Being Cool About School, a series: Rejecting Fear-Based Motivations & Resting in Freedom

Fear-based motivation has a way of turning our ideals into idols.

It isn’t wrong to desire good things for ourselves and for our loved ones. In fact, we were created to live in perfect beauty, perfect community, and perfect abundance. Living in a fallen world doesn’t squash those desires for perfection. But when good desires face off with harsh realities, you get real life. Not life as it was meant to be and one day will be, but life as it is: scarred and sacred, broken and beautiful. Living in a fallen world doesn’t mean we abandon all hopes of reflecting and experiencing God’s good gifts, but it does mean we have to reckon, each and every day, with imperfection.

Some of us struggle more than others with idealism. I’m a big-time struggler, in case you haven’t noticed. All my life I have pined away for perfect. I’m captivated by the beautiful places and creations of this world. A hopeless romantic, I love love, in all its many lovely forms. I tend to strive for excellence in my pursuits. I’m prone to putting “perfect” anything or anyone up on a pedestal. 

Perfection and idealism have been my lifelong companions, traipsing alongside me and shouting their requirements into each stage and season of my life. When I was younger, I worked hard at school, at running, at being liked. When I taught, I revised and reworked my lectures almost every semester because it seemed they could always be better. When I got married and eventually became a mom, I strove for domestic tranquility and perfect parenting.  

But at each and every stage, I confronted a powerful and pervasive reality: Life is falling painfully short of what it’s “supposed” to look like. I am falling painfully short. My marriage is falling painfully short. My parenting is falling painfully short. My children are falling painfully short. I. can’t. get. this. right. 

And for the longest time, I simply tried harder. I read more books. I adopted repeated resolutions on do-better-ness. I got scared that I was doomed to this less-than-ideal everyday and allowed fear and perfection and pride to motivate many of my thoughts and behaviors. 

It’s therefore no surprise that fear and its friends motivated many ideas and decisions regarding the education of my own children. 

Yes, I homeschooled for an array of positive, non-fear-driven reasons: time together as a family, flexibility, freedom in what and how we learned, moving at our own pace, etc. Those are all fine and good reasons to choose homeschool. But those fine and good reasons were also mixed together with a healthy dose of pride, reactionary fear and idealism:

I don’t want my children subjected to sub-standard teaching and content.

I’m afraid they won’t develop any critical thinking skills because the teachers have to teach to the tests and it’s all about making sure children just know the “right” answers.

I don’t want my children inhaling and imitating all the stuff this crazy world will throw at them in public school.

I don’t want them to get hurt.

I’m afraid they won’t appreciate good books if their school-time read-alouds aren’t on my list of fine children’s literature. 

What if they don’t develop a love for learning because the inefficiency and busywork of school sucks the joy right out of it?

Is it wrong to want great things for our children? Of course not. We love them and we want the best for them.

Should we be concerned about their academic, emotional, physical, and spiritual welfare? Absolutely. 

Is it easy for these good things and good gifts to become ultimate things? Yes.

Had these good things become ultimate things for me? Definitely.

Quite simply, my children’s education had become an idol, an overdesire. And unfortunately, I had a resevoir of personal pride, fear-based motivation, and {somewhat} well-meaning propaganda from which to draw. There is a fine line between inspiration and indoctrination. Somewhere along the way, I sipped a bit of the Kool-Aid and slipped from the former into the latter. 

Now that real life has re-routed us in ways I’d never imagined but am so thankful for, I’ve tasted freedom and grace in an area where I used to feel quite bound up. I’ve also basked in some hard-won clarity and common sense. 

Sometimes I‘m angry that I granted fear and pride enough power to turn off my brain and invite emotions and idealism to rule the day. As a result, I now become frustrated when I see fear-based motivation selling itself to unsuspecting and well-meaning parents. It happens on all sorts of parenting issues: Attachment or schedule? Breast or bottle? This mode of discipline or that form? Working mom or stay-at-home? 

