Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Avoiding Overexposure

Whenever I tell people that I'm planning to homeschool my children, the second objection I get (after the inevitable "socialization" queries) is how I will expose them to different people and ways of life. Since all the other homeschooling families I presently know in the area are Christian--most of them Catholic--this might be a legitimate objection, but I happen to disagree with the implication that my children will be harmed by not being exposed to "life" in the same way public-schooled children are. After all, is there any "one" way to experience life?

For one thing, I don't believe that homschooled children necessarily lack exposure to various lifestyles and schools of thought. A homeschooled child, for example, may accompany her parents on a mission trip to Mexico or Africa, being exposed to ways of life and thought that are not available to the average public-schooled student. Homeschool co-ops in our area are often comprised of families from the city, suburbs, and rural areas, which means that these homeschool students are being exposed to families from these different locales, as opposed to simply other families who live in their neighborhood. They are also exposed to a wider range of classes and living situations, since they are socializing with children who are not their immediate neighbors.

Homeschooled children are also exposed to a variety of adults, as they accompany their parents in the adult world outside the classroom, exposing them to various age groups. Homeschooled children tend to choose their friends from a broad spectrum of ages, rather than confining their friendships to other children within one year of their own age.

Moreover, since homeschooling parents have more freedom in setting their curricula than the average public-school teacher, they have the freedom to incorporate various lifestyles and ways of thought into the education of their children. For example, whereas many public school educations (particularly at the elementary level) are abysmally lacking in study of the histories of Africa, Asia, and South America, a homeschooling parent could easily incorporate courses on the histories of these continents into the homeschool year. Most public schools do not offer courses in philosophy, but a homeschooled child who is interested in this subject could easily work out a curriculum with his parents that could expose him to the great thinkers from Socrates and Plato to Kant and Nietzsche to Hannah Arendt. Talk about a wide range of thought--and lifestyles!
Finally, however much I might want it to, homeschooling is not going to shield my children from the world in a theological or moral sense. My children are going to know that we live in a fallen world; their theology will tell them that. They will know that there is sin in the world; their own natures will tell them that--and so will mine! They will be exposed to various lifestyles and choices simply because of the relationships and interactions they have with other people.

My parents are divorced. My father committed suicide. We have dear friends who are gay and live with their partners. Many of our friends and family members are or have been engaged in premarital or extramarital sexual relationships. The vast majority use contraception. We have friends and family members who are substance abusers. On the religious side of things, we have friends and family members who come from a wide variety of backgrounds including about a dozen different Christian denominations, as well as Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Atheist and Agnositic.

We cannot--nor will we--deny our children access to relationships with these wonderful people simply because they live differently than we. But, we will be purposeful about helping our children to understand these things in relation to God's truth and laws.

My problem is not with exposure but with overexposure. Think about what happens with a photograph. You need a certain amount of light in order to take a picture, but too much light, and the picture will be ruined by overexposure. What happens when you brave the elements without proper gear and know-how? You risk overexposure, which can be deadly.

Something similar happens to our children when they are overexposed. The world our children encounter leaves imprints on their forming characters; we need to see that they are not overexposed during their formative years. Our children will have to go out to face the proverbial elements one day, but we need to make sure that they have the skills and tools necessary to face those "elements" without the danger of overexposure.

Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, in her book, For the Children's Sake, says this:
Parents should seek, prayerfully, to become worthy leaders with understanding, wisdom, and love. They should also consider very carefully whether a particular institution—be it school, camp, or other—will be the right place for their child. Children are able to understand that there are many people who do not believe in the framework of God’s morality. We do them no favor if we shield them from the generation in which they must live. But we must tread with extreme care when we hand over to others the delicate task of providing for large chunks of the growing time of our children. (emphasis added)
Do I want to shield my children from the immorality of this world--the brokenness, the hatred, the sin? Yes, on some level, of course I do. No one wants to be exposed to these things, least of all children. Still, I know that I will never be able to shield them entirely, and considering that they must live as responsible citizens of this world, I do not wish to shield them indefinitely. Homeschooling will not shut out the world, but it will give me the ability to reveal the world slowly and appropriately to my children once they have a firm foundation from which they can properly understand the world around them. Then, by God's grace, my children will be able to be in the world but not of it.

holy experience


  1. Beautiful sentiments and a nice, logical position.

  2. Ah, I love this: "Homeschooling will not shut out the world, but it will give me the ability to reveal the world slowly and appropriately to my children once they have a firm foundation from which they can properly understand the world around them."

    I'm saving that quote for myself to use at a later date in conversations about the topic. Very well-put!

  3. You are very diplomatic. I would simply tell people that we have been seriously considering all our options and the benefits of the certain way in which we choose to formally and academically educate our children, and then I would just say homeschooling is right for us and leave it at that. I would not feel the need to explain or justify my position. Everyone will have opinions, likely strong ones, and so I wouldn't even try. I give you credit for trying.

  4. I think you did a great job explaining something that people often have a knee-jerk reaction to. I find that most people I talk to about homeschooling immediately object but then after talking for even a few moments will begin to slowly admit that they feel that public schools are failing abysmally and that, actually, homeschooling seems like it would be a really good idea. Do you have any advice for the next question that follows; "I wish I could homeschool, but I just don't have it in me." or, "I'm not smart enough and my kids would suffer as a result."

    My husband and I plan to homeschool. My daughter is only 7 months, so, like you I'm looking forward to the time when we can start. My husband, by the way, was homeschooled, and he is an extremely intelligent, well-adjusted man! He also seems to know more about "the world" than I do (me being a product of the public school system.)

  5. Lots of great food for thought, as always! This reminds me of this article I read a while back about a Harvard study which shows that living in a very diverse environment is not necessarily the great thing that everyone thinks it is. It reminds me of what you're saying about overexposure -- it's not some kind of cure-all to bombard our children with every possible perspective under the sun when they're in their formative years. Anyway, thanks for a great post!


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