Nanaโ€™s 19th-century Family BibleRegular readers of this blog (and of others where I’ve left comments) know that we homeschool our kids and also that while I support teaching religions in schools I’m not so keen on teaching “The Bible.” (I have a feeling this could be a longish post. You are forewarned. ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) And now, suddenly, I’m confronted with the necessity of choosing a homeschool curriculum that includes, of course, “The Bible,” for my second-grader.

Homeschool parents know that the three big clearing houses for educational supplies and curricula are Evangelical and/or Fundamentalist in orientation. Some of them, such as Bob Jones Press (representing the Fundamentalist wing), write their own stuff. Logos is another one that is very focused in its stuff, not necessarily following the Fundamentalist curriculum (it does not, in fact) but in its very particular conservative Reformed/Providential emphasis. Logos does not market itself as a “home school clearinghouse” so much as it does its “classical-Christian” educational program, but with a decidedly conservative evangelical slant toward providential history and historical biblicism. The third, and biggest, player here is Veritas Press. Officially, Veritas is “unaffiliated,” and they carry everything from Penguin Classics to classical apologetics. It is, however, very much an Evangelical outfit that places the Bible at the center of its educational philosophy and markets its material specifically for Christian schools and for Christian homeschools.

So, here’s my dilemma, and it is largely the same dilemma I have with the idea of teaching the Bible in public schools. The reason why I can’t support teaching Bible in public schools is primarily because in the public, government supported schools, the curriculum is written and backed by the state, which would be tantamount to officially endorsing, in fact officially creating, a state-sponsored, official interpretation of the Bible. Not only would this be unconstitutional, but, especially in the current political climate and in the US’s role in the global economy, it would be especially dangerous and undesirable. No thanks.

Even supposing that such a curriculum could be written that was as value-neutral and non-sectarian as humanly (heck, even divinely) possible, there is the issue of Who is going to teach this? What criteria of qualification to teach the Bible in a public school will satisfy the parents and students? It simply won’t work. Churches can’t even agree on a Bible curriculum. Fundamentalist parents would never permit their kids to be taught Bible by a biblical scholar of any denomination that isn’t Fundamentalist in its outlook no matter how conservative or pious that scholar might be. Evangelicals committed to an Evangelical worldview and interpretation of the Bible would be only slightly more accepting of the same figure. But even here it would be rather out of the question to accept a completely secular Bible teacher who is unaffiliated with any church and/or trained in a “secular” university. Mainline Protestants, as well as students whose families are not committed to any flavor of Christianity (to say nothing of Jewish or Muslim students) will reject a bible teacher from Bob Jones or Liberty. It goes both ways.

This brings us back to “Christian schools” and “Christian” homeschools and the curriculum. Christian schools largely arose in reaction to political decisions to not include (or no longer include) Bible in the public school curriculum. Over time, these schools became the training grounds for kids (again, see yesterday’s post) to combat rising tides of secularism and moral deficiency in the broader American culture, and the solution to this in Evangelicalism has been “more Bible!” and, especially in Fundamentalist schools, hyper-isolationism. So the schools continued to emphasize the centrality of the Bible in every aspect of the curriculum, and the curriculum for the Bible became the centerpiece of the entire endeavor. But here the problem is fully illustrated; the only Bible curricula out there for primary and secondary education are defined, written, supported, and distributed by Evangelical or Fundamentalist clearing houses and distributors like CBD, Veritas Press, Logos, and Bob Jones. It may not be the State, but the impression is that if you’re going to do Christian ed, you have to do it this way or it’s not Christian. There are, of course, much smaller places that do in fact have more mainline Bible curricula, but these are primarily geared towards Sunday Schools and not for large-scale, institutional Evangelical primary and secondary education.

For those of us who homeschool, who are Christian, and who are (at best) highly suspicious of the Evangelical agenda and of its particular spin on history and biblical interpretation, this creates an ethical dilemma. Indeed, homeschool teachers, by definition amateurs in most of the subjects in the curriculum (if not completely ignorant!) are more or less at the mercy of the defined curriculum they settle on, or, if done in a local cooperative network, on whatever the board of directors settles on. If you as the parent of a homeschooled child do not agree with the cooperative’s adopted curriculum for the Bible component, or don’t like the choices available to do it on your own, and lack the competency (or the time) to draw up your own curriculum, well, good luck to you.

As someone who emphasizes the need for local, community-oriented education and economy and who tries to resist our dependencies on large-scale, institutionalized forms of education and economics (see some of my earlier posts), homeschooling is perhaps the best option we have. Part of good stewardship is being a good steward to our children, and not simply to our land our our heritage. Small, local cooperative networks of homeschooling has tremendous potential to offer an education to our kids that advocates the kind of ethical education that is lacking elsewhere. It is, by necessity, local community oriented. However, I have not seen this, despite its potential. From what I can see, homeschooling goes either in the direction of individualism, whereby individual families insulate their kids from anything that could contaminate the indoctrination they are giving their kids, while coopting the word “education” in the process. Or it takes the approach of parochialism, where similar and largely like-minded homeschool parents band together in a kind of wagon circle to protect what’s inside from outside influences, including the influences of “formal education” that Christian schools have adopted from public schools. In such groups, I’ve learned from experience that it’s their way, or the highway. Their Bible curriculum is nothing short of the gospel, as defined by the experts in Christian education. Take it … or leave it. This isn’t local, community oriented education at this point. It’s ghettoizing indoctrination.

Now, I’m a classical historian, a biblical scholar, and historian of religions by training, was “brought-up-born-again,” an active member of a left-leaning mainline suburban church, and a certified lay minister in my denomination. Beloved wife is a former public school elementary teacher, private tutor, current Sunday school teacher, church elder, and chair of the children’s ed committee at said church, and she’s also a leader in our local SBC evangelical church’s MOPS and AWANA groups. If ever there should be a couple who could figure out a good history and Bible curriculum for kids, we’re it. What might this look like?

I don’t know yet, but we’re working on it. In the next few days, maybe, look for a post on some criteria that such a curriculum might contain. And as always, I’m happy to take suggestions.