Write These Laws on Your Children: Inside the World of Conservative Christian Homeschooling, by Robert Kunzman. Published in 2010. 240 pages.
When I ran across this book on the education shelf of our local library, I checked it out with a hearty bit of skepticism. Anytime a researcher is purporting to give readers a glimpse “inside the world of….[insert here]”, I expect that I am going to read a hit piece. I was pleasantly surprised.
Kunzman, despite his clear bias as a former public high school teacher, took pains to try (emphasis on try) to give homeschooling a fair shake and acknowledge the upsides as well as the potential pitfalls.
After what turned out to be a more arduous search for willing participants than he anticipated, the author spends significant time visiting with and chronicling the techniques, atmosphere, learning, and family environments of five Christian homeschooling families who live in various regions of the country.
The fact that the families who were willing to participate were scattered around the country was useful in the presentation of how the different families, despite their firm adherence to Christian faith, processed the delicate balance of homeschooling and the regulations or lack thereof in their particular states.
Of the five families he visited, only two of them had very large broods. One family, a Vermont pastor and his wife, were the parents of one child, a 12-year-old daughter. I appreciated the variety of family sizes represented rather than focusing on families of six or more since our experience “inside the world of Christian homeschooling” has been more in line with what Kunzman observed. While we certainly have very large families in our community, the vast majority are families of 3-4 children with “big” families such as ours being represented mostly by families of 5-7 children, and a scant few with more than that.
The families which provided the most comprehensive and satisfactory education experience in the author’s assessment included one of the largest families, as well as the family with one child. The other three families ranged in his opinion from adequate to what he considered outright educational neglect. Most of the families were like ours in that they were willing to begin to a la carte school subjects as their children reached the middle school years and beyond. Some of the teenagers were transitioning to community college as dually enrolled students while others would begin using public or private schools for labs and music instruction their parents were not equipped to provide at home.
There were a couple of families for whom this was not an option due to ideological or logistical reasons and unsurprisingly, they were the families whose children Kunzman felt were getting shorter educational shrift. This wasn’t in my opinion based on the information he provided, always fair assessment.
My biggest problem with Kunzman’s assessment of homeschooling was his dogged and repeated insistence that because the children in the families represented were being raised with a strictly Biblical worldview, that somehow their ability to “think for themselves” was being short-circuited in a way that it wouldn’t be if they attended public schools. He frequently intimated that the public school environment is one where the free flow of competing worldviews and ideologies are offered for children to make up their own minds.
Public schools are every bit as ideologically rigid as devout Christian schools or Christian homeschoolers, and there is mountains of evidence to support the notion that colleges and universities are even worse. Nevertheless a couple of these “rigid patriarchal ideologues” allowed their teenagers to attend community colleges.
That he actually believed that public school are bastions of free thought, despite the parent attempts to argue otherwise to him, was a bit irritating. No one in the education monopoly seems to have a problem with student indoctrination into progressive ideology, which is exactly what happens. Students are probably less free to learn to “think for themselves” than they are in a Christian homeschool family.
In between the chapters where he spent time with the families -on and off over two years- Kunzman visited homeschool conferences and did interviews with officials at HSLDA. One short chapter dedicated to the suggestion that conservative homeschoolers are motivated by race also filled one of those spots, although Kunzman refrained from commenting except to note that three of the families he visited couldn’t have possibly been referring to race when they talked about the “public school environment” since they lived in places that were lily white.
The atmosphere at the homeschool conferences he attended was understandably very pro homeschooling and adversarial to the suggestion of increased accountability to the state to ensure that homeschooled students are getting a proper education.
Aside from his private conversations with the fathers of the researched families, however, there was little in the day to day schooling or curriculums which indicated that a conflation of Christianity and political ideology was a major part of their homeschool motivation. Kunzman found the same when he visited the churches of the families, which was refreshing to me because I have met very few homeschool families where politics is a major part of why they do this, or how they do it.
The book was more fair than I expected, and Kunzman did concede that there are public school turning out kids far less literate than the ones he felt -rightly so- were losing out on a good education. Overall, the book did a good job of asking questions as well as making me think about some things as we continue on our homeschool journey.
No content advisory necessary.