It was the nineties, and I was a first generation homeschooler student. Homeschooling wasn’t legal in all states, and we got sideways glances from adults if we appeared in public during school hours. To do something so different, so “extreme” by most standards took a special breed of people. Homeschool parents were often freethinkers with high ideals. As they rethought the educational system, they also reconsidered society with a particular emphasis on a woman’s place in the world.
As homeschoolers we got used to not fitting into the general culture, but we also knew we were mavericks to some sects of the homeschooling world. My mother wore pants and worked part-time, my dad refused to join a popular, but highly patriarchal homeschool Christian organization, and perhaps worst of all to our male-centered world, we were a family with all daughters.
Our corner of the world was the more conservative segment of a Christian movement grappling with how to respond to not only the second wave of feminism but also the third wave, which began in the early 1990s. The Danvers statement on manhood and womanhood was released in 1987. This statement sought to bring back conservative views on men and women and their relationship to each other, and in the church.
It was in this atmosphere that every part of a woman’s life was up for discussion. Even though I am relatively conservative, I still cringe when I look back on some of the conversations about women from our past world. Questions up for debate included not only the big issues of whether a woman could be a pastor or president but also reached into the minutia of her daily life. What she wore, how she communicated, and how she acted were all put under the microscope and examined in excruciating detail. It should then be no surprise that the question of how to educate a daughter was not immune to reexamination.
What is our basis for an education?
It went so far that Why should our daughters be well-educated? was a serious question asked by some. A few of the more generous answers I heard included, “Because she may someday be educating sons,” and “Because ‘men don’t like silly wives’” (inspired by Jane Austen, of course). I won’t even bother quoting the more noxious views on women and education.
The message I received translated to: “Educating daughters is important because men exist in the world.” Women’s education lost value when it wasn’t directly benefiting the men in their lives.
What wasn’t voiced was the value of women unattached from the value of men.
Worth and education are always connected
In a 2014 speech, Michelle Obama said that we couldn’t talk about women’s education without first talking about attitudes and beliefs about women. She continued, “It’s about whether fathers and mothers think their daughters are as worthy of an education as their sons.” Although her remarks were made to young African leaders, they ring true for those who grew up in or still live in very conservative communities in America.
How we view educating our daughters will always be wrapped up in our attitudes and beliefs about women in general. They can’t be separated.
For illustration, in high school, I listened to a homeschool conference speaker discuss how it wasn’t concerning to him that an eleven-year-old girl he knew couldn’t read. Why? She was helpful around the house with chores and babysitting. Because his value of womanhood was low, his educational goals for girls were low as well. This shameful stance is a far cry from a biblical viewpoint of womanhood.
The reason we should educate our daughters is not only biblically based but starts at the very beginning of God’s Word. They are worthy of it because they bear the image of God. Genesis 1:27 tells us,
“So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.”
Too often women aren’t viewed as image bearers in the fullness of the meaning. If we want women to display their image-bearing worth, then we first need to acknowledge that women, from the very beginning, were designated as image-bearing people.
What does it mean to be image-bearing?
J. I. Packer tells us being in the image of God means “representative likeness,” and we should be reflecting at “our creaturely level” the God of creation we see in Genesis 1 and 2. He continues,
“Therefore we should always act with resourceful rationality and wise love, making and executing praiseworthy plans just as God did in creation. He generated value by producing what was truly good; so should we. We should be showing love and goodwill toward all other persons, as God did . . .”
This gives us a high and lofty goal for each and every human. This is why Jesus surrounded himself not only with men but women as well during his earthly ministry. The women who sat at his feet learning, underwrote the costs of his ministry, anointed him for his death and were witnesses to his resurrection, were honored by Jesus because they bore his image and honored it with their actions.
Both daughters and sons should have an education that allows them to thrive as image bearers. It should be an education that prepares them for “resourceful rationality,” “wise love,” and “praiseworthy plans.”
An education worthy of image bearers of God
If we are basing the right to an education on being an image bearer of God, then true education is about guiding and educating not only the mind but the heart and soul too. It’s about developing wisdom, knowledge, and love of God and people. Our image bearing status has profound implications for investing in both genders not only as parents but as a community too. It means investing in their traditional education, but it also means investing in men and women, boys and girls within our churches. It means championing the endeavors and accomplishments of women as well as men in our greater communities.
The problem with much of the debate about a woman’s worth—and her education—is that it has gotten entangled in the unimportant while ignoring the most vital part of the discussion. Instead of focusing on hemlines, hours allowed outside the home, and the proper way to display femininity in the presence of a man, we should have been discussing a woman’s goal of resourceful rationality, wise love, and praiseworthy plans as an image bearer. Instead of concentrating so much on combating the secular world, we should have been focusing on the glories of womanhood as a fellow “representative likeness” of God. It is only in this high and Biblical view of womanhood that we can properly understand as parents, churches, and communities, the worth of educating our daughters.
Following the tradition of my parents, my husband and I are parents of three daughters. They are young still, but choices about their futures lay just around the corner. As we seek an education worthy of their image bearing status, we know their education is valuable because they are.