“The most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children." G K Chesterton

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Doug Wilson and Homeschooling

I thought we could chat about Doug Wilson today. I thought that because what I really need to do is shop and cook and wrap etc. You probably do too which is why you are sitting at the computer reading this.

As a good many of you know I often get into trouble when I give my opinion about things that are said online about homeschooling. This week several people sent me links to things Doug Wilson said on his blog about homeschooling in general and distance learning in particular. So off the cuff I will tell you my take.

1. Don't read Doug Wilson. I don't. Doug appears to get a kick out of stirring you up. If you want to teach your children about straw man arguments read Doug.

2. Homeschoolers are used to taking a lot of guff but it does hurt when it comes from within. As with all criticism, take the kernel of truth among the fallacies and use it to make improvements.

3. Distance Learning was never meant to provide everything we need for life and godliness nor was community.

4. Enough talk about community. Just live it, man. Community has become the buzzword for 'control'. On the bright side when we joined our church here in Chattanooga, we were told up front about a member who had a criminal record and we were told how the elders were safeguarding the congregation. The elders and pastors did not take the role of secretly protecting us.
Would you rather live in a real community or in The Village? This has absolutely nothing to do with whether you homeschool or not.

5. You just can't lump homeschoolers together....EVER. This is why we always get the last laugh.

6. I don't want to brag but the comments about leadership are just too funny coming from my perspective. The safest way for a mom to lead her sons is by not following some guru.

7. To be honest, I have never used Distance Learning with my children because, quite frankly, I never had the money. But I would if I could. Inspired teachers are a wonderful thing.

8. Maybe homeschoolers should stop attending NSA and maybe the Wilsons should stop being asked to speak at homeschool events. Doug has been forthright about his views on homeschooling for years. No need to be surprised that he still holds these opinions.

9. I have seen lots of great efforts to start community schools. I am not impressed yet. As I said years ago, while some of our friends' sons were being taught at the local classical school by other people's moms, my older boys were taking afternoons off to help our neighbor put up hay. Our goal is not the elite, effete aesthete, right?

10. There is a time and place for everything. If God has called you to homeschool don't worry about critics even when they are your friends. If God has led you to a local community school prosper there. If your kids are in a public school because you have no other options: trust the Lord.


  1. I didn't read the article in question, but can I comment anyway? We homeschoolers need to get over our tendencies to follow "the guru of the day" (or whoever wrote the latest book.) We know our own children and we have God-given authorities in place already.
    The "elite, effete aesthete" = hilarious! Thanks for adding joy to my day.

  2. I'm glad we both shirked our Christmas prep duties so you could write and I could read. I can guess at Wilson's remarks that prompted your response, but I haven't been reading him

    Because of the temperament of my last child, I wanted to put her in a good Christian school of the classical variety. I have the impression that they are rare, because truly qualified teachers are rare.

    It's better most of the time for parents to go on doing their best. At least the child gets a private tutor that way.

    I never found the right school, so I did that.

  3. I also have no clue about Doug Wilson's feelings about homeschooling. I'm not the "follow a guru" type. LOL. Actually I'm probably a bit of a rebel. ;-)

    Great post though! I couldn't agree more!

  4. Cindy- you are a brave woman. I usually agree with you, and this is no exception. And like Renee, I love the "elite, effete aesthete". may I quote you?

    Chris, going on now to her wrapping duties...

  5. I don't read Wilson either. Enough in life agitates me as it is. :)

    I really liked your point #4 and I would love for you to expound on what you mean by community being a buzz word for control. I sense you are right, but I need help to wrap my mind around this a little more.

    Merry Christmas!

  6. Neither did I know about this article, Cindy.....

    should I read it now?

  7. Should you read the article? I didn't link to it for a reason. Not worth the time it would take to read it.

    Please quote me, Chris...I love to be quoted :)

    Since I wrote this I spent the very last bit of my Christmas money and now I really, really must wrap presents and make bread for a dinner tonight.

  8. As someone who has seen what CollegePlus passes off as a collegiate-level education, I kind of see what Doug Wilson has been getting at in his series on distance learning.

    Then again, I've read his books on education, public schools, etc and most of the time I think he's about right on the money. I don't look to him for leadership, but as someone who didn't think homeschooling was a feasible way to raise emotionally healthy, sociable children until after I met my now husband, Wilson's books really opened a lot of doors for me.

  9. Cindy,

    If you want to teach your children about straw man arguments read Doug.

    In fact, I'd recommend any of Wilson's stuff as fodder for an exercise in close, critical reading because he is a master of sophistry, which dictionary.com defines as "a subtle, tricky, superficially plausible, but generally fallacious method of reasoning." The danger presented by teachers like Wilson is that while their conclusions may be reasonable, even laudable, they sacrifice the means for the sake of the ends, resorting to whatever rhetorical devices will sell their claims, rather than letting the soundness of their reasoning do the job.

