Caleb Schroeder is a public school teacher and adjunct college professor, and brings his wisdom and insight from his experiences in the public school system to this important interview for the Schoolhouse Rocked Podcast.
Yvette Hampton: Hey everyone. This is Yvette Hampton. Welcome back to the Schoolhouse RockedPodcast. I am really glad you’ve joined us today. I have a really exciting guest on today, and you are going to be so encouraged by him. He is actually … Well, he and his whole family are good friends of ours. We’ve known them for well over 20 years, and I think you’re going to enjoy what he’s going to talk about. He’s going to talk about being a teacher in the public school system in California, and whey he homeschools his kids. So his name is Caleb Schroeder, and I’m excited for you to get to know him. So hi, Caleb!
Caleb: Hey. How are you doing?
Yvette: I’m good. I’m so glad to have you on the podcast today. We actually interviewed you for Schoolhouse Rocked, the movie a little over two years ago, right?
Yvette: Yeah. And so for those of you who are on … Actually, I want to say who are on the Backstage Pass membership site, but I actually think that your video has been seen by people who are not Backstage Pass members. I think we made that available to people for free. And we will actually do that again. We can talk about that at the end of the show, but people can go to the show notes for this podcast and see your video. But you had a great interview, talked about spiritual leadership in your home, and just about how you come alongside of your wife and encourage her. And so that’s a great video that you guys definitely are going to want to see.
But today we’re going to talk about something a little bit different with you, on kind of the other side of homeschooling, and that is public schools. So before we get rolling on that topic, tell us about you and your family a little bit.
Caleb: So I’m the father of six kids, and all six of my kids are homeschooled. My oldest is 14. She just started high school, just finished up first semester of her freshman year. And then I have a 12-year-old daughter who is in 7th grade. I have twin boys who are nine years old. I have a daughter who’s seven, and then the youngest is four and a half. We use a classical model for education. We love Classical Conversations, and we’ve been doing that for, I think, four years, now.
I’m a practicum speaker. I usually speak at different practicums over the summer. I love encouraging homeschool parents. My wife and I are actually both homeschool graduates. We were homeschooled K through 12, in the ’80s and ’90s, when you had to do that with your curtains closed and the phones turned off.
Caleb: … in California. And we love what we’re able to do with our kids with homeschooling. I’m a public school teacher. I’m really involved in ministry at my church, both in my kids’ ministries, and then I direct the college ministry in my church.
Yvette: Yeah, well you guys are busy. You’re a busy, busy bunch. We love your family dearly. We are good friends with you guys, and as a matter of fact, your wife Leah and I are really good friends. And her parents, the first time we met, I think Leah was 12, and her parents were my and Garritt’s pre-marriage counselors.
Yvette: And that was 24 years ago. That was actually a little over 24 years ago, because we are just celebrating our 24th anniversary so we’ve-
Caleb: Oh, congratulations.
Yvette: Yeah, thank you. Only by the grace of God. So it’s been really neat to see your family grow. I know I got to be kind of a little part of helping with your wedding and so we’ve seen your family grow from the very beginning.
I love your story of having been homeschooled to where God has brought you today. And I was talking to somebody recently, and she said, “I don’t see that a lot of homeschool graduates are doing a lot of things and being really successful in life.” Now, this is someone who does not come from a background of homeschooling.
And I said, “Well, you know, the reason that you may not see that quite yet is because that whole first big generation of homeschool graduates are just now really into their adulthood. You know? They’re in their maybe late 20s to mid 30s, and really starting to shine as adults. And so you’re one of those, where God has done amazing things with you. Talk a little bit, first, about what your homeschool journey was like growing up, because I know you were … I don’t want to say … I mean you might say unschooled, but I won’t say that you were unschooled, but I know you had kind of a loose school structure growing up, and then to where you are today and what God has done with you.
