By Paula Schlueter Ross
People always tell Lutheran homeschooler Jenny Luedeke that she “must have a lot of patience.”
In reality, Luedeke — mother of five sons ages three months to 8 years — says her patience often wears thin. What it takes to educate your children at home is “dedication,” she says — you have to be committed to providing your children with what you believe is the best education possible.
The rewards are great, say Luedeke and other homeschoolers: more time with your children, who can learn at their own pace; flexible hours; and a stronger focus on family values and biblical teachings.
Still, those who homeschool sometimes have bad days, when children — and parents — struggle. And they often feel alone. That is, until they get an opportunity to talk with other homeschoolers, who can provide fresh ideas and encouragement.
That’s why Jenny and Bryan Luedeke pulled a committee together to plan the first LCMS conference for homeschooling Lutherans. The conference, “You Are Not Alone,” was held July 20-21 at Ascension Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kan., where the Luedekes are members.
Acknowledging that “LCMS homeschoolers feel alone in what they’re doing” and no one knows how many LCMS congregation members homeschool their children, Bryan Luedeke said he and Jenny thought, “What if we could do something that would bring [LCMS homeschoolers] together so that we know where we are and we can encourage each other?”
More than 50 people, including children, attended the conference, which featured plenary speakers, kids activities and seven information/resource booths sponsored by entities such as Concordia Publishing House, Lutherans For Life, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans and Wittenberg Academy.
The Luedekes already knew the value of bringing homeschoolers together — Jenny started GO! Lutheran Homeschool Outreach, a Wichita co-op that has grown from five families two years ago to some 20 families today. The co-op encourages members to share their knowledge of music, art, science, foreign languages and other subjects with the group at-large. She also meets monthly with other homeschooling moms.
But “You Are Not Alone” was different in that it was distinctively Lutheran and, more specifically, LCMS Lutheran. Keynote speaker was the Rev. Stephen W. Kieser, president of the Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education and pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church (Darmstadt), Evansville, Ind.
Kieser, a “homeschooling dad” with seven children and a former LCMS school principal, talked about his discovery of the merits of homeschooling, his interest in Lutheran “classical education” and the history of Lutheran home education.
God gave parents responsibility for teaching their children about Christianity — a duty that fits in nicely with homeschooling, Kieser said, and he encouraged each conference participant to “be an educated Lutheran educator” by reading and studying Lutheran resources such as The Book of Concord and the “Augsburg Confession.” Kieser said he is Lutheran because “there is no better expression of the Gospel,” and he asked homeschoolers to examine why they are Lutheran and to use available resources to help them better understand — and teach — their faith.
Kieser said he is not “anti-Lutheran schools” but is, instead, “very pro-Lutheran education,” and said he believes that homeschoolers “are a very important part of that.” He asked conference-goers to see themselves not just as educators but as Lutheran educators.
“Let’s work to be the best we can be and encourage each other,” he said.
Also leading sessions were:
- Jocelyn Benson, head teacher at Wittenberg Academy, an online Lutheran school offering classical-education courses for all ages. Benson described what the academy offers — instruction by Lutheran teachers and pastors in subjects such as math, science, grammar, fine arts, theology, Latin, Greek and German. The school sees educating children as primarily the responsibility of parents, Benson said, and views its role as a partner with parents in that endeavor.
- the Rev. Dr. Michael Bingenheimer, director of ministries at Ascension, Wichita. Acknowledging that homeschoolers often use materials from a variety of sources, Bingenheimer focused on “how to spot theological errors and how to correct them,” particularly those that promote a “theology of glory” that “leaves the will in control” and “speaks for God where God has not spoken.”
- the Rev. Christian C. Tiews, associate pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in Tulsa, Okla.; a translator; and author of Looking for Luther. Tiews led sessions on “Latin for Homeschoolers” and “Homeschooling with the Small Catechism.” Of the latter topic, Tiews encouraged conference-goers to read the Bible aloud with children; take walks with each child to talk one-on-one about theology; and recite Lutheran prayers every morning and evening. The Small Catechism, he said, “leads you to Jesus” and offers “a treasure trove of answers for you.”
