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The Washington Times
July 27, 1999

Children need right mix to achieve their potential

By Michael Farris
The Washington Times
July 27, 1999

I am a person who needs to work on self-discipline and order. To some people these qualities come far more naturally. Other attributes come to me more easily. Some people say I am somewhat creative, for example.

There are certain attributes—including self-discipline and creativity—that all home schooling parents need to employ. Take a look at the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, etc.) and the Boy Scout manual (a Scout is cheerful, loyal, brave...) for lists of such character qualities and attributes.

A natural tendency is to reinforce attributes that come naturally to us and ignore the ones in which we are weak. But this can lead to grave difficulty.

Several years ago I represented a home school family in a Western state whose teenage son had engaged in serious misbehavior. The authorities were threatening the family’s right to home school this son and, potentially, their other children as a result of his actions.

When I went out for the court hearings, my first visit was with the local attorney who was assisting me. He was a Christian home schooling father with several children. We met in his home where I was introduced to his wife and children.

His family exemplified creativity. The mom was a former actress. The dad wore a flamboyant tie. And their home reflected a wide-open approach to home education.

Then I met the family who was in trouble—another Christian family. Both mom and dad in that family were very disciplined people. Their children were neat and orderly, well-dressed and well-mannered. Perhaps mom and dad were so disciplined that they might have been called a bit rigid.

The interesting thing to me was that both families used an approach to home schooling which emphasized discipline and order.

From my perspective, the first family probably needed that extra emphasis in discipline and order. However, the second family needed to find some ways to introduce more flexibility and creativity into their lives.

The boy who had misbehaved would have benefited, I believe, from a more balanced approach to home schooling and parenting. Though he was responsible for his own actions, too much emphasis on one attribute appeared to have created some unnecessary difficulties for this young boy.

Consider this analogy from the plant world-after all Jesus used plant analogies to describe our spiritual life (“I am the vine, you are the branches.”) Plants need a variety of factors to grow properly—sunlight, water, oxygen, nitrogen, etc. Too much sunlight without water, and the plants die. Too much water without sunlight, and the plants die—a different cause, but the same result.

In our parenting it is possible to be too disciplined. It is also possible to be too flexible, too merciful, too quick to punish. Discipline, flexibility, mercy, and punishment are all essential parts of parenting. But when any of these attributes crowd out another essential attribute, the results are not what we would hope for.

I have recently encountered families who have had problems on either end of the discipline vs. flexibility scale. Each could have benefited from a greater emphasis on the characteristics in which it is naturally weak.

My encouragement to each mom and dad is this: Evaluate your own natural strengths and weaknesses. Are you adding to your life those things that supplement your weaknesses, or are you merely adding things to your life that give a double-dose of your strengths?

Our goal for Christian home education is to transform children into adults who reflect both spiritual and academic well-rounded maturity. Like a well-nourished plant, your children need a proper balance of creativity and discipline, not just more and more of the same old ingredient.

Michael Farris is the father of 10 home-schooled children and president of the
Home School Legal Defense Association

Copyright 2000 News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of The Washington Times. Visit our web site at