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Caleb: So I don’t know if I mentioned this, but my dad was a public school teacher for 37 years. He was teaching high school. And that’s what sort of motivated him to make the decision to homeschool. It wasn’t necessarily because he wanted to protect us from indoctrination, he just saw the system was broken. Educationally, students were not learning; they were not being taught. And so he realized, “I could do this better on my own,” and he did. I just finished my second Master’s degree. Most of my siblings have Master’s degrees. A lot of us are very successful working professionals. But because his response wasn’t to try to maybe pull us out and protect us from the system, it was very educationally focused, he had some radical ideas about how he was going to educate us. And some people might describe it as unschooling, but it wasn’t, because our mathematics was very structured. So mathematics was something that we did everyday. We had to put in time, we had to work systematically through … He wrote our curriculum for mathematics. For reading, that was very structured. Reading was very structured. And he sort of designed it like those are they keys. If you have your math, you have your reading, you can do anything.
And so outside of that, it was more whatever our passion was. So I remember one year when I was in high school, instead of doing US history, I just spent the entire year doing research on George Washington. He just fascinated me, and so I just did all this research on him, and I learned US history by studying the life of George Washington.
Caleb: And so that was sort of the unschooling bit, is it was a little bit passion-driven. But the math and the English portion were very structured. My dad is a strict grammarian. Even in my Master’s graduate programs, I would send my research papers to him and say, “Hey, can you check my grammar?” And he would always, inevitably, find something. I was hoping after my second Master’s degree I’d finally arrive where he wouldn’t be able to find any errors, but he could always see them.
Caleb: So our experience … Because he really structured the math and the reading, we’re able to excel in anything we wanted to. And we’re also able to keep our passion. So I’m still somebody who’s extremely passionate about learning.
Yvette: Yeah. You learned to love learning.
Yvette: Which is really the purpose of education. It’s not just to put a bunch of facts into our kids’ heads so that they forget them after the test, and then move onto the next subject. It’s really to teach our kids how to love learning.
Yvette: So how did he do that with you? What was the key that you found that caused you to love learning? And how are you doing that with your kids?
Caleb: So I would say the key was having enough structure so that we could acquire the tools necessary to be successful. Let me illustrate it this way: When I was taking a … I was taking a PE class when I was in college, on teaching PE to students. My degree was in education. And our professor was explaining to us … She was like, “This is the most important class you’re going to take,” and a lot of people laughed that off, “Well, this is a PE class. This is not important.” And she explained that people’s quality of life is tied towards how active they are. And she said, “People aren’t active if they’re not skilled enough to enjoy activity.” And so when you teach a child how to throw a ball correctly, when you teach them how to jump correctly, when you teach them how to run correctly, they can then enjoy those activities.
In the same way, with education, is your mind is equipped where you understand the inner workings of mathematics, so you have … Your brain automatically sees the logic in systems, looks for the logics, understands how to put it together, and then you can read, you can do anything.
So the first key was having that structure in place, there. But the second key was my dad and my mom were passionate learners themselves. So their passion was caught by us. They were excited. My dad was a biologist. So everywhere we went, he was just pointing out the wonder of what he saw. And it wasn’t faked at all. It was just like he was in awe of God’s creation everywhere we’d go. We’d spend a lot of our summers up at Mount Whitney here in California, and we’d spend a lot of time on the trails and hiking around, and he’d just be showing us all these things as we’re hiking, and we’d be looking at the stars at night, and he’d be teaching us. So the world was our classroom.
And because of that, everywhere I go, I want to learn. I was going on a run this morning with this lady who was … There’s a local running store, and they do a run there every single Saturday morning. And I was running with this lady who is a … She has a PhD in nuclear fission, and I was like, “Wow. This is amazing. She can answer all these questions that I have.” And so I was just grilling her while I was running. And that’s not something that I’m researching, but it’s fascinating to me. I want to know about it.
So everywhere I go, I’m asking people questions, trying to learn about the world that’s around me. So I just have … We’re born with an innate curiosity, and the school system destroys that. And I’ve been able to preserve that. So I have the same curiosity I did as a five-year-old. I never lost it.
