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The Reformed School of Alexandria

January 15, 1998

We did not raise our children in a classroom environment. I conducted my "classes" in the front seat of the pickup or in the cabinet shop. Deb conducted her classes in the kitchen or sitting at the kitchen table enthusiastically discussing points of interest to the children. They chose projects that were interesting to them. They could be found searching the library, collecting rocks, leaves, and bugs or constructing solar systems with foam balls, wire, and paint. The only tests they took were when someone tried to cheat them at a cash register or when they were dividing up earnings from a corporate entrepreneurial endeavor. Have you ever seen three kids, ages four, six, and eight dividing up $5.37? Old fashion suspicion will make a mathematician out of them in a hurry. I am often asked, "But aren’t schools the best way to learn?" Where did you get a ridiculous idea like that?
H.G. Wells, a noted humanist and historian, wrote concerning the schools of Alexandria, Egypt between the second and seventh centuries AD. "Wisdom passed away from Alexandria and left pedantry [pretentious display of knowledge] behind. For the use of books was substituted the worship of books. Very speedily the learned became a specialized queer class with unpleasant characteristics of its own. The Museum had existed for half a dozen generations before Alexandria was familiar with a new type of human being; shy, eccentric, unpracticed, incapable of essentials, strangely fierce upon trivialities of literary detail, as bitterly jealous of the colleague within as of the unlearned without—the Scholarly Man. He was as intolerant as a priest, though he had no cave. For him no method of copying was sufficiently tedious and no rare book sufficiently inaccessible. He was a sort of by-product of the intellectual process of mankind. For many precious generations the new-lit fires of the human intelligence were to be seriously banked down by this by-product."

