way through high school may tend toward arrogance if not carefully balanced. existentialismAgain, some of this has to do with the exclusivity that one might feel about having done this wonderful thing called Classical. But much of it comes from knowing that you are reading and studying some very difficult material at a very high level of thinking and writing, and that just makes you superior to your peers. Arrogance has no place in Classical and Christian education. This kind of learning may cause you to think deeply, write beautifully, stand up and speak well for yourself, and you may be able to hold a conversation about existentialism with the best of them, but that does not make you even one small step better than others. Parents, do not let your teenager take that unwise step. May your child grow into a humble, patient, wise, and caring young man or woman, groomed by Classical education.

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Classical Homeschooling at the upper levels

In my last blog I touched on the parroting aspect of the grammar level of classical schooling. If you were to continue schooling your child this way all the way through high school, you will have failed miserably. Education runs aground if it ends in parroting. Without the growth and expansion of the dialectical and rhetoric stages of education, a student will not know how to handle the information he has learned all along, and he turns out no better than his public-schooled peers.

Dorothy Sayers, in her 1947 essay “The Lost Tools of Learning,” asked her readers if they were not disturbed by certain signs of modern education:Dorothy Sayers

Has it ever struck you as odd, or unfortunate, that today, when the proportion of literacy throughout Western Europe is higher than it has ever been, people should have become susceptible to the influence of advertisement and mass propaganda to an extent hitherto unheard of and unimagined? Do you put this down to the mere mechanical fact that the press and the radio and so on have made propaganda much easier to distribute over a wide area? Or do you sometimes have an uneasy suspicion that the product of modern educational methods is less good than he or she might be at disentangling fact from opinion and the proven from the plausible?

 Sayers, in her post-World-War-II thinking, is asking how an educated people could have succumbed to the propaganda of such madmen as Hitler or Mussolini or Stalin. What would she say today about our political-correctness run amok? Where people spout empty philosophies that sound so great but are completely meaningless? Or where people spew forth ideas full of the failings of philosophies past (i.e. socialism)?

You will be easily led down the wrong path if all you can do is parrot back what you have learned. If you cannot plumb the depths of what you study, if you cannot separate emotion from fact, and analyze the information that is coming at you, if you cannot then articulate your beliefs, you run the risk of falling into the trap of whoever holds power. This is why we teach our students how to think, analyze, process, make connections, read for themselves the ideas of the past. This is why we educate classically.

Thus we begin a discussion of Classical Schooling at the upper level. The standards suddenly just got higher, didn’t they? When you look for curriculum for your teenager, you need to discern what is being taught. Is it more rote learning? Is it empty of meaning? Then discard it. Does it teach a student to make connections between disciplines? In other words, does it encourage the reader to study the philosopher and the age in which he lived, and then look at the impact of that philosophy on the age that followed? Does the curriculum walk a student through history to make a point? Does it bring in the writings of great thinkers (both good and bad) in their own words?

One very impactful part of high school Classical schooling comes when students make connections that startle them and get them thinking. I have my students read “The Communist Manifesto” and then Franklin D. Roosevelt’s First Inaugural Address. They are stunned to see ideas put forth in FDR that they had just read in Marx. It’s those kinds of connections we want to see.

Some Classical curricula just piles on the work, pumping students full of learning but never encouraging them to pause and contemplate the connections they need to make during these crucial teenage years. If there is no directed learning, just a lot of reading, discard it. Does that mean there needs to be a teacher at the other end? Maybe. If there is no teacher material that helps you, the parent, to direct your child’s thinking and make significant conclusions about the material, then perhaps this isn’t the curriculum for you.

Over the years I have encountered six or seven key brands of curriculum that consider themselves classical, and perhaps a handful more of classical schooling brands that tout an online form of some sort. Evaluate them carefully. Ask questions.

If this is an online or face-to-face learning experience, ask lots of questions. Hold them to a high level of accountability, because they are probably asking for a lot of money. Will there be someone to direct my student’s thinking, to help my student break down the information he is consuming? Will someone give my student directed feedback at regular intervals so that his learning/writing will improve and grow? Is this taught from a biblical or secular worldview? Is it learning just for the sake of learning, or is this learning in order to produce a thoughtful young man or woman? What will they be reading? Will there be plenty of primary resources to read?

Focus on writing. Be sure that you begin their writing in their earlier years, and be sure to continue at a high level throughout the Dialectic and Rhetoric level. They should be done with grammar by (or including) 9th grade or so, and they should be able to focus on writing well from then on. Ensure that the student gets directed feedback on his writing from someone who can hold his feet to the flames, so that he can grow as a writer. Do not ignore his writing! A purposeful Rhetoric curriculum will improve his writing as well. By the end of his high school career he should have learned how to express his thoughts beautifully, both written and orally.