    If this series of posts by Wilson continues on, I will probably try to work through it on my own weblog, trying to identify the strengths and shortcomings of his presentation. In the meantime, I'd recommend that anyone reading Wilson on this (or any topic) keep in mind that he has several vested interests that he works hard to protect, and given that he is closely identified with both a particular approach to education and a college that will suffer if distance education comes to dominate the conservative Christian community, it is too much to expect that he will offer a fair and balanced presentation about this.

  10. O.k., now I'm really curious, but I don't have time this week to find the series of posts Rick refers to. So Rick, might this inspire you to activate your blog and write at length? I would love to read your commentary. In the meantime, if someone would post a link to the posts in question, they might be instructive, if we put on our thinking caps before reading.

  11. You know, I read Doug Wilson, and I like and appreciate him on some subjects, but I was disappointed in this current series thus far. I really enjoyed his Paideia of God book overall, and it was instructive for my husband and I on some issues, and I think I was hoping for something like that in regard to this series.

    With that said, I do think there is something to be said for learning within a community. I remember years ago I had a professor who was almost panicking about the beginning of internet-based learning, and I'm not sure he was motivated by self-interest. His tenure was secure and he was aging anyhow. But I think he was concerned that teachers should connect with their students in person, or the learning is all theoretical.

    Of course, I mainly learn from books, so what am I saying??


    I am so glad you gave me this opportunity to let my children run wild and to procrastinate on my duties. Could we do this again tomorrow, same time same place?


    With that said...I hope that Rick does a series.

    GJ, I know you want to read for yourself. Here is the post I think she's referencing.

    I suppose if someone was living alone in an apartment, ordering food to be delivered, never leaving the house, and studying online through a distance program, then Wilson would have a point. But in homeschooling, for instance, I spend half of my day helping my children learn how to live well with each other and the other half learning how to deal with difficult neighbor children or admit when they are being the difficult one. If I live in a family and leave my house, I think I'll have to learn to deal with people and function within a community.

    In all, what frustrates me most about the preferring-private-school crowd that comes off as anti-homeschooling half the time is that they fail to recognize how many of us are too poor for such things.

  12. I have to say that my first comment was sort of a knee jerk reaction to what I perceived to be an attack on not necessarily the posts themselves but on the person.

    I do not think that schools (community, Christian whatever you want call them) are the answer. But I don't think Wilson does either. I don't think he's giving homeschoolers guff any more than you were giving other Christians guff about VBS and other ministries. He acknowledges some pros of distance learning. But the fact that it can be very bad for homeschoolers shouldn't be groundbreaking news. Workbooks can be bad for homeschoolers, strict adherence to one curriculum can be bad for homeschoolers, any number of things can be bad for homeschoolers. And one of the possible solutions to that problem is a good Christian school

    But, Rick, I find it hard to believe that Wilson thinks that if people don't buy his argument on his blog that NSA or Logos will suffer. He's not against distance learning. He said that in his first post on the subject. He offers the Logos curriculum for distance learning for crying out loud.

    Cindy, I hope I'm not out of line. I don't normally get into this stuff on blogs that belong to other people. And I probably shouldn't. I suppose I sound like a Wilson sheep defending my guru, but I hope that my saying that I don't think he's a guru (and I don't have any earthly gurus) is sufficient to dispel that image. I am, however, fascinated by this discussion and look forward to Rick's posts, as well as any further posts you have on the subject.

    I have to admit that the anti-Wilson sentiment baffles me, because I enjoy his writing precisely because it is dry humor, very blunt, and yes, antagonistic. Most of the blogs I enjoy write with this sort of humor and straight forward style that, yes, does stir people up.

  13. Yay, now I don't have to comment. I ditto Jodi exactly. :) How much does Wilson have to say he's not *against* distance learning or homeschooling, but offering some things to think about? I think many of his criticisms of homeschooling and homeschooled graduates are spot on the money and insightful (as a homeschooling homeschool graduate myself). Maybe his examples are merely Northwest phenomena. :) I am grateful for someone on the outside offering a different perspective while still being on the same team.

    Ok, I have presents to wrap, too! Crazy!

    Merry Christmas, all!

  14. Jodi and Mystie,

    I think that Wilson deliberately equivocates when he uses the term "distance learning" so that he can say that he is in favor of some forms of it. What he is against, and I think has always been against, is children being schooled at home. In the comments he says this:

    "Learning to submit to authorities who are not mom and dad, while being on the same basic page as mom and dad, is one of the most valuable lessons a child can learn."

    This is the critical lesson that he thinks institutional schooling supplies while homeschooling does not.