big book of homeschooling
I have observed the byproduct of America’s modern counterpart to the Alexandrian school. Their frail bodies, white with the tan of florescent lights, shoulders humped, eyes squinted, poor complexion from the junk food consumed between lessons, stumble from their classrooms to stand in line for the next culturally preordained phase of life. Their mentality is that since they have given themselves to the system, the system owes them a good job, good wages, medical coverage, fair play, protection, entertainment, a vacation, retirement, old age convalescence, and a proper burial. God save us from being average. I don’t want to be a part. I don’t want to rear children to be a cog in this wheel.
It is obvious that many homeschooling families are nothing more than reformed public educational systems. A system faulty at the very core of its philosophy doesn’t need reformation. It needs dismissal. The educational system in America doesn’t need a new teacher; it needs a new birth.
Whether in the home, dictated by parents, or in the corporate classroom, John Dewey style education has taken an invasive, destructive course. Intensive, time-consuming mental discipline—out of proportion to working with the hands—is alien to natural humanity and a threat to normal development. It is a perversion to take a five- to twelve-year-old child and enter him in a demanding competition for academic excellence. We would all find fault with an ambitious adult that put his seven-year-old child through a demanding schedule of football training. Is the seven-year-old any better equipped to handle the emotional demands of professional study? How can we justify raping a child’s youth by forced confinement in full time study? Child prodigies are usually abnormal, unfulfilled adults. Head-starters are often late finishers with no desire to continue their education.
Just as the motions of crawling are essential to the development of an infant, and the four-year-old hanging on to his mama’s skirts is essential to a child’s sense of security, so the ten-year-old following his daddy around is an integral part of his psychological development into manhood. Schooling will fill their brains with facts, enabling them to pass tests, but it will not teach them to relate to society. When children should be developing confidence, creativity, individuality, strong bodies, and work ethics, instead they are made to cease independent decision making and march (or rather sit) in formation to the drum beat of a lifeless curriculum. If you have wondered where the real men went, they disappeared into textbooks and went through puberty with books in their laps rather than tools in their hands.
Let us not go through another upper class Alexandrian Dark Age. There is no ignorance as great as book ignorance—not ignorance OF books, ignorance IN books. Just so you understand my perspective: I am a college graduate. I write this while sitting in a room with thousands of books lining all available wall space from the floor to ceiling. I have read a meaningful portion of most of them. My children all read for enjoyment and as research to satisfy curiosity or to fill a need. Rebekah, our only child who thus far has found it needful to go to college, earned a four-point average. My present purpose is not to brag on my kids. I am willing enough to do that, but I want you to understand that book education is shallow without a larger education in real life. When book education becomes predominate, the student is no longer living in the real world.
I know that there comes a time when a mature adult may need to immerse himself in studies, shutting out the real world, but this should be the burden of a mature adult who has a goal that can only be realized through the weariness of much study. A child who is yet growing and developing a personality and character should not spend long periods of time withdrawn in study.
What horrors, to see a small child quivering under the condemnation of his mother because he can’t keep his mind on a dead book lying in front of him! Long hours of boredom and pretended study stunts the intellectual growth of young children. Yes, we want our children to be educationally equipped to enter into any field or discipline they may choose, but mind-set is more important than mind content. It is far more important for a child to grow into personal confidence, creativity and vision than to rush into academic excellence. The reality is that most homeschooling parents are following the current pop philosophy, sacrificing the humanity of their children for the promise of academic security.
There must be a balance. Rather than the imbalance of six hours of study and one hour of recess, for the six- to ten-year-old let there be one hour of study, five hours of recess, and two hours of work. Balance the ten- to fourteen-year-old with two hours of play, one hour of study, and five hours of work. Balance the fifteen- to sixteen-year-old with seven hours of work, one hour of study, and let him find time to play. Following a natural course as I have described, the seventeen- to eighteen-year-old won’t need your balancing; he will be a man in every sense of the word. The seventeen-year-old girl will be a lady of poise and confidence, ready to meet whatever challenges await her.
Over the last 40 years I have observed many families who believed the greater the education the greater the success in life. Many of those college graduates have never provided adequate support for their own families. Opportunity existed, but they were not able to do anything other than sit at a desk on a weekly salary. If the economy were to collapse, they would not know how to survive.
I know that what I have said is radical. A little light in a great darkness is always radical. I have not advocated ignorance. Quite the contrary. It is isolated book learning that is ignorance, ignorance of real life. College professors don’t make better spouses and parents than do farmers. Corporate executives can be terribly ignorant in human relationships. Engineers can be insecure wimps who are paralyzed with fear at the thought of being cast upon their own bare resources. Politicians can negotiate a peace treaty with a foreign power but not have the power to negotiate a peace with their own teenagers. Computer programmers can solve the most complex problems but not be able to deal with the complexities of marital relationships.
The profession with the lowest divorce rate and the lowest suicide rate is that of farmer. Again, I am not advocating avoidance of the higher trained professions. I am just aware that children and young people should not be pushed by anxious parents who feel that their children’s happiness depends on cramming them full of book knowledge as early as possible. When they are old enough to send themselves through college, they can make that decision to become a professional student. The self-confidence and working skills learned in their youth will better equip them for higher education than will the long hours of wimpish study in youth.
In your heart you know that the present public system is anti-human as well as anti-God. Homeschoolers have eliminated the anti-God aspect, but most of them have retained the anti-human elements in their schooling.
Children need a mother who has the time and energy to mother them, not be a teacher who has neither the time nor the patience to appreciate them as people. Lay down your stern professor’s mantle and pick up your apron. Next time you meet eyes with your child make sure it is with approval and not with academic disappointment. I never did like the teachers that gave out achievement tests, nor the ones who handed out the scores. In your desire to see your children "educated," don’t stop being a mama or a daddy. Relax and give them time to develop emotionally. Allow them to be three years behind the normally accepted standard in academic achievement, and by the time they are sixteen they will be three years ahead. Twelve to fifteen is a very good age for "catching up." The twelve-year-old who has not developed a disposition against schooling will learn more in six months than most kids know when they graduate. A child who is confident and secure will learn with ease. Fear of failure and rejection will close the mind up worse than retardation. Many children fear learning because they associate it with painful boredom and/or rejection.
Children are all different. The beauty of homeschooling is that we can adapt to the needs of the child. Our oldest daughter Rebekah loved books, writing, music, art, etc. She was reading by the time she was four, but she couldn’t add the change in her pocket until she was baking bread. Our next son, Gabriel, could count money before he could speak plainly. At eight-years-old he amused himself and impressed others with his simple calculations. It was nothing unusual for the average third grader, but with an older sister like he had, he thought he was pretty smart. We assured him that he was. At eight years old he could use a tape measure and help me in the shop, but he couldn’t read or write at all. He just had no interest. We didn’t push, but after the way Rebekah learned we were beginning to wonder if he would ever learn to read. She was writing poetry at eight years old. At eight he couldn’t write his name in the mud he left on the floor.
The day finally came when he walked up to Deb and said, "I want to learn to read the Bible like Daddy." She sat down with him and opened a King James Bible—since it’s the easiest one to read. Earlier he had refused phonics, seeing it had no immediate practical purpose, so she started him reading by route from Genesis 1:1. In two weeks, one hour a day, he had learned the basics of reading. Within six months, he could read on his own, with comprehension.
Less than a year from the time he started learning to read, the State of Tennessee forced us to have the children tested. Our children had never taken a test and never been in a classroom. I had to explain to Gabriel how to conduct himself as part of an indoor society. He had to leave his throwing knives at home along with his shotgun. I explained to him that he was supposed to sit in the desks and not wander around the room examining things and asking what they were. And above all, don’t speak unless spoken to. It didn’t make any sense to him, but he was as game as that time he jumped off the diving board with his feet tied together and his hands tied behind his back. This was a new challenge and he loved challenges.
They arrived at the school to find stern faces greeting them. The teachers were not at all sympathetic with us and made it as hard as possible. I must say, I was nervous. I stayed home like an expectant father who didn’t have the guts to go to the hospital. I had no idea how they would do. I was just hoping they could come up to their grade level. Nine-year-old Gabriel scored several years ahead of his supposed level, and eleven-year-old Rebekah scored in the upper high school to college level.
You would expect them to come home weary and emotionally drained. Mama was. But they hurriedly changed clothes and jumped in the pond. All was forgotten. While other children were still laboring through their last hours of confinement, our children were lost in the wonders of tadpoles, frogs, and flips off the diving board into the muddy water.
You can have the computer geeks and the pale faced, thin shouldered, soft bellied, bookworms. Give me a little man who can swing an ax, fix a bicycle or car, build a house, read with comprehension, and compute all the money he is making from the labor of his own strong hands.