Yvette: Yeah. Yeah, and you’re passing that along to your kids, now, just like your dad passed that onto you.
So Caleb, you are a public school teacher. You teach math. Do you only teach math, or do you teach other subjects, as well?
Caleb: Yeah, primarily math. This year I’m doing a study hall. I teach a lot of dual-enrolled students, so I work for a local community college, and I work for the high school. And so I have a lot of students who are enrolled in the community college classes and the high school classes, so I run a study hall for them to come in and get help with their homework, and just sort of stay on top of them. I make sure they’re getting work done. So it’s not math, per se, but I end up helping them with a lot of mathematics.
Yvette: Okay, so here’s the question: You are a public school teacher, and many would ask the question, then why would you not have your kids in public school? If you own a business, maybe creating … Who knows, I don’t know. T-shirts. You would obviously want your kids to wear that t-shirt that you create, because that’s your thing. That’s your family business. That’s what feeds your family. And so everyday, you go into the public school system, and you have decided that that’s not what right for your kids. Why is that?
Caleb: You know, I guess it might seem strange from the outside, but because that’s how I was raised, that was sort of assumed. It wasn’t assumed that I would become a teacher, but it was assumed that I would homeschool my kids. The system’s broken, and it’s broken beyond repair. Education is a … There’s so much political activism in education now, that the working professionals who actually know what’s best for students and what’s going to help them cognitively, we can’t even do that. We can’t teach students where they’re at; because we’re working with 30 or more students at a time, we have to force everybody to fit into the same cookie cutter mold. And so it becomes indoctrination.
Public school flowed out of the industrial revolution. And in the industrial revolution, it actually made sense for what they were trying to do. In the industrial revolution, they needed a good factory worker. They needed somebody who would clock in, do the same mundane tasks without asking any questions, and then clock out. We don’t have those jobs anymore. We don’t have any careers … Yeah, there are some factory workers, but if you look at it, the majority of what factory workers are doing now, is they’re troubleshooting. They’re working on the equipment because the equipment does the work that a worker used to do.
Our education system is the same as it was 100 years ago. And because of that, we’re still preparing students to go into a job where they don’t think about what they’re doing, they don’t know how to troubleshoot, they’re just really good at, what I call, regurgitating on demand. So the teacher tells ’em, “Okay, here’s everything you need to know. Come back tomorrow and recite it to me.” That’s useless. There’s no value in that at all, in our culture anymore. So no matter what your religious background, but just cognitively, looking at what the brain needs to be effective, for a worker to be able to be successful, those skills aren’t given at all anymore.
And so I made the decisions to educate my kids primarily because I saw how broken the system was. Why I’m in the system, it’s not that I necessarily think that I can change it. I felt like I could. I’m teaching at a small, rural high school. And I have a principal who gave me a lot of freedom, and we were able, for about five years to be extremely innovative. Drastically change, within the confines of what California restricts us to, drastically change how we set up math instruction. And we were really, really successful. I have a student right now at Harvard Medical, who graduated from my program. He’s going to be a medical doctor. And I have students who are at UCLA. And so I was able to create an atmosphere where I was able to sort of salvage the students’ education in their last three years. The school is small enough that I had students for three years, and I could get them to that point where they became autonomous learners and I sort of shocked that curiosity back inside of them. But that’s an anomaly.
Usually, you don’t have a principal who will give you that freedom. And that whole system was dependent upon the administration I had, and that administration just shifted, and my new administration will not work with me at all. And so they’re coming in and they’re dictating, and they’re destroying everything I’ve built, which is sort of … That’s standard fare in California public schools. Education is determined by the politicians.