Sabrina Davy, a 27-year-old homeschooling mom from Oklahoma City, attended the conference with her daughter, Ella, 6. Davy said she knew she would homeschool “from the moment I found out I was pregnant” because she “wanted to be able to control the quality and content” of Ella’s education. Plus, she wanted to “spend time with my child — it’s really good for both of us.”
She started Ella at the kindergarten level last year, when she was 5, “and then about halfway through [the year] we switched to first grade because that’s the beauty of homeschooling — you can do exactly what you need to do.”
Davy uses mostly books to teach, plus free online resources, and often designs worksheets from several sources. She and Ella work until they get tired, and sometimes they start again later in the day.
“There’s just so much more flexibility for the child, as much as the parent,” she said. Her husband — a skeptic at first — also loves it because he can see the benefits and gets to see his daughter more often, since he works nights.
Ella, too, says she likes being homeschooled. Why? “Because it’s so much fun, and we take a break every so often, and sometimes we get to do mazes, and sometimes we get to do word searches or word scrambles.” But her “favorite thing,” she adds, is using shaving cream to make letters and numbers on an easy-to-rinse cookie sheet.
Responding to one criticism of homeschooling, Sabrina Davy said her daughter “has no problem interacting with other children. When people ask me if she needs socialization, I say she gets plenty of that. She doesn’t have to be locked in a room with 20 kids her age to be socialized.”
Davy said the homeschooling conference was “a great idea. It’s very nice to be able to talk to people who are doing similar things, especially since they are Lutherans.”
The conference gave her the opportunity to exchange ideas with other LCMS homeschoolers about books and resources. “That’s the beauty of talking to other homeschoolers,” she said. “You get more ideas and you can be even more flexible because what I can find on my own may not be all there is.”
Scott and Joni Reiter, members of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Dodge City, Kan., are considering homeschooling their 11-year-old son, Isaac, so they came to the conference to learn more.
“I had no idea that the LCMS did anything with homeschooling,” Scott Reiter told Reporter. “We thought before we actually did it we would try to find out as much as we can — and I’m just learning all kinds of things.”
With his attention-deficit tendencies, Isaac struggles at his public school because “he can do something in five minutes that the school’s going to take 50 minutes” to teach, says Scott.
Joni adds that “I don’t want my son to suffer through peer pressure and being teased because he doesn’t quite fit in. And I want to accelerate his learning. … We can spend four hours at home and get a lot further ahead” of what he learns in eight hours at school, she believes.
Angelica Wood of Haysville, Kan., was homeschooled for high school. Now 17, she’ll be attending junior college for two years, beginning this fall, and plans to attend the University of Kansas after that.
Although she wasn’t too keen on the idea of homeschooling when her parents suggested it after eighth grade in a public school, she grew to love it, she said. “It’s really cool to be able to go at your own pace, whatever that may be,” she told Reporter. “If you struggle in a certain subject, then you can take it slower and focus more on what you didn’t understand. Or if you really excel at a subject then you can work ahead.”
But the “best thing” about homeschooling, she adds, “is the fact that you are allowed to learn who you are and you aren’t afraid to be that person. You don’t have the pressure to conform to your peers.”
Family, too, retains its importance in your life, Wood says. “You’re at home with your family for school, and then you go out with friends or participate in sports” afterward, so the time with family and friends is more balanced.
That family time is important to the Rev. Adam Filipek, pastor of Salem Lutheran Church in Black Jack, Mo., in north St. Louis County. Even though his congregation operates a Lutheran school, he and his wife, Rebecca, have chosen to homeschool their three children, ages 5, 3 and 16 months.
