The Key to Motivating Teens: Learning in the Context of Life and Truth

Think back to your school years as a child or a teen. What lessons were most efficiently learned – the ones you gleaned from a textbook in response to a scheduled assignment or the ones where you were desperate to find the answers to a problem you needed to solve at work, at home, at church, or in your own personal life? If you’re like most people, you’ll have to admit that most of the assignments were important, but the lessons you learned in the context of your need to know, offered skills with “staying power.”

We are living in a time when the technology around us makes learning “in context of need” ever more possible. Today’s students have access to electronic tools, which literally put the world at the touch of a remote control. Learning at home is becoming more practical by the minute.

It is also becoming more crucial. Parental responsibility to train young people in discernment is heightened by the cyberspace revolution. Discernment is a function of wisdom, and wisdom – the ability to understand from God’s perspective – comes only by immersion in God’s Word.

In his thought-provoking book School’s Out, author Lewis Perelman predicts that the knowledge explosion produced by the technological revolution of the late twentieth century is rapidly producing a world in which memorization of facts will have to take a back seat to learning how to find and interpret the information one needs. He explains, “The data storage technology of the next century will put a lifetime of information in the palm of your hand. Long before that, however, the measure of human competence in the [hyper learning] world will be not what you can remember, but what you can understand.

Dr. Perelman prophesies that “distance learning” and “telecourses” will “erode the foundation of academic bureaucracies in much the same ways they are topping the established institutional structures of the telephone, broadcast television, and financial services industries.” He envisions schools that are “not identified with any distinct building of location, but rather with a brand or franchise of media through which services are accessed. Home technology – video, audio, computer, and telephone – is far more adroit at meeting diverse life cycle needs for entertainment, information, work, and learning than is the technology of conventional academic structures. And telelearning technology can help converse the modem family’s scarcest resource, time.”

Dr. Perelman’s advice to individual families is to become “school proof.” Begin by participating in the kind of political action, which will reinforce change because the current situation is costing every taxpayer a fortune. Create a home where learning is a necessary part of your way of life in the sense of a normal, daily activity for the whole family. “Children become what they behold. Parents who are learners have children who are learners. ”

Focus on learning “in context” because the most valuable learning takes place, not in classrooms, but in doing real things in real places connected with real people in real social institutions … ” This kind of learning labeled “Just in Time” or JIT learning – is so efficient that Dr. Peleman urges families wherever possible to homeschool. He believes that home educators have the unique opportunity to live on the cutting edge of education.

But there is one more dimension to the cyberspace revolution-that is, a desperate urgency for Christian parents to teach their young people discernment. When you live in a world where everything has the potential of being viewed on your personal computer screen, it becomes even more crucial to be able to “try the spirits,” so that only what is good will be kept in the heart and mind. Discernment is a function of wisdom, the ability to understand from God’s perspective which comes only by immersing ourselves in the Scripture. It is far better to learn less in terms of encyclopedic knowledge and be able to use effectively what we have learned to further God’s Kingdom while we are on earth. From that vantage point, we describe the unique possibilities that discipleship of teens in the homeschool can offer.


High school diplomas are generally awarded in the United States to students who earn a minimum of 16-20 Carnegie units. A Carnegie unit is the educational measurement which represents time spent in a course of study, usually 36 weeks, 5 days per week, 45-50 minutes per class hour.

Most conventional credentials include the following:

3-4 Units of English

Possibilities include literary genres (general survey), American literature, British literature, world literature and philosophy. Elective areas may add journalism, creative writing, or literacy criticism. (Note: Grammar & composition are generally studied each year related to the literary components.)

2-3 Units of Mathematics
Possibilities include consumer math, two years of algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus.

1-2 Units of Science
Possibilities include biology (specifically required for graduation in many states), general science, physics, and chemistry. Advanced studies may include anatomy, microbiology, and detailed projects in botany, zoology, astronomy, or biochemistry.

2 Units of History
Possibilities include U.S. history (required for graduation in many states), world history, world geography, government and economics. (Note: Students in conventional schools generally must pass an extensive examination demonstrating knowledge of the U.S. Constitution.)

2 Units of Physical Education
These usually earn credit at the rate a 1⁄2 unit per year, and classroom work in health, hygiene, driver education, and career orientation is often included a part of the course of study.

1 Unit of Fine Arts
Performance courses are often considered ‘minor’ in the curriculum and therefore also earn credit at the rate of Y2 units per year. This designation allows for the fact the classroom time is spent in practice to perfect skills rather than in direct instruction as in ‘major’ courses.

3 Units of Electives
Possibilities include foreign language study (two year sequence recommended for entrance into some fields of college or graduate study), business education (typing, shorthand, general office skills, bookkeeping, basic accounting), computer science, vocational courses (various shops and apprenticeships), and home economics (nutrition and food preparation, sewing and tailoring, home decorations, and home management).Christian schools usually add a Bible requirement comprising of one year of study for each term in attendance.


When exploring God’s requirements for what our young people learn, it is important to establish a scriptural definition of knowledge. II Peter 1: 5-8 provides a clear description for an educational sequence which will honor God: “Add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Knowledge then is explored information within the boundaries of faith and character development. There are some things God commands His children not to know. He told Adam and Eve that they were not to know evil (Genesis 2: 17), and the Apostle Paul affirmed this instruction to the Roman Christians when he wrote, “1 would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil” (Romans 16: 19b).

