Karen Till, CBE member and friend, is the author of this post about being a homeschool parent and an egalitarian.
My journey towards equality and gift-based leadership began about three years ago when I read Cunningham and Hamilton’s book, Why Not Women. I was ready for it. At the time I was struggling with much of what the “homeschool way” was teaching about gender roles. I see now that God was preparing my heart.
We have homeschooled our children for 14 years. We have 5 children—our oldest graduated a year ago and our youngest just started school this year. When we began we felt called and challenged by the Lord. I was delighted to take the task on and thrilled to have my kids with me instead of sending them away. My dream to have a family and be a stay-at-home mom, just like my mom, was being fulfilled. A lot of people thought that we were strange to venture out this way. We live in Canada and the homeschool movement came a little later for us than in the USA.
When I got married my husband was a new Christian from a family where his parents both worked. When I announced that I was going to stay at home and be a homemaker I think that they thought I was pretty lazy. Then the home schooling thing came up and I’m sure they thought I was crazy. That’s a bit of a background on our journey.
The homeschool community is a culture, religion—to some a cult—in itself. I loved many aspects but certain things were hard to understand. For example, many people thought women should dress very modestly and with head coverings. Definitely the more “earthy” you were the better: grind your own grain, natural foods, bake your own bread. Many also believed that couples should let God plan their family – and I mean no interference on your part—because it showed you had more faith. Moms should stay at home while dads provided for the family. All of these were what proved you were a godly woman. Of course, you needed to do this all with great delight and in an organized fashion.
I began to have difficulty with this culture as our children got older and their gender roles began to be more defined. It was both implied and explicitly stated that there are certain things our boys must do, because they are boys and they will one day be leaders. Our girls must learn to be good homemakers because that is their place in life. I started to feel pressure about how my kids behaved and what they wore. We were not a family that believed that girls must wear dresses, but many of our friends did. Then the whole courtship idea started bouncing around. It is assumed that your children will marry because…. they must, and certainly the daughters must marry. I didn’t know if I wanted to find spouses for my children. It is a scary thing to be responsible for putting people together. I think that God did a great thing when he created romance. I would rather let it take its course. Courtship in many ways seemed like a patriarchal concept.
The pressure got more and more intense and I resisted. I began to question and see flaws in this thinking. God showed me that our spirituality is not caught up in our gender and certainly it isn’t about the clothes we wear. I knew I was a Spirit-filled believer and I really believed that God used women in his kingdom—I wasn’t sure if they could be leaders but I believed that women could “speak” in church.
Truly, my reformation began in a very dry, empty time of my life when I was so thirsty for something more. Through a series of events I ended up going to hear Loren Cunningham (founder of Youth With A Mission—YWAM) speak. I am a YWAM-er from the early ‘80s. Many things tried to keep me from attending that meeting—my friend backed out, my husband didn’t want to come with me, there was a winter blizzard and the drive was quite a long one in a snowstorm. I went anyway and I bought a package deal of his books, hoping I would find something for my thirsty soul. Little did I know that one of the books in the package deal, Why Not Women would change my life.
“Why do you still homeschool?” is quite a loaded question and one that I am asked often. I am not sure that my egalitarian views really change the reasons that we began to home school in the first place. I am still an advocate of educating at home because I believe that it is a viable option. I think there are benefits and drawbacks to both homeschooling and public (or private) education. I certainly do not believe it’s the only way or that it is God’s best way for the Christian family. It is one way that we can choose and each family should be able to decide for themselves. I think that there is a unique quality that the kids gain from being at home but too much sheltering is not healthy either. Children must learn to relate to many different kinds of people and situations and our children certainly do. They play with neighborhood kids from diverse backgrounds. They work in stores and restaurants. Our extended family has very different views than our immediate family and the kids have been exposed to many ideas. In regards to egalitarian thinking, I am trying to teach the kids a balanced view of roles—where both sexes can do anything and should be willing to serve others. We have three boys and two girls. I have stressed more then ever that my boys get good at household chores so that they will be able to serve in their home. They are good helpers and very knowledgeable about house work.
I still believe in homeschooling, although I do not fit in with most in the community. I have discontinued much of my contact with the other women because it is too difficult. Several used to go to our church but they recently left because our elders changed the constitution to allow for women to be able to take elder positions. For me, those relationships had been very stressful over the last few years. I felt like I couldn’t, and didn’t want to, measure up to their expectations of what kind of a woman I should be.
Our church has become a safe place for me and I love the changes and growth the community has made. I would say we are an emerging church and that concept thrills me as much as the equality issue does. I love that the sides of the box have been blown off. My journey is so much more than I ever dreamed and I believe that equality must happen in our worldview for us to be able to take the next step in what God is doing worldwide in us—the Church.
My husband and I don’t see eye-to-eye on all of these changes in thinking. In the beginning he was more open to the equality issue but lately it has been difficult. He has some friends that are very traditional in their thinking and they do influence him on the issue. Change isn’t easy for any of us. Nevertheless, I have decided that I will not stop learning and I will seek God about what He wants to do with me. I want to be available to God’s leading and I know that He will work out the details.
As for homeschooling—we continue to do what we have done for years. I just helped my 14-year-old son with a paper that he had to write on the “Famous Five”—a group of women who fought for women to be considered part of the word “persons” in our constitution. They also were leaders of the suffrage movement in Canada. I was thrilled to see that my son was learning about women leaders and their place in our history. He follows the required curriculum for our province and does his studies online as do all our children. What an incredible opportunity for me as a mother.
Almost a year ago now I noticed that some of the comments about home educators on the CBE Blog were negative (for lack of a better word). Most people in the homeschool community are traditional and patriarchal and I was embarrassed to be lumped together with them. I do believe that egalitarian views and homeschooling can co-exist. However it is not the norm. If you know people that are homeschooling please do not write them off as people who will never be open to thinking differently. Many highly educated women have given up their careers to be stay-at-home moms and homeschool moms because they believe in serving their family in this specific way. This does not mean they have sold themselves short or that they do not believe in careers for women—it is just the choice they have made. While some home educators are definitely closed to the idea of equality and freedom from subordination, you never know—God can get our attention in unexpected ways.
Things have evolved in our journey in this issue—for me I continue to learn and love all that I am finding out about biblical equality.