Educational Philosophy, Home Education

Fill the House: A Proactive Approach to Mothering and Homeschooling

August 15, 2019 by Brandy Vencel

Jesus once told a story about a demon being cast out of a person (Matthew 12:43-45). The spirit leaves and roams the desert. Finding nothing else to do, he returns to where he came from and finds the place “empty, swept, and put in order.” Naturally, he goes out and invites his friends to join him. Jesus concludes the story by saying “the last state of that person is worse than the first.”

It’s impossible to read this story without considering that there is something beyond the casting out of the unclean spirit that ought to have happened. Honestly, a house being swept and put in order doesn’t sound like a bad thing, and yet here we have this orderly (albeit empty) place serving as an apparently welcoming place for demons.

What gives?

In the preface to his book None Greater, author Matthew Barrett uses this story to talk about theology:

[W]hen bad theology is cast out by one generation but not replaced with a substitute by the next, the home of Christian theology is left empty. When that bad spirit of theology returns and finds the home empty, it brings with it seven more unclean theologies. The last state is worse than the first. Such is our heritage.

p. xvi

He uses this to describe the goal of his book:

… to fill the house with good theology proper, the type that will keep the demons away for good.

p. xvi

Putting Fear and Reactivity in Their Proper Place

If we’re not careful, we can create empty rooms through fear. As mothers and homeschool moms, the temptation can be to focus on the bad. And there really are bad things. Um. I live in California. Have you seen the new curricula around here lately? (Here’s Exhibit A.) We’ve got strict vaccine laws, too. I’ve been homeschooling since before these things were issues, but if I were a newish mom now, it’d be so easy to slip into having fear as a primary reason to homeschool.

We want to cast out the demons, and that’s not a bad thing. But if we’re not careful, we’ll focus so much on demons that we end up with a really clean and tidy room. The problem is that it’s also empty.

Good Homeschooling Isn’t About the Things You Avoid

I’ll repeat that: good homeschooling isn’t about the things you avoid. Fear or reaction to truly bad things might be a valid starting place, but they aren’t a vision of goodness.

Emptying the house is wonderful and it must be done, just don’t forget to fill it up.

That’s a vision for good homeschooling and mothering right there: FILL THE HOUSE.

We want these kids packed with goodness, truth, and beauty. I don’t mean force feeding. It’s more like … saturation. A good example is what Charlotte Mason says about daily Bible reading with our children:

[The child] should not be able to recall a time before the sweet stories of old filled his imagination; he should have heard the voice of the Lord God in the garden in the cool of the evening; should have been an awed spectator where the angels ascended and descended upon Jacob’s stony pillow; should have followed Christ through the cornfield on the Sabbath-day, and sat in the rows of the hungry multitudes — so long ago that such sacred scenes form the unconscious background of his thoughts.

Parents and Children, pp. 108-109

So here we have as a foundation of a filled house the Gospel stories, read over and over a thousand times. This is how the Scriptures become “the unconscious background” of a child’s thoughts.

Don’t Let the Good Things Overwhelm You

This fill-the-house approach is, in a sense, the essence of a Charlotte Mason education. It’s a beautiful thing. But, if we’re not careful, it can also be an overwhelming thing.

To Bible reading, we add many wonderful living books. Living books fill the mindwith ideas on a million topics — the ideas themselves are living. They capture the child’s attention and drive him to learn and grow. When these are added to regular Bible reading, the house starts to fill up.

After this, we add visions of goodness. Or perhaps I should say sensations of goodness? Because good things can come in through the ears as well as the eyes. Hymns, for example.

Folk songs.

Composer study.

Couple this with pictures, twelve to eighteen per year, let’s say, from two or three of the world’s greatest painters.

And don’t forget the great outdoors, soaking in sunshine and honing observation skills all at once.

Are we starting to see how this works? The house is filling up! What’s left?

I think the obvious thing would be what Charlotte Mason calls “the habits of the good life:”

Obedience in the first year, and all the virtues of the good life as the years go on; every year with its own definite work to show in the training of character.

Parents and Children, p. 65

Whew! I haven’t even gotten super detailed about curriculum and some of us are already paralyzed with the magnitude.

