Religious education handicaps.

Educating with a religious focus, while well-intentioned, often emphasizes the wrong things.

Just as I was considering the marriage of technology, reading, and education, it occurred to me how often in the early years of our homeschooling journey I wasted money on what is regarded by many Christians as excellent educational curriculum. Judging by the number of books these curriculum producers sell, a lot of people love them.

Over our past 7 years of home education, I’ve dabbled with Sonlight’s curriculum; rudimentary. A beka; hated it. Bob Jones; blech. Most I bought used, so we didn’t take a major monetary hit on them, but I didn’t really like them. For the longest time, it was hard for me to figure out why.

Until we enrolled in our current academic program, a classical one which relies heavily on The Well-Trained Mind and Circe Institute for its educational philosophy, I never found a comprehensive Christian curriculum that worked for us. The only one I like and continue to use is Apologia science.

Recently it occurred to me why I prefer The Well Trained Mind, and Circe in particular. It’s because they are not contrived. They don’t make up poorly written, “Christian friendly” books with the intent of cocooning students. Our kids read real literature, from real books. Books with competing world views and different religious traditions, books where the hero is often not the good Christian hero. Peter Pan is one example; Taro from The Samurai’s Tale another. Teachers converse with the students, walking through the ideas, allowing them to think, compare and contrast what they are reading with what we believe.

If there is one thing that Christian homeschool curriculum developers get wrong (we’ll start with just this one), it’s that in their zeal to impress a Christian “worldview” onto the student, they take away the very thing the kids need in order to bolster their faith: the chance to wrestle with it.

As if on cue, Joshua Gibbs, of whom I am quickly becoming an intellectual groupie, penned his thoughts on what classical educators can learn from stand-up comedians. His entire piece is well worth the few minutes it will take to read it, but about halfway through he explains why much of what is offered in the way of Christian comedy and satire falls woefully short:

When I bring up stand-up comedy, someone invariably says to me, “I love stand-up comedy. Have you seen Brian Regan? He’s good, and his stuff is clean, too.” I do not find Brian Regan funny. I am skeptical of anyone who thinks a comedian worthy of acclaim simply because his routine is not vulgar. While I have no special fondness for dirty jokes, I do believe that comedy is simply a kind of offense— a very controlled offense shared between friends. Brian Regan’s material might be clean, but it is also too friendly, too safe, and accordingly banal. Good comedy is an insult which a man longs to hear. There is an anarchy to good comedy which suggests the poor are being given bowling pin-sized turkey legs to eat and the rich are being sent away with fistfuls of Cheerios. Comedy marvels at the dual nature of man— immortal spirit, farting body— for comedy always involves the juxtaposition of high and low, friendship and shame, dignity and embarrassment. The punchline to the oldest joke in the book is a mockery of man’s desire to overthink and over-intellectualize everything. To get to the other side. Comedy employs laughter to fill the chasm between high and low. Laughter is a bridge.

For this reason, there is usually an element of danger in good comedy, for every joke the comedian tells has three potential victims: himself, his audience, and all mankind. The best comedians are metaphysicians, for in minutely observing their own words and deeds, they can determine which of their sins are universal. We laugh (in fear) at the audacity of a man who confesses the finest nuances of his selfishness, his ignorance, and his laziness, for, in laughing, we are admitting we have done the same, and that we have no defense for our actions. Good comedy is “high-wire truth-telling,” as Pitchfork’s Ian Cohen once put it. The laughter of the audience is a veil which both conceals and reveals they are complicit in everything the comedian confesses.

Clean comedians (at least the ones who market themselves that way) are rarely willing to genuinely insult anyone, and their audiences laugh as though they are being skewered when they are actually getting off scot-free. In the first several months The Babylon Bee was up and running, the satirical news site ran a dozen stories with headlines like, “Local Calvinist Drinks Dark Beer and Has Beard,” as though this was really sticking it to those bearded, dark beer-loving Calvinists out there. It did not take a rocket scientist to figure out the writers were Calvinists themselves, and somewhat squeamish at that. If The Bee had opened with stories about Presbyterians trading exclusive rights to the Epistle of St. James to Roman Catholics in exchange for Matt Walsh and half a dozen of the more savage Flannery O’Connor stories, it would have been a different story— but that’s someone else’s joke to make. To their credit, over the last year The Babylon Bee has proven willing to test the thickness of readers’ skin. Comedy proves human community is built on something other than flattery, but this means comedy is necessarily confrontational. When I am finished watching a stand-up special, I want the same feeling of self-awareness which attends an anxiety-inducing, no holds barred sermon. Brian Regan joking about the phonetic pronunciation of “phonics” just doesn’t cut it.

