Some thoughts on the Public/Home/Christian School Debate

My good friend and partner in the gospel, Ron Young (Church planter in Quebec), posted an article on Facebook this past week by Dr. Albert Mohler.  The article is linked below, but offers an overview of the evolution of public education.  This evolution has not been a good one, and Dr. Mohler clearly offers a solemn warning to parents whose children roam the halls of public schools in the present day.  I very much appreciated Ron posting the article, and even more the brief discussion that followed.  As I continued to think through that conversation and this issue, I sat down and began typing some of my thoughts out.  I understand this can be a touchy subject for many, but I also believe that just because an issue is touchy shouldn’t mean that we as believers have to avoid it.  I hope that you will see in my thoughts below that I am not using this post to advocate a specific position on education, but rather to talk about what I believe to be the most important aspect in this debate…the intentionality of parents in being the primary faith influencer of their children.  Above all, it’s a call to unity in striving together to see a generation of young people who treasure Jesus above all else and passionate about the gospel and his Kingdom.  I have spent much time in reflection and prayer before posting this, and hope, if nothing else, it will help us move forward in having a meaningful and productive conversation to that end.  Just to set my context, I am the father of 2 (will be 3 in a matter of days!), only one of which is actual school age.  My wife and I, after much prayer and conversation, have decided to place our daughter in public school for now (she is presently in the 1st grade).  We are open to this changing in the future if we feel that God leads us in that direction, but so far we have been very happy, confident, and at peace with our decision.  With that knowledge, here are some of my thoughts in the wake of reading Dr. Mohler’s article and the Facebook conversation that followed.

 

1. We (from all perspectives) need to be very careful about making blanket statements about this issue (along with many others that are not primary issues of orthodoxy).  This is happening too often and it needs to be eliminated.  Ron (who is the father of 6 kids and homeschools) offered this perspective the other day in our conversation on Facebook…

“What I do not like are the bipolar attitudes in the church. Either only one way or the other. There are false assumptions on both sides. One side says parents cannot properly raise their kids if sent to school. The other side says kids cannot share their faith if kept at home. Both of those thoughts are false because they depend on a method of learning rather than on how one raises their children…The response should be MUCH different. Public school parents ought to encourage the homeschool parents in their attempt to educate their kids in a Christ-centered environment. We are often seen as only being overreacting and overprotective parents. While this is true in some instances, it not even close the majority. On the other side of the equation, homeschool parents ought to encourage the public school parents in their endeavor to raise their kids to be Christ-centered while attending a public school system that has shifted away from their beliefs.  Parents who send their kids to school are often seen as irresponsible by their homeschooling brothers and sisters in Christ. This ought not to be so. The point is that Christian parents MUST respond to the shift in the school systems, and the response will look different for different families, but the goal is the same. Raising kids to live Christ-centered lives. So, there should not be 2 camps in the church, but 1. A commitment to raise our kids to love Jesus.”

Amen to that, Ron!  We need to encourage one another, not demonize and divide.  We need not make passive-aggressive posts on Facebook, nor alienate ourselves from the ‘other side.’  We need not buy into the horrible stereotypes that we so often are prone to adopt and project onto others.  We need to be careful to properly categorize both ‘sin’ and preference.  We should remain united around one goal: raising our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord…preparing the next generation to love Jesus radically and courageously influence the world with the gospel.  As far as I can tell, we can all do that within all 3 options.

We also need to be careful to not twist Scripture to fit our position.  This is always a danger, and we should be very careful to not develop a poor hermeneutic wherein we fit a particular Scripture into our personal context by making it back our own point of view.  As with most divisive issues, I know plenty of people from all categories who love Jesus with all of their heart and greatly desire to see their children raised to do the same.  If anything, this tells me that I need to be very careful to not somehow begin to believe that I love Jesus more than them or are more committed to the Scriptures.  As Ron said, I need to rather look for ways to encourage them.

2. All Christian parents are called by God to ‘homeschool.’  “But wait, Jason, didn’t you just say that we shouldn’t make blanket statements?”  Yes.  I am not saying that no students should be in public or Christian school settings.  I am saying that no matter what path of education parents choose for their children, parents have been called by God to be the primary faith influencers of their children.  Parents are also called to account for their children, making sure that the education they receive is right, true, and good.  Homeschool parents, of course, have the greatest oversight in this matter.  That is one of the things that makes homeschool so attractive, and I applaud families who have sacrificed in order to follow God’s direction for their family in this way.  Just because a school has ‘Christian’ in its title, parents of students in such settings should still be careful to review curriculum and maintain oversight.  Parents who have chosen to place their students in public school have the most daunting task in this regard.  They must spend the necessary time researching curriculum, agendas, and philosophies.  They must engage their child often, intentionally making conversation concerning what is being taught a regular occurrence.  They must go so far as actually participating in their child’s school work by reading text books, reviewing class notes, keeping up with school board decisions, etc…I fervently believe that God calls different families in all three of these directions.  I do not believe that God calls all families to only one or two.

