Monday, May 11, 2009

CHEC "Men's Leadership Summit" - "Homeschooling - Capturing the Vision," Part I (Character in Academics)

#7 in an ongoing series on Christian Home Educators of Colorado 2009 "Men's Leadership Summit" (otherwise known as the "The Vision of the Leadership Summit") held in Indianapolis, Indiana, at one of the hotels owned by Bill Gothard's group over the weekend of March 5-7, 2009. Previous post in this series: More on Doug Phillips' vision for the future of homeschooling in America. First post in the series: 2009 Christian Home Educators of Colorado (CHEC) "Men's Leadership Summit," Part I.


A small note: A blogger with more experience and success than I urged me, for a number or good reasons, to break my posts into smaller pieces. I hope to do justice to the messages of the various speakers whose messages I am attempting to report and analyze. Please recognize, however, that what follows is only a very small portion of Mr. Swanson's entire speech. Lord willing, more will follow. --John


The following content is from Kevin Swanson's second speech at the 2009 CHEC "Men's Leadership Summit" ("MLS")--"Homeschooling - Capturing the Vision"--delivered on Friday, March 6, 2009 and available in full, audio form from

Top Reasons to Homeschool

Swanson sought to warm up his audience with a "Top 10 List of Reasons to Homeschool" . . . or "Blessings We Enjoy from Home Education." They included everything from "We don’t have to ask the school district for permission if we want to go hunting in the middle of October for two weeks" . . . to "We can pray any time we want to . . . in fact, we can pray all day long . . . we can pray without ceasing, if we want" . . . to "We’ve never missed the bus. In fact, we like to wave at it from time to time. . . . The kids call it 'the jail bus': 'Look at the inmates. Everybody wave'" . . . on down to "You can bring guns to school" . . . to, #1: "The teaching staff is totally in love with each other, and we make out in front of the class. (You can’t do that in your conventional schools. They frown on that kind of stuff. But our kids love it."

"So much liberty, isn’t there?" Swanson exulted. "'If the Son will make you free, you will be free, indeed.' [John 8:36 --JAH] I’ll tell you what: there’s a lot of freedom people are not enjoying."

Swanson's Homeschool Heritage

Swanson noted that he, himself, was "homeschooled" back in the late '60s and '70s while his parents served as missionaries in Japan. And he became personally involved in his family's--and especially his oldest son's--education (as the "teacher") about six years ago.
Back six years ago, my wife is trying to homeschool this 11-year-old boy, and it was getting more and more difficult. There [were] some resistant issues; there [were] some sins in his life that seemed to have some generational components to it, . . . and I was recognizing some of the things.

My wife turned to me and said, “Kevin, Kevin, you have been talking about homeschooling, as the expert . . . for the last five years. How would you like to try it?”

I said, “Hey, that sounds like a lot of fun. Let me give it a shot.”

So I’ve been doing it for six years, now.. . .
I should note: Swanson took on the one son. He said that, before doing that, "[M]y wife was trying to homeschool five children, simultaneously, along with an 11-year-old boy." [NOTE: The Swansons have five children--one son and four daughters--total. The 11-year-old (now 17-year-old) boy is #1 of five. --JAH] --So Swanson took on his son while his wife continued to take primary responsibility for the daughters.

The Heart of Education
I got a notice from a local Christian school . . . They have this beautiful, glossy set of brochures that were written by some experts. involved. . . . [I]t said, “It takes a professional to educate a child. There are some people, in some circles, that attempt to do this by themselves, without certification or college degree.”

That would be us.

Then it says, “Unqualified surgeons do not perform brain surgery, and parents should not try to teach their children at home.”

Don’t try this at home because you could really mess up your kids. --That’s what that means, doesn’t it?

I want to break in here because Swanson makes no further comments about this particular brochure at this moment in his speech. He will return to it much later. But you should keep it in mind. And, moreover, I would like to note--as Swanson himself makes very clear, later in his speech, that this kind of attack on homeschooling is really unwarranted, unjustified, and, fundamentally, wrong-headed. I will let Swanson make that point when he gets to it. I think he does a great job. But while we're here, I thought I would get my plug in as well: this brochure levels some fundamentally inappropriate charges against homeschoolers.


Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Modern Education
This whole idea of professional teachers really dates back, I think, to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who was the father of modern education.

Now, Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote a very important book called Emile, in which he chronicled how to educate a child in the modern world.