Learning the true meaning of knowledge requires a wise and understanding heart, which is developed when students allow wisdom to teach them through life’s experiences. The book of Proverbs makes this strong appeal. Reasoning skills are strengthened as analogies are used to identify relationships. Many spiritual truths are developed through analogs, and Jesus often used this means of teaching His disciples.

Each subject matter area that comes under consideration in a Christian home school should be examined in light of scriptural directives. The following list is broader than a mere high school credential; it seeks to define the ‘end product’ of an educational program as scripture would affirm the goals. These are mastery areas young people should accomplish sometime during their preparation for adulthood.

Regarding communication skills, God’s Word commands that “we minister grace to the hearers…” with our words (Ephesians 4:29). We are reminded as well that we will “Give account for every idle word …” (Matthew 12:36), and that our words must be precise in sending forth a clear signal. Thus, we know that students should master grammar and syntax, the ability to express themselves with the written and spoken word, to be persuasive and instructive or encouraging as situations demand. Because technology enhances our ability to produce the written word, every student should master computer/typewriter/keyboard skills.

Where does the realm of literature fit in? Familiarity with great writings will help a student internalize excellent, descriptive means of expressing himself. Many people ask, “What is a classic?” A work that has stood the test of time and is true to Biblical themes in dealing accurately with life’s challenges is an excellent threshold point for evaluation. He who walks with great men will become wise. Reading is the most accessible and powerful means we have to allow students the consistent company of great individuals.

Scripture explicitly commands that we know history: “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we … might have hope” (Romans 15:4). We gain hope or confidence as we learn how God operates His universe and understand His ways in dealing with mankind. Because history is really “His Story,” it should begin with the Scripture-the Old Testament.

Israel’s history offers a clear demonstration of when people experience blessings and when they experienced cursing. “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,” the Psalmist reminds us (Psalms 33: 12). Against this backdrop, study the rise and fall of each civilization according to the pattern of Israel’s relationship with Jehovah. Then examine U.S. history in light of that same pattern. Such an approach gives context and understanding (developing wisdom) to the study and removes the student from the dreadful futility of memorizing meaningless fact.

The next logical place to move a scriptural oriented educational credential is church history. How is God dealing with man during this present age? Begin with Acts, move through the epistles (examining, of course, the times and places where these churches were located), and culminate the study by relating the seven churches referenced in Revelation to the major periods in church history. Current events should be correlated to scripture, and the development of missions must be explored in this context (forming a meaningful basis for the study of geography). The final phase of understanding plumbs the depths of prophecy.

The prophet Isaiah described the three-branch structure of government long before Christ was born: “For the Lord is our Judge, The Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our King; He will save us” (Isaiah 33:22). As you study government, examine the U.S. Constitution point-by point relationship to Biblical principles or foundational references.

That “He is before all things … by Him all things consist” (Colossians 1: 17) forms the rationale and protective framework for the study of science. Honor the limitations of science by formulating a precise definition. Then create a study from hypothesis to evaluation. Understand how thinking with analogies enhances creativity in inventions. Skill in taxonomy will promote understanding of the orderliness of God’s creation and build a foundation for an effective apologetic refuting evolutionary thinking.

The primary use of mathematics, which is corroborated in scripture, is accurate business dealings. “A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is his delight” (Proverbs 11: 1). Character development and reputation (a ‘good name ‘) is inextricably tied to a person’s application of proper stewardship. In conventional curriculum, the scientific expressions of higher mathematics often preclude consumer and business math. The development of the ‘higher’ skills is by no means wrong; in fact, it is an expression of an exact science. But responsibility in a man’s business and home must not be ignored to make room for trigonometry and calculus.

God promised to make his people “the head and not the tail…” (Deuteronomy 28: 13) if they would honor His principles in matters of borrowing, lending, and investing. Young people must learn how the “borrower” becomes “servant to the lender” (Proverbs 22: 7), and cause/effect relationships regarding debt and prosperity need to be carefully analyzed.

Art and music are the language of the spirit. God gave mankind these means of glorifying His name. The Psalmist describes a heart that is right with God through a musical analogy: “He hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God; many shall see it and fear and shall trust in the Lord” (Psalm40: 3). The standard for what to study and what to produce is defined in Philippians 4:8: “Whatsoever things are  true … honest … just … pure .. .lovely … of good report; If there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” We honor God when the expressions of our hearts and our being are consistent with His character. Therefore, any study of the arts must be limited to those means and expressions which draw the believer closer to becoming Christ like and demonstrate God’s character to a world that doesn’t know Him. Young people must develop their gifts so that they are not merely consumers of the arts, but producers of excellence.

Finally, don’t forget to teach your young ladies how to be “keepers at home” (see Titus 2: 4-5 and Proverbs 31) and equip your young men to support their own households (see I Timothy 5: 8 and Proverbs 24: 27). Honoring your son’s or daughter’s individual bent and following God’s direction will round out the picture, allowing you to craft your program to God’s design for your family.

The 1828 American Directory of the English Language by Noah Webster earmarks four necessary components in every person’s education: Education comprehends all that series of instruction and discipline which is intended to enlighten the understanding, correct the temper, and form the manners and habits of youth, and fit them for usefulness in their future stations.” Such an education demands earning more than a list of credits; it demands a mature understanding of God’s precepts as they impact every subject.

Copyright 1996, Education Plus+. All right reserved.

Dr. and Mrs. Ronald Jay (Inge) Cannon are the owners of Education Plus+. Mrs. Cannon is a speaks at homeschool functions, she is the author of materials that aid in training your children, especially teens. Her seminars may be purchased on DVD by contacting the Cannons at info@medplus.com or 1-864-286-6492 Used with permission.