Do you know who invented homeschooling?
Susanna Wesley is credited by biographer Eric Metaxas, in the book Seven Women, as the inventor of homeschooling.
Since people have been educating their own children since the beginning of time and, not until recently, have the majority of people enlisted the help of professional teachers to educate their children, this is arguable. But in the history of homeschooling, Susanna Wesley indeed stands out as a sterling example of someone who was fiercely committed to educating her children at home.
Here are three things that impacted me as I read about this incredible woman:
1) Wesley had a really difficult life, but this didn’t stop her from doing her best and working tirelessly toward her goals.
Wesley gave birth to 19 children and only nine of them survived to adulthood. Her house burned down twice. She faced feelings of loneliness and was often in poor health. Wesley also experienced dire financial circumstances throughout her life. Wesley’s husband poorly handled their money, leaving the family in poverty. At one point, he abandoned Susanna and the children and failed to contact them for more than a year.
With limited resources and, having been abandoned by her husband, Susanna didn’t wallow in helplessness. She turned her attention to the education of her children.
Susanna rigorously planned out school days for her children. Discipline was the order of the day. I have to wonder if Susanna used the structure of homeschool days to help counteract her circumstances, which must have seemed overwhelmingly out of control. Of course, the sheer number of children in her household would require organization!
It was not common at the time to educate girls. Susanna wanted not just her sons, but all of her children, to be able to read, write, and reason well. “Her belief that girls should be educated ran so deep that she refused to teach her daughters to work until they could read excellently,” states Metaxas.
2) Worldview training is as essential as academic training.
Susanna knew that the most important thing was to teach her children to love God. The state of their souls formed the focus of their education.
“Much of what she taught them was for the purpose of helping them to see through, and therefore be able to resist the secular doctrines of that time,” writes Metaxas. “So she may be regarded not only as the inventor of homeschooling but also of what today is called worldview teaching.”
Susanna taught her children to use faith and reason interchangeably. She wanted her children to be able to defend their faith.
It was encouraging to think of other Christians throughout history raising their children in the midst of a very secular society. Susanna is a great example of someone who had deep religious convictions and equipped her children to stand up against the tide of culture to defend the truth.
3) Faithfulness in the midst of monotony and hardship led to world transformation.
“Few human beings have influenced the world as Susanna Wesley did. The manner in which she taught her children greatly influenced the work of her son John, and the Methodist movement he founded, lead to a world-changing revival and such an array of social reforms as can never be calculated. The abolition of the slave trade and slavery are at the top of a long list that includes penal reform, the end of child labor in England, laws against cruelty to animals, and the establishment of countless private societies and organizations dedicated to caring for the poor and suffering. The denomination he founded today claims more than 80 million members worldwide, along with many Methodist hospitals, colleges, and orphanages.”
“Anyone believing that the life of a woman dedicated to her family must be less than optimal cannot know the story of Susanna Wesley. Despite poverty, illness, a difficult marriage, and heartbreak in endless forms, she used her intellect, creativity, time, energies, and will in such a way that can hardly be reckoned. The world in which we live owes much of the goodness in it to her life.”
Here is a final thought from Susanna Wesley herself: “Though the education of so many children must create abundance of trouble, and will perpetually keep the mind employed as well as the body; yet I consider it no small honor to be entrusted with the care of so many souls.”
Photo Credit: First image graphic design by Charity Klicka; second image courtesy of Amy Koons.