Back up and Remember What You Are Doing … and Why

I think the main remedy to the temptation to let this overwhelm us is to keep the proper perspective.

That’s it? I really think so, yes.

We can keep perspective by grabbing hold of an appropriate mental picture. Filling the house is one. You’ve cast out the bad things and now there is a vacuum — what are you going to fill it with? Behold the list of awesomeness! And go from there.

Another mental picture, similar to that of filling the house, is that of filling a museum gallery:

[E]very child should leave school with at least a couple of hundred pictures by great masters hanging permanently in the halls of his imagination, to say nothing of great buildings, sculpture, beauty of form and colour in things he see. Perhaps we might secure at least a hundred lovely landscapes too, — sunsets, cloudscapes, starlight nights. At any rate he should go forth well furnished because imagination has the property of magical expansion, the more it holds the more it will hold.

Towards a Philosophy of Education, p. 43

As we offer our children these good things, we are really offering them adornment for the walls of their minds. We can’t control what they choose to hang up, but we can control whether or not they have been offered these things in the first place.

So let us not worry about whether we did this or that just so, or whether we did enough of it, or whatever it is that pesters you at night when you should be sleeping. Keep a list of good things and offer them. Offer them consistently. Offer them whenever and however you can. Replace that worry with delight.

Fill the house.

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10 Comments

  • Reply Aubre August 31, 2019 at 9:40 am

    How good God is! This is exactly what I’ve been trying to put straight in my mind, and here it is so clearly and thoughtfully written. Once again, you’re words are encouraging and a reminder of the why behind what we are doing in our home. Thank you!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 31, 2019 at 10:03 am

      You’re welcome! I’m glad it was helpful. 🙂

  • Reply amy tuttle August 24, 2019 at 7:31 pm

    LOVE this, brandy!

  • Reply Brooke Favorat August 22, 2019 at 11:44 am

    Thank you for this encouragement, Brandy! I find this an intriguing way to apply that passage of Scripture.

    I had once read that the idea of leaven in the OT wasn’t as much as what we think of as our ‘active dry’ yeast, but more like we would call a ‘sourdough starter’–an actual lump of fermented dough that would be worked into the new loaf and becomes part of the new. (1 Cor. 5:6-8)
    I find this even more interesting in the context of how you are apply it to homeschooling here, because while yeast can sit in a bag in our pantry for a long time, a lump of leaven left to itself is very quick to become rotten. By not focusing on what we remove, but adding the “unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Cor. 5:8) it doesn’t end in death, but growth. (The longevity of some sourdough loaves are said to be a decade or more, just because the of the consistent additions of good, unleavened dough!) The leaven itself is an actively dying thing, like all the ‘demons’ we can fearfully try to cast out of our lives. When we ‘combat evil with good’ (Romans 12:21), we get growth!

    I’ve been making kombucha lately, and I’d say a scoby is similar to leaven. A few months back, my husband had tried to make kombucha, only after bottling a batch he never got around to adding to it to create a new batch and it got forgotten about… until I discovered it, and I can attest that a dried out scoby is putrid and smells awful. By not adding good, the bad was not kept in check and the result was decay.

    Thanks for this article!! So insightful and thought-provoking. <3

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 22, 2019 at 1:54 pm

      Ha! Your scoby story made me laugh — I have done that before back when I was a younger mom and still fermented things. They really ARE gross when you let them go.

      I agree on the sourdough, by the way. Such good thoughts, Brooke. ♥

  • Reply Honey August 16, 2019 at 2:51 pm

    Yes, yes ,yes! I think I will print this off to keep in my personal binder. When you are on the lecture circuit again please make this your next talk. This is pure truth, goodness, and beauty for a mama’s heart.

  • Reply Amanda Gauthier August 16, 2019 at 11:28 am

    I love this SO much, Brandy. Such an excellent metaphor to remind us to focus on the good!

  • Reply Ten Arrows August 16, 2019 at 6:04 am

    Wow, what a powerful post. I’d say one of your best ever.

  • Reply Laura in Ontario August 15, 2019 at 6:40 pm

    This is an excellent way to look at an otherwise scary situation. I’m going to remember this post. Thank you Brandy!

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