Christian parents have a tough decision to make when it comes to the education of their children. Public school, Christian school, private school, homeschool… so many choices. One of the things that makes the decision so tough is that there are passionate advocates on each side of the debate. One person says that homeschool is the only way to go if you want to fulfill your parental responsibility and remain faithful to Christ. Another says that Christian school is the logical choice because it upholds academic rigor without sacrificing biblical truth. But still another person maintains that being a Christian is not about living in a bubble, so public school makes the most sense in terms of our call to be in the world but not of it.
As a parent getting ready to “send” my oldest child off to kindergarten next year, I have a vested interest in this debate. I’ve got a horse in the race. So, with the help of others, I have put together a list of ten points for Christian parents to consider when deciding what to do about their children’s education. I hope you will find them useful when it comes to your own decision or in the way you counsel others about theirs.
1. God alone is Lord of the conscience
Contrary to popular belief, there are a whole host of consequential life decisions you have to make that the Bible does not specifically cover. How to educate your children is one of them. Yes, of course, there are broad scriptural principles to consider and moral implications at every turn, but just as with any other issue not plainly addressed in Scripture the Christian has liberty in this area. No one should bind your conscience on this decision but God himself. Whatever is not of faith is sin, but that’s YOUR faith – not Mrs. Smith’s. No matter how passionate someone else might be about what you should do with your child’s education, it’s not that person’s decision. It’s yours.
2. Look at evidence, not anecdotes
Everyone has an anecdote to share when it comes to the best educational option. One person can tell you about the ultra-pious 15 year old missionary-in-training they knew whose parents decided to put him in the public high school and how he was never the same after that. He started hanging with the wrong crowd and, just like that, he walked away from the faith. Another person, with eyes rolling, will tell you how painfully awkward and socially ill-equipped all the homeschoolers are at his church. Everybody has an anecdote. But for every case-in-point you hear there will always be a counter point. Try not to be too swayed by the anecdotes. Or at the very least, make sure you’re hearing anecdotes from a variety of perspectives. For the most part, however, you'll be better off gathering firm evidence and quantifiable educational data about your decision than you will be listening to horror stories.
3. It’s not THAT big of a deal
Don’t get me wrong, where you send your kids to school is a pretty big deal. Education is important and character development in these early years is also crucial. But with that said, I think we tend to over-think this issue as Christians. Some decisions in life are clear-cut cases of good vs. bad, narrow way vs. broad way, but that’s not really the case when it comes to where your 4th grader learns the state capitals. It might be that after weighing out all the pros and cons of one option over another that you determine the victor by a margin of 51 to 49. And it’s more than likely that your child would have done just fine in either scenario. Don’t view each step of your child’s educational experience as some kind of make-or-break decision. It’s not a corn maze where there can only be one right choice at each turn. There may be any number of equally plausible options that will get your child from point A to point B.
4. Every situation is unique
I have met people who seem like they were born to homeschool their children and that their children were born to be homeschooled. It just makes sense for them and their education doesn’t suffer. But in other cases the homeschooling option is a much tougher sell. When my oldest child starts school next year my wife will also have a 4 year old boy and a pair of 1 year old girls to contend with. It’s unreasonable to expect my wife to provide a quality education to our kindergartener under those conditions. I know that I certainly couldn’t do it. Or what about single-parent homes where the parent simply doesn’t have the luxury to stay at home? Other variables in this decision might include which public school district you live in. They are not all created equal. Or maybe there is no good Christian school option in your area. Another factor is the suitability of the parent to teach at all. I think we do a disservice to Christian parents who are struggling to do what’s right for their children when we come at this issue from a one-size-fits-all perspective.
5. Every child is unique
As a product of homeschool, public school, and Christian school I can tell you that I did not find each experience equally beneficial. I ended up at a Christian high school and I thrived in that environment. I went crazy at home and I felt lost when I was at public school. The Christian school provided just what I needed in terms of social interaction, quality instruction, and character development. But that’s just me. It’s an anecdote. I have known plenty of other people who were more well-suited to one of the other options. If you have more than one legitimate option in front of you, you should take your child’s unique personality and skill-set into account. It could be that your child is particularly gifted in a certain area and one of the schooling options will best allow you to cultivate that gift. Or it might be that your child has special educational needs that only a public school or a well-staffed private school is capable of dealing with. Maybe your child would get eaten alive at public school. Maybe not. I don’t know. That’s why I’m not willing to make that determination for anyone else but my own children.
