It has been a difficult year for fans of the TLC’s celebrity Duggar family. The show “19 Kids and Counting” reaches a lot of constituencies. Quiverfull fecundity fans, conservative Evangelicals, Arkansans, debt-avoiding coupon-clippers, and hash-brown casserole fans all alike can find something entertaining in the show. Alongside all of these, the show also has a strong following among homeschoolers—particularly those who reside in the general neighborhood of Tier 2. For the people in this last category (and perhaps no less to the others), the scandals surrounding Josh Duggar can evoke more emotion than just the tsk-tsk of a casual bystander.
As a homeschooling father and a man who has consumed untold hours of the Duggars via Amazon Prime, would you permit me a moment to reflect upon these shameful revelations?
Josh Duggar’s public fall confronts homeschooling parents not only with someone’s bad behavior but also with some good theology that we should all take to heart. If your purpose for homeschooling is to protect your child from the sinful environment of the world, you’ve missed something important. Sin is not an “out there” problem; it’s an “in here” problem. Homeschooling as a strategy to reduce the surface area of temptation for your child ought not to be equated with discipleship. If you think that in homeschooling you have found a solution to the sin problem, then Jesus went to an awful lot of needless trouble. But He didn’t, because homeschooling can never accomplish the inoculation of children against temptation.
Judas Iscariot, after all, was likely the product of homeschooling and private religious schooling. It doesn’t always work.
I think there’s one good reason to homeschool: It’s a way to invest more of yourself into your children. That investment can pay off academically (and usually does). It can also pay off in character, not because you prevented your children from being tempted, but because you invested yourself in training them in good ways to deal with temptation. But it will never wield a scalpel sharp enough to excise the sinful nature out of our children or to hold at bay temptation forever. Homeschooling becomes more or less valuable to the degree that you invest more or less of yourself into your kids.
Truly, for all of us parents (homeschooling or otherwise), we do well to remember that there is such a thing as discipleship, that it is a matter distinct from (although related to) Bible classes or worldview training or MPAA-rating limits. Discipleship is personal, and it must include character formation and training for spiritual warfare (which is what temptation is), or else it is not discipleship.
Perhaps our God, who works even the worst things together into His plan for good, will use this tragic story to remind homeschoolers not to depend upon a false panacea. Perhaps we will all rededicate ourselves anew to the task of discipling our sons and daughters.