The book was published in the 1760s.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau said that you must develop an education that is funded by the state, where a child is removed from the parents as early as possible, and tutored by an unmarried, professional tutor.

That was his system of education. He patterned it after Plato’s Republic, which he said is the best book ever written on the education of a child, in which Plato said what you do is you’ve got to separate the child from the parents, on its birthday.

These are Plato’s words: “No child shall know his parent, and no parent shall know his child.”

There shall be no relationships within the family. The family needs to be obliterated and de-prioritized and de-relevantized, and the family is only effective for the producing of these children. In fact, the husband and wife are only together for a temporary liaison.

This is the system of education that was promulgated by Plato and Rousseau – and I would throw in Marx, as well.

Well, today, brothers, we have inherited this system of education. It is without parents, and I think also, without relationships. . . .
Swanson said that "Ground Zero of the major worldview war, . . . the Omaha Beach of this battle, is what is happening in the education of children. Because that’s what sets the future in terms of the minds and the souls of the next generation."

Swanson indicated he has been working for quite some time on this issue of what God has to say about education. See, for example, his book Upgrade: 10 Secrets to the Best Education for Your Child, published in 2006.

While the Bible doesn't mention the word education, Swanson said, it does speak about equipping God's people for every good work, "which happens to include the education of the next generation."

When he searched in his concordance for words like children, sons and daughters, however, he said, "I wound up, in one particular book of the Bible a great deal of the time, and that of course, is the Book of Proverbs."

"I wasn’t really thinking that there was a book in the Bible directed to this particular area, but it turns out" the Book of Proverbs, though it has "very little to say about geography, about geometry, about geology," and so forth, teaches us a lot about basic principles of education. "In fact," said Swanson, "God is smarter than John Dewey and Horace Mann and Rousseau and a lot of other people."

He mentioned how he and his wife "became very convicted" because they had been training their children very carefully in the standard academic subjects, but "at the expense of the Bible." So six years ago they decided to establish a new priority system for their family:
Even if we miss a Saxon Math lesson, we’re gonna make sure that we hit three verses in the Book of Proverbs every day. Why? Because God is very smart, and because God wants our children to learn the Book of Proverbs.
Actually, later in his speech Swanson states this more strongly:
"[O]ur children . . . need to know the Book of Psalms, Proverbs, the Gospels, Genesis . . . better than they know their Saxon Algebra." Indeed, "Make [the Bible] the core education.
I found our children understood Saxon Math better than they knew the Book of Psalms. They didn’t know what the Messianic Psalms were. They didn’t know what the Exhortation Psalms were. They didn’t know the emotional fabric of the Psalms, and the Word of God, which is basically God’s 'Worship 101 Manual.'

They didn’t understand all the – they hadn’t had the themes of 150 Psalms memorized.

They didn’t know what Psalm to go to when they were looking for deliverance from the attacks of evil men.

They didn’t understand Psalms and the Proverbs and these sorts of things.

So that’s one of the reasons why we make sure that our education is focused on the teaching of the Word of God, and it usually happens for about an hour every day, as we sit around, and I am the teacher.

So our education system involves the study of the Word of God.
Swanson put together some devotionals called “The Psalms: A Family Bible Study Series,” for his own children that he has now published for others.
If your children don’t understand the Psalms as well as they know their Saxon math, or their geography or geometry, I would suggest that you get some books on the Psalms and have them study the Psalms. Unfortunately, I don’t find much curriculum specifically about the Psalms or the Proverbs or Genesis or Matthew in many of our curriculum fairs today.
But back to the matter of math lessons.

Swanson demonstrated how he believes academic pursuits should be made subject to the pursuit of improved character.

Character Training in Academics

Swanson told his audience how his son will complain if Swanson makes him re-work a math lesson that he did sloppily.

"Oh, no, Dad! No! . . . [Y]ou don’t understand how much work I put into the last five chapters! Dad, I already know this stuff! [Don't make me do it again!]"

And Swanson's reply: “Son, I know you know this stuff. You’re my smart son. But I’m not trying to teach you math today; I’m trying to teach you character. I’m just using math to do it.”

Similarly if or when his son will complain that a math problem is too difficult:
Have you ever heard the proverb that says, "There’s a lion in the street, and from the lion in the street, the slothful will not go to work"? [A paraphrase of Proverbs 22:13 and 26:13. --JAH] Well, math serves as the lion in the street. There’s these obstacles that you will inevitably confront as you’re studying math. So when my son – or anybody else – hits this obstacle, a lot of times what happens is, he just stops. The work isn't getting done anymore. . . .