But educational choices and methodologies seem to beat all in this quest for the “right” way to approach teaching our children. In fact, each schooling option has within it a host of additional schooling factions: Unschooling or more traditional homeschooling? Charter schools or “regular” public schools? Schools for the performing arts and schools for the budding engineers? Dual-credit classes at local colleges or AP courses at the local high school? And those are just public school possibilities. There are enough private school options to dizzy the mind and enough homeschool approaches to make your head explode. Conferences and books and web-sites abound, each one often promoting the virtues of one particular way of education over the “obvious” evils and disadvantages of other ways.  

It’s fine to do research. It’s fine to become inspired. It’s fine to make a choice and feel confident in it. 

It is not fine to be driven by fear or self-righteouness or a city-on-a-hill mentality into one option over another option, or to drive others using these lesser motivations into one option over another option.

These days, if you want to get me just a tad riled up, start using the rhetoric of fear when it comes to issues of schooling. And if you really want to smoke the crazy right out of me, add a healthy dose of moral duty or Biblical mandate along with it. 

People will hate me for saying this, but both sides do it.

I’m only one person and I’ve been privy to propaganda on a variety of fronts. I have nearly walked out of certain homeschooling talks and been tempted to burn pieces of literature that created fear-based, hypothetical, cause-and-effect motivation for rejecting public schooling in favor of homeschooling. Conversely, I have been incensed and insulted by public school proponents who have used fear-based, hypothetical, cause-and-effect motivation for rejecting the idiocy or “selfishness” of homeschooling in favor of public-schooling. 

I realize that my writing usually has a gentler tone, but I’ve seen and experienced the damage and anxiety of loveless, legalistic persuasion. Fear, pride, and idealism can be a lethal mix. They kill community and friendships and unity. They divide and elevate and separate. They have a way of blinding us to common sense and the freedom of our personal callings as parents and families. 

Let’s look at a few sample arguments from both sides to show you what I’m talking about. These are just some of the actual arguments with which I’m personally familiar. There are many more.

If you send your kids to public school:

Your kids will learn this and not that.

Your kids will not be protected from this but exposed to that.

Your kids will read sub-standard literature.

Your kids will not diagram sentences, nor will they learn enough grammar. They will therefore be educationally stunted for the rest of their lives.

Your kids will learn Common Core math and not have to work a single math problem with any accuracy for the remainder of their educational careers. {For the record, my kids are doing Common Core math and guess what? They have to get right answers.} 

Your kids will be deprived of the “right” Biblical methodology of learning.

Your kids are committing spiritual suicide.

You’re letting someone else do most of the work in teaching and raising your child. This is selfish.

If you keep your kids out of public school:

Your kids will not know how to make it in the real world.

Your kids will not have any cultural currency and will therefore be the laughing stock of their college lecture halls.

Your kids will expect the world to bend to their whims and their schedule instead of the other way around.

Your kids will be unsocialized.

You’re not teaching your children to live in community.

Your kids will think the rules don’t apply to them.

Their peers will become more important than their family; their socialization will be characterized by mob rule, disrespect, and poor manners.

You’re depriving our community of the positive influence your family and your children could be. This is selfish.

Did I just step on some toes? Well, if you makes you feel any better, my own toes are a bit bruised and bloody as a result of this entire series. But we have to be honest about the climate surrounding us and recognize the ways in which we’ve contributed or succumbed to oversimplification and generalization.

You don’t have to be a Christian or even religious to recognize and reject fear-based motivation. It has a way of infiltrating every brand of politics, activism, and community. We are blessed beyond measure to have the freedom to live and teach and buy and worship the way we want to. May it always be so. But with so many “choices,” we need to be ever at the feet of wisdom.

For those who are Christians, I’d like to go a bit deeper with the rest of this post. What does the Bible have to say about being sent out into the world motivated by a spirit of fear instead of the spirit of God? 