A big thing for mathematics, every single incoming freshman that I have, I’m required to put them in an algebra I class. I’ll give them an entrance test, and they can’t add a fraction, they can’t multiply single digits, they never got through … If you guys are familiar with the classical method, they never got through those grammar stages. They never mastered that grammar stage. They were never taught to mastery, and they need that. You can’t go on if you don’t understand how the brain works. You can’t go on to that dialectic or rhetoric stage until you have the grammar of a subject down, but I’m required to put them in an algebra class, which is-
Yvette: Wow. It’s like building the roof first on a house before you’ve built a foundation.
Caleb: Exactly. Yeah, it’d be like putting a student in their third year Spanish class when they haven’t had Spanish I or II.
Caleb: And so that’s just because the government requires us to do that, and it’s because algebra is a social justice issue. Instead of being a math issue, it’s a social justice issue. And there are social justice components there, for sure. There’s pockets of racism, where people will put students in a class just to hold them down. But as a rule, that’s really not happening in California, and it really shouldn’t be how you determine what class students are put in.
So really, the reason that I’m there is I never felt called to be a school teacher. I felt called to be a missionary. And that’s how I see it. I think that the public schools are the front line of the culture war in our nation today. So if you want to be making a difference, the biggest difference that you can make is to be right there in the thick of it. So California public schools … I’m on the front line. And how I shine my light in that is not by going out and lecturing my students about their immoral lifestyles. I love kids. I love kids. And students are attracted to the love of Christ. And so what happens is, is I’m able to develop relationships with them. They know that my classroom is a safe space, and they come in there and they share their hearts with me. They share their struggles, and I’m able to share Jesus with them.
Caleb: And you know, one of the young guys I got to share Jesus with. He [inaudible 00:17:38] I know the lord, and now he’s a pastor at your home church.
Caleb: So that’s why I’m there. I’m there because … I’ve described it this way: The public schools are the cesspool of our society. If you look around and you think, “Wow, the media’s bad and this is bad,” well imagine the next generation that’s raised by that generation with those lack of [inaudible 00:18:00] and any moral compass whatsoever. Those children, their lifestyles, their moral compass, it’s despicable. And to go into that, it’s almost my … I’m passionate about missions. I love to read missionary stories and that’s sort of how I’ve always envisioned it. I’m sort of an anthropologist. I’m studying how these students work, how their minds work. How do I communicate to them, how do I get through to them, so I can communication the gospel to them.
Yvette: Yeah, well you do a good job of doing that. You know, you talk about being on the front lines, and I did a podcast a few weeks ago with a homeschool mom named Misty Bailey and we talked about being salt and light in the public schools, and how often times, that is the argument that Christian parents will say, “We want to put our kids in the public school system because God calls us to be salt and light.” But God does not call the student to be salt and light. He doesn’t call a student who’s not old enough to really understand what they believe yet. I mean, sure, they might believe in Jesus. Hopefully they do. But they’re not really quite solid enough in their foundation as a child to be able to go out and stand against the forces of evil that are taking place in the public school system.
Yvette: And so how do you answer that? I mean, if a parent says to you, “Well, I don’t want to homeschool my kids because I think God has called us to be salt and light, and so I want to put my kid in the public school system so that they can be the salt and light.” What would you say to that parent?
Caleb: I would ask them what they’re doing to have such amazing kids who can go out there and be doing what I’m doing that’s exhausting me, that’s really, really difficult. But at the same time, I do know Christian parents in my school who are very involved. You know, they’re on campus and that’s what I would say is, “Okay, I know that some parents can’t homeschool their kids.” Just, their life situation doesn’t allow them to do that for whatever reason. My wife and I, we just make it happen. California’s pretty expensive to live here, so living on low income, I’ve got to work a couple jobs. But God is good, he provides for us. And so I know … I’ve talked to people, sometimes, where they feel like that’s a necessity and I say, “Well, you need to understand with that, that the responsibility for discipleship still lands squarely on your shoulders.”
And one of the problems is when you start entrusting the education of your children to somebody else, you can begin to think, “Well, maybe because I’m not educating them, I don’t need to be as active in what’s happening in their mind. And part of discipleship, it’s for sure spiritual, but you’re also discipling your children’s minds. And you need to be learning how they’re thinking. And if you can do that as a non-homeschool parent, then more power to you. But for myself, I can’t. I need to be teaching my children at home.