Read the whole thing.

We’ve discussed here before the limitations of explicitly Christian entertainment which I believe are rooted in the fact that Christians shouldn’t be about producing entertainment. Today however, I am considering something different. Namely, how the admirable desire to protect our students can shield them to the point of defenseless when taken too far, as it often is.

I am fully aware that a classical approach to education isn’t the right fit for every student, family, or school. But I do believe that an education which fails to offer its students the opportunity to question and think deeply fails the student.

For what it’s worth, secular government education doesn’t do any better job of helping  students think either. In fact, they are the worst offenders. There is far more to helping someone learn to think than repeatedly telling them that their parents’ views are wrong.


29 thoughts on “Religious education handicaps.

  1. Robyn says:


    That pretty much covers it.

    If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t use any of the Christian material geared towards kids; far too sanitized for the truth of the real world of real humans.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. hearthie says:

    Yes this. There is a difference between wanting our kids not to be drenched in the hidden religion of the Modern Worldling and wanting to limit their access to information. You don’t have to choose Christianesque indoctrination in order to avoid the indoctrination of the World. You can teach facts, you can teach figures, you can teach art – including art at a maturity level appropriate to children. Our God is TRUTH incarnate, we don’t have to shy away from Truth – or from Beauty.

    I immediately thought of the Focus on the Family children’s materials that well-meaning relatives would send the kids as gifts – the stuff was cringeworthy. If I’m going to indoctrinate, I’ll get Uncle Arthur’s bedtime stories and have done. (Much more interesting and real than FoF stuff – the kids actually kind of liked those stories, as I did when I was a kid).

    The public school system is too busy indoctrinating our kids to teach them, why should we do the same thing, only with our own box of crayons? No.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Elspeth says:


    The problem is, like so many things, these book and material writers are very well meaning.

    Mistaking “lots of Christianese and squeaky clean dialogue” for faith training is more damaging than letting them dissect and analyze more realistic writing.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Elspeth says:


    Mistaking sanitization for truth, especially in a world filled with such filth, is an easy mistake to make when you ignore the importance of beauty and virtue and replace them with a nice neat list of do’s and don’ts.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Elspeth says:

    Speaking of public school indoctrination:

    And I have a friend whose daughter’s work was dismissed as irrelevant -despite being well researched and factual- because it didn’t tow feminist party line dogma.

    You’re right. We don’t want to fall into the same traps but from a “Christian” vantage point.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Robyn says:

    Secular education, from K-to end, isn’t just wrong — it’s wrong at a dangerously toxic level. It has morphed into its real purpose thereby allowing us to easily see it: Denying the truth and purpose of God’s creation of male and female — marriage and the family unit.

    As usual, Satan overplays his hand. He reveals his fingerprints to the true believers thus making it soooo easy to spot false doctrine, teachers and believers.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Bike Bubba says:

    Well said. We did A Beka for learning to read, but quickly after figured out that we didn’t want to do the “baptized secularism”/”sprinkled public school” of A Beka, BJU, and the like. And I love the crack about us having an immortal spirit and a farting body.

    In my mind, one of the best things about classical education is what it does for the parents; you get an excuse to read all those books you formerly read about, and you start rethinking the “standard” explanations you have for all kinds of passages in the Bible. I still affirm the Solas, the Fundamentals, the Trinity, and the like–not coincidentally coined while theologians still learned logic, ahem–but I’m discarding a lot of the “Sunday School behavioral rules” too often taught from the pulpit as well.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Robyn says:


    I just heard an amazing sermon series by Sproul about Martin Luther. I didn’t even know there were names (solas) for what I believed, imagine my surprise, “Oh *that’s* what you call it!”

