Recently, one of my friends told me about a new television show where contestants compete for cash prizes by answering very personal questions while being connected to a lie detector. As he described the premise of the program, I began to feel as uncomfortable as he had been while watching and then when he went on to use the word “voyeurism” to describe the penchant most people have for hearing the personal details of someone’s life, I was intrigued. His comments demonstrated that these interests do not need to be sexually arousing in nature, though they can be and sometimes are, in order for it to be called voyeurism in 21st century vernacular.
How many of us read fiction, watch television sit-coms, and go to movies? How often do we wait in line at the grocery store, scanning the covers of People magazine to know who had whose baby this week? We are all intrigued by the lives of other people. We all love a good story. In fact, the subjects of voyeurism don’t even have to be real people. Look at the popularity of shows like Lost and Survivor. It doesn’t matter that one of these shows has fictional characters and the other has a cast made up of real people. To regular viewers, they are ALL real people.
I have long thought that we have our own form of voyeurism as Christians and especially as homeschoolers. It goes something like this and begins innocently enough. We hear a particular speaker at a conference, we read someone’s book or a magazine article, or we stumble into a blog where a homeschooling family is on display. Since we can relate so well to that family’s lifestyle choices or theology, we read further and before you know it, we have to know the intimate, private, and personal details of that family’s life.
While all the insights we glean might be good, and we certainly can benefit from evaluating the successes and failures of other homeschoolers as they share them with us, it can easily lead to what I call “Christian voyeurism,” the personal satisfaction we can get from knowing the details of “how” another family homeschools, disciplines, practices courtship, or what have you. This voyeurism can lay the foundation for making choices for your own family, choices that might not be what God desires for you and your children, choices that might lead us away from God’s best rather than toward it, choices that lead us into a legalistic approach to discerning how to achieve success with our children. Sometimes those choices even cause us to live vicariously through the life of another homeschooling family, emulating and imitating them through dress, use of jargon, recreational activities, or other practices.
This is a temptation that I believe we can easily fall into as homeschoolers simply because homeschooling is still such a new phenomenon. Though homeschooling is accepted without much ado in most communities, there are still some people, often educational gurus, in-laws, or fellow church members, who question the validity of our chosen means of educating our children. We often become weary of defending homeschooling and we all want to have our choices validated and to be reaffirmed that homeschooling is best for our own children, so we tend to seek out the story behind the successes.
I also believe this can become a trap for homeschoolers because we are so unsure of our own convictions or even what the Scripture might teach about some area of life. Rather than reading and studying the Word of God yourself, it is often simpler to follow the leadings of someone you perceive to be a trusted Bible teacher. And herein lies the other side of the problem: Christian exhibitionism.
There seems to be no shortage of families who are willing to share the most intimate and personal of details from their lives or the lives of their children. Some families choose to talk openly about a daughter’s virginity and a father’s brokering of it. Still others have no hesitancy to speak openly of a rebellious child or graphic descriptions of corporal punishment. Look at the number of “courtship stories” that are now available online. These testimonies often share very intimate details, including an up-close description, or even a picture, of a couple’s first kiss. Some families choose to talk about the moral failures of their own parents. I remember one time listening to a broadcast of Focus on the Family where a well-respected Christian leader and counselor for college youth, shared the private and detailed description of his own mother’s alcoholism and subsequent moral failures. I cringed as he spoke and eventually had to turn off the radio because I knew what he was doing was eliciting sympathy for himself and was not demonstrating the command to honor father and mother.
I love reading the testimonies of God’s goodness and grace in the lives of others. I believe that being transparent and genuine is important. But I think we ought to be wary of becoming Christian voyeurs. Since I think it is a very real part of our human (sin) nature to do so, we must be aware of that temptation and must train ourselves to read with discernment and we must examine ourselves for our own motives.
We also must be careful of falling under the spell of Christian exhibitionists, either by listening to what they share or by becoming exhibitionists ourselves. We have to ask ourselves why some people feel a need to share so openly about very private issues. We also need to discern whether the things we are reading are true, whether they are told appropriately, and whether they are told in the proper context of the rest of a family’s life. We need to be certain to remember that our children’s lives are just that….theirs….and we need to be sensitive when we share about them in public or when we read what others share. We must put ourselves in the smaller shoes worn by our own children and when in doubt, ask them what we can or cannot tell. And, above all, remember that God is not dependent on others to teach us His truth. In His infinite wisdom, He will pour out to us His grace for this journey we call homeschooling.