I say, “Son . . . Do you know what you do when there’s a lion in the street – when there’s an obstacle in the math book, or anywhere else? Here’s what you do: you go and get your .45 or your big, old muzzle loader, whatever it is, and you put a bullet through the head of the lion, and then you go to work. That’s how you deal with it.”

Math is an excellent way in which that can be done. . . . [An]other example . . .: “The slothful man does not take or eat what he’s taken in hunting.” [A paraphrase of Proverbs 12:27. --JAH] Remember that? In other words, he’s not precise enough; he wastes things. He grabs his little slice of meat and it’s good enough, for now, but he doesn’t do all of the work necessary to produce what he could produce at any given point in time.. . .

Well, math is an excellent way in which we can teach this element of conscientious diligence because math has this wonderful way of presenting a problem that takes 20 minutes to work through. You fill out two pages of notebook paper, working through that complex Algebra problem. Now, at the very end of the problem, after all of that work, you missed the answer because you forgot to put the decimal point in the right place, so you didn’t have a parenthesis in the right place. Then your son comes back to you and says, “But Dad, I’ve worked for that. Can’t I get some extra credit?” and you turn to him and say, “When the bridge comes down, nobody gets extra credit, buddy. You’ve got to be conscientious. You’ve got to be cutting off every little slice of that meat."

Math is an excellent way in which we can teach our children this kind of character.
"I’m trying to demonstrate for you how important it is to teach character within the academic program," Swanson concluded. "It’s got to be a priority. It’s got to be preeminent, guys."


I appreciate the challenge Swanson raises, the question he brings to any and every Christian parent of school age children: "What is your goal? What do you want from and for your children?"

I think we all can and will benefit if we will seriously consider these questions.

I think we all--Mr. Swanson included--would say we would prefer our kids learned math and character, character and math. But the truth is, most of us--perhaps every one of us--tend[s] to stress one or the other. And the question is: Which is our priority?

And in the midst of that question, I think, Swanson knows he is poking at a nerve that will flare up for most parents--Christian or non--the moment he touches it. Because he knows that, in practice, most parents in our society follow Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the secularist society around them: We take the math and all the other academic subjects offered in our local schools and . . . Ahem! . . . Well, if our kids' character conforms to the society they keep--the unhappy, unmotivated, cynical, grouchy, complaining kids with whom they spend half their waking hours in the classroom schools that they attend . . . Well, most of us ask, . . . What else can we do?

That's the attitude of most parents, isn't it?

As I noted in my last post in this series, most parents--certainly most classroom schooling parents--seem to think they have no options. And so they stand by passively as the world around them--the students and teachers in their local public or private schools--conform their kids to their (the students' and teachers') image rather than the other way around. They let their kids' minds be "renewed" through conformity with "the world"--exactly opposite what Paul taught in Romans 12:2 ("Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind. . . .")

What I've just described, I believe, is not only of value to parents who send their kids to classroom schools. I think Swanson's example should be encouraging and helpful to a number of (especially newer) homeschoolers as well. Too many of us, I'm afraid, become so fixated on the academic content of our children's educations that we will ignore the issues of character that arise in the midst of the educational process. (Of course, it is far too easy to ignore these kinds of lessons at other times, too!)


I wouldn't say anything more than what I have just said except as a result of comments Bill Roach (president of CHEC) and Swanson (CHEC's executive director) made back in December when they and several of their cohorts from CHEC met with a number of Sonlight representatives when Sonlight was seeking to find out why CHEC had banned it from exhibiting at the CHEC convention.

As I noted in my January 31st post on that subject, it seemed to become clear during our December meeting that part of the reason CHEC no longer wants Sonlight to show at its conventions is because the decision-makers at CHEC are convinced that Sonlight features too high a proportion of books written by non-Christians. But now, based on what Swanson said at the "Men's Leadership Summit," I wonder if something else may be at work as well.

Sonlight, no question, believes and acts upon the belief--as St. Paul teaches--that "[a]ll scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16). Sonlight believes--and acts upon the belief--that Scripture memorization is a valuable discipline. The portion of Sonlight's Bible program that is built into its Core Instructor's Guides, includes weekly Scripture memorization.

