Last time I ended with this statement: “The question is simply what kind of education to provide, where and how to provide it.” The discussion of “unschooling” led me to point out that there really is not anyone–at least not anyone who is mentally competent, I guess–who really believes that a child should be allowed to do whatever he or she wants. After all, this could easily lead to very dangerous behavior. I may want to allow my child to learn about electricity when he decides he is interested, but I also, as his parent, have the responsibility to protect him from what he does not know. I would not allow him to stick a fork into an electrical outlet in order to learn about electricity. Instead, because I know something that he does not know, and the information that I possess and he does not could seriously affect his health, I will protect him from his ignorance and educate him about the dangers of inserting a fork into an outlet. So, in this instance, the answer to the question would be to provide the education in a very direct, firm and proactive manner, probably at home, and probably as soon as my son is old enough and inquisitive enough to consider sticking a fork–or any other object–into an electrical outlet.
Most parents who are supportive of the idea of unschooling would, of course, agree with the points I made about not allowing children to literally do whatever they want. I stretched the point to its logical conclusion in order to emphasize that words and ideas have consequences, and it is dangerous to use words like “whatever” casually. At the same time, many of those parents likely do feel that their child(ren) should be able to explore academic subjects according to their own interest, at their own pace, and for the duration of their own choosing.
Even this, though, is contrary to biblical instruction, I believe. Perhaps the most well-known instruction in Scripture for parents is Proverbs 22:6, which reads, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (ESV). I have heard, as you probably have, several different interpretations of what this verse means. Probably the most common is the suggestion that the instruction to “train up” means, in the original language, “to create a taste for.” It is the idea of placing a small amount of something on the palate of a baby’s mouth to cause the child to want it. By instilling the taste for what is right and true the parent will train up the child. Dr. Bill Rice III has suggested that the verse refers to the same principle as aiming and shooting an arrow–parents have the responsibility to aim the arrow at the right target, to pull the bow string back with the appropriate amount of force, etc., in order to ensure that the arrow hits the target. Either way, what these interpretations have in common is the conviction that there is, in fact, a difference between right and wrong, wholesome and unwholesome, righteous and worldly, and it is the God-given responsibility of the parent to set the child on the right path.
Another oft-cited passage that directs parents in their responsibility to educate their children is found in Deuteronomy 6:6-7, which reads, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, 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” (ESV). This passage doesn’t leave room for varying interpretations; it is clearly God commanding parents to teach His statutes and laws to their children. This passage also makes it abundantly clear that this is not a one-and-done kind of responsibility; parents cannot just teach these to their children once. Neither can they just ensure that their children get to church every week and trust that this will meet the requirement. No, God instructs parents to teach their children diligently (meaning with intent and persistence), and to do it all the time–at home and while out, while walking, while resting, and while working.
Neither the verse in Proverbs or the passage in Deuteronomy leave room for parents to let children do their own thing. In fact, Scripture also makes it clear, in many passages, that each and every human being has a sin nature, and it is not mankind’s natural desire to love, please or honor God. Accordingly, letting children do their own thing is a clear and less-offensive way of suggesting that it’s okay for parents to let their children explore their own sinful tendencies.
I have (I think) sufficiently explained why it is not okay for parents to abandon their children’s education to the wish and whim of the children. But that still leaves plenty of room for discussion about exactly what kind of education children should receive. Specifically, it raises the question of worldview. And that will be addressed next time.