Monday, November 24, 2008

Giving thanks for Pilgrim homeschoolers

Perhaps you've heard the argument that Christian parents should send their children to a nonreligious school in order to be "salt and light" there.

The Pilgrims didn't see it that way. I'm reading a fascinating new book, Homeschool: An American History, by education professor Milton Gaither. Neither hagiographic nor hostile, this is a serious, scholarly history of home education -- the only one I'm aware of -- covering the period from 1600 to the present. Gaither writes:
Generations of Americans have learned in elementary school of the Mayflower, Squanto, Thanksgiving, and the other tropes that make up the romance of Plymouth Colony, but it has not often been noted that one of the driving motivations behind the endeavor was the education of children.

When the first Protestant separatists left Scrooby, England, in search of religious toleration in Amsterdam, Gaither explains, "the cosmopolitan air and Dutch culture were a bit of a shock to the Scrooby people, so much so that they feared for their children's futures." They resettled in the smaller, more rural town of Leyden, but still, as William Bradford wrote,

many of their children, by these occasions and the great licentiousness of youth in that country, and the manifold temptations of the place, were drawn away by evil examples into extravagant and dangerous courses, getting the reins off their necks and departing from their parents. Some became soldiers, others took upon them far voyages by sea, and others some worse courses tending to dissoluteness and the danger of their souls, to the great grief of their parents and dishonour of God. So that they saw their posterity would be in danger to degenerate and be corrupted.

Thus, Gaither writes, "throughout their sojourn in Holland, the Scrooby families taught their children at home rather than send them to schools where they would learn Dutch grammar and manners." Eventually these Pilgrims set sail for the New World, and "for the first forty years of Plymouth Colony's existence there was no school at all. ... Most learning occurred in the home, as mothers and fathers passed down values, manners, literacy, and vocational skills to their offspring."

The Pilgrims were doubtless aware of the dangers of keeping company with fools. I can't help but wonder if they also thought of Elimelech, who left Judah with his wife and two sons and went to live among the heathens in Moab. His sons, of course, ended up disobeying God by marrying Moabite women who worshiped false gods. As Matthew Henry commented,

Little did Elimelech think, when he went to sojourn in Moab, that ever his sons would thus join in affinity with Moabites. But those that bring young people into bad acquaintance, and take them out of the way of public ordinances, though they may think them well-principled and armed against temptation, know not what they do, nor what will be the end thereof.

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