OPTIONS IN EDUCATION
Do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip away from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. (Deuteronomy 4:9)
Now I sit me down in school
Where praying is against the rule.
For this great nation under God
Finds mention of Him very odd.
If Scripture now the class recites,
It violates the Bill of Rights.
And anytime my head I bow,
Becomes a federal matter now.
The law is specific, the law is precise.
Prayers spoken aloud are a serious vice.
For praying in a public hall,
Might offend someone with no faith at all.
In silence alone we must meditate,
God’s name is prohibited by the state.
We’re allowed to cuss and dress like freaks,
And pierce our noses, tongues and cheeks.
We can elect a pregnant Senior Queen,
And the ‘unwed daddy,’ our Senior King.
It’s “inappropriate” to teach right from wrong,
We’re taught that such “judgments” do not belong.
We can get our condoms and birth controls,
Study witchcraft, vampires and totem poles.
But the Ten Commandments are not allowed,
No Word of God must reach this crowd.
It’s scary here I must confess,
When chaos reigns the school’s a mess.
So, Lord, this silent plea I make:
Should I be shot; My soul please take! Amen.
That rhyme, which circulated on the Internet, expresses the frustration some people feel with schools. Not everybody sees the situation quite that grimly; some people are quite pleased with their local school. But even those who aren’t pleased often do nothing about it except complain and feel frustrated. They and their children remain in a school that they find oppressive. Why do so many of us assume that we have to stick with what were stuck with? After all, there’s not just one choice in education.
Take the Williams family, for example. Living in a rough neighborhood, they didn’t think the public school in their district would provide a good educational environment. In fact, they considered the school downright dangerous. So they chose to send their four children to a private school. They had to live on a tight budget, but for six years their children were able to attend that private school. When the tuition payments became too much for them, the Williams family converted their basement into a classroom with three desks, bulletin boards, and two computers, and they home schooled their children. The Williams family knew they had choices, and they made decisions based on what they thought best for their family in their particular circumstances.
There are indeed options in education, and today we’re going to look at three: public schools, private Christian schools, and home schooling. Let me say right up front that I’m not going to offer a nice, neat formula that applies to all situations. I know some fine parents who use public schools, some who use Christian schools, some who teach their children at home, and in each approach, they’re raising some fine children. So let’s not judge those who don’t fit our formula. Still, it’s good to look at each approach, especially if you’ve never really considered all the options you have.
Before looking at the options or making a choice, we first need to set goals. A sound education aims at two main goals: competence and character. Education should nourish competence. It should bring out the best in each person’s God-given talents and abilities. It should nourish creativity and sound thinking and work skills and enrich students with the finest treasures of culture. Education should also nourish character. It should show students how to think and live as a children of God, holy and wholesome, courageous, truthful, and loving.
Education is urgent business. If we fail to educate our children, it’s not a minor nuisance. It’s a disaster. Children who don’t gain competence are an intellectual and economic disaster. Children who don’t gain character are a social and spiritual disaster. If you don’t believe it, just look around.
As we consider choices in education, let’s do it in light of something Moses said to the people of Israel shortly before he died. Moses reminded the people how God rescued them from slavery and how he gave them the Ten Commandments. Moses told the people that they had a special relationship to a very special God, that they were now specially enlightened and specially blessed. But Moses also warned how easily it could all slip away. “Only be careful,” said Moses, “and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip away from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.”
These words of Moses from Deuteronomy 4:9 show us what’s at stake in education: souls are at stake, families and communities and nations are at stake, God’s honor is at stake. Holding on to God’s truth and passing it on to our children–that’s the difference between blessing and disaster. So as we think about public schools and Christian schools and home schooling, let’s be thinking about both competence and character. Let’s be sure to do what Moses said, to never to let God’s ways “slip away from your heart as long as you live” and to “teach them to your children and to their children after them.”
Let’s look first at the option that’s most common today: public schools. How do they measure up in terms of the goals I mentioned earlier, the goals of competence and character? Well, some public schools do a good job of helping students to become more competent. They foster intellectual skills and knowledge of culture. Some public schools are academically weak, but the best ones can still provide good resources for learning.
What about character? Some public schools have a positive atmosphere and teachers are kind and decent. Other schools are atrocious. They shove atheistic evolution down children’s throats. They give condom demonstrations to junior high students. Gangs and drug dealers have more influence than teachers. When a school is that bad, no child should have to attend it.
