Monthly Archives: January 2012

Training in Liberty

One of the most fruitful parenting (and educational) paradigms that I ever learned came from Gregg Harris, father of Brett and Alex Harris, co-authors of “Do Hard Things.” At a homeschooling seminar that I attended in 1985, Greg told a little story to illustrate what he meant by “training in liberty.” Scott and I applied this to so many areas of parenting and teaching that I’ve long loved passing it along.

In my Foundations Series of the Tapestry Teacher Training webinars, I was sharing tips on teaching Grammar and Dialectic students (session #4), and launched into a full-blown explanation of Training in Liberty, which my son David then humorously illustrated. I embed the video here, and then I’ll add some application comments.

Tapestry of Grace | Training in Liberty from Tapestry of Grace on Vimeo.

The video, as I now re-watch it out of it’s context within the larger TTT session, seems to lack enough detail on how to apply the Training in Liberty principle, so let me flesh that out briefly. (If you have examples as to how you use this principle, please add to this post via the “comment” button above!)

  • You can use Training in Liberty to help your kids learn to responsibly keep toys and other belongings in order.
    • Let’s say that their trouble is simply that there are too many toys for them to keep neat because storage is lacking. Well, that’s really your issue: you need to establish a place for everything, and everything in its place.
    • But, now let’s say that there are good places on a shelf for ten toys, but your child owns twenty. What you do according to this principle is this: you get a big box, label it “Junior’s Toys,” and with his participation you have him choose the five toys that he’ll keep out on his shelf this month. He puts the remaining fifteen toys in the box.
    • You keep track of how he keeps those five toys. You faithfully teach, correct, and train him to keep the five toys in good order. If he does well, great. If he does poorly, warn him that he’s got too much liberty, and he’ll have fewer toys to keep track of at the end of the month.
    • At the end of a month’s time, retrieve the box with his toys in it. If he’s done well, allow him to exchange any five toys out and choose two more toys to take charge of (and play with). If he’s done poorly, reduce the number of toys that he’ll have access to, but allow him to change out and keep out any three toys.
    • In all this you must remain kind, gentle, and encouraging. You are not punishing him for a lack of skill. You are training him by giving him only as much liberty as he can handle. This is very key to this principle: it is not punitive! You should always posture yourself as being in his corner, ready to help, and eager to give him ever more liberty!
  • Now, let’s expand on the above. You can easily see how to use the same process on…
    • Time spent with friends (or, actually, doing any desired activity, like playing video games or attending sports events) while balancing other responsibilities, like chores and schoolwork. Limit the enjoyable activities according to the way your child handles responsibilities.
    • Kinds of friends teens hang with. If their liberty (choosing their own friends) begins to adversely effect them, then you (the parent) can apologize for giving the too much liberty, and (hopefully with their agreement) scale back the time that they are spending with poorly chosen friends. This idea applies to choosing music, clothing, or TV programs–if they aren’t going to choose well and wisely for themselves, they’ve got too much liberty to handle it well and we, as responsible parents, must scale it back (gently, in the fear of God, and hopefully with the child’s full understanding of this principle and agreement).
    • Car or other privileges: driving, visiting friends, babysitting, any kind of job during high school–all these can be governed by the same set of ideas: we don’t want to give our kids more than they can responsibly manage! The things that they must do come first; the things that they wish to do are privileges given to responsible young people.

In all of this, remember: the beauty is that you get to sit far more often in their cheering section than in their critics’ corner! You must and should verbally express time and again how eager you are for them to demonstrate competence in an area so that you can responsibly trust them with more liberty in that area! They need to know that you are for them! Tell them so; and demonstrate it by celebrations of key milestones along the way!

Another key element to know: we found that there are times when taking away liberties will initially bring anger and/or resentment. That’s OK. You stand before God as the gatekeeper of your child’s soul; you’ll need to take some heat sometimes. They are fighting ultimately with God as long as you’re truly acting on God’s behalf. You might need to remind them of that sometime. If your child is older and you’re just learning about training in liberty for the first time GO SLOW. You don’t just want to jerk away liberties. Choose your battles well! Finally, it may surprise you to find that, many times (especially with children who have been doing this awhile and/or are still young) you will find that narrowing down liberties is actually a relief to your overburdened child! What a joy it is when that is the reaction!