    If you’d like, I can try and forward it.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. hearthie says:

    I was listening to Rubin yesterday, and he had a charter-school lady from England on, her theory was that you need to teach the kids knowledge first, and then critical thinking would flow naturally from a solid foundation of information. Sounds like the lot of us agree… hm. Imagine that. Agreeing on how to give the kids a solid education. … Maybe we can do that sometime soon?

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Bike Bubba says:

    Side note is that I think it’s a shame we “fundagelicals” and “pentamatics” don’t use the proper names for the Solas and such, because it connects us with historic theologians that we all too often don’t know about. It also serves as a nice shorthand for when theology gets seriously off track. For example, when dealing with hardline prohibitionists/”two wines” advocates, I will point out that if I cannot trust the Bible when it tells me about “wine”, that means they are infringing on Sola Scriptura and the First Fundamental, the inerrancy of Scripture in its autographs, as well as upon the perspicuity of Scripture. Avoiding drunkenness is a big deal, but nowhere near the importance of God’s Word.

    Regarding Sunday School rules, I had an interesting interaction recently with one who believed that because the word “cuckold” is very significant in porn, that any reference to a “cuck” is off limits. He didn’t seem to clue in when I pointed out the Prophets and others speaking about the perpetrators of adultery and fornication; if that is not off limits, why would it be off limits to refer to the victim of adultery? Plus, it’s a basic guilt by association fallacy.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Bike Bubba says:

    OK, I’m going to be a nuisance here, but along the lines of what we’ve been discussing, it strikes me that our “Sunday School answers” are largely because we know how to follow a product build instruction (factory job training in government schools), but we do not know how to check our logic with Scripture. Hence the need for a more classical, logic/rhetoric-centered education–and don’t skip the Quadrivium, either. (it’s key for teaching logic)

    And gracious hostess, my heartfelt apologies for not taking offense at what you’ve said. :^)

    Liked by 2 people

  12. stmichaelkozaki says:

    This is an interesting post & thread. I agree with most of it.

    But we should be honest that there is no such thing as a “classical” education. It’s every man for himself to decide what this is, from religion to science to philosophy. You gotta make a choice. Don’t pretend you are not doing so…if you do, you better hope your kids are dumb and don’t call you out on it. I know I sure would have even at 12 yo.

    A good example is this very thread: the “solas” are, for the bulk of historical Christians, plain-old heresy, not in the bible, early writings, nor any tradition. In fact, were I a kid and was taught the “solas” by my parents I would have flat-out laughed at them, simply pointing out with a simple web search quotes by bishops Ignatius (100 AD) & Augustine (400 AD) denying anything like them (not to mention the bible & history lack support). This idea is not “classical” at all, just another modern opinion.

    Forgetting this particular point though I want to attest: any one source or method ain’t always gonna work (as alluded to in the post). The web is now king and parents gotta watch their step. Having homeschooled for over 20+ yr with half that many students (victims?) of various IQ I promise no matter how secure one’s mousetrap eventually some clever kid is gonna steal the cheese…unless you are “blessed” with very few kids & dodge the bullet by luck…or are “blessed” with very dumb ones…heh :-).

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Elspeth says:

    @ stmichaelkozaki:

    I wish I was presently able to answer you at length, but give me a couple of hours.

    You offer a lot of food for thought here.


  14. Bike Bubba says:

    I’ll respond by saying that in my view, the Council of Trent, which rejected the Solas, got it wrong. Michael and I are not going to be able to come to a consensus in this forum, though, as the arguments are too involved, rotating around Ephesians 2:8-10, James 2:14, and the like.

    One thing I can say, however, is that quotes by Ignatius and Augustine do not disprove the Solas. If we believe that Scripture is the inerrant Word of God–and I believe Catholics and Orthodox can affirm all five Fundamentals, by the way–then we need to proceed from no other authority. Augustine is interesting and powerful–Calvin’s Institutes build on his work and the Apostles’ Creed–but his rhetoric is not a hill I need to die on to defend.

    Moreover, there is such a thing as a classical education; from classical times to today, it has been agreed that the education of a “free” man would enable him to think for himself, and would necessarily include instruction in the dominant “classical” language of the day. That’s changed from Greek to Latin over the centuries, but the basic principle remains the same. Want to be free? Better learn your grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Want to be able to pay for that freedom? Arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy will come in handy, too. Methods changes, yes, but the principles remain.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Elspeth says:

    Well, as far as classical education goes, I agree with Bike. It is indeed a real thing with real principles, ideas, and a framework on which pretty much all its practitioners agree. Not sure how you can believe that there is no such thing classical education.