3. Therefore, sin does not necessarily lie in someone making a different schooling decision as you, but rather sin lies in passivity.  Too many parents are simply passive in the task that God has called them to be the most intentional.  And yes, parents in all three camps can be passive…perhaps just in different ways.  If a parent simply sends their child to public school while refusing to engage in what is being taught, the result could potentially be catastrophic.  That is extremely dangerous and borders on recklessness.  Such a parent should never take sending their child to public school lightly.  If this decision is coupled with passivity, that parent is guilty of outsourcing the greatest responsibility that God has given to them in regards to being given the gift of children.  And this is important: the church cannot simply be the balance in that scale.  Your child and your child’s worldview will more than likely be shaped by the world’s sinful postmodern worldview system if you adopt that approach and simply hope that this sort of balance will result.  I have seen parents completely bewildered as to why their 16-18 year old child, who has grown up in public school but careful to be in church every time the doors were open, now has begun to share with them viewpoints that are completely anti-biblical.  Parents, you simply cannot outsource what God has squarely commanded you to do, and that is embracing the role of primary faith influencer of your child.  This is true in outsourcing this responsibility to either the school system or the youth group at church.  Just because a student will be around lost students on a regular basis doesn’t guarantee that he/she will naturally develop an attitude of gospel mission.  Parents must be intentional in helping their children have gospel awareness and develop a missional attitude.  Choosing to place a child in public school while maintaining an intentional attitude as that child’s primary faith influencer is possible, and I’ve seen it done very well.

Christian school parents need to be careful to not buy the lie that a ‘Christian’ school automatically means that your child is devoid of ill-influence.  They also must be careful to make sure that what is being taught concerning the Scriptures falls in line with orthodoxy.  What does your child’s teacher(s) believe?  How are those teachers pursuing discipleship as believers?  This parent has an advantage over a parent of a public school child in that they can actually have that conversation with a teacher!  These conversations must take place.  Now, keep the main thing the main thing.  Your child’s teacher doesn’t have to agree with every position on secondary issues that you hold.  However, you need to make sure that a teacher is not giving their views on secondary issues primary status, either, and using their lectern as a bully-pulpit.  This requires communication with your child concerning what goes on in the classroom.  Constant communication will provide you with the knowledge you need in understanding what is being taught and how you need to supplement.  Students in Christian school settings will be in class with non-believing students and probably befriend non-Christian students…even in this context.  Parents must be intentional in teaching their children gospel awareness and help them develop a missional attitude.  Choosing to place a child in Christian school while maintaining an intentional attitude as that child’s primary faith influencer, while also being careful not to outsource that child’s faith development, is possible, and I’ve seen it done very well.

Homeschool parents must also guard against passivity.  I would imagine that much self-discipline is required by both parent and student in this setting.  One of the wonderful benefits of homeschool is that a child can experience more freedom to move at his/her own pace; however, parents must make sure that this does not result in students falling too far behind or fall into patterns that lack discipline.  Homeschool parents must also be intentional to not allow attitudes of superior morality to develop, or a lack of gospel awareness.  They must be intentional to keep their children from only seeing the world as something from which to flee.  They must be intentional to offer opportunities for their children to be missional and develop a heart for engaging the world and reaching/relating to lost people.  Choosing to homeschool a child while maintaining an intentional attitude as that child’s primary faith influencer, being careful to also develop a missional heart within that child, is possible, and I’ve seen it done very well.

I am always thrilled to know families from all three options who are intentional with their children.  I am privileged to know, and have known, these types of families (from all 3 options), and rarely do I lack confidence in their children stepping out into the next season of life after graduation from High School.  It is a great pleasure, as a Student Pastor, to come along side such families and partner with them in their students’ discipleship and spiritual formation.  At the end of the day, I am not nearly concerned with the educational path a family has chosen for their child nearly as much as I am with the level of intentionality they have in regard to their child’s spiritual formation.  It is my great privilege to partner with a family from any educational option who courageously leads their children in that way!

So, how should parents go about making this decision?

1. Research and pray.  Pray a lot.  At the end of the day, we want to do what God is clearly leading our family to do, not what we would rather do or be most comfortable doing.  Sometimes God does lead us in directions that seem uncomfortable and even calls us to sacrifice.  But before making this decision, we need to be educated and prayerful.  We simply cannot take this decision lightly.  No decision can include the outsourcing of what God has directly commanded us to do (taking the lead and responsibility for our children’s spiritual formation).  This is especially true for those who consider the public school option.  I would encourage you to read this article by Dr. Albert Mohler in which he briefly shares the history of public school and some of the dangers that await your child there.  There is no room for any parent to think or to hope that everything will just turn out alright.  Satan is a real enemy, and he is passionate about trapping your children, holding them captive, and blinding them from the truth.  The world’s philosophies are full of his schemes.  We better be prayed up and seeking above all to honor the Lord in the decisions we make concerning the stewardship of one of the most precious gifts he has given us.

