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Beware the “Expert”


Jesus replied, “You teachers are also in for trouble! You load people down with heavy burdens, but you won’t lift a finger to help them carry the loads” (Luke 11:46).

“Why do homeschoolers put up with being talked to this way?!” I exclaimed. I was tempted to fling the book I was reading across the room, except for the fact that it was on my Kindle. In the midst of a very popular book by a very popular speaker that could simply have been subtitled “The Only Way to Raise Perfectly Righteous Children,” I was incensed.

As a military family, we’d lived overseas for over half of the previous decade, twice in fairly remote areas of the world. I hadn’t realized how out of touch with the current homeschool scene we’d gotten until we came back to the U.S. and had access again to conventions, books, and products. And I noticed something interesting. There seemed to be a plethora of “experts” who felt they knew best how you should raise your children, not to mention what sort of church you ought to attend, and exactly how you should homeschool…in fact, some of them had litmus tests for every possible move a Christian could make. In superior tones, they prescribed what your family ought to be doing and heaped on unnecessary guilt.

Frankly, it was exhausting.

Should my kids go to college? What curriculum should we use? Skirts or pants? What sort of church should we attend? SHOULD we attend church, or simply home church?

While some of these may be worthwhile questions, they are matters of personal preference and conviction, and not ones that any “expert” should determine for another family.

The New Homeschool System

I’m realizing that we were blessed to begin homeschooling in what I’m fondly remembering as the Golden Age of Homeschooling. Not quite pioneers, we had resources available, but not so many as to be overwhelming, either. The experts who’d gone before us convinced me that we could educate our children with a good math program and a library card (and I’ll be honest, that’s what we did for a lot of years!). It was an exhilarating, freeing, and family-friendly message.

Somewhere along the way, it seems to me that homeschoolers have lost sight of why they homeschool and have traded in their flexibility and freedom only to willingly place themselves under another “system,” one which has been created by homeschoolers, for homeschoolers. As I observed this upon my return to the U.S., I began to feel a bit like an outsider.

I was encouraged by those who’d gone before us to spend oodles of time learning with my children, read out loud—a lot, and be outdoors as much as possible. A common theme was “keep it simple.” No formulaic principles of parenting or homeschooling. No condemnation or guilt that I wasn’t doing enough.

Expert vs. Mentor

Do I think we can’t learn from others? Obviously not. But I’d like to share some characteristics I’ve noticed about some of these so-called “experts”—self-proclaimed or otherwise—which I hope will help you differentiate them from mentors who come alongside.

Scare Tactics

Beware of any writer or speaker who insinuates (or even states) that their homeschooling/parent method is THE way to raise children. Or who imply that if you don’t use their methods, your children will obviously be uneducated little heathens who will make you a grandparent before your oldest turns eighteen. (Think I’m exaggerating? I only wish I were.) Fill in the blanks with something horrid: if your kids go to youth group, they’ll ____. If your children go to college, they’ll ____. Dire consequences are promised for those who stray from the expert speaker’s prescription, as if he knows any of the other nuances behind a family’s choices in these matters.

A Berating, Belittling Tone

This may seem obvious. Yet, I recently listened to a podcast of a popular homeschool speaker who was practically yelling at her audience…it was off-putting at best, and I can’t imagine what the poor folks in the room felt! And along those lines, if an expert speaker or writer labels anyone who questions them as less spiritual, unchristian, or worse…run the other way.

If they are sharing truth, the truth can stand up to questioning. The Holy Spirit rarely works in my heart through other adults scolding me like a child. If the Bereans were praised for examining Scripture to test whether what the apostle Paul said was true (Acts 17:11), why would we ever put up with such nonsense and not apply the same standards to teachers today?

Formulas Instead of Principles

Am I saying you can’t learn from those who are more experienced? Of course not. Just beware of anyone who says that if you do y you will always get z. Children and families are human, and simply cannot—and should not—be fit into formulas. My hackles go up now when I hear someone presenting formulaic answers for complicated issues such as marriage, family life, or raising children.

Prescriptive vs. Advice

There is room for variety. How about differing family dynamics? What is right for our family is probably not right for you, and vice versa. For instance, when our children were younger, I noticed several articles in homeschooling publications about fathers who were coming home to work and directing more of the family’s home life. It was a cozy, idyllic view, complete with a farm and the family making daisy chains and milking cows together, often cited as the goal for any Christian family. Which was fine—for them. My reality? We lived in cramped military housing on an Air Force base in an eight-plex. My husband worked late hours and attended night school to finish his degree.

If I’d taken to heart that current fad, I would have become discontent. We had later bedtimes and morning routines due to our unique schedule and simply didn’t fit into this ideal. (Which was part of the beauty of homeschooling! The kids would have barely seen their father if they’d been enrolled in a traditional school.) I’ve found it’s best to embrace where God has placed us. One lifestyle is not better or worse than the other, and it’s a dangerous idea to assign goodness to a particular choice. I’m so glad God doesn’t call us all to the same life. That would be pretty boring!

One more thought: What do you know about the author/speaker?

I’ve heard more than one friend observe, after assisting with homeschool conventions, that if we could actually see behind the scenes, we’d be more careful what experts we are taking advice from. Are you willing to die on a proverbial hill because someone you’ve never met and of whom you know little of their family and home life says you must do a certain thing or live a certain way?

As parents who are so closely involved with our children, we desperately wish to do the right thing for our families. I get that. But so often, we attempt to shape our home life for the approval of others or what we think a good homeschooler ought to be doing. I encourage you to take a step back and be certain that God is the one calling you to the big lifestyle decisions in your life.

Here’s the thing. I want you to feel confident. I want you to trust Jesus to lead your family and to know that He’s got it all under control. He alone knows the future and what He has planned for your children…and for you.

He loves you so much.

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11).

“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” – Augustine

Jen McDonald is an experienced editor and writer who’s been featured in several books and numerous national publications, including Good Housekeeping, Redbook, and Military Spouse Magazine. She’s the author of You Are Not Alone: Encouragement for the Heart of a Military Spouse, a book for military spouses born from nearly three decades of experience. She’s currently the Content Editor for MilitaryByOwner Advertising.

Jen and her amazing Air Force husband have lived all over the world and are the parents of four grown children who were all homeschooled, including one who is serving in the military. They’re also brand new grandparents! Find her at her site Jen McDonald: You Are Not Alone, on Facebook, and on Twitter and Instagram as @jenmcdonald88.

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