How Much is Enough?

Written by Marlin Detweiler

About one week after sending out the November epistula I told my wife that we needed to scrap any plans for a Christmas oriented lead article to answer questions resulting from the Musings From a Mom article of last month. It seems the author hit a nerve. And, like any good dentist who hits a nerve while drilling, we thought it wise to medicate.


There were several statements made in the article that we received comments on, but they generally focused on this:


Homeschoolers Are Behind: It was surprising to hear that Veritas Academy often tests homeschoolers for admittance and finds them lacking. We all think our children are brilliant and several grade levels ahead of where they “should” be. Apparently this is not so. More homeschoolers must hear that.


Some responses and questions asked for clarification. Others pointed out weaknesses or different sets of facts, such as having many more children to teach, as many of you do. Still others suggested that we were throwing a guilt trip on you. One even suggested that a testimonial-type article lacked credibility in an academic journal. I’m flattered that epistula was called an academic journal, but I don’t think the description fits. Our purpose is to be informative and motivational as well as interesting—not just an academic journal.


In the remainder of this article I’d like to address what seems to be at the bottom of all the responses. It is probably best characterized by an excerpt from one of them:


I find myself more and more sensitive to whether I’m doing “enough,” doing it “right” with my dd [dear daughter], etc. What to you all seemed like a limited example has stirred up quite a bit of confusion in our classical homeschooling circles. 


The problem is fairly simple. You have chosen to homeschool. Some are not trained as a teacher. You are told you can do it (and we believe you can, too). You believe you can, and you start. You get caught up in the details and at some point you think, “How much is enough?” By the way, this question is one that schools ask themselves, too. And they should.


The question keeps begging an answer. How much IS enough? How much is ENOUGH? And you feel some guilt because there is always more that can be done. There is always someone else doing something that you are not, and you wonder if you should. Again, schools feel this pressure, too.


The first thing we really must consider is the fact that each situation is different. All other things being equal, a family with five children cannot educate with the same level of individual attention that a family homeschooling one child can. Naturally, this makes a difference. Another factor is money. A family that can afford to take their third grader to Italy and Greece should be more effective teaching about Ancient Greece and Rome, the Gospels or Acts through Revelation than a family who cannot afford such a trip. Geography also plays a part. Being located near Gettysburg, Washington, Philadelphia or Boston poses great opportunity for field trips to aid teaching Explorers to 1815 or 1815 to the Present.


We all make choices. I can’t imagine anyone moving from Omaha to Boston to give their child more access to field trips aiding the teaching of early American history. There are other factors that outweigh such a move. When we print an Omnibus text book, we have five to six people proofread. We know even that is not enough, and we will have some typographical errors come through in the final version. But we can’t afford the more extensive proofreading done by much larger publishers. In other words, we accept the fact that it won’t be perfect. Yet we recognize that it is better to do it imperfectly than not do it perfectly. School is like that. In fact, I have commonly said, “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly,” when asked how we got started, not having been educated classically ourselves. The alternative to not doing it is, well, not an alternative.


Schools and homeschools are faced with similar choices. You cannot do it all. A typical family homeschooling, say, three children can’t reasonably expect to do as thorough a job teaching three different tracks in every discipline with one set of parents teaching as a family with one child. Furthermore, homeschooling has some built-in differences from a school. Many parents are teaching without having been trained to teach—that is tough. Is it offset by the fact that the parent loves the child more than any teacher can? Sometimes. Sometimes not.


I commend you for choosing to give your child a Christian education—in school or at home. That is the first and foremost issue as far as I’m concerned. Christians have no business having their children educated by agnostic institutions and then wondering why they don’t faithfully follow the Lord. This should be non-negotiable.


What is negotiable is, “How much is enough?” But we must be prepared to make these choices. And we must figure out a way to do them both honestly and guilt-free. Basketball or Algebra? Piano or Physics? Are they even either/or questions?


My wife, Laurie, has made the comment that many homeschooing families coming to Veritas Academy are behind. It seems that needs clarification. Someone asked if homeschooling families that use Veritas Press curriculum are also behind when they seek to enter the school. Some are, some aren’t. They do tend to be better prepared. It is also true that many children coming from other schools are behind. It is not unusual for a child to be a year or two behind in math. It is also true that some homeschooling children will have been exposed to things that children at Veritas have not because their family deemed it as important. The point that she was making with her comment is this: schooling children, whether in school or a homeschooling situation, is HARD, HARD work. It requires diligence. When a child is in a situation where a teacher is constantly critiquing their writing, making them redo their math problems, etc. they generally move ahead quickly—school or homeschool. When a teacher assigns a test for Friday, they do not care if Jimmy was out late last night at a baseball game, Jimmy still has to take the test and so Jimmy continues to move ahead. You should know we love homeschooling. If the impression was given that we think school is definitely better that is not the case. It is not that simple. When our oldest was in third grade and homeschooled he was able to do two years of Saxon in one year (A friend of Laurie’s trained as a CPA was teaching him math). This enabled him to be on a track to be complete Calculus in tenth grade and Calculus II his junior year. In his senior year he took Calculus IIIand Linear Algebra with Differential Equations at a local university. This was hard work. Not only did he do all his other disciplines, but he spent about two hours a day on math. This has proven to pay great dividends—some in cash. He got a tremendous academic scholarship to study  Materials Engineering and has continued to be blessed with incredible opportunities at college.


We frequently hear that schools waste time—that you ought to be able to do your school day in a few hours a day. Whether in school or at home, work is work; it all depends on how you use the time.


So, where do we get academic standards that tell us, “THIS is enough!”? We think that looking to better educational times historically is wise. We think looking at present day success cases is helpful. In our work we have looked at historic examples, examples from other cultures and, of course, our own circumstances. All this has led to the levels of accomplishment that we recommend in our catalog and on our web site. But we must realize that a rigorous academic education is not everything. It has been very important to me to give my children a well-rounded education that includes athletics and the arts. They have benefited greatly.


As I write I can still sense some frustration. You still want to know, “How much is enough?” Yet, I hope you can see that I cannot provide a simple, one-size-fits-all answer. The answer, frankly, is “It depends.”


Here at Veritas Press, we desperately want to help you as much as we can. We purpose to help parents and schools to raise a godly generation that is better educated than we, that is more capable than we. And that is helping to move the world—individuals, communities and nations—in which we live to a right relationship with their Creator. And we think that a rigorous classical Christian education balanced with other very important matters is an integral part to that end.


In the Free Offers section below you will find a free link to a talk I did on Academic Standards. I think it will help “set the bar” for you.


We have also given much thought to offering a service to homeschools and schools that would be far more extensive than our consulting service. Our discussions have included ideas like on-going consulting, test and paper grading, curriculum design and implementation techniques, certificates of completion for any given grade and even a degree program for graduation from high school. We’d like to hear from you. Would this be helpful? Would it help you know, “How much is enough?”


It is not our purpose to send you on a guilt trip. However, it is our clear and express purpose to recognize that the educational standards of today are quite slack when weighed in the balance of history and student capability. And we want you to join us in doing something about it to the glory of God.