A thoughtful, purposeful Classical educator will look at the young child and envision him as a high school senior, and the parent/teacher will begin to pour into him those things that will form him into the thoughtful human being God has created him to become. Isn’t that the goal of parenting anyway?

In my next blog I will talk about the hazards of Classical schooling.

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Classical Homeschooling: A definition

Aristotle“The failure of our educational system goes beyond what they fail to teach. It includes what they do teach, or rather indoctrinate, and the graduates they send out into the world, incapable of seriously weighing alternatives for themselves or for American society.” Thomas Sowell, columnist

My visit to a recent homeschool convention showed me not only that some of the curriculum “out there” is inadequate to teach students thoroughly and well, but also that Classical Schooling must be the newest fad to follow.

This both encouraged and disheartened me. As a teacher in Classical methods I was encouraged because Classical Schooling is gaining in popularity among homeschooling families. Discouraged because, from my experience as a teacher, curriculum writer, and attendee at many homeschool conventions over the years, I know that many of the offerings I saw at tables were not high enough quality to meet the stringent demands that some classicists have.

What is Classical Schooling?

The writer Dorothy Sayers sparked a flame that began to grow when she wrote an essay titled “The Lost Tools of Learning” in 1947. In that essay she expounded on the way a child learns best, and that is according to the model of classical learning from times past. She mourned the loss of such educational methods, as she was very much a classicist herself. “Is not the great defect of our education today–a defect traceable through all the disquieting symptoms of trouble that I have mentioned–that although we often succeed in teaching our pupils ‘subjects,’ we fail lamentably on the whole in teaching them how to think: they learn everything, except the art of learning.”

Sayers posits that a child learns best if his learning methods are addressed according to his age group. When in the Grammar level (up through 6th grade or so)–Sayers calls it “Poll-Parrot”–the student learns the components of his language and of the other subjects in school. The “grammar” of math, then, are the math facts every child can learn to parrot back to his parent. The grammar of history would be those history facts that every child learns: the presidents, the continents, the states, the names, places, and dates. And so forth. Children learn in a sing-song manner the parts of language, almost as much as you can cram into their darling little heads. They don’t need the whys; they just stuff their heads full of facts and parrot them back.

As a high school English teacher I was in tears when I first watched third graders diagram sentences. The year before, when we had not yet transitioned to Classical, those same children hardly knew the parts of grammar. Here they were a year later diagramming sentences, having fun showing off their knowledge.

Once they have their facts, and they reach  the age of argumentation (those little eyeballs start to roll around in their heads about 6th or 7th grade), they have transitioned to what Sayers calls “Pert” or Dialectical. This is when their teachers need to incorporate Logic into their thinking. This is when we take the facts they have been learning and make connections for them–or better put, we allow them to make the connections. Their writing becomes more sophisticated. Their history, math, and science understanding grows because they can begin to form hypotheses and test them out based on what they already know.

This is the time that they want to challenge authority, whom they suspect doesn’t know what they’re talking about. So they learn Logic, a new way of thinking, almost the equivalent of learning a new language. They see how arguments can be analyzed by their component parts, what makes fallacies, and why. They pick up on the fallacies of other people’s ideas–then they realize that they themselves make fallacies too.

By the time they reach 9th or 10th grade, they are ready for what Sayers calls the “Poetic” or Rhetoric stage. Here they can put all their past learning together and figure out how to make connections across the broad scope of their learning. They can look into the ideas and philosophies of the past and see how mistakes of the present day are a direct result. They can put into writing those thoughts and ideas that come flowing out, beautifully expressing themselves.

Nuts and Bolts: What gets done?

One of the hallmarks of Classical education is the integration of learning. The classical approach is known for moving through the periods of history and learning everything there is to learn at each level. So what you read in literature you are also learning in history and geography, and you’re doing art projects connected to the history and country that you’ve been studying. Science gets involved, as you can study the inventions of the ages you visit. As students get older the studying goes deeper. Delve into the religion of the age, read the philosophers, study their style of writing and their art, their music and theater. At the Rhetoric level, examine the ideas of the authors and philosophers. See how they lived out their own ideas and how well that worked. Imitate the writing of the great authors to see how their words flowed. Make your own writing soar beautifully like that. Examine your own philosophies and worldviews based on what you learn in the worldviews of others whom you study. For example, in history they may be learning about the French Revolution, while in literature they read Tale of Two Cities, and in philosophy they study the ideas of the Social Contract and  the writings of Rousseau and other Enlightenment philosophers, while in Rhetoric they study and analyze the speeches of Robespierre and Desmoulins. These students can reach across the disciplines of study to make connections and conclusions, and they can amaze their teacher by what comes out of this kind of thinking.