    The fact that he is against homeschooling comes out in the comments to the same post. A commenter named Lindsey asks Wilson, "So the best of all possible worlds is a Christian school in community, but homeschooling (possibly supplemented online) is the way to go when there is no viable school option?" To which Wilson replies, "Lindsey, that's basically it."

    So there it is. Wilson is in favor of homeschooling a child only when there is no acceptable school to send him to. He sees homeschooling only as a last resort, not a respectable alternative.

  15. First of all, lots of people agree with Doug Wilson on many things. I am confident that it is ok that I really think he misses the boat on this one and on quite a few other 'ones' also. I am perfectly fine with disagreement so don't worry about being offensive unless, of course, you are being offensive :)

    Jodi said:
    " I have to admit that the anti-Wilson sentiment baffles me, because I enjoy his writing precisely because it is dry humor, very blunt, and yes, antagonistic. Most of the blogs I enjoy write with this sort of humor and straight forward style that, yes, does stir people up"

    For years, I had a love/hate relationship with the man and then one day I just found him saying the same things over and over again just switching the subjects. So after almost 20 years I just quit listening to him.

    I am going to have to say that I agree with Rick on this one. I think Rick hits the nail on the head nicely and says a few things that deserve to be heard.

    Like I said in the post, it doesn't hurt us to look for the grain of truth but it also doesn't hurt to say that sometimes the emperor is nekkid.

    Finally, all students are in a community of one kind or another. This artificial definition of community is suspect in my book. Just because I am not a hand does not mean I am not a part of the body of Christ. Some members of the body are out front and some members of the body are so hidden and secret that only a Doctor knows they exist. Still they are all members of the body.

    Just as I prefer to say 'fruit of the spirit' over 'character qualities', I think all this talk about community would be better if we just went back to the Biblical body metaphor.

  16. Mystie said:
    "How much does Wilson have to say he's not *against* distance learning or homeschooling..."

    He has to say it a lot because of the rules of logic. A typical DW argument goes something like this:

    A: The sky is blue
    B: So you are saying the sky is blue?
    A: I never said the sky is blue what I said was "........"

    At this point half the audience thinks that A is a genius and the other half tunes out in frustration. The argument NEVER gets past this bump.

    I have seen this pattern repeated so many times I am incredulous that he still has the nerve to do it.

  17. So there it is. Wilson is in favor of homeschooling a child only when there is no acceptable school to send him to. He sees homeschooling only as a last resort, not a respectable alternative.

    Having read much of Wilson's other writings on the subject I do not believe that he does not find homeschooling respectable. And I would venture a guess that he views public schooling as the last resort, not homeschooling. At any rate, I see no problem with someone having a view point that a competent Christian school is better than home schooling which is better than public schooling. I also don't see anything wrong with said person blogging about such. We all have priorities of which system of education is best, some of us write about them on the internet. I still don't understand the hostility, and I see some straw men in your arguments as much as you accuse Wilson of the same.

    I get the idea that you have some sort of axe to grind with Mr. Wilson, so I don't think it is wise for me to continue this discussion because I don't think it would be fruitful. Where is your blog? I would be interested to read your further posts on the subject.

  18. Jodi,

    You'll find my blog here. I promise I will try to write a detailed critique of Wilson's posts in this series, although I will probably wait until he is done with them.

  19. He has to say it a lot because of the rules of logic. A typical DW argument goes something like this:

    A: The sky is blue
    B: So you are saying the sky is blue?
    A: I never said the sky is blue what I said was "........"

    I don't see how the example you are giving here jives exactly, because it is a fact that the sky is blue. But to say that one's opinion is that distance learning can be detrimental in a certain context is simply an opinion. And one that doesn't even rule out distance learning as a horrible thing for parents to use.

    I think when he says distance learning can be okay depending on ... and then lists when he finds it not okay it is simply a critique of how it can be misused, and not a negation of his previous statement that it can be okay if rightly used. Again, all opinions anyway, right?

    But I do think that you're right about his opinion on community. Especially a school as sort of an artificial construct of community. I don't think that a school is a Biblical "unit" of fellowship like the family or the Church. I don't think it is essential to good education (like the family is), or even the best option in most cases.

    I have just seen distance learning misused exactly as he is describing in his posts, to the detriment of the students. CollegePlus, specifically. So I understand where his criticisms are coming from.

    Forgive me if this is disjointed, I'm nursing a wrestly baby and commenting!