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16 comments on “The Reformed School of Alexandria”

  1. I LOVE this article...it's one of my favorites. I read it often. Since Michael Pearl has written the article, the economy has in fact collapsed and there are many well educated corporate executives without jobs. They, in fact, don't know how to survive now and their wives wouldn't even know how to make beans if they needed a cheap meal.

  2. Thank you for this article! The best on this site. It has revolutionized my thoughts entirely on how I will educate my children. As a product of God-centered homeschool with rigid adherence to tests and textbooks that I completely forgot unless it was a paper I had to write and create. For my family there will be radically different methods of education than the current status quo.

  3. I am thankful for this article. I am a homeschool mom of two boys and another boy on the way. The enemy has been tempting me to give up, get stressed, get aggrivated (at everything), and submit to a stern educational book yielding homeschool setting. I have been struggling with this, since I have every desire to let my children be outside, build with their hands, learn to cook, and cultivate, and many of the things you stated in your article. I am convicted and relieved to know that through my bible study last night and this article that I am indeed free in Jesus Christ and that I don't belong to this world that I only live in it. So I have no need to adhere to the expectations of the world. I sometimes forget and I get caught up in the lies that educators and schools tell us through friendships with those attending those schools, that their kids will do better and are more advanced then my lowely homeschooled boys. Wow, a weight has been lifted and I am feeling a renewed calm in my mind and in my heart about this thing we do called "homeschool". So thank you again and may our Lord and Savior continue to bless you.