Many public schools are better than that, but even the best public schools can’t have classroom prayers or a spiritual atmosphere. They can’t center each and every area of study in Jesus Christ or look at each subject in the light of God’s Word. Some public schools try to encourage common decency, and we can be glad for that, but public schools don’t offer the kind of spiritual and moral foundation that children need.
Even so, most kids go to public schools. Often this comes from a mentality of “that’s just the way things are.” If you went to a public school, if most parents in your neighborhood send their children to a public school, it might seem weird and even unpatriotic not to send your kids. Another reason people choose public schools, of course, is money. It’s cheaper to send children to schools that are funded by taxpayer money than to Christian schools, and it certainly isn’t as costly as giving up a job in order to home school. Some children go to public schools simply because parents feel the other choices are financially impossible for them.
Some Christians, though, send their children to a public school by choice: not by default or because of money but because they really believe it can be a valuable experience in shaping their children. They want their kids to interact with people of many different convictions and be exposed to many different views. They think it’s healthy for kids to have to stand up for what they believe in dealing with other kids and even with teachers who don’t share their faith.
This assumes a level of discernment and maturity which some kids have but which many don’t. It also requires parents who devote a great deal of time and energy to helping their kids outside of school. Public school isn’t always the best choice, but I know people who have made it work. It won’t work, however, if you’re just sending your kids there because you’ve got to send them somewhere. If it’s to have a chance of building your children’s competence and character, you’ve got to stay in close touch with your children and with what they’re learning. Do all you can to help them deal with classmates and teachers and subject material in light of God’s truth.
Public schools are a deliberate choice for some, but too many people go the public school route without even giving it much thought. What about you? Have you ever thought carefully about other options? Have you ever visited a Christian school classroom or talked with some of the teachers? Have you ever looked into home schooling or talked seriously with someone who is teaching at home? If not, then how do you know the best choice for your family? Let’s spend a few minutes looking at Christian schools and home schooling, just to get you thinking. After that, you can investigate on your own.
Christian schools are an impressive choice for developing the competence and character of your children. In these schools, the authority over the school is held by parents who want to honor Christ and give their children a Christ-centered training. In these schools, there’s no government trying to silence prayer or the Ten Commandments. In these schools, the teachers and principals are usually excellent examples and role models as well as capable instructors. They love the Lord Jesus Christ, and they want to inspire that same love in others. They know the truth of the Bible, and they try to make that truth shine through in each subject they teach.
And if you think these schools are strong on religion but weak on academics, think again! The average Christian school teacher is a qualified professional, with a solid understanding of kids and a firm grasp of the subject material. The average Christian school student is far above the average public school student on achievement tests. Love for God doesn’t destroy love of learning; it inspires it. Knowledge of Scripture doesn’t decrease other knowledge; it increases it.
Another benefit of Christian schools is that they often produce a closer sense of community among the parents who work together to support the school.
Christian schools aren’t perfect, of course. They sometimes fall short of their ideals. The teaching isn’t always as good as it could be, and the students aren’t all saints. But overall, the Christian schools I’m familiar with are very good.
So if you’ve got a Christian school nearby and you’ve never looked into it, then I urge you to do so. Visit the school. Talk to the superintendent and teachers. Talk with some parents whose children attend the school. You may find that it’s exactly the kind of education you want for your children.
Now, what about home schooling? In a sense, home schooling isn’t an option at all. It’s a necessity. Any teacher, whether in public school or Christian school, will tell you that students do best in the classroom when their parents are helping them learn at home. If you choose a public school or a Christian school, don’t assume that your children’s education is no longer your responsibility. I don’t care how good a school your children attend, you need to be involved in their education. Schools aren’t the only place where learning takes place.
For example, children learn an enormous amount whenever you sit and read to them. They learn new information, and they learn that you care about them enough to spend time with them, and they learn that reading is wonderful. On the other hand, if you don’t read to your children, they also learn something. They learn that you don’t have time for them, and they learn that reading doesn’t matter all that much. That’s just one example of how you teach your children constantly, by what you do or by what you fail to do. If you’re a mom or dad, you’re already a home schooler, whether you realize it or not. So be a good one.
But what about taking it a step further? What about full time teaching in the home without sending kids to school at all? Home education is certainly in tune with the biblical idea that parents are their children’s main teachers and that educating children in God’s ways is a full-time activity. Moses said, “Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 11:19, cf. 6:7). This kind of constant, one-to-one interaction centered around the truth of the Bible and the reality of Christ is the heart and soul of true education.