  20. I was shopping, cooking, and wrapping yesterday so I didn't see this until now. :)

    I like to read Doug Wilson occasionally but I don't always agree with him. In this case, I agree that distance learning with no community (ie, a person alone in a house with a computer and no people at all) could be a problem but homeschooling is in community. It's called the family. Plus, most of us are in churches where we live in community. I don't think a child *has* to do his academics with an entire classroom of other students to be learning in community. That said, it has been a blessing to us to have my oldest take an online Greek class because I didn't have the time to learn and oversee Greek. My son, who is the original strong-willed child and loves to challenge *everything* he hears, has learned a lot, has been inspired by a teacher other than me, and has come to tell me that his teacher requires the same things I do. :) It has been an overall great experience for him.

    Okay, I love this line: "Our goal is not the elite, effete aesthete, right?"

    Thank you, Cindy, for making me stop and think in the midst of the "busy, busy, busy" of Christmas preparations.

    Have a blessed Christmas.


  21. Cindy, I'm pretty well caught up with cooking and wrapping and all that (but it will heat up again later today), so I enjoyed your post and the comments this Christmas Eve morning.

    Wes Callihan (Schola Tutorials, distance learning) posted Wilson's material on Facebook and I commented there, but I'm pasting in my notes here, too. (I agree with Brandy about the cost factor!)

    Scroll down to the end for great J.S. Mill quote. :-)

    Cindy Marsch
    As a founder and board member of a CC school, as the wife of a board member of another CC school, as an online tutor for 14 years, as a consultant to schools, as a current "live" study center tutor, as a mom, I have mixed feelings.

    I think my writing evaluations can provide the "tutorial relationship" that only the wealthy used to be able to have, and I think there's a lot more to learning about life than is occasioned by a school classroom experience (and my how those can vary!). The sad reality is that it is exceedingly difficult for a Classical Christian School (the best type we'd be considering here) to be viable.

    You'd think that in the hometown of Grove City Christian College there would be plenty of folks eager to provide high-quality Christian education for their children under college age, but that is not so. In fact, despite the college's so-called commitment to vibrant Christian education, some of the faculty and staff are actively HOSTILE to the local Christian school. Among those who are in favor of the concept, economic realities and a HOPE that the local public schools are better than most lead most parents to use the public schools. Others homeschool or use the popular public cyber charter school. ...

    The CCS closed its high school a few years ago, having made a good effort at it, and we've got a fledgling homeschool-study-center hybrid going this year. There is SUCH potential for truly excellent education, but I find more likemindedness across the country and across the globe, among my client families, than in my own community.

    So Christian community education is nice if you can get it. Distance learning (and there are MANY ways to do it) is a wonderful way to build another sort of community.
    December 20 at 2:47pm ·

    Cindy Marsch
    "To conform to custom, merely as custom, does not educate or develop in [a person] any of the qualities which are the distinctive endowment of a human being. The human faculties of perception, judgment, discriminative feeling, mental activity, and even moral preference are exercised only in making a choice. He who does anything because it is the ... custom makes no choice. He gains no practice either in discerning or in desiring what is best.

    --- John Stuart Mill, quoted here:

    December 20 at 9:24am ·

  22. Cindy, I haven't followed the post in question, but I have struggled a bit this past school year with questions of "community". The recent move away from a very small, close-knit church and deep friendships with other homeschooling families has been hard on our family. And while we patiently wait to grow new friendships, some days I feel like jumping into some group or another, or even looking at different Christian school options for the children's sakes. They're a little lonely and I get that. Your words on what a community is and isn't have been an encouragement to me as we move into the new year. I love homeschooling and so do my children, and in those moments where I worry a bit or other voices make me question our choices, I'm thankful God has not made other options financially possible. Fewer choices keep me focused when things get blurry. :-)

    Merry Christmas!


  23. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
    This is such an encouraging post.

  24. Dear Cindy,
    I just returned from visiting family over Christmas and instead of unpacking I am reading your wonderful response to DW. We have used distance learning extensively along with local tutors. It has been a wonderful ,supportive, growing community for us.
    The other problem I have with DW commenting is that he does not have experience with online distance learning. His children never used it so how can he even comment? I think if they had used high quality, Christian and classical online schools for high school he would have a very different perspective.

  25. Humor columnist Dave Barry said “A person who is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, is not a nice person.“
    You might also say, “A prominent Christian teacher who is nice to his fellow Brahmins (scholars, professors, theologians, etc), but seems to regard selected fellow Christians (home-schoolers, people who drive trucks, people who use tools, etc) as lower caste, is not a nice person.“ People who aren’t nice can write some really excellent books, which reveal some very important and necessary insights, but that doesn’t grant them a license to be an intellectual bully.
    The person who used the “The sky is blue…“ argument example was on target. With some people, you may be right or you may be wrong, but they’ll never, ever lose the argument.

  26. I would recommend that anyone read Doug Wilson anytime. I am not a "follow-the-guru" type, but Mr. Wilson is solidand has an amazing love for God.