Educationhistory of educationHomeschooling

Self-Discipline: A Misunderstanding


“They need to learn discipline.”

I’ve often heard this given as the reason why children must endure a heavy workload in the name of education. In fact, there was a time when I said similar words myself, specifically when I wanted my kids to persevere through curriculum that wasn’t a great fit (and no curriculum ever is). I understand that it’s easier for homeschoolers to be footloose and fancy-free during the primary years; attention spans are short and skills are limited so we have an excuse to be creative. Once a child learns to read, however, the fun and games come to an end. Along with that, the freedom and flexibility once touted as the “perks of homeschooling” begin to fall away.


Why the change?

Well, it’s time to get serious. It’s time to practice following directions and learn how to push through tedious situations. After all, children will one day have to work long days and submit to the authority of a boss.



While there is truth in this, it sounds to me like we’re training up worker bees rather than uniquely-made individuals, minions rather than independent leaders.

Why not prepare our children to be bosses?


Of course, whether our children become employers or employees isn’t the issue here. What matters to this conversation is the fact that discipline in learning has come to mean quantity over quality. With the demands of 6 (or more) subjects piled before our older students, quality suffers and so does morale. I can think of many occasions in our journey when the only encouragement I could offer my kids was a pep-talk on character-building. …we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope (Romans 5:3b-4). And yet, while there are many forms of suffering through which we must persevere, I’m certain God is referring to tests of faith and not tests in math.


Now, don’t misunderstand me—the pursuit of knowledge and the good use of time are very important indeed. Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Ephesians 5:15-17). The Bible does contains plenty of references to teaching and instruction, however none of them command us to school our children the way we do. God never advises us to establish schools or professional teachers, nor does He endorse a particular method, curriculum, or approach.


What scripture does give us is a teaching example in the life of Christ, and it’s quite different from what we see in education. Schooling as we know it is a human invention, although that in itself is not a problem. God doesn’t speak in favor of schools, but He doesn’t speak against them, either. The trouble we face lies in the schools we’ve created for we designed them to disregard God and glorify man!


It’s the classic Man vs. God battle for control…

How do I know this? Well, it’s recorded history—simply consider the not-so-subtle wishes expressed by the Rockefeller-funded General Education Board (key players in the creation of standardized schooling in the U.S.):

We shall, on the contrary, take the child from the hand of God, the crown and glory of His creative work, by Him pronounced good, and by Jesus blessed.  We shall seize the restless activities of his body and mind, and instead of repressing them, we shall stimulate those activities, as the natural forces of growth in action.

(The Occasional Papers, No. 1, pg. 10).


And this is just one example, one small section of a much larger picture.


Without God’s counsel, mankind decided what, why, when, how, and for how long our children would be schooled. Without seeking guidance, mankind established our scope and sequence and wrote the curriculum we use to deliver it.


Of course, there’s always Christian curriculum…

Well, that is true. However, most Christian textbook publishers apply the same teaching philosophies and formulaic methods as secular schooling. It’s Christian add-ons to a man-made foundation. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. (Colossians 2:8). So, although subjects are taught from a Christian worldview, the programs themselves are mind-heavy and structured to fill buckets not light fires.


As I experienced it, the “children need to learn discipline” justification comes from a place of fear. It’s a throwing up of hands, a last-straw attempt to get results when our curriculum fails to motivate or inspire. It’s thinking we have to keep up with schools, or even surpass them, if our children are to be successful in the future (as if our their futures were determined by man rather than God).  And just like the “children thrive in routine” assertion (see that discussion here), it all sounds perfectly logical so no one bothers to question its truth. After all, the experts have spoken and who are we (minions) to disagree? Instead, we repeat these mantras to ourselves as we overload childhoods with dull and excessive work. We say it’s in their best interest so they should just do it (with a good attitude, no less). And yet, without God at the center, profound and joyful learning can be hard to come by.


For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of his saints. Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path; for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul; (Proverbs 2:6-10)



Don’t kids need to learn how to read, write, and compute accurately? Don’t they need a solid knowledge of the world. its people, and technology?

Yes, they do! But, this can be achieved in a variety of ways above and beyond standardized schooling. Homeschooler are in the perfect position to seize those opportunities.


Don’t children need to learn to persevere through tough situations?

Absolutely! And, again, this can be done well (if not better) through a million different activities in just as many environments.


Should our kids  spend their youth being drilled, tested, and steeped in bottomless pools of data? Should this be done at the expense of time spent with God in His creation, participation in the duties of community and family, and the development of the person God created us to be?

I think not.


If anything, I hope this post will prompt some serious thought and prayer about “what” and “why” we do what we do. It can be difficult to free ourselves from a lifetime of school training to connect with God. But when we do, the Holy Spirit is there ready to open our eyes, and we’ll discover that deep, rich, long-lasting, and relevant learning will happen even without a study guide.



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