Education - Searching the Owner’s Manual

by: Kevin Swanson

How To Educate - Searching the Owner’s Manual


On April 28th, 2004, the police uncovered a family (father and daughter) deep in the forest in northwest Oregon. Homeless and destitute, the father had opted not to leave his daughter to grow up on the streets. Instead, he took her into the woods, and for four years they lived in a lean-to in the forest. Police were amazed to find the girl clean, healthy, and. . . educated! There in the forest, the father had homeschooled his daughter with nothing but a Bible and a decrepit set of encyclopedias. Officials tested the twelve-year-old and found that she had already achieved a 12th-grade equivalency. Now,ask yourself, how could this be? There was no department of education. No certified teacher. No expensive curriculum. No notice-of-intent to homeschool and no standardized tests. So what was the secret? Police Sgt, Michael Barkley, told reporters, “What was so clear was that their living conditions were unacceptable, but their relationship was a real deep love and caring for each other” (Source

There are some factors in the education of a child that transcend all others. Because they are so basic and powerful, they eliminate the need for experts, expensive government programs, and extensive regulations. Sadly, they are factors largely ignored by our education systems in place today.

As my wife and I agonized over which curriculum to buy at the CHEC home education conference last week, I thought about the father and his daughter in the woods of Oregon. Then I began to wonder how much the curriculum really matters. If I were to walk into the vendor hall blindfolded, I’m sure I could pick ten random books (assuming one of them was the Bible), and with that provide an adequate, even a superior education for our children. Actually, I didn’t try it because I didn’t want to collide into the other shoppers in the hall.

Homeschooling conferences and professional education programs can be confusing. Contradicting theories abound. There are hundreds of theories on education, many of which have impressive scientific data behind them. This screeching cacophony of opinions often does more to confuse than to guide. But education, along with most things in life, is more simple than one might think. That is because there are time-tested, eternal principles that stand head and shoulders above the other theories proposed by men. These are the biblical principles of education and training. Things get a lot more complicated when you ignore biblical principles.

Several years ago, I began to seriously consider the question of whether the Bible had anything to say about education. If God designed the world and men, and if he would reveal something about the way that the world functions, then most certainly he would have included something in this ancient book as important as the preparation of little men and women for life and eternity. If the Bible would include some content on the education of a child, what would it be? One simple way to identify biblical material on children is to perform a simple concordance search on the words “son” or “child.” Immediately, you will discover that an entire book of the Bible, the book of the Proverbs is dedicated to the subject of education. This entire book chronicles a father’s training of his son, with the exception of the last chapter - mom’s instructions to her son.

After reaching this conclusion, I immediately recognized a problem. If this is the textbook for the education of a child, then is it not strange that there is little about Geography, Geology, and Geometry in that book? Why would God permit such a gross oversight in such an important book? Nevertheless, if we were to assume that God knew what he was doing when he wrote the book of Proverbs, then there must be a reason why he would choose not to emphasize certain material. The facts of Geography, Geology,and Geometry must not be all that important in the education of a child. In fact, character is the foundation and structure of education. If education were a house, character would be the concrete foundation, the structure, the studs, and the drywall. Geography, geometry, and geology would be nothing but wallpaper. Of course it is the wallpaper thatmakes the house beautiful, attractive, and liveable. But if it were not for the structure, there would be nothing on which the wallpaper could hang! Geography, geometry, and geology cannot be the substance of education. If character, the substance of education, is missing then there is nothing upon which the rest of it can hang. The content of Proverbs deals primarily with the issues of faith and character.

Dr. Thomas Stanley, a man who has dedicated his life to researching successful businessmen in America, has written a series of books on these millionaires. Although he does not refer to the Bible or the book of Proverbs in his discussion of success factors, his research correlates with the wisdom that descends fr om that ancient Book. In the survey of 733 millionaires, Dr. Stanley found the following to be the factors most important to success in life, (Thomas J. Stanley, PhD, The Millionaire Mind, (Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2000), P. 34):

1. Telling the Truth

2. Self discipline

3. Getting Along with People

4. Having a Supportive Spouse

5. Hard Work

Recently I did a statistical survey on the lessons most frequently taught in the book of Proverbs. Mentioned over 140 times in the book, the most repeated character theme in the Proverbs is honesty and the use of the tongue. The Number One factor on the list of factors claimed by millionaires to have contributed to success is “telling the truth!” An incredible coincidence? The next four factors on the millionaires’ list are also prominent lessons in the book of Proverbs. What about a supportive spouse? Ironically, that too can be found in the book of Proverbs (Prov. 31:10).

Several qualifications at this point are in order. Economic success is only one blessing among many potential blessings that attends a nation that upholds the character traits and lessons taught in the Proverbs. Moreover, not everyone who cultivates strength of character in his life is fabulously wealthy. There are undoubtedly some very rich people who refuse to incorporate these characteristics into their lives, but this kind of wealth is inevitably short lived.

After a century or two of ignoring God’s word in our psychology and education theory, many burned-out educators and parents are taking a second look at what God said about education. You can take ten minutes in God’s book and find a great deal of wisdom in this area of educating children. Here is what I found:

1. Character is 99% of the content of an education program.

2. Relationships matter. The parent-child relationship matters. The hearts of our children matter.

3. Sometimes you have to teach, sometimes you have to warn, sometimes you have to cry out in desperation, sometimes you have to repeat an important lesson ten different ways.

4. Learning is an honorable thing.

5. You need to teach knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.

6. The existence of God and the fear of God lies at the foundation of all knowledge and wisdom.

7. A good education includes wisdom which is knowledge lived out and applied.

These principles will transcend all other theories and lessons on education. You do not need a doctorate degree in education to become a competent educator. As a parent, God has already equipped you for the task. But you should take a few minutes to study God’s 20 page manual - the Proverbs.

In the final analysis, the way you educate your children and the way you live your life will come down to who you accept as the ultimate authority. Some will follow the guiding principles of worldly philosophers like John Dewey, Sigmund Freud, or Jean Jacques Rousseau (the men who have defined the worldview driving our world today). Others will be guided by pop psychologists or the latest “scientific studies” with all of their inherent limitations. Even the study I mentioned above was just another “scientific study.” The reason I accept certain principles should have more to do with the fact that God has spoken with authority, and he is the source of absolute truth. It should have less to do with how many scientific studies have proven that God’s principles are good principles. This commitment is basic to a Christian worldview.

Every parent should know the book of the Proverbs better than any other book on parenting and education. Several years ago, Brenda and I became convicted that we placed more emphasis on Saxon Math than we did on God’s textbook, the book of Proverbs. So we made it a point to prioritize the Proverbs over all other school subjects. By the time our children leave the home we want them to know the Proverbs even better than they know their Saxon Algebra.

Please include addendum: Kevin Swanson is a homeschool father and hosts the daily Generations Radio program heard around the world at For more information, books, and articles by Kevin, go to