Foundations Press
Homeschooling Torah

As I mentioned in an earlier post on homeschooling goals, many times we homeschoolers are guilty of being sluggish in our thinking, too quickly adopting goals as our own when we haven’t compared them against Scripture. Often we make goals by reading popular books or by “going with our gut,” even when God’s Word says that our hearts can very easily deceive us (Jeremiah 17:9).

Today I want to start examining some common (yet questionable) homeschooling goals, to see how well they match up with Scripture. I wanted to cover this in just one blog post, so we could get on to proposing some worthy goals to consider — but it’s just not going to happen! This is just TOO BIG of a subject! So will you bear with me over the next few weeks?

Goals are important because they help us figure out our methods. In other words, when I’ve figured out why I believe I should be teaching my children at home, I can then figure out how to teach them at home.

Many authors will tell you that how to teach your children is an individual choice, based upon your individual personality. Of course this is sometimes true. Not always, though.

I’ve been thinking about it. Choosing a math curriculum, for instance, often comes from my worldview. Do I believe my children will learn better through hands-on discovery or through memorization and drill (or maybe a combination of the two)? My beliefs about method are based on my reasons for homeschooling in the first place.

One of the most aggravating things about homeschooling is choosing curriculum (and paying a lot of money for it), only to discover that it doesn’t fit our family. Why doesn’t it fit? Sometimes it’s just a practical reason (designed for one child while I have seven children, for instance), but more often it’s a philosophical reason. It can be very liberating to finally get a handle on why I do what I do.

Let’s examine some common homeschooling approaches, realizing that these are stereotypes and won’t perfectly describe everyone who subscribes to these views. Today we’ll tackle unschooling, then in the weeks to come we’ll look at the ideas of Charlotte Mason, classical education, literature-based learning, school-at-home methods, and reformed theology. (Whew!)


“Unschooling” usually comes from the writings of John Holt, who wrote How Children Learn in 1966. Unschooling can be a dramatic lifestyle where a child is given free reign in all his choices, or it can be tempered with the guidance of loving parents as they help their children make decisions. Variations are sometimes known as delight-based learning, child-led learning, or self-directed learning. Obviously, there is a lot of variety here.

John Holt, for instance, believed that children are born with an incredible capacity for figuring things out for themselves. This is true, and it is true simply because we are created in the image of our Creator (Genesis 1:27). However, John Holt didn’t believe that we are created, so he tends to forget that children are also born with a desire to seek their own satisfaction and even evil desires. In other words, we are all sinners.

In his book, Teach Your Own, John Holt quotes from The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff (another book which blatantly ignores a Creator God) and then says,

As Liedloff shows, children so reared [according to the Continuum Concept, meaning as children have supposedly been “reared in the ‘continuum’ of the human biological experience, i.e., as ‘primitive’ mothers bear and rear their babies, and probably always have through all the millions of years of human existence”] very quickly notice what people are doing around them, and want to join in and take part as soon and as far as their powers permit. No one has to do anything in order to “socialize” the children, or make them take part in the life of the group.  They are born social, it is their nature… No continuum culture expects children to be bad as a matter of course, to misbehave, to make trouble, to refuse to help, to destroy things, and cause pain to others, and in cultures with long traditions of child-rearing these common (to us) forms of child behavior are virtually unknown…

In short, the problem children of the affluent Western world are as much a product of our culture as our automobiles (pp. 81, 82-83).

Do you see what he’s saying? He’s saying that children are basically good and are only corrupted because of their environment. Note that the environment he feels is the worst for a child is an “affluent Western” environment, which is a subtle poke at Christianity, the religion of the Western world, which teaches that children are born with a sin nature.

There are grains of truth in his words. Children do have an incredible capability and desire to learn, which the Bible teaches was placed there by our Creator. Children do want to join in with what the people around them are doing, which is vitally important for us to remember as we approve of companions for our children. Children are products of their cultures, which is why it’s so important for us to provide them with a godly home and rich learning environment. Finally, Western “Christianity” has historically taught as many perversions of the truth of God’s Word as evolution has, and it’s only honest to admit this.

But the fatal flaw behind John Holt’s words is that children are somehow good and capable of amazing potential if only they are provided with a good environment. Simply provide your child with a good environment, and he will turn out fine. In fact, he’ll turn out more than fine. He’ll achieve everything that our species is capable of and possibly even advance our evolution. Sadly, this is in great conflict with what the Bible teaches.

Unschoolers have a reputation for being “rebels against society” and having wild, disorganized homes, never paying attention to time or fitting in well with culture. This doesn’t seem fair, does it? I know some families that choose to “unschool,” yet the parents are incredibly vested in the positive outcome and best interest of their children. Yet sometimes the criticism is true. The danger is that the happiness of the child can become more important than the holiness of the child.

Many of the methods that unschoolers use are perfectly legitimate and have their place. I only have argument with the underlying philosophy. I believe that God’s Word says that we are born with a sin nature and that it is the parents’ responsibility to place certain information — God’s Laws — into the hearts of our children.

Delight-based learning often gets lumped in with unschooling, yet I believe it’s perfectly fine to allow our children’s God-given abilities and personalities to thrive within our homes. If God has given your child a natural affinity for music, for instance, I believe it is good to cultivate that desire for God’s kingdom. However, I also believe that sometimes our children just don’t naturally delight in anything that is hard work or takes away from play time. Sometimes we mothers have to tell our children what to do, when to do it, and why. I don’t think that John Holt would disagree with me, by the way. Again, I don’t argue with the some of the methods but rather with the underlying philosophy.

So here’s what to watch out for when reading books about education by secular authors.

  • Does the author believe we were created by God in six literal days as Genesis 1 teaches, or does the author believe that we evolved from lower forms of animals over millions of years? This is a huge warning sign!
  • Does the author believe that children are born good and corrupted by their environment, or does the author believe that children have a sin nature?
  • Does the author believe that children will usually make wise choices or that they are naturally “wise in their own eyes” (Proverbs 3:7, Proverbs 12:15, Isaiah 5:2)?
  • Does the author believe that there is no end to what a human can achieve in his own power?

Some verses to ponder:

“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles… They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:21-23, 25).

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:1-2).