Adult peer pressure definitely exists, doesn’t it? It is no less strong in the homeschooling community. We worry about what others think of us, we worry that they disapprove of what we are doing, and so we change our approach (although sometimes, I think we put the pressure on ourselves, perceiving disapproval where none exists. I know I’ve done that).
At any rate, doing something merely for the approval of men is never really a wise motivation, is it? We end up comparing ourselves to ourselves, and this is always a mistake. Religious homeschoolers get it on both sides, it seems. We feel pressured from one side towards success in college, on test scores, and kind of out-performing everybody else on the SAT. We all know about the problems with that- or we think we do- because we’ve all heard homeschooling gurus talk about the problems with letting an emphasis on academics get out of balance.
But I have also seen we receive a lot of pressure from another side to ignore those things, and instead attain high spiritual standards. The problem with this side is that it assumes a false either/or choice. Spiritual growth is definitely more important than academic growth, but I do not believe the two things are quite so exclusive of one another as is sometimes implied. I believe that while academic excellence, profiency in algebra, high test scores, etc, are never worthy substitutes for character, integrity, and that all important relationship with the Father, neither are they necessarily mutually exclusive.
I was guilty of this kind of illogical reasoning myself several years ago, but once I paused to consider it, I realized that even though I had talked a lot about how much more important spiritual maturity was, I didn’t actually know any real Christian people who cared about high test scores but didn’t care if their children have integrity. I was tilting at a windmill, because it’s quite possible, even likely, to care about both. In fact, I would argue that to disdain academics can actually indicate spiritual flaws and hinder spiritual growth.
But we’ve often had our academic goals dismissed or pushed aside by people who would ask, for instance, what profit a man’s soul if he knows algebra, but is dishonest? Why doesn’t it occur to more of us to wonder why algebra would have anything to do with leading a child into dishonesty? Was there ever any reason to suppose that algebra made liars out of people?
We’ve been homeschooling since 1988. Through the years we’ve watched different fads sweep through the hsing community. For a few years there was a lot of pressure to kind of prove ourselves to the public schooling world by outperforming them on all test scores and in all academic subjects, while (maybe) other things were pushed to the back of the burner. In response to that, perhaps, there now has come a big sweep the other direction. Or perhaps it’s a response coming from those who just do not want to make an academic effort and wish to feel better about it, I don’t know. One of the phrases we hear a lot is burn out- too much emphasis on academics, and you all burn out quickly. Perhaps. It’s true that getting out of balance in either direction quickly makes life a burden.
I think the real problem is doing something, anything, because it’s what other people
think we should do rather than because we believe in ourselves it’s the best thing to do. That will cause anybody to grow weary quickly. So some people will be burned out trying to keep up high academic standards, and some people will be equally burned out trying to maintain a version of spirituality that isn’t even found in the Bible because that’s what they think other people expect of them. In either case, the real problem is not necessarily the goal itself, but the source of our motivation, the reason we had for choosing one goal over another (and the reason we have for thinking it’s even necessary. I think academic excellence is a natural outgrowth of spiritual growth). When we’re trying to do what other people think we should do without really considering what _we_ understand God calls us to do, we find the destination constantly shifting, now out of sight, now closer, suddenly further away, and we’re like the man in James, tossed on the seas by every wind of doctrine, in this case, homeschooling doctrine. We can never
measure up to what we presume are somebody else’s expectations, whether they are spiritual or academic goals.
The currently prevailing trend in many hsing circles seems to be to presume we must choose between loving each other and living a full life in Christ OR furthering academic schools. I think we should be careful not to accept this false dichotomy and insist on either/or choices that are not mutually exclusive.
More importantly, I think we need to look carefully to ourselves, and make sure that our hsing choices are not determined by peer pressure, whether that pressure is real or merely perceived, and regardless of whether the goal itself is worthy or not.
(Update: date and time changed because I initially accidentally posted this so that it got bumped to the top all day long)