Full time home education fosters constant interaction between parents and children. You can instruct them in God’s ways. You can be deeply involved in your children’s lives and spend the best hours of the day with them, not just the evening hours. You also have more flexibility in scheduling. You don’t have to organize your vacations and your entire life around the times when school is or isn’t in session. You become closer as a family as you spend more time together, and you take your responsibility to your children more seriously than you ever have before. You know you can’t ignore them or neglect them, because there’s no school to do the work for you.
Home schoolers are sometimes asked, “What qualifies you to teach your children?” The simplest answer is, “God does.” If you’re a mom or dad, then God gives you full responsibility for shaping your children. Some parents delegate part of that responsibility to a school, but does that mean everybody should? When it comes to qualifications, who loves your children more than you do? Who knows them better than you do? Who should have a greater hand in shaping their character? Nobody. And it may well be the case that nobody can do a better job of developing their knowledge and skills and competence, either.
If you decide to home school, you won’t be on your own. There are many resources available. With access to libraries, with tips from home schooling publications and support groups, with heaps of curriculum materials and computer software available, you don’t have to be an expert on everything to give your children a superb education. You just have to get acquainted with resources that are already out there and make them available to your kids. As a fringe benefit, you learn a lot yourself!
In home schools where the parents have only a high school level education, the children still do better on standardized tests than 80% of the children educated by the certified experts in the public schools. How can children learn more from ordinary parents than from expert teachers? Well, the simple fact is that children thrive when they’re being taught one to one, when their individual abilities and interests are taken into account, when they can move ahead at their own pace. God creates each new child individually, not on an assembly line, and children learn best when they are treated as individuals. That kind of personalized approach is easier to achieve one on one than in classes of 25 or more.
The individual approach is good for most any child, and it’s especially helpful if your children are gifted learners and get bored with a classroom that they don’t find challenging enough. The individual approach is also great for problem learners, for kids who don’t respond well to the typical classroom approach. For example, some children can’t sit still in a classroom for six hours every day. What should you do? You can have a doctor prescribe medications like Ritalin to calm them down, or you can try doing what some other parents have done. You can take your child out of school and teach at home. You can use teaching styles that go beyond desk and drill and sitting still, and you can have frequent breaks for games and physical activity to burn off energy. Some children may need medication, but before you change a child’s body chemistry to fit an education approach, try changing the education approach to fit the child.
It’s hard to dispute that individualized learning is helping many children to thrive both spiritually and intellectually. But there’s another concern that many people have: socialization. Isn’t it important for children to relate to others their own age? Won’t kids grow up to be oddballs if they don’t learn to fit in with society?
Well, those are important questions, and if you home school, you need to make sure your kids interact with people beside their parents. But let’s talk about socialization. What does classroom socialization really achieve? One parent says, “Socialization in the schools consists of sitting in your seat and being silent.” And a former public school teacher says that the real world in some public schools is “get stabbed, sell drugs and be made pregnant before you turn 17.” That obviously isn’t the kind of socialization that children need.
The question isn’t whether socialization will take place, but who will do the socializing. With home schooling, the center of your child’s life is the family. In a school the center of your child’s life tends to be a group of peers who are all the same age and wear the same clothes and watch the same programs and listen to the same music and do the same things. Maybe it’s no accident that the idea of a “generation gap” arose only in the age of schools, where kids spend far more time with others their own age than with family and with people of all different ages.
If socialization means getting children to think the way everybody else thinks and do what everybody else their age does, then I don’t want that for my children. God says in the Bible, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). This doesn’t mean that parents who choose Christian schools or home schooling should keep their children sealed in a capsule–not at all. We should explain the theories of non-Christian thinkers to children and help them analyze these theories. We should acquaint children with the realities and needs of our neighborhoods and our suffering world. We should give our children opportunities to play and cultivate relationships with neighborhood youngsters who may not share their faith. But our aim in doing this isn’t to socialize children into conforming to the world but to equip them to transform the world.
I’ve said enough. Now it’s up to you. Public school, Christian school, or home school—which option in education is best for your family? We’ve looked at some important things about each approach, and now you need to examine your own unique situation. How can you best obey God and teach his ways to your children, and to their children after them? Think about it. Pray about it. Then do it.
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.