2. We must put off passivity.  Passivity is what we should all unite to battle, not each other.  If we are not intentional, the world is more than happy to be in shaping our children’s worldviews.  We must seek to understand the potential dangers in the decision we make (and these exist in each of the options).  We must make a plan for intentionality.  How will we communicate with the people with whom we need to keep contact?  What will we as parents need to read or keep up with in order to maintain an understanding of what is going on in the classroom?  What are outside materials on certain subjects that I will need to read, or give my child to read, so that we all can continue to see things through the lens of Scripture and the gospel?  How will we as parents cultivate a missional attitude within the heart of our child as he/she progresses through school, in whatever context that occurs?  Without intentionality, children will not just simply develop that type of missional attitude or grow passionate in their pursuit of Jesus in ANY of these options.  Intentionality is absolutely vital in ALL 3 options.

3. Constantly evaluate.  The decision we make this year might not be the one we need to make next year, or in the future.  At some point our perspective on this question may change.  The child that we have homeschooled through middle school perhaps is strong enough in faith to go on mission within a public school setting.  The child we have had in public school is beginning to show signs of following bad influences, meaning that perhaps his school surroundings need to change, at least for a season.  My child is about to begin middle school and we are not yet secure in her salvation…should she be placed in public middle school where the influences begin to be much more pronounced and dangerous?  We should constantly evaluate our child’s situation and be flexible to change that situation if we feel God leading us to do so.  Sometimes different decisions may need to be made for different siblings in the same family.  Again, this means constant vigilance in prayer.

4. Encourage one another.  I appreciate my friend Ron’s heart in the above quote.  He and I have chosen different paths for our children’s school “settings.”  I am completely convinced that God has clearly led his family to choose a different option than he has led our family.  I would never seek to conform his decision to my own, and he never has done so toward me.  He is my dear brother, and I appreciate our relationship of mutual encouragement and accountability.  I would welcome his accountability any time, asking me how I am being intentional in my children’s spiritual formation, though.  I am thankful for that kind of brotherhood we share in Christ.  I also see how he is raising his children to be missional and properly engage the world around them.  My prayer is that we can continue to encourage one another as we both seek the same goal: raising our kids to love Jesus deeply, pursue him as their greatest treasure, follow him wherever he leads them, and live their lives for the sake of the gospel.  Our hope is securely set in Christ, and we both know that he is the only hope sufficient for our children.  I greatly appreciate so many parents with whom I am acquainted who come from all three schooling options, and who share in that great mission and pursuit with me, too!

5. Humility.  None of us have it altogether figured out.  We all fall short and we all make bad decisions.  Praise the Lord we serve a God who is bigger than all of them!  At the end of the day, we make decisions concerning our families and we trust Jesus.  He is sovereign and he continues to providentially work in the midst of our lack of understanding and shortcomings.  Because of this, we should be careful to not presume what the best answer should be for someone’s family other than our own.  We need to be careful to not craft an opinion of superiority or claim to hold exclusive rights to truth.  However, because of the transformation we experience in Christ, we should be able to dialogue about this issue without becoming defensive, holding grudges, and responding in anger.  We need to be careful how we utilize Scripture…we need to utilize it in coming to our own family’s decision regarding this issue more than in attempting to tear down another parent’s.  We need to remember that sin naturally divides.  We live in an age when our encouraging each other is more important than ever.  This takes great humility.  It takes the type of humility that we just do not have in our own nature.  It is the Spirit who empowers this type of humility, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, the brilliant light of unity shines.  As the world watches our interactions together, may they see a unity among diversity that exists nowhere else, and be drawn to Jesus and the power of his gospel that brings that kind of radical change!

I Married my bride, Erin, in 2003. We have 3 children: Emma, Elijah, and Lydia. I have served full-time on staff at Westwood Baptist Church, in Roxboro, NC, since summer of 2006 as Pastor of Students & Discipleship. I am currently enrolled at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, pursuing my Doctorate of Education.

2 thoughts on “Some thoughts on the Public/Home/Christian School Debate

  1. Reblogged this on ronyoungjr.net and commented:
    I am so grateful for the courage of Jason Engle to post this much needed post. In my humble opinion, I think this is the best article that I have ever read on this debate. May ever follower of Jesus heed all the wisdom Jason gives. Finally, a breath of fresh air when it comes to this subject. AMEN BROTHER!

  2. I believe I am a rare bird…I see the benefits and downfalls of each of the methods of schooling. We have used all three methods at different times for different reasons. Regardless of the reasons I believe each was God ordained and God blessed. The struggle with public school brought so many talks and a closeness with our children as we monitored and unconditioned their brains. Christian school had its challenges as well as its blessings. Not all at a Christian school are Christians so many discussions were had with our children on what makes a person a Christian…good deep conversations. Homeschooling was with one child who needed special attention for a season in his life. Those were a precious few years that built bonds. I have had the privilege of seeing homeschool done exceptionally well and know the hard work that goes into doing it exceptionally well. With children grown and out of the house with their own families I will gladly cheer on each and every family with a child in school, no matter what type of school. No matter the school you can not be passive. This is the time to pour yourself into your children, each step talk with them about what you believe and why. Prepare them for the world, for walking with Jesus, for loving others. I applaud all you parents who are doing it well!!

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