    An earnestly attempted classical program, even if not perfectly executed, is better than what you get from a secular public education. That’s not dependent on whether or not you have theological disagreements, which is why classical is best; it isn’t dependent on theological writings to inform the kids of the good, true, and beautiful. The trivium doesn’t change based on whether or not you’re protestant or Catholic.

    As for the five solas, interestingly, it’s the first one that trips me up. Not because I don’t believe in the preeminence of Scripture but because, what do you do with those “other annals of the kings” or “other annals of the Chronicles” the KJV mentions but which were not added to the canon? The words written by Enoch for instance, whom we know for sure walked closely with God, so closely God just translated him home so that he didn’t even taste the death we have to face?

    And then of course, the canon was compiled by various councils of men (Laodicea, Hippo, Carthage, and so on) who were largely Catholic. Yes, I realize that they weren’t the first, but they put the period on it.

    So, while all of my reading and instruction is from the canonized 66 books of the Bible that Protestants have read since 1611, there is no question that other men who walked with God wrote books that were left on the cutting room floor, if you will.

    Sola Scriptura is good as far as it goes, but there are Scriptura that didn’t make it into the final compilation. Sirach has wisdom, for instance that is clearly in alignment with the 66 canonized books.

    I hope my point was understood, but having seen the train wreck that is the lives of people who worship The Book at the expense of The Spirit Who inspired it, I am cautious. Now that we have gone far off track of the original post topic, and I have revealed myself as a possible heretic, you guys have a good weekend.

    The other four are hills we are willing to die on.


  16. Elspeth says:

    Oh yes, I haven’t run into one classical curriculum that mentions the “Solas”. You’re misunderstanding what Bike was saying, I suspect.

    In fact, the program we are involved in has Catholic families, Episcopalian families, Non-denominational, Bapticostals (to borrow from Hearthie), the whole nine.

    Why? Because Homer, Dante, Lewis, Tolkien, and the rest are acceptable for teaching the good the true and the beautiful to all students regardless of theology.

    THAT is the WHOLE point of classical.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Elspeth says:

    Absolutely, Robyn.

    And the best literature does exactly that, without needing to be padded with religious pablum.

    I think that’s what Bike was trying to say; that his experience with classical education, although it isn’t full of overt religious dogma, didn’t cause him to lose faith in the bedrock truths of the faith as he understands them. While a secular education, which only pretends to be void of religious dogma leaves its students’ faith shaken at best and abandoned at worst.

    Research shows that the latter is the most likely result, especially when you combine k-12 with secondary. I actually do know some kids who emerged with a strong intact faith (mine yes, but also others), but their parents did a LOT of heavy lifting along the journey.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. stmichaelkozaki says:

    My whole point is that there is no real agreement on what a “classical education” includes religion-wise (thanks Bike for making my point so well). I would strongly doubt any coop, no matter what religion, would work for me as a student, or students of mine, unless it was based in history and rational.

    And I think it’s important to know this as a homeschooler if one has intelligent kids (say IQ 125+) who think independently. Philosophy & religion are literally “ground zero” on this issue. Parents better watch their step. As a kid, I would definitely demand a more rational framework and simply dismiss my parents as idiots and go my own way without it (my kids are similar in this independence perhaps more genetic than learned?). But it’s not just me; many are demanding in logical consistency regarding philosophy & religion. And many a kid won’t “live by lies”, so it’s a real problem.

    If you don’t agree, that’s fine. I merely offer my wide experiences (tried many methods with many kids, actually used TWTM back in the day, and have had success.


  19. stmichaelkozaki says:

    actually used TWTM back in the day, and have had success.

    Reading this above I see it’s confusing; I don’t mean I had success with TWTM at all; actually, I didn’t like the book or style. We lean more “unschoolingish” and TWTM is a real wrote learning deal (she’s a schoolteacher and it shows).


  20. Elspeth says:

    I agree with you on a couple of counts. The first is that TWTM is big on rote memorization in the grammar stage (currently categorized as grades K-5), when kids are more adept at memorizing lots of content in preparation for the expanse of thinking required next. But for my kids, even the literature at that grade in our part-time school (not a co-op, really), was deep and richer than most elementary aged kids would be expected to read, narrate, write, or otherwise express their thoughts about.