  4. I am even more excited to receive Deb's cd on her favorite homeschooling ideas! I've known for some time that the way I've been homeschooling them isn't working and is boring them to death but didn't know how to change it. I've changed things here and there over the years but this article has shown me that I don't need to change the current system we use, I need to throw it out and start from the beginning. Praise God for directing me to this article and to your website. You and everyone else at NGJ have helped our family in every way imaginable. Our youngest daughter has struggled with just about every aspect of "school" from reading to math and two years ago, I just backed off and focused on reading TO her instead of demanding that she learn to read it herself. We set math aside completely and now that she's 10, she is reading at "grade level" (whatever that means) and is starting to want to do math! She wants to be able to count the money she earns from baking breads or weeding gardens. I know you guys have received some bad reviews from secular people who don't understand the first word of what your saying but please, please keep the articles and teaching coming! We just went through the Becoming Tempered Steele video with our oldest son and are eagerly awaiting your teachings on being free from sin and living in righteousness. No one has ever told us before that we don't have to let sin have a hold in our lives. Our oldest son (almost 14) had such a wrong sense of sexual intimacy and going through part two of the tempered steel series cleared it all up for him! I could write a book on how much your teachings and resources have helped our entire family. God bless you all and allow you to continue to help the thousands of families that you are. 🙂

  5. After researching for years I have found one thing- The standard classroom format along with it's tools textbooks and workbooks is one of the worst available methods for educating children.

  6. I agree wholeheartedly with what Mr. Pearl is saying. However, what do you do with the system when they want you calculate all your hours of teaching, give number grades to your high schooler and want to review what curriculum to use, etc.?? I would LOVE to teach my children like this, but I am fearful of the "system".

  7. GREAT article! I greatly enjoyed it! I have a 14 yo son and it's hard to let the books "go" sometimes, but we are getting better. He is a hard worker and has a ton of interests. He is the most creative person I know, so I'm trying to get better about worrying about his education. It doesn't matter to me if he is behind or ahead in the so called "grade levels". He actually came up to me this morning and asked if I would put him in 9th grade language this year. I told him not to worry about grade levels, that it didn't matter as long as he was learning. Then he asked me what he was going to tell people when they asked what grade he was in.... I told him we'd think of something 🙂 :).....

  8. I have the same question as Melanie, especially for my 10th grade student. I have to meet the requirements for classes and keep track of her attendance and grades so I can come up with a transcript at the end of the year. I feel like I want to cover so many subjects or she'll be deficient when she graduates or if she has to take the ACT for college (college, that's a whole other subject I'm questioning!). I feel torn because my true desire is to teach my children homemaking skills such as cooking, crocheting, cleaning, etc. but that all takes a back seat. I wish I could have some practical advise on what I could do because I have no idea how to simplify our homeschooling so I can fit in what I really desire for our children.

  9. Thank you Michael. Another excellent article. Yesterday I said to our children, "idle hands are the playground of the devil." Thought I would sound as wise as Debbie and you:)

  10. I couldn't agree more with the article by Michael Pearl. I would like to add my point of view, as a middle-aged, practicing, board-certified surgeon who was homeschooled until college, generally with no curriculum and minimal time to study (and plenty of work instead.) In the late 1970s, what my parents was doing was radical indeed. I started state university at age 19 and proceeded to blow my academic competition out of the water. I ranked in the top 40-100 in the nation on numerous national exams, was medical school valedictorian, etc. etc. I look back now at the boatloads of academic awards and say, how sad. (With St. Paul, Phillipians 4, "I count these things rubbish".) I was a far more happy, energetic, fulfilled, curious, self-driven and creative "unschooler" in my teen years, before I entered the academic rat race. Yes, "education" is anti-God and anti-human and was designed to be so. The school system in America differs little from the religion of Molech; parents with any say at all should cooperate as little as possible. The government does not own our children. Public school was invented (along with a bunch of other evils) as a way of bringing in socialism and destroying the USA. The deed is essentially complete. Read John Taylor Gatto, "Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling", "Weapons of Mass Instruction"; W. Cleon Skousen, "The Naked Capitalist". Slightly more difficult reads include Russell Blaylock, "Health and Nutrition Secrets That Can Save Your Life", chapters on fluoride, mercury, excitotoxins and other writings on vaccines; Robert Mendelsohn, "Confessions of a Medical Heretic"; Rene Wormser, "Foundations: Their Power and Influence". Google Bertrand Russell, "16 questions on the JFK assassination". The careful reader will notice a highly ominous "big picture" developing.

