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Recognizing Dangerous Philosophies


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.

Carol Barnier is a homeschooler of 17 years, author of four books, mother to three children, and wife to one husband. She’s been on numerous radio and TV programs, and is a regular commentary provider on Focus on the Family’s Weekend Magazine radio program. Her objective is to have the wit of Erma Bombeck crossed with the depth of C.S. Lewis, but admits that on most days, she only achieves a solid Lucy Ricardo with a bit of Bob the Tomato. Whether speaking about her first born son’s 13 surgeries, her homeschooling challenges, her family’s many ADHD challenges, or her own walk from being a God-denying atheist to the most grateful recipient of God’s amazing grace, this woman speaks from the heart. She knows why she knows what she knows.

  • Wade

    Hi Carol,

    Your article is right on track, particularly in pointing out ARROGANCE. Pride is always the downfall, isn’t it? I watched some of these, now fallen, leaders get their start in the homeschooling movement.
    One reason these movements, rooted in legalism, are attractive is people are looking for the 7 keys to a spiritual life, or the 9 steps to raising Godly children. The idea that OBEDIENCE to the word of God is the job of the Christian, not following a man and his philosophy in lock-step . But, knowing the Word of God takes study. Otherwise, we fall into that trap talked about many places in the Scriptures like 2 Tim 4:3, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires.” Titus 1:9 tells us, “Holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.” Bank tellers never study counterfeit bills. They handle the real articles so when a fake bill comes along, they recognize it as counterfeit immediately.

    May 15, 2014 at 10:11 am Reply
  • Ann

    Thank you so much for posting this. I particularly appreciate the last paragraph. Perhaps there will be a shift in the offerings at some conventions that will enable us to focus on education and teaching our children effectively.

    May 16, 2014 at 10:22 am Reply
  • Wendy

    Right, exactly, precisely… on track! You have whacked that proverbial nail right on it’s flat little head, several times over, in this article.

    And I might add, your graciousness and tact come shining through. We old-timers have seen the very things of which you speak, happen over and over. We’ve noticed the signs, but you’ve distilled it down to its essence.

    Thank you, Carol. Rock on, my friend! Your wisdom is much needed!

    May 16, 2014 at 11:09 am Reply
  • Marie-Claire Moreau

    For me, Carol, you have summarized how I feel when others share a philosophy — homeschooling or otherwise: “If there is no clear love in the teachings of a person, I now feel totally comfortable walking away. ” Whether we’re talking seminars at homeschool conferences or the sales staff at a local retailer, those with love in their hearts, with the intention of genuinely helping others, will touch those who need to feel that love. People notice. Authenticity is the name of the game. I much prefer trade shows and events that speak to skills and best practices over sessions sponsored by others out to sell me. In order to sell me, you’d better be backed by a passion and have a real desire to serve. Thanks for sharing these thoughts.

    May 18, 2014 at 11:56 am Reply
    • Demetria

      Amen to that! I agree with you, I want to see those who are genuinely interested in helping others over and above selling me.

      December 11, 2016 at 6:56 pm Reply
  • Erin Jahi

    This article is spot on. Over the past 7th I have seen some funky goings on in the vendor hall. One particular home school ministry comes to mind that has ALL the red flags you mentioned. Yet since they pay there money to vend like everyone else they are there. We have to use decernment and prayer in that vendor hall.

    June 4, 2014 at 8:50 am Reply

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