We homeschool. There’s a lot of talk about homeschool children growing up in a cocoon. Should they? Yes, and no.
But first: almost every parent creates a cocoon of some type for their children. The instinct of even the least reflective parent is to control what strikes the child’s sense-organs. “Children should not grow up too fast”: it’s universal. In its simplest form, this means children’s responsibilities should be scaled to their age. But we also all agree they should not be presented with moral content they are not yet armed to process.
This is pre-cognitive for parents. All do it,even those who think they don’t. I guarantee you if I have 15 minutes with the most secular parents I will then be able to describe their parental cocoon. So it’s not actually a debate about “cocoon or not”: we’re only debating the shape and size of the cocoon, the opacity and granularity of the filter. (If you’re one of those strange persons who thinks your child should experience everything the random airwaves throw into your child’s personal space — you should be shot. This discussion is not for you.)
But it is a lack of rigor that lumps all parental cocoons together; the moral cocoon is not the intellectual cocoon, and we need to distinguish them properly. The one is crucial; the other, often tragic. Christian parents confuse the two and try to create an all-filtering cocoon around their children, inside of which is a “Christian world”. It doesn’t work, and it is unecessary, and it is positively harmful.
If you think about it, there are only a few possible world-views. In fact, there are only materialisms, and theisms. The rest is detail, from a logical point of view. Christian children do not lose their faith from being exposed to the other world-views too early, because there is nothing particularly challenging in them. It’s simply a question of whether materialisms hold more explanatory power and intrinsic charm than a supernatural universe. Children can think this through in the time it takes to finish a lollipop. Few of them possess the denial-muscles they would need to spend the rest of their lives amputating all non-material concepts from the data set — those muscles require several years of defensive intellectual gymnastics. Few children ever decide the universe makes more sense as matter only; what some do decide, late, is that they were never told how wonderful is the world around them, and they suspect fraud, and some never recover from that cynicism.
Keep in mind the early apologists were happy to take on the best intellects of the classical world. Intellectual challenges only make the Christian worldview more attractive. So at my house, we encourage the discussion of whether the universe is particles in a void, or whether it is a frenzy of angels, devils, dragons, and sacrifical lambs. I encourage my son to decide that one for himself; I’ll be out back playing with the dragons or praying to the Lamb. He can play and pray if he likes.
We are open to all subjects, silly and serious. There is no harm to Christian children by their encountering a diversity of ideas and subjects. History, philosophy, other religions, art, social sciences, science (including evolutionary biology) — let a thousand disciplines bloom. We just need to talk about things together. We just need to explore the riches of human thought together. (By the way, no child abandons Jesus for the dinosaurs. This evangelical association of allosaurs as the satanic familiars of Darwin has got to stop.)
Traditionally, though, the moral life has required the guarding of the senses. Let’s be direct: we’re talking mostly about sex. The biblical view is martial toward Baal, confronting him full in the face — but the same bible counsels the young man to turn the eyes away from The Harlot. Depictions of ungodly moral choices which glorify those choices have no value. They do not strengthen the moral fiber. Intellectual challenge can clarify the faith; moral challenge is simply temptation.
Children need their minds to be challenged in order to grow strong; but the base for moral vision is not challenge and response. The moral life of the person is more wholistic, more of a gestalt than the intellectual life, and amounts to adherence to a vision, a model. The vision of the model can and should grow, but the vision of anti-models accomplishes nothing. In fact, because the passions are pre-cognitive in adults as well as children, the order and power of the imprint of the model makes a great deal of difference. Exposure to moral corruption before the vision of the archetype is imprinted is a moral injury. Adults who read these words will think them silly, only because the experience of their children is no different from their own memories. This means nothing; the gradual devolution of any normalcy is simply not perceived.
It is a common myth that children who grow up in innocent environs will go crazy when they first encounter the world. This is tale told by the degenerate about the innocent. (Children who grow up in sterile, rigid environs may; that fundamentalist cliche is not what we’re aiming for. If you automatically conceive of a home without erotic imagery as somehow cold or sterile, you are simply accessing your own experience.)
Neither the moral cocoon nor the intellectual anti-cocoon need to evolve with age.
The moral cocoon for a child is the cocoon he should preserve like an heirloom all his adult life. We do not become more ok with, say, self-chosen sexual temptation as we grow older. If it is sinful for your child to see something, then it is sinful for you to see it. The cocoon doesn’t evolve toward openness.
But the opposite is true of the mental life. The cocoon should be wide open at the beginning, instead of evolving toward openness as the child can “handle other views”. The smallest child, quite early, has all the intellectual equipment they need to immediately and rationally choose Christianity over any alternative, if the alternatives are all fairly and simply presented. And further learning will not equip him better, though education will indeed equip him to speak the Christian worldview into the languages of those alternatives. Which is why I am uncomfortable with most of the talk about “worldviews” in the homeschooling and classical schooling movements — it’s all so defensive. I suspect most of it is about unlearning bad versions of the Gospel.
It is true that children who grow up intellectually sheltered are captivated by the apparent sophistication of college skepticism and frat house philosophies. But morally sheltered children who are appropriately charmed by holiness do not find decadence anything other than ugly. The Amish, for example, lose some children during their time of forced living outside the community, but a great many of them return to the farm, finding it…more nearly paradise. We don’t need to be Amish, but…
Build a moral cocoon around your children. Do not build an intellectual cocoon.