Fellow blogger “Magister Christanus” recently produced a series of posts about Christian education. The last one dealt with public education, and overall, I strongly agreed with his views on the state’s role in education and the problems with the public school system. However, one assertion troubled me:
The response of Christians who have a choice, however, must not be to sit back and enroll their children for another year in Local Community School with its district-winning marching band and great A.P. scores. Bluntly put, those who have the financial means must put the blessings God has given them toward His purposes.
I decided to offer some comments, which unfortunately wouldn’t show up on the site for some reason. Magister Christianus was kind enough to copy my comments and put them in a new post, along with his responses. Below are the comments I had made. I’ll follow with another post that addresses some of the things that Magister brought up in his responses.
Do Christians truly have an obligation to put their children in a religious school or homeschool them if they the means to do so? If I understand you correctly, you’re asserting that Christian parents should put their children in a public school only as a last resort–i.e., they either can’t afford any of the nearby religious schools or they are simply unable to opt for homeschooling.
My own educational experiences exposed me to all three areas of schooling. I attended public schools for a few grades, was homeschooled for a couple of years, and attended private Christian schools for a few years as well. I did my undergraduate work at a Baptist-affiliated university and received a master’s degree from a public university. Each option has its pros and cons, and various factors will have to be considered when deciding which is right for your children.
Ideally, providing your children with a thoroughly Christian education would be the best choice, but as you point out in your post, sometimes financial or other constraints will end up forcing you to do otherwise. However, I think there are other considerations to keep in mind.
One such consideration is simply the quality of the education. I’ll be frank: some Christian schools leave a lot to be desired in this department. A number of them are quite poor, always struggling to make ends meet financially. Teachers and staff are paid peanuts, sometimes resulting in the school’s having to resort to hiring people who aren’t really qualified to teach. And they often can’t provide the range of classes or resources that the public schools have to offer. (Trust me, I’m speaking from personal experience here.) So just because there’s a Christian school available and the parents can afford it, that doesn’t mean it’s the best educational choice.
I’m aware that Catholic schools generally have a long tradition of educational excellence, but they often cost an arm and a leg. (To give an example, my parish’s school charges higher tuition than the local state university does–no joke!) Even if a couple can manage to scrape together the money to enroll their children in a Catholic school, it may not be financially prudent to do so, as doing so could drain their money so heavily that they wouldn’t be able to purchase a home, put their children through college later on, save for retirement, etc. So just because they can put their children in a religious school, Catholic or otherwise, doesn’t mean they’re under any obligation to do so or that it would even be the wisest choice.
And while homeschooling can be a good choice for some families, for others it isn’t. Of course, you pointed out that not all parents have the luxury of even considering homeschooling simply because their work or other circumstances won’t allow for it. Another thing to consider is whether the parents even have the competence or other qualities needed to do a good job of educating their children. After all, some families try homeschooling but end up doing a lousy job of it.
And why shouldn’t parents seriously consider the local public schools that can offer things that homeschooling or local religious schools may not be able to offer? Why should a child be denied the chance to develop their musical talents in the school’s “award-winning marching band” or take advantage of its strong AP classes?
Yes, I agree that you raise some valid concerns about the public school system. However, I have to part company with you in your insistence that Christian parents should not consider public schools unless there’s just no other option.