One big reason is so the pastor can see his kids every day. Since he works weekdays and weekends — and sometimes has evening meetings — the noon lunch hour is a treasured time for the family. Most weekday lunches are spent together and, says Filipek, “I get to look forward to that because it is the one time I know I always have with my family.”
Another reason is because Rebecca Filipek was homeschooled from kindergarten through ninth grade, so she has seen the benefits firsthand. She remembers what she and her siblings called “sunny days,” when the weather was so beautiful their mother-teacher cancelled home classes in favor of trips to the zoo or just to play outside.
“That was always our joke with our friends” who went to traditional schools, she said: “You might get snow days, but we get sunny days.”
Her siblings and other local homeschooled kids would regularly get together — at various times, they had a choir and a band, recited poetry and performed skits — and they had other friends in the neighborhood and church, so any socialization concerns are a “non-issue” for her, she says.
But is it awkward if the pastor’s children don’t attend the church school? Adam Filipek says he and his wife are “absolutely not” anti-Lutheran school and, as pastor, he is very involved in the school’s operation.
“It’s really about Lutheran education and Lutheran identity — and you can do that in a Lutheran school [or] you can do that at home,” he says.
“We all have the same goal, whether you’re homeschooling as a Lutheran family or whether you are sending [your children] to a Lutheran school, or whether you are sending them to a public school. The goal is the same: Lutheran education. It looks different for each family, but it’s all the same goal.”
That goal also is taken seriously by the Luedekes, who organized the homeschoolers conference — at God’s nudging, they say. Bryan says they want their five sons “to stand firm in their faith” in a world that seems ever more anti-Christian. Jenny says she wants them “to have the faith of a martyr.”
Homeschooling, they say, is one way to ensure that biblical teachings will be part of every day.
But there are downsides, they add: Impatience. Trying to balance everything. Trying to stay focused. Working around naptimes when there’s a baby in the house.
“And you have to see your kids all day,” says Bryan. “But on the flip side, you get to see your kids all day.”
Jenny likens homeschooling to marriage: “If you’re committed to it, you’ll get through those bad times.”
Bryan’s mother, Sandy Luedeke, never homeschooled but thinks it’s a great idea since parents know their children — and the way they learn — “better than anyone else” and can teach them from a Christian perspective.
“It’s an option,” she said. “All parents should look at their options and then be involved. Whether it’s a private school, a public school or a homeschool, you don’t lose that responsibility to be invol
ved” in your child’s education.
That sentiment was shared by Becky Hillman, an LCMS educator in the Kansas District who addressed the conference on behalf of William Cochran, director of School Ministry with the Synod’s Office of National Mission. Many parents today are not involved in their children’s education — and they need to be, Hillman said.
She encouraged the homeschoolers to use their local LCMS schools “as resources” — for materials and for providing opportunities to home-educated students. LCMS parochial-school teachers “are available” to homeschoolers to discuss ideas and provide answers to questions, said Hillman, lead teacher at St. Paul’s Lutheran School in Cheney, Kan.
Homeschooler Rebecca Filipek asked Lutheran schools to “be very supportive and embrace” homeschoolers in the congregation. She’s “sure,” she said, that homeschooling families “would be very happy to participate in the music program or drama program or sports with the school, together.”
In an interview with Reporter during the conference, keynoter Kieser said he would like to see Lutheran school educators and homeschoolers interact and talk with one another more.
“Lutheran home educators are here to stay, they’re not going anywhere,” he said. So why not “bring them along” to all LCMS educational conferences to pick up curriculum and teaching tips?
Cochran told Reporter in a follow-up interview that he considers homeschoolers “a vital part of the LCMS” and Kieser’s suggestion “a great idea” that would give homeschoolers opportunities to “learn cutting-edge ideas to enhance their students’ learning.” He asked LCMS homeschoolers to contact him via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) for information about upcoming teachers conferences.
The Luedekes say they would like to see another LCMS homeschoolers conference planned for next year, but have no details yet.