Though there are plenty of places I could go, 2 Timothy 1:7 and 1:9 seem fitting.

For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.

This is such consolation. God has not anointed us with a spirit of fear but with a spirit of freedom and boldness and so much more. 

How does this apply to school and to parenting in general? For starters, we don’t have to work harder to get this right. We don’t have to look like someone else. We don’t have to beat our heads against the wall to figure it out.  

Fear should not lead us and if it is, it’s not of God. He fills us with power, not fear. Pride has no place in our decisions and if it does, it’s not of God. He fills us with love and humility, not pride. Anxiety has no place in our decisions and if it does, it’s not of God. God graciously replaces our anxiety with a sound mind. {Some translations translate this as self-control or discipline.}

The beauty and power of the gospel is that it speaks directly into the heart of everything, including decisions about school and parenting. How convenient that the beauty and power of the gospel are found just one verse away in 2 Timothy 1:9: 

[God] who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began… 

We have not been saved and called because of anything we’ve done or will do, but because of everything God has done and will do, through his grace in Christ Jesus. 

That’s why we can have a sound mind and not be swayed by fear-based speak. That’s why we can love others who do this differently. That’s why we can be free to love and not to judge. That’s why we can be bold in our callings, which are his purposes for us, not as homeschoolers or public schoolers or private schoolers but as followers of Christ. 

Though our individual lives may look different from one another, our essential callings are the same: To love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. 
Here’s a tough challenge. It makes me squirm just typing it: 

If the way you are schooling is getting in the way of either of these callings {which are actually commandments}, it may be time to take inventory and figure out why. What ideals-turned-idols have become your functional savior(s)? 

Yes, it can be frightening to switch gears. It’s no fun to look truth in the face. It’s not easy to enter into unchartered parts of community when we’d rather stay safe and comfy in our own homes and with our own kind. 

I struggle with this today, right now, in the midst of this very series. I don’t have things neatly figured out. I only know that pride and fear should have no jurisdiction here. 

There is certainly plenty to be afraid of. But let’s consider the real evils of this world. Imperfect sentence diagramming and cuss words written on the bathroom stalls are not the real evils.

I’m not trying to minimize the negative influence of certain peers on your kids. Public school allows for an entire social scene that I’m only partially privilege to. I’ve seen “good” kids led astray and with devastating consequences. And I’ve also personally known just as many homeschooling and private schooling families who were vigilant in trying to protect their kids, only to find that the evils of this world still infiltrated their families through marital breakdown, sexual abuse, rebellion, mental illness, and a whole host of difficult and tragic situations. 

This shouldn’t surprise us. My last post discussed the danger of externalizing and regionalizing evil. The evil isn’t “out there.” Jesus reminds us that In this world you will have trouble. He does not then go on to say, Therefore get ye out of this world and to a safe and sheltered commune. Nor does he say, Therefore work ye the formula to make sure the trouble stays away from your family. 

Friends, this is so freeing. It means that it’s not our job to overcome the world. Nor is it our job to make sure none of its evils infiltrate our tidy and formulaic lives. It is our “job” to take heart and to rest in Christ. He alone is our hope. And because He is in us, we can confidently live in this troubled world. We can do this as individuals and also as families.

We can be salt and light, resting in our overcoming-all-the-trouble Savior, whether we teach our kids at home or send them to school. I believe that the “ends” for most of us are the same, even if the “means” differ. 

At the risk of being reductionistic, some may choose homeschool or private school because they want to shore their children up strong in truth and faith before they send them out. And some choose to do everyday discipleship by sending kids into public schools and helping them practice truth and faith.  

The goal for intentional parents is the same: I want my kids to bear fruit in this world. I want them to be ready and equipped. 

The vehicle is different according to each family and each situation. But however you choose to do this, do it on purpose. 

This is the part where I get bossy, the part where I leave you with with “points” and bold text. I already mentioned the first one.