What material works best?

I am not going to recommend particular curriculum. That’s the job for other people. But I will give you criteria to use when examining curriculum.

For the grammar level, find curriculum that will teach grammar facts in a sing-song manner, just the same way you might teach them Bible verses through song. But don’t just go for the singing; aim for the breadth of what is covered. Are all the grammar facts–are all the math facts–covered in an age-appropriate manner, and is it achievable in a span of 9 months (the length of a school year)? Make sure to expose your children to lots of age-appropriate literature. Give them plenty to read. Choose their history, literature, geography, and science in a complementary fashion that goes along with their literature. Start simply and add more complicated information as they get older. Give them great books to read, not just simple junk you pick up at the Christian book store.

Some parents think that makes their job easier, to know they will be studying all one age in history and focusing everything around it. Some science curricula break up a year of science into four sections: earth, biology, physical, and chemical. Those sciences get more and more complex until the student can take a full year of general and then a full year of physical science in the dialectical stage, then moving up to Biology in 9th.

Should they take Latin? Most classical schooling does include Latin. Some have done that so by a certain point the child would be ready to read some of the philosophers and poets in the original language. The rote method helps a student to organize his thoughts, to learn English grammar, and to expand his English vocabulary. At the grammar stage Latin is simply just rote learning: repeating sounds back to the teacher. Look for early Latin grammar that focuses on rote (sing-song) learning. Those mechanical memories get attached to meaning once they move along into vocabulary-building. The acquirement of this second language will help aid in the learning of yet another language–Spanish or French–when they get older as well. You’ll be amazed, when you learn with them, how similar much of the vocabulary is.

At the high school level there is much to be had for the teaching at the Classical level. Some of it is good. In another blog I will provide some more thoughts on what to look for. Just be careful to find high school curriculum that doesn’t simplify but includes readings from primary sources all through history. Read the great thinkers (authors and philosophers) in their own words, and connect that with what’s going on in their time of history.

Can Classical Schooling be done at home? For years it was thought that no, this was too difficult, too wide and too deep. However, as they sometimes prove to be pioneers, homeschoolers met that challenge and decided to climb Mount Olympus.

However, don’t be drawn in by all the flashy offerings that call themselves “classical” just because it carries the name. It needs to have certain criteria to be considered good enough for your classically-schooled child. Look for more helpful information on classical schooling in the Dialectical and Rhetoric level in my next blog.

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Homeschooling with a Biblical Worldview: How?

If you are like me, you grew up in public schooling, because “back then” Christian or home schools were not very popular or widespread. There, we learned to separate out our course work. This is math, and this is science, and so forth. Nothing had anything to do with the other.

Schooling with a secular mindset is just like that. I don’t mean to criticize; it just is that way. Subjects are subjects, and their relation to the world at large might be addressed in some fashion, but there is something distinctly missing: how it all connects.

When we look at the world through biblical glasses, we see a universe that is governed and held together by one Creator God through his Son, Jesus Christ. “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17, emphasis mine). When we see the universe in that light, we begin to have a different perspective on all sorts of areas.

Education, for example, is one institution that can never be the same again–at least for me–when seeing with those biblical worldview glasses. Our children need to know that all things came about by God’s hand. When we say “all things,” we can no longer wonder what that means. “All,” we teach our children, “means all.” No single thing has come about without the hand of God overseeing, maintaining, and holding it together.

stars and planetsThat makes us look at science differently, doesn’t it? Certainly a God who governs all things also governs science, because He is the author of it all. So since science belongs to Him, how can we teach it with a biblical worldview? We study the elements, the basic units of life, the way they react and interact, with a sense of wonder about the One who made it all.

Science is not anti-God, nor is God anti-science. There are scientists who have pitted themselves against the biblical worldview, so we allow them to speak, we examine their worldviews, and we arrive at our conclusions based on the fulness of what we study. If God is the author of all things, we should not fear man’s schemes to eliminate God from the practice of science. Rather, we should hold up what they say, balance it against a biblical worldview, and make reasoned hypotheses, testing them out. What cannot be tested remains an item of faith on both sides.

