Published with Permission
Written by Leigh Bortins
I am in a season of deep thinking about the future of my two youngest sons. My husband and I have a different plan for our two youngest sons than we had for our older sons. When our oldest two children graduated high school, we had been part of the generation of homeschool pioneers. We had tried something radically new, and we were so excited that it had worked! As we sent them off to state institutions of higher education, we did it with great confidence that we had prepared them well for the logical next step in a young person’s life.
Over a decade later, as our two younger sons approach graduation, we have different thoughts. Rob and I are wondering why we would work so hard to give them a solidly Christian education for so many years and then turn them over to secular institutions. Can’t we find an option that serves our mission and vision? In my book Echo in Celebration, I wrote that the final end of a classical, Christian education is doxology. Echoing in celebration is the obvious response to learning more about our Lord through His creation. Shouldn’t our higher education plans serve this mission?
As Christians, we live in constant tension. The Lord commands us to be in the world, but not of the world. One of the ways people have responded to this tension has been to homeschool their children. Christian homeschoolers have rejected the thought that our children can be vivisected into parts—the soul for the church, the mind for the state school, and the body for juvenile pleasures. Instead, we have claimed each child wholly for Christ. Nonetheless, each beloved child inevitably approaches adulthood, and then the question of what to do after homeschooling looms large.
People constantly ask my son what college he is going to go to or what he will study in college, as though the tension is gone. I have realized that my husband and I succumbed to pride as we marched our eldest two into the university system. We had proven that homeschooling worked, because our boys got into selective state universities with honors and scholarships. I pray your children have done as well and can receive the same accolades; yet, ten years later, we will not make the same decision for our youngest two sons.
Do not mistake my comments as an assault on higher education or the academy. We financially support good Christian colleges and universities that are trying to escape the secular mold of education. I am not saying that no one in our family will ever go to college. I am saying we will not go for the wrong reasons: because of pride or to jump through hoops or because it is the “expected” thing to do or because we just have to do “something” after high school. We should do all things in order to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. It seems that people rarely send their children to college to further the cause of Christ, especially those students who are expected to enter a profession. When my sons can comfortably say, “I’m going to college to sit at the feet of a Godly man who loves the same things I love,” we may then be on our way to a Christian paradigm for higher learning.
For now, most of us send our children to college to acquire job skills. They have to eat, after all. But how is that going? Have you paid any attention to the news? College graduates are angry over the lack of jobs and underemployment. Leaders in economics are warning parents not to send their children to college. Forbes, USA Today, and other periodicals have discussed the poor ROI (return on investment) for a college education today. Peter Thiel, a hedge fund manager, started a program that pays students to go straight to work instead of going to college. Timothy Ferris’s bestseller, The 4-Hour Workweek, is full of alternative education and career ideas. Sebastian Thrun, a Stanford research professor and Google guru, co-founded an online private educational organization, Udacity, which offers free classes to students around the globe. We all know the stories of Silicon Valley leaders who left college in order to work. For a while, college will still provide opportunities to earn more income for average graduates. But I believe my children aren’t average. They are heirs of Christ and are expected to pursue Him. The income will follow.
In light of this, what are some Christian alternatives? I have a short list of colleges I would be willing to send my boys to, but first I want to make sure I am thinking Christ’s thoughts and not the world’s thoughts.
What could we do if there was no such thing as a university? Would we just abandon our children’s passions, Christ’s calling, or the need to feed our families? Of course not. We would find a way. We may start a true college—a place where a few colleagues work together to further a passion. Dad may train the children in his profession. The local doctor may apprentice our child in her profession. Our innovative children may start a new service industry. Our pastors may host a seminary at the local church. The local mechanic or IT expert may hold weekly classes. Maybe we would start raising bees and fruit trees and broccoli in the backyard. We may learn to depart from Thoreau’s “mass of men leading lives of quiet desperation.”
Has college become the easy way out of real discipleship? Are medicine, engineering, and policy-making no longer thought of as disciplines? Could this be part of the problem? It is revealing that we live in a time when it is almost forbidden for a father to expect a son to follow in his footsteps (except in the case of attending Dad’s alma mater). If we loved our professions, we would want others to love our professions.
Herein lies one of our problems: We no longer value amateurs. The root word for amateur is the Latin word amare, which means “to love.” Professionals do things for financial compensation; amateurs do things for love. Ironically, if you do what you love, you often find you are getting paid. So why aren’t our fathers teaching their children the disciplines of their trade? Is it because they don’t really love their work? Do they work to feed their families because they love them? If they love their families so much, than why are divorce rates so high? Why are more than half the babies born in the U.S. born to single mothers? If this is what careers and professional workplaces have done to the family, I am pretty sure I want my boys being trained by a different system.
I know that those of you reading this have husbands who do sacrifice their passions for the sake of their families. I also know you are a minority, trying to preserve a way of life that seems impossible. I believe we can recast the vision for our culture, re-visioning work as a calling—a vocation—learned predominantly through discipleship. However, we cannot recast the vision in old wine skins. I want my sons to love their work. I want them to love it so much that they can’t wait for their families to join them.
I also remember the tension. Work is often . . . well, work . . . unpleasant, tedious, go-do-it-so-I-can-get-to-the-good-stuff work. In addition, some adults may work in an environment that is unsafe for apprentices. Or they may have deadlines to meet and the kids just aren’t welcome that day. My husband’s career was so stressful that he couldn’t talk about it when he got home. Many doctors are telling their children to avoid the medical profession. Small business owners are drowning under government regulations. Lawyers tell their children to be paralegals so they can have time for family life.
I am glad my family escaped the system when we chose to homeschool. I am glad we have children who trust the future to their family, the community, and the Lord. I am no longer interested in thrusting them right back into the world’s definition of success. I am excited that my family still conceives of a future in a land of opportunity rather than a place in which we constantly worry about a safety net. I can’t wait to see where the Lord leads us as we pursue a legacy, a heritage, and a passion that includes generations.
Leigh A. Bortins is author of the recently published book The Core: Teaching Your Child the Foundations of Classical Education. In addition, Ms. Bortins is the founder and CEO of Classical Conversations, Inc. and host of the weekly radio show, Leigh! At Lunch. She lectures about the importance of home education nationwide. She lives with her family in West End, North Carolina. To learn more, visit her website, www.classicalconversations.com, or her blog, www.1smartmama.com.
Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the December 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.