1. However you choose to do this thing of school, do it on purpose. 

Know why you’re doing it and if at all possible, don’t forget about community in the process. You can send your kids to public school and be so focused on friendships and factions that mirror the values and appearance of your own family, you end up forgetting about the dire needs of the larger school community. The same goes for homeschool and private school. Homogeneity and apathy and having already-full plates can make us ineffective. Just try to notice, okay?  

2. Know who you’re following and why. 

Jesus’ words to his disciples are simple: Follow me. Not follow my followers but follow me.

I’m going to ask some very pointed questions to the Christians reading this: Who are you following on this issue of educating your children? Are you more interested in what various leaders of camps have to say? Have you spent as much time in prayer, seeking Jesus in this issue, as you’ve spent reading books or skimming web-sites or attending conference sessions led by certain gurus or recounting sermons preached by certain pastors?

I usually stay away from questions like that. They can be laced with guilt and condescension. Please know that’s not my intent. But if you’re anything like I was, you’ve probably spent more time considering the opinions of very well-intentioned others than you’ve spent considering the counsel of, and experiencing the fellowship with, Christ himself.  

I wish I’d tucked all the books away and simply prayed more. I wish I’d used the God-given common sense that my husband and I both possess instead of getting caught up in idealism and educational utopias. Though I do not at all regret homeschooling, I just wish I’d proceeded differently, trusting that Jesus would gently lead us and that He didn’t need the help of any educational evangelists.

There are many gifted and persuasive people out there. Some of them are very passionate about their agenda and they want to sweep you into the cause too. And that may or may not be okay. 

But some of these gifted people, though very persuasive, are not wise. They use fear, overstatements, and generalizations to make their points and they sway us because our most precious commodity is at stake: our children. {And some of them would go on to say, our culture.}

Remember, God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, He gently leads those that have young. Notice that God does not lead with the use of reactionary anger, scare tactics, manipulation, or statistics. He leads with gentleness.

He knows we are vulnerable when it comes to our young. He knows we are easily led astray. Parenthood is a daunting task because we are molding little lives that we love more than our own. We want the best for them and that’s as it should be. But when this becomes an overdesire, we are vulnerable to manipulation.

If a person or their platform is not gentle, if a person or their platform is holding itself out as a functional savior, if a person or their platform talks and acts as if it is gospel, if it uses fear, if the tone is sanctimonious or self-righteous and not characterized by grace and humility, be very careful.

Education is important. It opens doors and opportunities. It shapes us. It matters. But no educational method or model will save your children’s minds, bodies, souls, or futures. 

Friend, know that there is no formula. Instead, know that there is freedom. Recognize that fear is a powerful but counterfeit task-master. Examine your ideals and see if they’ve actually become idols…like mine had. 

And finally, whatever educational route you choose, be mindful that the community around you still needs the light and the love you have to offer. Don’t see it as one more thing on a to-do list. See it simply as showing up. See it as “reweaving shalom” in your community. 

Simply allow yourself to be filled up and let God do his thing of pouring you out in his time and in his unique way. He has the coolest, most organic process of making it happen, of empowering you to live full and real and unafraid and generous wherever you are. 


This is the ninth post in a series: 

Being Cool About School: 
Finding Grace & Freedom for Ourselves & Others in Our Educational Choices

{Whether We Teach Our Kids at Home, 
in School, or on the Moon}

You can read the earlier posts in the series here
Feel free to subscribe to the blog if you’d like to receive the rest of the series in your e-mail’s inbox. You can do that in the right sidebar. And you may unsubscribe anytime you like. 


  1. says

    I love that phrase you use, ideals turned idols. We can do this in lots of areas of our lives. Especially in our churches. I know that’s a whole different issue, but you’ve remained me that sometimes I need to pray more and read less, I need to hear from God and not look at how others do it!

    Thanks for accurately handing God’s truth, and encouraging me with it!

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