The first part of this article offered some examples of questions that I believe need to be asked and answered about keeping home education records. In contemplating those questions, homeschooling families can come to understand the purposes and principles behind the record keeping and this will help them devise the best approaches to formalizing those records for future use. This second part of the series continues to examine the importance of clarifying the goals of record keeping.
The standard answers to the WHY questions about record keeping, and the ones I frequently encounter from homeschooling parents, are often utilitarian and consist of two common responses. The first is that we keep records for the government, which has our society’s regulatory oversight in education. We know that we are required by the states in which we live (whose laws vary concerning home education) to keep different kinds of records and meet minimum requirements to legally exercise our constitutional rights to homeschool according to our consciences. The second is that we want our children to be able to go on to higher education or to obtain employment that will ask them to demonstrate that they have completed certain requirements concerning basic knowledge and skills.
All of the above are fine and good. Of course, we need to follow the laws of the states in which we live (that alone is generally a good, godly principle). We need to determine what our students must accomplish so that we fulfill not just our obligations to them as precious individuals whom we are tasked to raise but to society as well. And, of course, we need to equip them to be capable citizens who care for themselves as well as others, and work towards not just their own private aspirations but the good of their communities.
Virtually everyone who walks the homeschooling path would readily acknowledge these things. However—and this is a BIG however—classical, Christian educators are uniquely privileged to be able to actively seek and bring to completion more than just what is pragmatically required. We are even privileged to pursue far more than what the world considers “success” (usually hastily, and often vaguely, defined as a financially secure job and/or some degree of fame).
These pragmatic requirements are not what I, as a classical, Christian educator, think of as “maximums”– they are not the highest goals to work towards (this does not of course make them unimportant, just not the most important). These are the “minimums” that society and government have set to attempt to maintain a status quo of comfort and affluence, security and stability—the general state of well-being that our Declaration of Independence proudly proclaims: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
I believe that the standards for education established by our government leaders, as well as the expectations of our country’s citizens, laudably stem from this extraordinary Declaration, in the hopes of achieving those unalienable rights, but I know these standards are not the “maximums”; they are not the highest goals we might be setting. They are the “minimums” that we would all want to meet and then, especially as classical, Christian educators, strive to go beyond.
While these rights are among the highest mankind can seek, the standards set by our government system are not themselves the highest standards; they are simply the gradient points an egalitarian society has set as its minimal goals in the hopes of achieving those rights for as many people as possible as often as possible.
I want to be clear that I am not dismissive of such a goal, or of the practical things we must do. We have to eat. We want to be healthy. We seek fellowship with others in community. We desire a well governed, prosperous, safe world in which to live. We wish to use our talents to serve others. All these things, and much more, require the steady completion of utilitarian tasks, in education as well as in all other areas of life. And in doing these things we can often achieve a certain basic standard of well-being and happiness. But how much more well-being and happiness can be achieved when we seek to fulfill not just the minimum practical milestones but also actively pursue the “maximums,” the things that are excellent? The things that reach for truth, goodness, and beauty? Don’t we desire to raise not just citizens who are dutiful and obedient, but citizens who walk rightly and inspire others along similar paths? Don’t we want to raise not just individuals who are successful in their own lives but who are truly salt and light?
While we work towards the “minimums” of the present world, pragmatically taking steps to meet our obligations and work towards our goals, our aim truly is beyond this world, isn’t it? We are “in” this world, but we are “of” another world. Take time to contemplate what that excellence looks like. Do not simply acquiesce to the “minimums” of our society’s educational record keeping standards, but seek to discover truth, goodness, and beauty.
C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity that:
“If you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven…Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither…Most of us find it difficult to want ‘Heaven’ at all….One reason for this difficulty is that we have not been trained: our whole education tends to fix our minds on this world.”
Here we arrive at the crux of the matter: as classical, Christian educators we have the opportunity, privilege, and I would even say the responsibility, to fix our minds on Heaven, and to train our children to do the same. In a nutshell, and to use my terms: as we aim for the “maximums,” we will get the “minimums” thrown in for good measure.
So, what are some principles we can use as classical, Christian educators when we approach record keeping? Secular education reduces record keeping to academic course titles, grade point averages, credits, and standardized test scores. Those are all “minimums.” They are in fact readily produced if we have walked through our home education process following good principles (as scores of home educating families have demonstrated capably over recent decades, often exceeding government standards). Our emphasis should not be on what the world wants in our records but upon what our students need to become excellent disciples, with eyes fixed upon what God seeks. Ask yourselves what the answers are to those kinds of questions, and design your home education to fulfill the answers you find. When you have done that, academic course titles, grade point averages, credits, and test scores will generally become natural fruit blossoming out of what you have been doing all along.
While I was writing about record keeping, a topic that at first glance seems primarily a pragmatic one, my thoughts kept returning to this verse from 1 Corinthians: “God is not a God of confusion, but of peace” (14:33). Note the contrasting terms. The highlight here is not that the opposite of confusion is organization, or stability, or security (though all of those are possible antonyms). It is a much higher, much deeper, much wider goal: it is peace. The former are the “minimums” that are part of “The Maximum.” The word in this verse for “peace” in the Greek is eiréné, derived from the verb root eirō, meaning “to join” or “to tie together into a whole (Strong’s 1515).” This wholeness, through God’s grace, evokes a peace that encompasses quietness, harmony, and a “state of natural tranquility.”
What a heavenly maximum! Aim at clarifying that WHY, and the HOWs of record keeping will flow out. Furthermore, they will do so, not in the midst of anxiety, but in fruitful peace.