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November / December 2005

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A special imprimatur

by Brian D. Ray, Ph.D.

Do you remember your biology books and lessons? Perhaps you read about or, if you grew up on a farm, experienced "imprinting." This is the phenomenon in which animals such as ducks and geese socially bond to a parent figure. And it does not have to be the real parent. You have probably seen photos or films of this—a duck, goose, or lamb awkwardly following a little girl as if she were its mother.

The Austrian scientist Konrad Zacharias Lorenz formally documented and named the imprinting process. As a child, Lorenz became interested in birds and their behavior. He wrote: "'I yearned to become a wild goose and, on realizing that this was impossible, I desperately wanted to have one and, when this also proved impossible, I settled for having domestic ducks.' Soon, a neighbor gave him a one-day-old duckling, which immediately began to follow Lorenz around, 'to my intense joy.'"1

I do not think you should yearn to be a wild goose, but I do hope you want your children, into their adulthood, to imprint on you, want to be with you, and want to be like you. You should have joy when these things happen. What is the alternative? It is a disaster for a California condor to imprint on a human. He needs to be fond of being with other condors in order to properly reproduce, find food, and raise young. If he does not imprint on a condor and learn condor behavior, he will function poorly, if at all, as a condor. He will be a condor failure.

In a sense, it is the same for your young adults. Although the sphere of good mentors and models and time spent with others will enlarge over the years, parents should continue to be their children's key role models. Analogies, such as using animal imprinting to discuss humans, are rarely perfect. One aspect of animal imprinting, however, that applies here is that ethologists since Lorenz have " . . . found that the imprinting window may not be as narrow as once thought." In other words, it lasts longer than they originally concluded.

God decided long before you were aware of it that your children were created to be in your family, under your tutelage and guidance, and that you are perfectly able to do the job. Hal Young, president of North Carolinians for Home Education, explains it this way: "I believe that God has ordained the children that are born to particular families, whether talking about personality, . . . or particular needs. If God places that child in your family, God is arranging the upbringing that is suitable to that child. . . . God will give you the resources in accordance with His plan for that child."

Home-based education offers a plethora of things that institutional schooling cannot give to people. Some of these are an individualized or customized curriculum and way of life, a biblical worldview, more time with parents and siblings, eagerness to learn in order to serve and give glory to God within a vocation rather than for "grades" or certificates from others, personally chosen social relationships versus random assignment to same-age peer groups, typically higher academic achievement, fulfilling the family's proper central role in the education of children and youth rather than delegating such to the civil government (paid for by taxation) or the church, and reduced exposure to unnecessary evil influences. These truths and reasons for home educating do not magically disappear when your child reaches the age of 14. The gradual moral and intellectual development of a person, the biblical philosophy of education and discipleship, and the facts of research on homeschooling do not change by some quantum leap at the age when most children enter what is called "the 9th grade." A young person's needs, interests, desires, and personality will vary from age 13 to 14, but they also varied from 2 to 3 and from 7 to 8. I am perplexed by homeschool parents who, when their children reach high-school age, begin to ignore all the things that they once believed were the great advantages of homeschooling.

Scripture shows that there was a right timing for Jesus to be about His Father's business in an open and "full-time" way. It was not at age 14 and it was not at age 45; it was at the perfect time God ordained for Jesus the Christ. The scriptures imply that Jesus as a young man continued being around His parents until the time in His adulthood when He was perfectly ready and then fully launched into God's mission for Him according to the Father's timing.2

We should see the home-based secondary years as a time to allow God to complete His unique family stamp, that special imprimatur, on our children. When those who heard about the unusual circumstances surrounding the birth of John the Baptist asked what he was going to be, his father Zacharias prophesied that he would be a prophet of the Most High, foretelling the tender mercy of God.3 Before that, the Lord had already shown Zacharias and Elizabeth that John would be a joy and delight to them and that many would rejoice because of his birth as John moved with the Spirit of God, not that he would be a famous woodworker, physician, or entrepreneur. He would grow up and be around the influence mainly of his parents, spend a lot of time growing strong in spirit with God, and then just when God determined the timing was perfect, John would be made public, well past his adolescent years. It is very possible that John received teaching and modeling in the key principles, traits, and truths of God from his parents and a socially-natural widening circle of relationships right up to the point of his "public" ministry. With purpose, the Creator of the universe designed a one-of-a-kind Zacharias-and-Elizabeth family to raise up John, not another set of professionally trained state-controlled or private-institution discipleship experts. God will show you and your son or daughter-if you are willing to receive-in the context of the local and broader society and culture in which you live, the right timing for him or her to launch into a grounded, stable, faith-filled adult life that is under the authority of the Lord, the church, and, diminishingly, you, the parents.

There is at least one more reason to continue the home-based education of your young adults that is connected to imprinting. This might be the most challenging reason of all. To be glad and content about our sons' and daughters' imprinting on us, we must ourselves be humble and willing to change according to Jesus' nature. The answer is not to send our children away to school, but to beseech the Lord and make serious plans to change so that our children see parents4 energetically and forcefully advancing the kingdom of God in their own lives. This will benefit the children who are watching how their parents approach-by faith and with courage and diligence-adversity, weakness, sin, and living patterns that are not consistent with the plans of our Lord. Continuing as the main teachers and modelers for our young adults is one of the surest ways to find ourselves crying out to the Lord for wisdom and a sincere desire to be honed, during our 30s, 40s, and 50s, into the potent warriors he wants us to be for the elder (and grandparent) years of our lives.

As you increasingly think and walk in the ways of the Savior, so will your maturing children. With increasing confidence in the future, you know that you will be able to say, "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth."5 Although your 15- and 17-year-olds will likely be spending more time with friends, and involved in other activities than they did as pre-teens, they will still be imprinting on you and bonding with you until they fly to a nest of their own.


1 Retrieved 8/1/05 online

2 Luke 2:51-52.

3 Luke 1.

4 Matthew 11:12.

5 III John 4.

About the author

Brian D. Ray, Ph.D., is an internationally known researcher, writer, speaker, and expert witness on homeschooling and president of the nonprofit research and education organization the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI). Dr. Ray and his wife Betsy have been raising their eight children on a small farm near Salem, Oregon. You may learn about NHERI's services at and contact Dr. Ray at