Parenting in the fear of God involves training our children to responsibly handle both their responsibilities and their leisure time. Keeping those in balance in our modern society is a learned skill that takes years to master. I hope that this one principle will aid you in your quest to do the very best job that an imperfect sinner can do of helping your child to grow in both liberty and responsibility! Remember, though, that without God’s help, no parenting principles are worth much. Please do as Father to help you to see how you can use this tool in joyful submission to and dependence on Him.

The Problem of Evil

In 2005, Lora posted this question on our forums:

I wanted to know what Marcia’s thoughts (and anyone else who wants to chime in) are on studying the Great Books. I have signed my 14 year old daughter up to take a Great Books course with XXX online tutorial this fall and wanted to correlate it with Tapestry of Grace. Now I am having second thoughts about having her even read the Great Books.

I have read in the book Teaching the Trivium by the Bluedorns that reading the Great Books is not highly recommended because there are so many obscenities in them and that it is better to focus our time reading edifying literature and especially the Bible. Then I read an article in the Veritas Press catalog about the reason they use the Great Books. They said they use them as a sort of boot camp to train children to be able to see evil in comparison to biblical truth and be discerning Christians. Also, that if you shelter young adults from the evil things of this world they will be naive when it comes to temptations, etc. Another opinion from a respected source is that if we shelter our children from the truth then we have failed in teaching them to be “wise as serpents,” and that we may comfort ourselves in assuming that we have kept our children innocent only to find out that they are completely vulnerable to the enemy, naively innocent, and lacking in discernment.

So…I just don’t know what to do now. I noticed there are not many classics listed as readings in Tapestry, especially in comparison to the XXX Great Books list. Should I let her take this course or is it not wise to have her reading these books even with christian guidance and discussion?

What is your opinion Marcia and others?

Blessings to all,
Lora D


As you’ll see in my response, reprinted below, this is a perennial question that has recently reemerged on our Forum. I thought that bringing back my answer (which I still like, amazingly) might help some of you who are encountering some of the harder truths of the story of mankind in this, the doldrums of winter.  Here’s what I wrote back to Lora in 2005, and it still holds true today!


This is a question that I’ve heard discussed in various forms, and with relation to various educational paradigms, since I started homeschooling. You have summarized well the underlying quandary: should parents raise children who are innocent of the knowledge of evil, or children who understand evil, and seek to keep themselves from it?

Said another way, one view is that we should view our children as young plants in a greenhouse, who cannot withstand the cruel weather of winter, and must be protected, artificially even, from harm or blight. We should, therefore, shield our children from the knowledge of evil. Our goal is to engender in them such a love of what is good by constant communion with it that they are rightly horrified by evil when they do encounter it, and will most likely flee from it when they encounter it, as in 2 Tim. 2:22 (ESV) “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” Another verse that might describe their hearts would be Paul’s sentiment expressed in 2 Cor. 11:2-3 (ESV) “I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”

The other view, as you’ve said, argues that children will need to become acquainted with the evils of the world at a more tender age than we could wish so that they will have more options as adults than just flight. This view says that evil is resident in all human hearts, and our children will have to deal with it all their lives, beginning with their hearts, encountering the sinful hearts of family members, and finally dealing wisely, bravely, and biblically with extreme evil in the world. Because of this reality, we should seek an education that acquaints our children with evil as an abhorrence to God, defining it in as many ways as possible for our children, but certainly without asking them to experience its force too soon. Parents on this end of the spectrum would point to Romans 12:9 (ESV) “Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good,” and Acts 17:11 (ESV) “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so,” or Matthew 10:16 (ESV) “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves,” or finally, Psalm 127:5 (ESV)

Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.

Perhaps the crux of the matter is best seen by dividing the term “evil” into “knowledge of evil” and “experience of evil.” Neither of these two camps would espouse purposefully exposing children to active evil in the hopes of teaching them to deal with it. (To be sure, there are proponents of this idea, but I’m saying that neither of the views I’m outlining above would suggest this course.)