But one of the things that I saw as a homeschool graduate, in the ’80s and ’90s, a lot of my contemporaries, a lot of my peers, their parents were making that decision because they feared the culture. And what happened is they completely removed their children from that culture, and then those children, once they graduated, they weren’t able to engage with that culture. And we have a mandate from our Lord to make disciples, which means we have to be interfacing with people who aren’t yet disciples. We need to be fishers of men, which means we need to have venues where we’re interacting with people who are in the world.
And so I actively pursue that for my children. That’s something my parents actively pursued for me. So my kids, they interact with people outside of just our home, and our homeschool community. My daughter was on my cross country team at my public high school this last year. I think within the first two weeks, she’d shared the gospel with all the other freshman girls on the team. You know?
And I mean, that’s my heart. And she sort of knows, “Hey, that’s why I’m here.”
Caleb: Another untapped venue that I think a lot of homeschool parents don’t recognize is youth groups in the church. Often times, in a youth group, you’re going to have unchurched kids coming in and visiting and homeschooled kids, that can be in a place that they learn to be salt and light.
And so I think that parents who make that argument, there’s something valid there, and we need to own that and recognize that, and think how are we helping our children right now prepare to engage in the culture? We’re training up a child, but part of training up a child is, we need to be teaching them how to make disciples. You know? So to be their friend across the street that they play with.
Caleb: “Hey, let me challenge you to invite them to come to church with you. Let me challenge you to tell them what it means to believe in Jesus, to share your faith with him.” I can remember as a little kid doing that, and making a mess of it with my next-door neighbor. You know, I didn’t know what I was doing. I was trying to … I asked him if he was a Christian, and he said yes, and then I didn’t know what to do, ’cause I knew he wasn’t, and I didn’t want to argue with him. But that was something my parents did for me. They put me on the public parks and rec basketball teams, and I would do swim teams. And so I was interacting with the world constantly, and then learning how to be a witness, but my dad was my coach.
Caleb: So he was right there watching me, encouraging me, but also giving me enough space so that I could learn to do those things.
Caleb: We can’t just bring our children up to the place of being 18 years old, they graduate from high school, and then they go out there and they’re ready to engage in the world. If the first time they ever hear somebody use profanity is after they graduate from high school, that’s a problem.
Caleb: You know? And so … I mean, yeah. My daughter probably learned some new works this last year as a … She’s actually 13, as a freshman in the public school system. And she doesn’t like that, but also I’m not worried about that affecting her, because I know that her light is stronger than those bad morals. And I know that she can stand up on her own two feet. And that’s really a decision you make child by child, year by year; how much you’re engaging them with the culture and how much you’re not.
Caleb: I talked to a mom recently … Not recently. Probably eight years ago, who was … She was really struggling with the decision of whether she should put her son in public high school or in a private school. And what I told her is, the public high school’s the cesspool of our culture. And your son, maybe he’ll learn to stand up for himself, and he’ll learn to share the gospel, but it’s going to be vexing to his soul. It’s like Lot when he was in Sodom. Remember what Peter says in his epistle, he says, “Every day his righteous soul was vexed.” So if your children love Jesus and they’re in public school, everyday their righteous soul’s going to be vexed.
Caleb: And so you need to be figuring out a way to be bringing massive support to them because their soul is just going to be attacked day after day after day. This mom put her son in the public school, and within two months, she pulled him out, and she called me up and she’s like, “Oh my gosh, you were right. It is just a cesspool. His friends are constantly just trying to push stuff on him and challenging him to do all these things that he knows he shouldn’t do,” and she pulled him out and she put him in a private school.