    But once you hit the logic stage, what is commonly called middle school, the curriculum changes dramatically. They continue to read great books, but are now expected to begin to be able to express themselves, think critically, begin to identify the true, the good, and the beautiful.

    The rhetoric stage (grades 9+ for the sale of clarity) is about the art of learning to communicate and defend the good, true, and beautiful and do it well.

    I read a lot about this before we settled on the time and expense of this education method, and ALMOST everyone, including secular classical educators, roughly agrees on what a classical education is. This agreement can be had because the basis is the Latin and Greek traditions on which Western Civilization is built.

    I agree that there is little agreement on what a religious education is (again, I think you misread Bike’s intent). But as I noted when I referenced our school, where Christian classical is concerned, 100% agreement on every point of faith isn’t required. Bible study (aside from Scripture memory) isn’t a part of the curriculum. Classical Christian respects each family’s religious tradition and church affiliation. Agreement on the tenets of the Nicene Creed, Apostle’s Creed, and traditionally accepted Christian morality is agreement enough. Yes, I know I left a door wide open there, but I thought about it and at the moment it’s the best way I can think at the moment to express what I am trying to say.

    In the post I was very clear that what we chose isn’t for every family. I am well beyond the frivolity and folly of thinking my family’s way is the only way to do a thing, I disagree with the idea that high IQ kids are too smart for classical, but that’s me.

    I am sincerely impressed with people who can confidently unschool and produce good results. I mean that. I am not confident I could do it because my personality just happens to be one who needs more structure. By the same token, a homesschooling mother who is more of a free spirit wouldn’t produce good results doing it my way.

    That’s the beauty of homeschooling, really.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Bike Bubba says:

    No argument that classical education does not presuppose a single religious viewpoint–or really any of a lot of other viewpoints. People can use the tools with different presuppositions and come to different conclusions.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. stmichaelkozaki says:

    E, again I think we agree on most. My only issue is the crossover between religion & HS. I’ve done classical myself; one must avoid critical philosophical subjects or face…issues…hell, Socrates himself lost his life for this reason…

    E, I disagree with the idea that high IQ kids are too smart for classical, but that’s me.

    Me too. But aggressive high-IQ kids won’t be fooled by a sneaky avoidance of important religious issues to philosophy. Like a moth to a flame, they may seek truth and pounce!

    …impressed with people who can confidently unschool and produce good results.

    No way. Unschooling is just for students who get a natural endorphin rush from learning; Standard for high-IQ kids. These kids in public school are oft banished to the library (e.g. Vox Day, I know others). Why not? They just cause problems for everyone else. Hardly anything to be impressed about teacher-wise. I’m more impressed with the parents who grit their teeth and still deal with these little monsters :-). Or who patently struggle with slower kids.

    This very smart guy (Jew, of course) explains things a lot better than I:

    You might like this blog post he had, I did. I would be interested in your take on it.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Elspeth says:

    I could never have been an unschooler. Not smart enough. Good grades, awesome SAT verbal, but I need structure or I come apart at the seams.

    My husband, who was a terrible student in school, had his HS diploma shipped to him in the mail in lieu of attending the graduation ceremony and never went to college, could have been unschooled.

    He has a wealth of knowledge in a range of subjects, high aptitude at just about anything mechanical/electrical, and is mostly self taught. Except for the old man whose family lived down the street from his when he was a boy. He was an electrician whose own sons were completely uninterested in the trade. My husband was fascinated by it, so he let him tag along with him on Saturdays when he had service calls.

    Automobile mechanics? Brilliant, never took a class besides the one as an elective in high school. Self taught.

    Carpentry? Check.

    Plumbing? Check.

    Self-taught all.

    The problem with him would have been that the stuff he was willing to learn on his own was mostly the stuff that conventional school didn’t teach or couldn’t teach. Well, he makes our living in the tech/digital arena but he could have easily ended up a tradesman. He truly entered the field at a sweet spot in time.

    I found Mr. Friedman’s recounting of his children’s educational journey quite interesting. Thank you. Will have to read the second link later.


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