On to mathematics. Did you know that there is a biblical worldview to math? Again, if God is the center of all things, and all things come together in Him, it stands to reason that He created the elements of math. Numbers have patterns; they fall together according to those patterns. “Why can a few basic equations predict the motions of planets, the paths of projectiles, and so on? If mathematics is man-made, merely a product of human thought, why does it reflect the way the universe works?” (James Nance, Repairing the Ruins 62). The work of God’s hands is evident everywhere in the study of mathematics. James Nance states it well:

Applied mathematics is the process of discovering and using the laws by which God governs (rules and sustains) His creation. Jesus Christ is Lord of all. In Him all things hold together (Col. 1:17). The mathematical laws which describe how things are held together are consistent laws because Christ Himself is consistent and unchanging (Heb. 13:8). When we discover laws in astronomy, we are discovering the laws which describe how God sustains the heavens (Ps. 33:6-9). When we discover the laws of atomic physics, we discover how God sustains matter, “upholding all things by the word of His power” (Heb. 1:3). (66)

Biblical worldview instruction in math should teach that it recognizes the invisible attributes of God. It should “show students how mathematics relates to physical reality because God is the Creator both of the workings of men’s minds and the workings of the universe” (Nance 70).

History is sometimes easy to see and study from a biblical worldview. But are we handling it well? Students come into my class saying something their parents probably told them: “History is His-story.” That’s cute, and it comes close to what we really mean. But do they know why we study history? Do they realize that God commanded the preservation of the stories of what He had done in the past (Deut. 6:20-25; Josh. 4:5-7; 1 Ch. 16:7; Luke 17:32, and more)? Do they know that the term history came to be understood during Greek times as “a systematic inquiry into past events and their relations to one another” (Chris Schlect, Repairing the Ruins 148)?

Why do we study history? Teaching it from a biblical worldview provides the framework for students, and for ourselves as we read. God instructed men to record histories so that people could learn from the experiences of those who have gone before. If the only way to learn something is by your own experience, then you have no need of history. But if we intend to teach the errors and majesties of history, we need to be ready to learn from them. We need to use as our foundation the fact that we as Christians believe in the history of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who lived and walked among men at one point in history, a history that was recorded by other people. Our faith is not nebulous or manufactured; it is based on events that truly happened and were witnessed by others. This fact alone serves as foundation to our faith.

Somewhere at the turn of the 20th Century some people began to conjecture that Christianity was not based on some historical person but on some subjective idea of Jesus based on the experience of the Christian himself. If we cannot point to the historical fact of our faith, then it is nothing more than a collection of morals and fables, like many other religions. So we study history to know the truth about our faith, but also about mankind.

As with the study of history, we learn about man and his yearnings, his ambitions, his errors and failings, when we study literature. We can see the sweeping beauty of a mind that can create such classics as Les Miserables or Macbeth. We can see the depths of horrors to which man can stoop as well. We study literature to study the nature of man.

And we cannot easily study man, through literature, if we only choose Christian novels. I can say with assurance that, short of CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien, there are not many pieces of excellent Christian literature out there. You can try to name some, but I will argue that they are not classical literature, not able to stand the test of time, not able to even depart far from the stagnant formula of most secular romance or historical romance novels. See my blog on the value of those Christian novels as compared to great classical literature, as well as my blog on reading literature with a biblical worldview.

bonnetsIf we only teach our children from Christian “literature,” they only get exposed to those super-sweet, falsely presented dilemmas with formulaic endings. They will not experience great writing, only so-so handling of the pen. With formulaic stories, we don’t see the pain and anxiety of a dark, fallen, and sinful world. I am always disappointed when a Christian homeschooled teen tells me her favorite novel is one of those horribly written Christian romances with bonnets and farms on the cover. It shows the shallowness of what her family considers good literature.

But I digress. Teaching literature with a biblical worldview allows discussions of the depravity of man, about his yearning to find a savior, about the way he sets up idols that will always disappoint. Have you ever discussed Frankenstein with a teenager? That novel tells the story of a man who made himself a god, created a human creature, abandoned it, and lived the rest of his life pursuing the creature’s death. It is also the story of the author, Mary Shelley, who never felt the real love of another person, who probably felt like God had created and then abandoned her. What a horrible way to live–and then we see her pain poured out on the pages of her novel.

This is reading literature from a biblical worldview. This is teaching with a biblical worldview. Not simply plopping a Bible verse down at the beginning of a lesson and calling it good (while that can be quite good, because God’s word will never return void). Instead, it is taking the view that if God is the center of all things, so must be what we study. All of it. Because all means all.

(Some of this article was inspired by essays within the book Repairing the Ruins, edited by Douglas Wilson. Canon Press, Moscow, ID, 1996.)

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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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