Yvette: Yeah, yeah. It’s tough to put kids in a situation like that where … Often times I think they feel like they’re standing alone, or then, they’re the ones who get labeled as the bully, because now you’re telling this kid that what they’re doing is wrong. Or, whatever the situation might be, and that’s a really hard place for kids to be. And so-
Yvette: I love that. And we’re like that with our kids, we’re very intentional. We travel a lot, we do a whole lot of things that are not homeschool-related, but we get to spend the days and hours with our girls, training their hearts, and training them up in righteousness, teaching them God’s word so that when they go out into the culture, they can recognize good from bad, truth from lies, and I agree completely. I mean, I’ve known kids who were homeschooled their whole lives, and they came out and they were like, “Nope. Not for me.” And did not even know how to interact with culture because their parents kept them so isolated and so protected. And you can’t do that.
Yvette: But it is our job to protect our kids. And so you have to find that balance, and that’s what it is, is a balance. But I think sending them into that cesspool for 35 to 40 hours a week, and then expecting them to come home and be able to undo everything that they’ve been taught and seen, seems nearly impossible to do, ’cause you can’t undo what’s already been done to them.
Caleb: This last year, Leah and I both read a book called The Gospel Comes With a House Key by Rosaria Butterfield.
Caleb: We really enjoyed that book. And she’s a homeschool mom, and how she creates that space for her kids to learn to reach out, is by having a home that’s constantly open. And so her kids are learning to make disciples because she’s having unsaved people in her home all the time, and she’s making disciples. And so they’re seeing that. What happens often times when somebody comes to Christ, within about three years, they don’t have any more non-Christina friends. I mean, either their non-Christian friends have stopped being friends with that, or they’ve just stopped engaging with the world. And it’s important for … One of the reasons I’m part of a local running club is that gives me a space where I can interface with people in the world. My public school lets me do that. My college students … I run a college ministry for my church, and I have them in my home. And they’re constantly going out and bringing other people, and those people are in my home and part of my ministry is, I do it with my kids. My ministry on the context of family, I think that family makes you more effective in your ministry. And kids are learning it.
If I go out and I’m sharing the gospel, I take my sons with me. You know?
Caleb: And they hear people reject us, and they get to see how to share their faith. And so we just need to be making sure as parents that we’re engaging with the world, that we’re letting the world into our home; inviting strangers. That’s what hospitality means.
Yvette: That’s right.
Caleb: It means loving strangers. Also, we’re inviting strangers into our home. That’s how our kids are going to learn to make disciples. Sending them off away from us where they can’t be learning from us and seeing us model it, and knowing how to do it? Not really effective.
Yvette: Yeah, yeah. Oh, I agree completely.
Yvette: Unfortunately we are out of time for the podcast, but if you can stay on with me, I would love to continue this conversation, ’cause I want to keep talking about this. So for those who are Backstage Pass members, this video, of course, will be on, and you guys can view the rest of this interview.
For those who are listening on the podcast, thank you guys for listening today. We are so grateful for you. We’re grateful for the encouragement that you continue to bring to us. Continuing praying for us. God is doing some big things with Schoolhouse Rocked, and with the podcast and with our family, so we would love your continued prayers as we move forward in post-production with the movie and just continue doing what God has called us to do.
So thank you guys, for your encouragement. Thank you for listening. And please, please share this with your friends. It’s always exciting to hear when someone says, “Oh, I had a friend who told me about this podcast.” I got to talk to a dad the other day, and the mom actually said, “Oh, my husband Ryan always listens to the podcast, and he’s always the one telling me, ‘You’ve got to listen to this one! You’ve got to listen to this one!'” And I was like, “That is awesome!” I love that dads are listening as well, so hi to the dads listening, and hello Ryan. I’m glad you’re listening.
But thank you guys for being with us today and we will have a new podcast for you next Monday. And for those of you on the Backstage Pass membership site, stick with us, and we’re going to continue this conversation with Caleb.
So Caleb, thank you for being on the podcast with me today.
Caleb: Oh, for sure. Thank you for having me.
The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian WorldBy Rosaria Champagne Butterfield