Legalism in the Homeschool

Teaching a one-room schoolhouse is not just a job – it’s an incessant mental workout, plotting, overseeing, and enabling the intellectual pursuits of multiple children simultaneously while clarifying my own motives and methods for doing so.  Mothers can be a bit insecure holding the future in their hands and incessantly look for clear direction.  It would be really nice if there were a manual to follow which would guarantee well-rounded adults.  I found a really viable one once, but couldn’t afford it.  That frustrated me.  But I saw recently that many of its graduates are now hopelessly mired in hypocrisy, torn by an inability to be true to their professions of faith and morality.  I cannot imagine the parents’ remorse as they hear that their students feel cheated of the truth.

I’m sensing that this curriculum, like every other one I’ve seen, was incomplete.  Children need to understand the Law and the Gospel.  I was raised with plenty of Gospel mercy and very little Law to give a reason for Jesus’ death and resurrection.  My biggest problem has been an inability to define sin.  The students I saw in that program had the absolute truth about sin, but no redemption from it.  I didn’t see that then.

I just knew I was winging it and was really dissatisfied with my progress.  The irritating little girl in the sandbox angrily threw sand into her mate’s face while yelling, “Sorry, Molly, I didn’t mean to do that!”  loud enough so Mommy heard her.  I was humiliated to see it was my own child.

Homeschooling seems to have a special knack for breeding legalism, which, according to Webster, is the “literal and usually too strict adherence to the letter of the law.”  Yep, that would be my little Pharisee.  In my quest to produce Rhodes scholars, I’ve drilled rules into them.  Any failure rests on my shoulders, and I am plagued with doubts:  “I must be lazy or using the wrong organizer; something I’m doing isn’t working!  These kids are smart, but I’m too inexperienced for the job.”   There is no going back.  The serious Christian has no business sending her children to government schools if the truth be told.  Separation of church and state, you know. 

“A Day in the Life” articles show others achieving everything God apparently requires:  Socratic method, elementary Hebrew, plane Geometry, and concert violin are all taught to umpteen well-mannered children in a well appointed home.   The goals themselves were way beyond me.  I threw my hands in the air and told the world to go to hell.  Or something like that.  I’m certainly not making it, so I guess we’re all doomed.  I obviously don’t have what it takes to be an educator and a chosen one simultaneously.  The call I heard to do this, not to mention the Christianity that invoked it, was a sham – and it was high time I admitted it.  Honestly.   I have always said that where God puts a lamb He will also provide the pasture, but I had obviously missed something.  Everything I stood for was crashing around me and my flock.   I took the summer off.

I read Scripture and prayed.  Not the “Hallowed be Thy Name” kind of prayer – the “What the hell’s going on here?” and the “What do you want from me, God?” kinds of prayer.   Prayer becomes very powerful when you finally get honest with God.  I found out I was right – what I’d professed was a sham.  What Jesus taught and the Christianity I practiced bore no resemblance to each other.  My faith was badly warped.

In seeking the perfect curriculum and implementation, I’d been combing Scripture for which rules to uphold, never seeing the real good news.  (Who’s the Pharisee?)  “When our salvation is based upon something WE do rather than what GOD does, eventually a person will grow disillusioned, frustrated, and spiritually suicidal.”  I wish I’d read these anonymous words years ago, but I had to experience them for myself.  The same writer went on:  “…true freedom doesn’t come from moral behavior, but rather by complete abandon to the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

But how to teach my children the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy  6:6-7) while pointing to Christ like John the Baptist (John 3:30)?  They need to know the rules so they know how awesome the pardon is.   Rules broad enough to apply to everyday life will never address the situation at hand, however.  I can’t look to these rules as a checklist of what to do.  That’s not their purpose.  The purpose is to show us how frightfully inadequate we are to live up to the standards so that we will look for help from our Creator.  And His work is already finished.

I see now that this was because I kept thinking that everything depended on what we should do, for when I saw so little of true repentance and victory over sin, helplessness crept into my heart. I counted and summed up all that they did  [to clean up their act], and not the smallest percentage of debt was paid. But now I see that which is done, and  I see that the whole debt is paid. Now therefore I go about my duties as might a prison warden who carries in his pocket a letter of pardon for all  his criminals.  (Bo Giertz, The Hammer of God)

Not that my school is a prison.  Good grief.  But the children are human, just like me.   Christopher Columbus said,  “I am a most noteworthy sinner, but I have cried out to the Lord for grace and mercy, and they have covered me completely. I have found the sweetest consolation since I made it my whole purpose to enjoy His marvelous Presence.”

When I cried out to the Lord for help and stayed on the floor until He provided, I found the secret.  Those prayers I utter in the morning are more important than the lessons I spout in the afternoon.   Inspiration – breathing in the breath of God – is what brings everything else together.  Until I see the joy of Christ’s resurrection and what it means to me, I can drive the children all day and they’ll never go.  But they will catch my fascination with my Savior if it is real.   The curriculum becomes just a medium to work with on the way to mastery of everything in God’s world as we seek to know and understand Him together.

The frustrations we encounter turn out to be pointers redirecting our steps, gifts to be welcomed.

Kara Murphy, creator of Organic Homeschooling, sums up my point perfectly:  “If Satan can keep us in constant turmoil about what method or curriculum to use, he can keep our focus away from the most important work of discipling our children. Don’t fall into his trap. Renew your mind by the washing of the Word and move forward, confident of the work that Jesus Christ is doing in you and your children.”

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.   (Proverbs 3:5-6, NKJV)

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