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I offer this essay, not from a place of success, but rather from failure. If a classical, Christian education is predicated on imitation, then do not imitate me. Instead, if what I say is right, then think on what I say and not on what I do.
Three Reasons for Humility
My wife and I homeschool our children. We are also currently part of two local Classical Conversations communities, which we find a blessing and a great resource. However, when our eldest child was born over eleven years ago, we faced some tough choices. Were we going to choose that one of us stay home while the other was the so-called breadwinner, thus reducing our monthly income? Were we going to take advantage of our local government schools, for which we were already paying? Were we going to homeschool, choose private school, try unschooling, or do something else? After much discussion, we decided that my wife would quit her job outside the home and be a full-time homemaker. We also decided we would homeschool.
We take each year as an experiment. We do not know what God will bring into our lives from day to day. We have gone through a lot in the past eleven years. It has not been easy. We do a lot of praying. And I must say that when it comes to teaching our children and running the home, my wife does most of the heavy lifting. This is what I want to talk about. As a homeschooling father, I face the reality that it is my wife who is the star. I like the theoretical side of things, my wife is in the nuts and bolts of it all. I dream a lot, but my wife makes it happen. And sadly, I pontificate a lot, but my wife embodies the logos of teaching better than I ever could. I believe something like this is true for many homeschooling families: One parent, usually the mother, does most of the teaching while the other parent, usually the father, picks up what he can and tries to offer support. I must say, therefore, the most important characteristic of the homeschooling father is humility.
There are at least three reasons (I am sure there are many more) why humility is important to being a homeschooling father:
I. Teaching is fundamentally an act of humility.
II. Responsibility is fundamentally an act of humility.
III. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the Church.
I. Teaching is an Act of Humility
If we are to imitate Christ, then trying to be a good teacher is not a bad place to start. Teaching is an act of humility for at least four reasons.
• First, we will always struggle to know just what to teach and how to teach it. Even with a carefully laid out plan, we will always be faced with questions of what to include, when to include it, and how to best to teach it. This is the nature of teaching; it is part of what keeps teaching interesting, but it also requires humility. We will struggle, we will fail, and still God will use us.
• Second, even if we figure out what to teach and how to teach it, we cannot force a student to learn. This can be discouraging, but if a student does not want to learn, she will not. Sure, as parents we can make our children go through the motions, and even retain some information, but is that the way any of us want to teach? A teacher only has so much power over a student, if any, and that power is most lacking in the very area a teacher most desires to have it—to get the student to truly learn.
• Third, even if we could make our students learn, we cannot make any student love and take into her soul what she has learned. If we strip away all our curricula, all our plans, all the worksheets and papers, all the books lists and assignments, we find that teaching and learning are really two sides of a mystery. We teach from love, and we also teach on faith—the faith that maybe because of us, and probably in spite of us, our students take what is good and true into their souls.
• Finally, and most specifically for fathers, our wives are probably better teachers than we are. This is true in my life and I am convinced it is true for many others.
II. Responsibility is an Act of Humility
We live in an age when many men do not assume their natural responsibilities as men. Boys naturally desire to become men, but these days men are often too afraid to become truly men. So, they remain boys. But being a man, a father, a husband, and a teacher all require taking and owning one’s natural responsibilities, and this requires humility. I see at least five reasons why responsibility requires humility:
• First, we are responsible for our children and our students. But that being said, they are also truly unique human beings, separate from us, and their souls are ultimately in God’s hands. The responsibility of a father is simultaneously a holding tight and a letting go, and a father is bound to err as he balances the two.
• Second, being responsible and acting responsibly are not the same thing, and a father will confuse these two eventually. We must seek to know fully that for which we are responsible, and then act accordingly. This is not easy and we will fail.
• Third, responsibility requires knowledge, and a father simply cannot know everything, least of all the future. In some situations, to say, “I don’t know” is one of the most responsible things a father can say, but this requires humility. I must pause here and stress that this is a powerful humility.
• Fourth, responsibility requires imposing obligations and restraining actions. Both of these, because of our sin and our lack of knowledge, are eventually bound to fail or even to cause harm. True humility will often require a heartfelt, “I’m sorry.” This is the most powerful kind of humility.
• And fifth, responsibility is a form of leadership, and the best leadership is a form of service, and service is an act of humility. If Christ is our king, then let us imitate Him. Remember, He washed His disciples’ feet. Remember He went to the cross. In our lives, as we embrace the responsibility of being fathers and teachers, there might be times when we ask God if it is possible to “let this cup pass” from us. Remember, Christ also asked that question, but He also said, “not as I will, but as You will.”
III. Husbands are to Love their Wives as Christ Loves the Church
This brings me to my final reason why humility is important to being a homeschooling father. With apologies to single fathers, husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the Church. This is humility itself, and trying to love our wives this way is to court failure at the outset, which— ironically and fortunately—brings more humility. I have to reiterate that my wife and I are a team, and yet she does most of the teaching in our family. I trust that is true for most homeschooling fathers. As followers of Christ, we husbands are called to love and serve our wives, to give and not to expect, to seek their good and their virtue. If a husband does not take on this task, it is all too easy for a homeschooling family to get out of balance. We homeschooling fathers must look to Christ as our example. If that does not bring about humility, then I do not know what does.
Any good and true education comes with tears. To become truly educated is the result of many moments of repentance. But before repentance comes humility. I have argued that fathers must have humility, but it is more than that: Fathers must embody humility as well. Students need humility in order to be good students. Thus, homeschooling fathers not only teach their children the topic at hand—whether it is math, science, writing, or whatever—but homeschooling fathers must also, and always, teach humility by the example they set. Humility is a foundational quality to becoming wise and virtuous, which is what it means to be truly educated.
I said at the beginning that I write this from failure. I also write these words because I needed to remind myself of the importance of humility. Though I have plenty of reasons to be humble, it is all too easy to twist out of them and become prideful and self-absorbed. What I want is to be a great husband and father. And I also want to be a great teacher. However, I know that none of that is possible if I refuse to take the logos of humility into my soul and embody it in my life. In other words, I must imitate Christ.
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