home education series: on being burned at the stake (or not)

Continued from


Our town is hopping with Mennonite schools—elementary, middle and high school, university, and seminary. Many of the people at our church are employed by these institutions as professors, school board members, deans, and counselors. Still more are parents of students, graduates, or current students themselves. It’s a heady congregation. Academia is cherished.

Along with all that scholarly love, there is an huge (and wonderful!) emphasis on serving the greater community. As Christians, we believe we are to work for peace and justice and serve our neighbor. With these two values—education and service—uppermost in people’s minds, it only makes sense that many would feel that serving through the educational system is the way to go.

So there I was last Sunday, in front of this group of social justice academics, trying to explain the viability of homeschooling. How could I share my belief that school systems might not be the be-all and end-all? How was I to explain that keeping my children out of school is not synonymous with shirking my social responsibilities?

I started with an analogy, one that I figured should make sense considering we’re an Anabaptist church and all.


Five hundred years ago or so, the Catholic church was the ruling institution. It governed through religion, economics, and politics, and it told people what they should believe. Then along came this group of people that said, “Hey, we want to do church differently!” and they were known as Anabaptists.  
The Anabaptists said, “We don’t need a priest to read the Bible for us. Heck, we don’t need a priest at all. Everyone can be priests! We don’t need a church building. We can worship anywhere! We don’t need sacraments. We’ll make up our own meaningful traditions!” 
And they were burned at the stake.
Nowadays, the school system is a central institution, thickly involved in politics and economics. It decides what people should learn, as well as when and how. Then along came this group of people that said, “Hey, we want to do learning differently!” and they became known as Homeschoolers. 
The homeschoolers said, “We don’t need certified teachers to pass on knowledge. We can teach our own! We don’t need a school building. We can learn anywhere—outside, inside, upside down! We don’t need classrooms and grades. We can learn at our own speed and based on our own interests!” 
And they were not burned at the stake, glory hallelujah.  
End of Analogy

P.S. I am not opposed to either the Catholic church or schools. I married a Catholic, and I come from a family of teachers. I’m the product of all three forms of education: four years of private, three of homeschool, six of public, and four of private university, and when my husband and I went to Guatemala last year, we enrolled our children in private school.

P.P.S. For more information about those crazy Anabaptists, watch The Radicals and check out The Martyrs Mirror. (Don’t blame me if you have nightmares.)


  • karen

    I homeschool some, and others have elected to return to school. Truly, they go for the social life. I can nurture their learning from here regardless of their choices …

    Once I pulled my kids out of an impossibly dysfunctional school (no joke, half the kids from my one daughter's year have left for elsewhere, and it wasn't because of that one teacher) I realised I can take or leave institutional establishments as I choose. They will not be fixed by folks like me, no matter how much of my time I devote to trying. The seeds for this I'm sure were planted early — I didn't see myself as a homebirth person either, till I had one in a hospital!

    Stepping away from "experts" is not a bad thing, particularly experts who do not see a parent as their own kind of expert and a partner in their kids' development. If we aren't a team, then you can't have my kids minds for any length of time, quite frankly.

    Did you know that universities are seeking out homeschoolers these days? Apparently they are much more flexible, project-completion oriented and, of course, independent.

  • Rebecca

    Another great post! My thinking on this topic was also influenced by our church's discussion of living in an empire. Homeschooling is one way we declare a different allegiance.

  • amy

    I've enjoyed your blog since your return to the states, but was taken aback by your flip explanation of a great wound which still exists in the church today. As a blogger you hold a great responsibility to the world at large. If this was a Mennonite only blog it would have been helpful to mention that in your description. I suppose this was my fault, as a devout Catholic I wrongly believed that Mennonites were more tolerant of others and would make an effort to present more than a tainted few of common history. I feel you've bought into all the trappings regarding world history. Yet again, Catholics are the persecuted people in The United States.

  • Laura at By the Bushel

    We have a strong divide in our household. Parent against parent in disagreement about homeschooling. If I'm reading your blog, you can guess which parent I am. But we did it, and then we were in terrible family stress. I appreciate your illustration. I am currently reeling in the ramifications of Common Core, I knew better than to put my kids in public school, but I wanted to stay married. So when I see 'burn at stake' and homeschooling in same sentence, it really doesn't seem so far off for me. I often see myself like Scarlett O'Hara with my fist in the air, holding a copy of Well Trained Mind, and coming back from the vacation I've had while my kids were in school. We'll see, where I'll wind up. But I hope it is not where they currently are. Blessings, your community sounds so interesting, but can't imagine how that presentation went down… Can only imagine! Best- Laura

    • Jennifer Jo

      Your situation sounds so incredibly hard—thanks for sharing. My hope: that you find a middle ground where everyone can thrive.

  • Tricia @ The Domestic Fringe

    Nice analogy. Above all, I'm glad we have educational choices, so we can all do what is best for our own families. I am enjoying this series. You should turn it into a small book, a resource for people looking into options for schooling their kids. Just a thought. 🙂

  • Anonymous

    I have always believed that homeschooling is a mistake, and that the parents who care should stay and work within the system to help all children, even those whose parents can't afford private or homeschooling, get a better education. If we remove the children whose parents care, there's nobody to keep the system working at its best. With your careful and clear explanations, you may change my mind yet. Your reasoning is very clear.

    • Jennifer Jo

      Wanda, this is the highest compliment yet. There is nothing better than presenting some ideas to people who strongly disagree and having them "get" it, no matter if they continue to disagree or not.

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