One of the most wonderful things about the homeschool community is that we are comfortable going against the flow. After all, we’ve stepped up to the plate and said we’re not going to send our kids to public school. That separates us from the mainstream right there. We might go on to say we’re not going to use traditional textbooks, we’re going to grind our own wheat, live off the grid, or spend a year on a sailboat touring around the world. There are as many ways to homeschool as there are homeschoolers, and this extraordinary educational model gives us the freedom to find out just what that means for us and our families.
Dangerous Philosophies in the Homeschool Community
However, through those same wonderful open doors have also come many different and sometimes even opposing views. You may have heard it said, you put two homeschoolers in a room, and you’ll have three opinions. We’re typically strong-minded folk. So we shouldn’t be surprised when the Bell Curve, being what it is, brings in through those open doors some ideas that are out there on the fringes—at the ends of the curve. While they may all reside under the same tent of homeschooling ideas, they are not all equal. Some may sound great at the onset, but are unable to stand the test of time. But a bigger problem emerges when some of those ideas are destructive. Or dangerous. Or unChristlike.
Conservative journalist and author George Will ran into a similar problem in the media. After having hosted yet another guest on his news program with a crazy-and-poorly-thought-out idea, Mr. Will remarked,
There is nothing so vulgar in the human experience for which we cannot fly in some professor from somewhere to justify it.
I have a homeschool version of this.
There is no idea so whackdoodle for which we cannot bring in someone from somewhere, give them space in a homeschool vendor hall, and watch them obtain a following.
Don’t get me wrong. I have loved those open homeschooling doors that have brought forth ideas that challenged my thinking and stretched my views. In fact, I kind of like the wild berry mix of ideas that you’ll find in this thing we call the homeschooling community. It’s a fun place, sort of a country fair of ideas. I truly appreciate that conference planners bring a smorgasbord of thought, allowing me to see the whole landscape of possibilities. It nudges me to think through my educational and faith views, know where the walls of my beliefs stand. A homeschooling conference can be as much a spiritual retreat as an educational one.
But how are we to separate the wheat from the chaff, the good from the bad, the merely odd from the dangerous?
If we start diving into biblical interpretation of Scripture, we will quickly get into the weeds; from such disagreements are birthed many a denomination. So I’ll leave that to you and your pastor.
But still…there are other signs, other warnings—though more subtle—to put us on alert.
Red Flags about the Message
Any message claiming to be faith based should have an element of Law & Gospel—an awareness of what we do wrong coupled with the amazing grace of God. But some messages seem to have a Law-Gospel-Law message, coming back around to a to-do list that guarantees blessed outcomes, rules to make you righteous, heavy-handed language bringing condemnation, or equations that turn God into a vending machine to do your bidding. Any message that seems rule focused is worth closer scrutiny.
Red Flags about the Followers
If we look back at many of the now-defrocked movements throughout history, among the followers there are some common threads of behavior.
- Is there a rush of enthusiasm from the followers that begins to sound cult like?
- Are the followers very invested in YOU adopting THEIR choices?
- Are they angry if you don’t?
- If someone speaks against the movement or its leaders, is there a protectiveness that includes denigrating or even demonizing the one who spoke up?
These behaviors don’t always indicate a problem. And it’s unfair to dismiss the message because of flaws in the followers. But since these behaviors are so often a part of questionable causes, they are worthwhile markers to give us pause for greater reflection.
Red Flags about the Leaders
There are some easy ones to put in here—Does the leader take a piece of Scripture way out of context? Do they have an entire lifestyle (read that: program, system, materials to sell) based on one message? Is there a lack of accountability within their administrative structure? All of these can point toward potential dangers.
But one of the biggest indicators that there may or will be a problem is much simpler.
Is the leader humble?
Arrogance practically guarantees a negative outcome. It almost has its own sniff test; you know it when you see it (or hear it, or read it). Does this leader belittle those who disagree with them? Are they able to have true compassion for those who, by the leader’s own measuring stick, are missing the mark? Or do they flippantly and disrespectfully dismiss the opponent? Can you “feel the mean”?
Are they themselves teachable? When faced with an opposing view, do they seem to give it real consideration? Or do they flippantly dismiss it and insert their own agenda?
Are they as gracious to the person who is cleaning the bathrooms—or fetching their coffee—as they are to the leaders around them?
A lack of compassion is a deal breaker for me. If there is no clear love in the teachings of a person, I now feel totally comfortable walking away. Even if there is some truth in their teaching, their lack of love will invariably result, in the end, in a perverted and misdirected use of that truth.
I will no longer go along for the ride.
Even a truth, shared without love, is like a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal (I Cor. 13:1-3). The Apostle Paul warned of the nothingness in a message, even a truth, when shared by an unloving messenger.
1. If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (All emphasis mine.)
Here’s where I think we get into trouble—we understandably love church, and we are comfortable with church structure. We almost instinctively gravitate toward that model whenever we get together with other believers. So it’s worth noting something that may seem obvious:
Homeschooling organizations are not churches.
They aren’t meant to be. The structure isn’t right for it. And giving any speaker such power is a recipe ripe for disaster. I love that people include their faith in what they share in a workshop. It’s a great place for sharing views that spring from our faith. But the homeschooling community is not the correct place for receiving finalized theological instruction, or becoming our para-church authority structures. I have a church. I have a pastor. I have a denomination. I have a husband. And I have a Savior. I don’t need a substitute for any of them. But I might need some help teaching math on Monday morning.