  11. This is a great article! I have 15 years of teaching in a "normal" school under my belt. Now I am homeschooling my own two children. I have watched so many 5-7 year olds struggle with learning to read. If you don't teach them to read at the same time they are learning to talk, then YES! Definitely wait until they are ready to read before trying to make them learn. Poor kid! They rarely recover and become a happy, proficient reader after they first start struggling. My now 6 year old learned to read as a baby, so she never thought of it as a problem. Now if she wants to learn anything, she knows how to look it up and learn it on her own! She loves reading and learning new things! Math can completely be taught using a good set of base 10 blocks and real money. Base 10 blocks can be used to learn all 4 basic operations, fractions, decimals, algebra, calculus, trigonometry,etc-- all in a fun way. The kids think they are just playing and building, gaining a true understanding of numbers along the way. And the best part is school can be done this way in 2 hours or less each day!!
    As far as those who are required to turn in grades and class schedules to the government, remember that every bit of life with your kids is a class of some sort. If you make a game of correcting grammar while you make lunch, you can write down 1/2 hour grammar class. They can have swimming class, gardening classes, and lawn care classes in the summer if you school year around. Schooling year round makes it easy to spread out the government required hours over 365 days.

  12. Looking at the worried parents' responses who are trying to do homeschool high school, I have only one question, "WHY are you even doing high school?" It is a waste of time. Our daughter skipped high school and went straight to college, where she did extremely well and graduated summa cum laude. Her college education was almost entirely paid for by academic scholarships. Before you start saying, "Oh, your daughter must have been some kind of genius..." the answer is NO WAY. Our approach to "school" was to go with what she was interested in. For example, when she was 9 years old, she was very much interested in archaeology, because it supports the Bible and hey, it's kinda exciting. So she spent a year delving into it, happily reading college level material, coming up with projects and having great discussions with mom and dad. For us, mealtime was "school" time, with lively discussions. We are into hiking and that was another great "discussion time." I could go on and on, but bottom line, we did NOT use textbooks, and aimed at learning REAL skills, not just bookwork.

    1. Hi Monty, sounds like your daughter had so many real-life learning experiences! That is wonderful! Not all children are created equal or learn at the same pace, thus making homeschooling an even greater tool as they pursue their lifetime of learning! Since this article was written we have published several articles about homeschooling high school and included several articles from successful homeschool graduates! Here are some of the links:
      http://nogreaterjoy.org/articles/homeschooling-high-schoolers/
      http://nogreaterjoy.org/articles/from-marc/
      http://nogreaterjoy.org/articles/from-benjamin/
      http://nogreaterjoy.org/articles/from-eric/
      http://nogreaterjoy.org/articles/from-karen/

    2. For us that would mean our child would be in the states at a young age and we would be overseas. Not all families are the same. We will take our time and finish highschool when my child is two months shy of 19. Because this works for us. I am not ready for such a big geographical distance until closer to19.

  13. Thank you so much. I am a teacher, Homeschooled my children these past three years.
    My oldest daughter could speak Chinese fluently at the age of 6. She even did business deals for us at that age, but in one year she could not recognise A or B or C. Only those three letters. I did everything to help her, even went to doctors. Today I feel like a fool. She had the hardest time reading until the age of 14. Then the bug bite and today she reads faster than me, she reads a F. Rivers novel in an afternoon, 'Bridge to Haven'. She is busy writing her own book, already 20 000 words.

    When did we became so crazy about learning that we don't realize what we are doing to our kids.

    Thank you for your article. It keeps me on track when I want to become a teacher instead of staying a mother.

    God bless you. In heaven one day I am going to give you the biggest hug possible.