The question lies more in when, and how, to introduce children to the *knowledge* of evil. Do we seek to strongly establish their faith by shielding them from all possible knowledge of evil (or opposing/tempting) views or practices? Or do we carefully teach our children, through literature, history, philosophy, and the arts that mankind is evil, and that all evil is abhorrent to God, and must be to the true Christian as well? Do we primarily teach them to run from all evil, or to understand it so well that they have an answer to it, and a fearlessness of it, because evil neither surprises nor entices them, since they have met it, understood it from a biblical perspective, and rejected it before meeting it in experiential ways in the world?

I do not pretend to have the answer to this age-old quandary, but I can share how we have chosen to walk with our children, and which of these views underlies our choices for the TOG reading list.

We have taken the second view. We believe that the gospel, the Spirit, and the Word combined are active and protective in the lives of our children. We seek to acquaint our children with the evils that men do at appropriate, yet young, stages of their lives, in the hopes that they will both understand the evil and (as David did with Goliath — 1 Sam. 17:48) run to meet and defeat it, secure in their certain knowledge of God’s superior power over evil, and with strong faith in His sovereignty and love for them.

The TOG book list reflects our views. It is not truly a Great Books curriculum, yet it contains many books on that list. We have attempted to carefully mine the works of Western Civilization for representations of TRUTH — good and bad — that will aid us in teaching our children about God, mankind, and the culture which we hope they will affect for good. Some of our choices involve “tough” subjects: Les Miserables and Crime and Punishment have sympathetic characters who sin grievously (prostitution and murder); such books as One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and All Quiet on the Western Front detail the brutality of man against man; 1984 and Farenheit 451 give compelling examples of mankind’s hopeless state apart from God, and are bleak and depressing. However, there is real TRUTH in all these works. They do not paint good as evil, and evil as good. Often, they are the voices of a perplexed humanity adding to the Great Conversation their pain, but also their lack of understanding. They don’t know about the nature of the fallen world (and the fallen nature) in which they find themselves. They portray for us their view of the human condition, and we at Tapestry, through our helps, seek to help you to bring a biblical perspective to these voices and the views they espouse so that your children may be equipped to encounter similar situations with Christian charity, biblical hope, and compassionate, informed evangelism. We also make sure to offer a much lighter treatment of “heavy” subjects, especially in Year 4, in the lower levels. There, our focus is on the advances of mankind during those troubled years: the space race, radio plays, and inventions are key foci.

Sorry this got a bit long. I’ll hop down off my soap box now, but you’ve hit on one of my favorite topics. Let me just say, in closing, that my children now range from 14 to 24. They all have (by God’s grace alone) a vibrant, unshrinking faith in God and confidence in His ability to guide, protect, and love them, come what may. The fruit of this alternative has been sweet. However, I am sure that others who have chosen the other path in FAITH have experienced sweet fruit as well. Whenever we seek to honor God, we win, because in the end, He empowers those who wholly trust in Him. It’s never our feeble efforts, or wise theories, that raise God-filled children: God Himself fills them as He wills with His Spirit, and we do well to seek Him daily for *that* provision, and rest in Him which ever path we choose.

Update for 1/12: The last paragraph above, by God’s grace alone, is as true today as it was when I penned it almost seven years ago. My kids are now 21-31 years of age; four of them are married, all but one have graduated college unscathed by the worldliness they encountered there, and my “baby” Marjorie will graduate in May, God willing. We have 3 going on 5 grandchildren, and it is pure joy to see strong, vibrant faith in Jesus Christ going forward to the next generation. This is not of us, or solely because of our choices. It is all of grace. But, God works through our choices. They were the right ones for our family, and I feel that our experience must stand as some kind of an answer to the fears of many parents who look at the problems surrounding the introduction of evil to the hearts of our young children. May God lead you to the right answers for your children. Be assured that God loves you and them everlastingly, and will lead you on the right path as you look to Him!