home education series: the moral high ground

Continued from


Humans are rather fond of moralizing lifestyle choices. We proclaim we do things because it is The Right Thing To Do. We have one car because we want to minimize our environmental footprint, say. Or we cook from scratch because it is healthier. We volunteer at soup kitchens because Jesus told us to. We save money because it’s smart and responsible. We homeschool our children because learning happens best at home. Or maybe we send our kids to school because it’s our social responsibility to mingle with the masses.

Our reasons for doing what we do are usually pretty good. Sometimes our reasons are even noble. But I don’t think the reasons we give are the primary reason. I think we do what we do because of something much more basic: it’s what we want.

Think about it: there are a plethora of good lifestyle choices out there. It’s impossible to do them all. So we pick and choose how we live our lives based on our interests, gifts, challenges, experiences, and opportunities and then we slap on the moral rationale to make ourselves feel good.

Problem is, our rationales are riddled with inconsistencies. We grow our own food to save on the environment but then invest in jugs of the best oils shipped from the Mediterranean. Or we tithe the requisite ten percent and ladle soup into bowls once a month but then buy a fancy new car for the same amount that it would cost to outfit a mini metropolis with running water. Or we encourage our children to be themselves but then lash judgement on other people when their perspectives don’t match ours.

No matter how much we’d like to think otherwise, not a one of us has the moral high ground.


Last week I had a meeting with the Sunday school committee. We huddled around a table in a chilly room at church, talking about how we might go about wrapping up the last Sunday in our series on education (which isn’t till the end of the month). Should we bring in more speakers? Introduce another perspective?

“What if we’d just have a response time?” I suggested through chattering teeth. “We could give people a chance to share what they’ve heard over the whole series. You know, what’s challenged them, what hasn’t made sense, what they appreciated…”

I trailed off, uncertain. Open-ended sharing wasn’t exactly the style of this particular class.

Personal sharing was a good idea, the group agreed, but, they wondered, what was the point of undergoing the education series? How did the ideas about education that were raised in the Sunday school class “inform our interactions with the world?”

Which left me scratching my head because whatever happened to storytelling for the sake of simply understanding each other? Must all our experiences and ideas be proven and proclaimed? If someone finds something that works for her, does that mean that everybody else’s methods are failing? Can’t there be more than one right way to do education?

Were we trying to build some sort of staircase to the moral high ground through a carefully crafted summary?


“If the you of five years ago doesn’t consider the you of today a heretic, then you are not growing spiritually,” said Thomas Merton.

The me of five years ago would be surprised by some of the things I think now about education. I’m so glad that my husband and I sent our children to school last year. At the same time, I’m more adamantly pro-homeschooling than ever before.

I have no idea what new experiences and ideas are coming at me down the pike. I may be in for some real yanking around. This is a little scary, for sure, but mostly it’s exciting. I’m more at peace with my ideas now, and this gives me hope. What an adventure!


The other day I read a post about education and immediately wished I hadn’t. Not because it wasn’t good—to the contrary, it was very good—but because I’m mad that I didn’t write it myself. (Guess I wasn’t a worthy portalgrumblegrumble.)

In the post, Heather Sanders writes that Education Is For Everyone. No matter how parents choose to educate their children—public, private, or homeschool—the parent is the one ultimately responsible to see that the learning happens. Every educational method has pitfalls, and every method has potential to yield stunning results. It’s time to stop pointing fingers, she says, and play our part.

After reading her post (and please, I’m imploring you, go read it), I decided there was nothing left to say.

Except this (because I always have something more to say, don’t you know it):  all of life is learning, and everyone learns differently. Let’s not be afraid to:

Claim our choices.
Tell our stories.
Listen deeply.
And whether we believe This, That, or The Other, let’s be gracious.


  • Anonymous

    Hey Jennifer,

    I agreed at once with your post from yesterday about why people "really" do things. But the thought stayed in my head and then last night I was reading an article by Scott Douglas in the newest Running Times (the magazine I used to work for) about a wonderful Biologist/old runner Bernd Heinrich and came across the following quote which seemed to kinda explain in a more thorough way what you were digging into yesterday:
    For any behavior, there are two levels of causation: the proximate and the ultimate," Heinrich says. "The proximate is the immediate. The ultimate is what it's for; it's due to some kind of function. Why do I like the fresh air? Because it feels good. Why do I like the fresh air instead of pollution? Ultimately it might be because you want to avoid toxins you don't even know about. Why do you have sex? Because it feels good. Why do you have it really? Because you've been programmed that way by evolution."

    Running for pleasure, as opposed to training toward a goal, is a proximate behavior, Heinrich says. The activity had to trigger reward centers in the brain so that early humans would want to do this thing that helped them survive and produce offspring. To Heinrich, the ineffable sensations a fit runner experiences on a good 10-miler are similar to the joy he things migratory birds must have when flying.

    Hence the pull of "substitute chases" — setting a marathon PR, getting a degree, creating a work of art — to modern humans. Our ancestral running past has wired us to find more meaning in such pursuits than the scattershot way in which so many of us live, Heinrich says. … "I don't know what the outcome is going to be. It's gotta be difficult enough to make it challenging, interesting, where you're looking ahead and seeing a worthy goal."


  • Anonymous

    I was hoping to learn more about the "how" of homeschooling. What does it look like, how do you individualize learning for four different stages of development, what resources do you use? I'm learning a lot.

  • katie

    You've made reference several times to the fact that you are so happy that you sent your children to school last year. Care to expound? Is it something about that experience that leaves you "more adamantly pro-homeschool than ever"? This whole discussion has certainly kept me thinking.

    • Jennifer Jo

      Sending the kids to school in Guatemala was the right decision for that year. They made friends and learned the language—two things I'm not sure they would have been able to do very well considering our rural location and the other (wonderful!) English speakers that were living on the property. We sent them to school, not for the typical education (they didn't get grades or do much homework) but for those other reasons.

      However, if we had stayed in Guatemala for much longer, we would have probably needed to find another way to educate them. I wasn't too impressed by the culture of the school (lots of super rich kids, tons of technology, pornography, etc), but even more than that, I didn't like how our days were dictated by an outside schedule and I missed being with my kids. By the end of the year, I was VERY ready to have our freedom back.

  • Rebecca

    I believe you're right. There's got to be more than one way to do a thing. But I can't make it FEEL right, if you know what I mean. I started homeschooling because I wanted to, for sure. But the moral intensity I feel about it now does not allow for "oh well, whatever". And I don't think I slapped that on after the fact. But manners trump all, in my opinion. And they are what allow us to rub along with all those other people who know they are right.

  • Suburban Correspondent

    And that part about the importance of telling our stories – that's what I love about blogging…all the stories.

  • Suburban Correspondent

    You are completely right. Really, we have so much in common. And that quote from Merton makes me feel a little better about not recognizing the me from 5 years ago. Maybe, after all, I haven't fallen from grace. It's supposed to be this way.

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