But Sonlight has never declared--and I can't imagine it ever will declare--what Swansoon does: that "God wants our children to learn the Book of Proverbs" and,
"[O]ur children . . . need to know the Book of Psalms, Proverbs, the Gospels, Genesis . . . better than they know their Saxon Algebra." . . . Nor can I imagine Sonlight would suggest, as Swanson did, that any but a very select group of students would benefit from being able to identify and/or list "the Messianic Psalms, . . . the Exhortation Psalms," or "the themes of [the] 150 Psalms."

Indeed, I can imagine that such "head knowledge" could be rather damaging to a sizable group of students. It would be the very kind of knowledge that "puffs up" rather than "edifies" (1 Corinthians 8:1).


With that off my chest, let me return to Swanson's speech.


Character Training in Academics (cont'd.)
Now, it’s really interesting that Aristotle does an entire book on rhetoric. I bring up Aristotle because he is the grandpa of classical humanist education, so he does a huge book on rhetoric. I taught rhetoric through that book one time, and there’s so much lacking in that book that I don’t teach out if it much, anymore. But one of the things that’s lacking is any reference to fear and reverence and humility, and yet Peter – the apostle Peter – has one tiny little verse on rhetoric – on teaching rhetoric. He says, “Be prepared to give an answer to every man for the faith that’s within you, yet do it with meekness and fear.” [1 Peter 3:15 --JAH] He has one little verse on rhetoric. He doesn’t forget to include two very, very, very vital issues.

He says if you dare practice rhetoric; if you dare stand up and give an answer; if you dare to get involved in the activity of the exchange of information and knowledge – he says, whatever you do, make sure you don’t forget to do it in the fear of God, and in humility before man. I’ll tell you, guys, the No. 1 sin that seems to be rampant in our society today, among educated people--and I’m talking about pastors, I’m talking about classical educators, I’m talking about kids that are out there blogging, I’m talking about pseudo-smart people who are trying to argue their point on the blogosphere--I’ll tell you, the No. 1 problem I see is the problem of pride. It’s everywhere. It’s insidious, and it’s ripping apart relationships in churches. It rips apart relationships in this movement.

My guess is, there are some brothers here in this congregation, today, that need to humble themselves before God, and go to their brother and work out issues, but they can’t hardly do it because they’ve got pride in their systems.

Because we have so separated the issues of humility and fear from our academics – because I never had a college professor, in four years, I never had a seminary professor in three years, who ever said, “Kevin, it looks like you’ve got a little pride, here. I notice you’ve got some sarcasm, a little bit of pride coming through, here, as you’re attacking somebody who takes a position that’s somewhat close to you. I’m just sensing some pride because I know you. I have been with you, now, for a year; for two years; for three years. I know you and you’ve got pride, right now, creeping up and we’ve got to address that issue.”

Professors don’t do that, guys. It’s very rare, where you have relationships that are developed, such that they can do that. Once you get into high school, you get a different teacher every year, or in every class. Moreover, it’s very difficult, for teachers today, to teach character in the Algebra class. Why? Because they are not allowed to do two things: 1) hug the child; and 2) spank the child.

Now, you tell me, how in the world can we bring together a biblical concept of education – the preeminence of faith and character, in the life of a child – into a classroom, if you cannot hug and kiss a child, and you cannot spank a child, or discipline them in a biblical manner. It is impossible, but the teachers are saying, “We don’t need to do it. That’s the parents’ job. Don’t you know, since Aquinas, we have been separating humility and fear from the education of a child? We’ve not been doing that for 1,000 years. Of course, we don’t need to discipline them. Of course, we don’t need a relationship with them. Of course, we don’t need to disciple them. That’s not what we do. All we do is give them knowledge, and it’s a knowledge that puffeth up, and not a charity that edifies. [1 Corinthians 8:1 in King James English. --JAH]"

Guys, I’m telling you, this has been toxic. This has been toxic. It’s turned education, families and churches into dysfunctional units. God wants us teaching the beginning of wisdom and knowledge as the fear of God.

Six verses into the Book of Proverbs, we get the very beginning of education, and that is the fear of God – the trembling before God of the science class, and of course, the humility before men. The entire Book of Proverbs is, largely, about the faith and character. That’s what it is. God wants these principles inculcated in the lives of our children.

