Posted by: L. E. Barnes | June 26, 2012

Ideal Christian Education

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.

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Responses

  1. Here’s to cross-blogging a topic! Let’s hope it generates not just discussion, but the sort of firestorm of action that transforms education in this country into something wholly pleasing to our Lord!

    • Amen and hallelujah! 🙂

  2. One thing to keep in mind about public schools: in most of the country they are strongly Marxist, there is no dress code involving modesty, foul language is used by the children, and manners are virtually nonesixtant. I know this because I have to hear the weekly drama between a lady who helps me around the house and her 15 year old daughter go through. It’s not new. It’s been going on for years. I also had a very unpleasant experience teaching Junior Achievement to eighth graders at a local public school and saw the effects of the stupid axioms put out by the feel good crowd along with the Marxist mentality. This is a huge problem for the Christian parent who is trying to raise righteous children and who have to counteract what their kids are forced to accept during the day. Let’s also not forget the forced GLBT sex ed classes, too.

    More and more parents are making huge sacrifices to home school their kids. The materials from Seton and Mother of Divine Grace are excellent. I am teaching beginning Latin to the homeschooled kids across the street and having a ball. Since I’m retired, I come cheap but I’m a good resource. We have to think outside the box on the education front if we’re going to provide quality education to our kids and still be counter-cultural as Christians by definition are.

    • There’s certainly plenty to criticize about the public school system, with the political correctness gospel holding sway. I certainly can’t blame many Christian parents for wanting to pull their kids out and teach them at home or send them to a Christian school. So the key is to make Christian education more accessible as well as maintain high academic standards. As you said, we may have to ‘think outside the box.’

  3. I may cross-post this comment, b/c I think it’s important. I recently interviewed a Protestant woman who was exposed to NFP in high school (and now uses is) because her Catholic classmates’ parents did NOT remove them from the sex ed, and those kids spoke up in class about not needing contraception. It’s an important point because we can’t build a wall around ourselves and make a little Catholic enclave, where our kids (and we) will never be challenged or confronted. That is completely contrary to the point of evangelization. Is it risky to interact with an unholy world? You bet! But how can we be leaven if we don’t?

    Now–my oldest is in Catholic school, unapologetically, because I want the integration of religion into all subjects. But my chromosomally-gifted daughter is starting kindergarten at the public school in the fall. Yes, it worries me, the bad behavior of kids brought up without so much of what I think is critical in forming children. But the up side is that she’ll be exposed to a far wider cross-section of humanity; she’ll be more tolerant, less “us-vs.-them,” less awkward around people of other races and cultures, than her brothers, who will be in a more sheltered environment. In the end, her religious formation is my responsibility; her behaviors are my responsibility to direct, regardless of what she’s exposed to. If we just protect our kids and then kick them out on their own, we’re setting them up for a huge fall. They’ve got to know what’s out in the world and have experience at dealing with it before we cut them loose.

    • There is definitely a downside to setting up private religious schools (aside from the issues we’ve already brought up in these posts). That is, our kids can become too sheltered/isolated and consequently run the risk of being unable to handle challenges to their faith and morals. In addition, they may not learn how to interact appropriately with people of other backgrounds. Anyway, you will definitely have to make a trade-off regardless of which educational route you choose for your kids. The challenge is determining what is in their best interests, taking into account a variety of factors.

      This would definitely make good material for more posts on your blog! Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  4. Thanks for joining the discussion, Kathleen! You raise some very good points, ones often discussed within this larger issue. Never should this be about finding a “fortress of solitude” or some utopian experience in which children will never hear anything that makes them, or us, blush. First of all, such a place does not exist this side of heaven. Because we live in a fallen world, there will be evidence of that wherever we go. In fact, I would argue that there be no restriction on families enrolling in a Classical Christian school that they be Christian. As long as they understand that the education being offered is unabashedly Christian and that the Christian faith forms the very fabric of all that the school does, they can be atheist, Wiccan, Muslim, you name it.

    As a public school teacher for my entire career, I can confirm many stories like what you cite. There are indeed Christian children being salt and light among their peers. I have said many times that no one model fits all families. For some, homeschooling is right, but for others, and for a variety of reasons, that will not work. The same goes for private and public school.

    Given all that, however, I would contend that the primary issue is not about protecting children from the evils of the big, bad world or sending them out as missionaries. Education is about teaching children what they need to know about God and all aspects of His creation so that they can be faithful servants. A model that says math is appropriate in this room, but faith only in another is false. To the extent that we agree there is such a thing as truth, we must pursue models of education that, as best they can in our fallen world, teach truth to its fullest.


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