6. Money is a legitimate factor
Jesus chastised the pharisees who claimed they had no money to help their parents because they had given it all to God. I think he might say the same thing to parents who sacrifice all else on the altar of their child’s education. Private schools can run well into the tens of thousands of dollars – hundreds of thousands if we’re talking about multiple kids over the course of many years. Homeschooling can also be very costly with all the materials involved and if it means one parent giving up a salary in order to teach full-time. Like it or not, every state in our country levies taxes in order to provide for the common education of its citizens. Chances are you’ve paid a good deal of these taxes yourself. Unless money is simply not an issue in your family (and I know precious few families where this is the case) or if your children’s education has been provided for by some generous outside benefactor (again, precious few), then part of what it means to be a good steward of what God has given you is that you think about what you’re paying for education. And don’t just think about the check you cut to the private school each quarter, but the amount you pay in taxes every single year. I’ve heard many Christians argue that you need to be willing to sacrifice and make Christian education a financial priority, but sacrifice what? Should you sacrifice their future inheritance? Should you sacrifice your ability to help them with college in order get them through elementary school? Should you sacrifice your tithes and offerings at church? Should you sacrifice your ability to travel and visit them after you retire now that they’ve moved across the country? There’s only so much you should pile onto your kids’ educational altar just to keep them off the school bus.
7. You are responsible for your child’s education
I believe that when Proverbs says you should train up a child in the way he should go it is talking about parents. The state is not responsible for your child’s upbringing, nor is Mrs. Maxwell at the Calvary Christian Academy across town. But just because you bear primary responsibility doesn’t mean that you have to do everything yourself. I would be doing my children a great disservice if I taught them mathematics. I can barely do long division. As the bearer of primary responsibility I owe it to my children to put them in a context where they can best learn the various lessons they will need in order to be successful. I don’t want to limit their potential to what I happen to know and to what I happen to be good at (because trust me, that ain’t much!). So while I do encourage parents to own their responsibility when it comes to raising their children, that doesn’t mean you can’t sub-contract. You don’t have to be in charge of their calculus any more than you are in charge of performing their baptism or removing their wisdom teeth when they turn 18. The responsible decision regarding their education might be that you keep them home or it might mean that you send them away. And even if you do send them away, that doesn’t mean you can’t be a volunteer in their classroom or get involved in a hundred other ways at their school. It’s not an either / or decision when it comes taking a personal role and being personally responsible for your child’s education.
8. School is not church
As evidenced by Daniel thriving at Babylon regional high school (it’s an anecdote, I know… but at least it’s a scriptural one) you can still maintain a vibrant Christian confession in a secular education system. Despite the conflicting worldview and other ungodly influences Daniel’s time at Babylon H.S. prepared him for a robust career in public service. The important thing, in my opinion, is not that each of your child’s teachers be a card-carrying evangelical, but that you keep your child actively involved in the life of the church and that you embody your Christian confession in your own home. I understand there’s give and take here. There may be certain public school districts where the ungodly influence is particularly acute. And if that’s the case and if you have a rather impressionable child then you need to really think twice before sending him into the lion’s den. But as a general rule it’s good to remember that there’s nothing in the Apostles’ Creed about math, science, geography and civics. As long as you’re teaching your children the Bible at home and they are getting it in church, the fact that they are not getting it in literature class won’t be that big of a deal.
9. In the world / of the world
This a perennial issue for Christians. You want to go out into all the world but at the same time keep yourself unstained by the world. It seems that in the education debate Christians tend to emphasize one side or the other. Choosing public school means you take the great commission seriously while choosing home school or Christian school means you take holiness seriously. I think that both sides should agree that the other side has a valid concern. But both sides should also admit when their “official” reason is not actually the “real” reason – at least not entirely. I think we all tend to oversimplify and over spiritualize decisions like this. I’m sure the “public-school-is-a-mission-field” parents are a lot more pragmatic than they let on. Yeah, public school is a mission field, but it’s also free and they drop my kids off at the end of the street. And then with the “I-homeschool-because-I-actually-love-my-kids” crowd I imagine there is a bit of fear and insecurity that goes into the decision to keep such a close hold. I think we should be honest about these unofficial reasons, consider both sides of the spiritual issue, and then make the most faithful decision we can all things considered.
10. There’s no perfect option
Not all schools are created equal. Some are better than others and if you have a choice you should choose the better one. But there’s always going to be some give and take. You might find a great private school that fits all of your “must-haves”, but it will cost you a fortune and you’ll need to drive by 5 other elementary schools to get there in the morning. Public school will free up a lot of your time and money, but it will bring challenges of its own. There’s no perfect choice. So weigh out the pros and cons and do the best you can with the information that you have available. And if push comes to shove, you can always change your mind. There’s nothing that says you can’t try a little bit of each. You don’t want to bounce your kids around like academic pinballs, of course, but by enrolling them in the local primary school you are not committing for life. Reevaluate and readjust as necessary.
I wish you the very best in your decision-making process! Do the best you can, stay faithful, and the rest will (hopefully!) take care of itself.