Every faithful Christian educator should want to know the truth, and not just the truth about ultimate things. A man can know the truth about Heaven and Hell, about the triune God, and about the vicarious death of Christ on the cross, and still not have the faintest idea about what he ought to be doing between now and next Thursday. A faithful Christian educator wants to know the truth about the task he has undertaken. Be diligent to know the state of your herds (Prov. 27:23). There is a very foolish school of thought when it comes to car maintenance and repair -- "don't lift the hood if you don't want to know" -- and this approach is not what we should be doing with regard to the education of the little ones in our charge.
It is important to repeat again the principle that Paul sets out for us in the second letter to the Corinthians, which is that it is not enough to commend yourself, it is not enough to measure yourself by yourself, and it is not enough to compare yourself to those who are doing exactly the same thing you are doing. This is not wise (2 Cor. 10:12).
And this, incidentally, is my sole target in this whole discussion. The enemy is not distance learning, or homeschooling, or traditional (non-classical) classrooms. How could it be? The problem, the central problem, is pedagogical ideology, that which will brook no hard questions, and will tolerate no bringers of unpleasant truths. It is this attitude that is the enemy of small children, those who are not capable of resisting what is about to be done to them in the name of the latest thing.
So how then should we measure? When we are evaluating the pedagogical methods we are using, we have to be adults in our thinking. Remember the bell curve. The spread of innate educational ability will manifest itself over any population that is large enough -- and private Christian schools, government schools, and the various forms of homeschooling (coops, on-line learning, and pure kitchen table homeschooling) are all large enough for us to start taking measurements -- if we really want to.
Now no educational method should evaluated on the basis of the fact that there are kids bringing up the rear. No educator can put in what God left out. But neither should we evaluate any method based simply on how the most gifted do. We all know the homeschoolers (I have met a number of them) who could get into Harvard three times before lunch. And at Logos, we have seen more than one class with academic abilities that I have described as "spooky." And also, taking the rough cut numbers, about ten percent of the kids in the government schools are still competitive with anybody anywhere in the world. They can run with the big dogs -- they have not been crippled (at least academically) by a failing school system. I recall one time many years ago how pleased I was when a Logos knowledge bowl team got shellacked by a local (small town) government school team. The sooner you learn that people outside your plausibility structure (as the sociologists call it) know more than you do, the better life will go for you.
The reason we should not evaluate our particular methods by the performance of our best and brightest is that these are the kids who can teach themselves phonics by staring at milk cartons and cereal boxes. These are the kids with a robust immune system, which should never be taken as an argument for surrounding them with germs. There are a bunch of students bright enough to survive and excel despite the incompetence of everyone around them. This is no reason for the team of incompetents around them to start giving one another teaching awards.
Taking the long view, an educational system or method should be evaluated on the basis of two basic goals -- its ability to thoroughly educate the large majority of students in the fat part of the bell curve, and to do so in a way that teaches and enables the best and brightest without exasperating them. It is here that the government school system is failing, and it is here that the private alternatives (private schools and homeschoolers) must be careful not to make the same mistake, which consists of an allergic reaction to any kind of public accountability. And such accountability is never provided by cherry picking results to put in your high gloss prospectus.
One more point should be made. The desire to evade accountability and unpleasant job reviews is a fallen human desire. It is not a desire that is born in someone's heart as soon as they decide to start homeschooling. Contrary to popular reports, Wilson does not have it in for homeschooling. We are all of us sons of Adam, and we all need the truth. Paul tells the Romans that they should not be conformed to the world, but rather to to be transformed by the renewal of their minds (Rom. 12:1-2). What is the immediate result of such a transformation? "For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith" (Rom. 12:3). Self-flattery is a temptation that comes to all those who live in this world. Seeing yourself and your activities accurately is one of the greatest gifts of God's grace that He can bestow, and He wants to bestow it on all of us -- and all of us need it. I have been on educational boards of various descriptions for over thirty years, and have visted more schools around the country than I could possibly remember. And I have been a pastor of hundreds of homeschooled and privately schooled kids over the course of decades. The temptation to opt for Buffalo Springfield's "hooray for our side" approach is a universal one. The grace of God, however, is greater, and I have seen the right kind of desire for true accountability within every pedagogical method, and God be praised.
But, to be blunt, I have also seen the temptation to evade it in every educational quadrant as well. Good classical Christian schools are good; bad classical Christian schools are not. Good homeschools are good; bad homeschools are not. But if someone were to say that my statement above clearly implies that there is such a thing as a bad classical Christian school, and that this therefore means that I have it in for classical Christian education generally, this means that the person who responds this way is an ideologue, and is not interested in learning to think in Rom. 12:1-3 categories. The same is true of homeschooling. The fact that there are poor homeschools (and there are more than a few) must never be allowed to be taken as an attack on homeschooling simpliciter, and those who take it that way are not refuting my point, but rather making it.
Nobody likes unpleasant news, but it should still be treated as oil on the head. "Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head" (Ps. 141:5). It only feels like it is breaking my head, but if you take it the right way, that feeling eventually goes away.