Can Christians Unschool?
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Unschooling: Within God’s will?

I read a letter to a homeschooling periodical stating that unschooling was not withing God's will.

As a former teacher and administrator of Christian schools, and someone who regards myself as essentially an unschooler, how do I reconcile these ideas and practices?

It must be admitted, from the outset, that schooling of the masses, as we know it, is a Christian initiative. Specificially, it arises from the Protestant doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. So long as an elite few, a priesthood, could mediate the benefits of salvation to the many, only the few needed to be educated enough to understand these things. With the Reformation, and the priesthood of all believers, suddenly the education of every individual became a matter of crucial importance. If an individual is directly responsible to God, and responsible for knowing God’s will, as related in the Bible, then that individual must be able to read, at least well enough to read the Bible, and must be able to reason.

Historically, there’s no question about this. The education of everyone became a priority to Luther, and was implemented by Melanchthon, his lieutenant. From this theological base have sprung the modern notion of education for everyone. It isn’t surprising, given this starting point, that the early textbooks were religious in orientation. In training a person to read the Bible, it makes sense to include Biblical characters and topics from the first. So early primers and readers included such famous phrases as: “In Adam’s fall/ We sinn’d all.”

Basing one’s understanding of the cosmos on a book places high value on reading. Though not all Jewish boys read the Old Testament, still it was widely distributed, at least among the male population. An interesting sidelight to this in Scripture is the question of how Jesus learned to read. Saul sat at the feet of Gamaliel, but there is no record of Jesus going to any school. The Gospel of John makes this lack of formal schooling explicit. “ The Jews therefore were marveling, saying, ‘How has this man become learned, having never been educated?’" John 7:15. Whatever else He did, Jesus didn’t attend the schools of the Rabbis.

Scripture does not describe exactly what approach Mary and Joseph employed in Jesus’ education. No matter how much we might like to speculate, it would remain just that. Even if formal schooling was common in his day, Jesus was uncommon, and, as the text makes clear, uncommonly educated. The Bible’s silence on this point is highly inconvenient, but we must live with it. We must do what we do in any other situation: See what Scripture does say that is relevant to our question.

No discussion of child-rearing and Scripture can be complete without examining Deuteronomy Six.

“And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart; 7 and you shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. 8 And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. 9 And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 6:6-9.

Many, if not most, Christians see in this a highly structured, formalized curriculum. They see the command to “talk of them when you sit... when you walk. . .when you lie down. . . and when you rise. . .” as literal commands. One might even argue that the intellectual level of the Israelites for whom Deuteronomy was originally intended demands a literal reading. If that literal reading is necessary, then I suppose the passage does describe a quite formal learning structure. Next page