Peer Pressure

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)

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  1. jdavidb
    Posted July 19, 2005 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Very worthwhile observations, both about the specifics of not assuming academic success precludes spiritual character, and about the more general problem of flitting around being blown over by every idea we hear.

    There are a lot of false dichotomies in the homeschooling community. Wasn’t so long ago I said something about my children probably learning to read by about age 3 and was immediately told that my children would miss playing in the dirt! That’s actually a very strangely common reaction. (I think I heard some comments about building spiritual character instead, too.)

    I guess people don’t think I know how to give a child a happy childhood and start him on the path toward reading by age 3, despite the fact that that’s exactly what happened to both me and my brother, in the same way that people don’t think Sarah can homeschool her children, despite the fact that that’s exactly what happened to her and her sisters. Even if we had picked up no insight at all from our own upbringings about how to reproduce these things in the lives of our own children, surely we could at least ask our parents, who somehow figured it out.

    I didn’t actually know any real Christian people who cared about high test scores but didn’t care if their children have integrity.

    In other words, this was pursuing a straw man. :)

    Was there ever any reason to suppose that algebra made liars out of people?

    Don’t underestimate the depths of the hatred some people have for math. Yes, to some people, it really is literally evil. It’s beyond mathophobia. It’s an active dislike and distrust of those who are able to do it.

    People who feel that way deep down inside, even if they don’t acknowledge it or recognize that’s silly, probably don’t want to inspire their children to excel at math.

    Some people just distrust learning in general, or science or education or big cities. It’s always been very interesting to me to be introduced to preach somewhere and hear someone say, “David is a fine young man; you know, some people let education ruin them, but David has been to college and he’s still a faithful Christian,” as if that were somehow an anomoly.

    So yes I do think for some people there’s an emotional but maybe not explicitly reasoned connection in their gut that quietly tells them to equate math knowledge with a lack of general “goodness.”

  2. Headmistress, zookeeper
    Posted July 19, 2005 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    If the discussion about teaching your child to read when he is three is the discussion that I saw, I still don’t think you are accurately representing the opposing point of view.

    About hating math, I have seen a rather strange person online argue that math above a certain level (I think calculus and up, but I don’t recall for certain) is witchcraft. Of course, she thought that was a good thing, so she didn’t hate it. But it’s true that many of us who suffered the ‘new math’ never did learn to understand it, and people hate what they do not understand.

  3. jdavidb
    Posted July 19, 2005 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    If the discussion about teaching your child to read when he is three is the discussion that I saw, I still don’t think you are accurately representing the opposing point of view.

    I’ll concede that I may have misperceived the discussion at the time or may be misremembering it now.

  4. Headmistress, zookeeper
    Posted July 19, 2005 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    Samantha! You’re welcome to ask my advice ‘sometime soon,’ but I warn you, my best advice is always unsolicited.:-P

  5. Samantha
    Posted July 19, 2005 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    Heheheheehee! Email me some surprise advice!

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