It’s interesting; Dr. Thomas Stanley does a book on success in America. . . . [H]e interviews 722 millionaires in America, most of whom are entrepreneurs; [and] he’d say, “Okay, what was it that made you so successful – at least, in the economic sense?” . . . Well, most of the millionaires are putting “My grades in high school,” “My Ph.D. in chemistry,” or whatever--they're putting education and academic preparation way down at the bottom – No. 22 – Factor No. 22, education and academics, not important at all, but the No. 1 factor millionaires said, “Man, this stood me in good stead in the American free marketplace.” --The No. 1 factor was, guess what? Tell the truth.

I did a statistical survey of the Book of Proverbs one time. . . . I did a Pareto chart and prioritized the lessons by how many times God mentioned them. Some of the lessons God mentions again and again and again and again. Usually, if God is gonna mention something 100 times, it’s really, really important, so you better get it down. So I did this Pareto chart, and the No. 1 most repeated lesson in the Book of Proverbs was, guess what? Tell the truth in the use of the tongue.

Then, as you go down the list of those millionaires and other things, you found out the hard work and diligence; getting along with others; self-discipline; all there – and every single one of those, of course, is preeminent in the Book of Proverbs – very important in the Book of Proverbs.

No. 5 is really interesting. I thought it was really interesting. It said the No. 5 most important priority and factor that contributed to the success of millionaires was getting a supportive spouse. So this is important. If you’re gonna be successful, you better have a spouse that supports you in this. By the way, I’ve talked to many entrepreneurs. They said, “If my wife wasn’t with me the entire distance, we would not have made it.” That’s what they said. Well, guess what shows up in the Book of Proverbs? In fact, Chapter 31 – we have an entire chapter on “her price is far above rubies."

"You’ve got to get her, son. This is what she looks like. This is your supportive spouse. Go get her.” Now, as I was reading the Tom Stanley book, I’m thinking to myself, “Wow! God picked up some things from these millionaires.”

Or maybe it was the other way around. I’m just testing your epistemology, right now.

What is your ultimate commitment, in terms of authority? Why didn’t we go with the Book of Proverbs, from the beginning? Did you have to buy the Dr. Thomas Stanley book before you actually went out and did what God wanted you to do? Come on, guys; let’s just take it at face value and go with it.

The other principle of life integration is really similar – very important, I think, in the education of a child because it’s also in the Word of God. James, Chapter 1, is very clear: "Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only. If anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he’s like a man who looks himself in the mirror, and straightaway forgets what manner of man he was."

I really didn't expect to say anything more here, at the end of my post. What's not to like about Swanson's talk so far? It's good, isn't it? Solid. Biblical. Who is going to complain about a preacher who calls us to trust in God's Word and do it? --That's biblical, isn't it?


And I don't want to complain about any exhortation to hear God's Word, believe it, and obey.

And yet.

And yet.

There is something in what Swanson said there, at the end of this section--about Stanley's book--that triggered something in my heart.

I had been uncomfortable, earlier, as Swanson referenced the Proverbs about a lion in the street and a slothful hunter. When, at the end of this section, he went on implicitly to mock anyone who might hesitate to apply the Proverbs until they saw Stanley's book, I think I was able, finally, to put my finger on what, exactly, made me uncomfortable.

Swanson said,
Now, as I was reading the Tom Stanley book, I’m thinking to myself, “Wow! God picked up some things from these millionaires.”

Or maybe it was the other way around. I’m just testing your epistemology, right now.

What is your ultimate commitment, in terms of authority? Why didn’t we go with the Book of Proverbs, from the beginning? Did you have to buy the Dr. Thomas Stanley book before you actually went out and did what God wanted you to do? Come on, guys; let’s just take it at face value and go with it.
Reality: Most of us nowadays don't face lions in the street. Far fewer American men hunt than don't. So most of us can hardly imagine what these proverbs should look like in real life. We can't imagine how they would have looked and felt to the original readers much less how they ought to look in practice to those of us who live in modern America today. It's just not that easy to read a more-or-less 3,000-year-old text and "take it at face value and go with it."

My point: I'm not convinced it's an epistemological question or question of authority so much as it is a practical question and a question of interpretation. How shall we apply Scriptures that speak of lions in the street and slothful hunters?

As Francis Schaeffer expressed it in the title of one of his books: "How shall we then live" . . . in today's society?


Postscript: I hope, in the next few days, to share a little "lion in the street" experience I've been facing over the last many years . . . and the "solutions" I've adopted over the years with greater and lesser degrees of success.

Next post in this series: CHEC "Men's Leadership Summit" - "Homeschooling - Capturing the Vision," Part II (Keep the PURPOSE in Mind).
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