Time moves fast. The dog days of summer are here and passing quickly. Those late mornings for the kids and warm days at the pool are quickly followed by a brand new school year. Before you know it, school supplies will be on display at Target and Wal-Mart, vacations will come to an end, and school will begin. Moms will rejoice, and children will moan. Lightheartedness aside, education has become a hot topic among our nation’s debates. Common core, school vouchers, national assessments, teacher tenure, and adequate funding are terms and issues we are accustomed to hearing. For many families, this leads to a serious and important question. How should we educate our children? Christian families are no different, and I get this question from people in my congregation quite often. I think it’s one well worth asking. I also believe a pastor must be very wise in his answer. Like anyone, pastors have preferences, past experiences, and convictions based on their own educational journey. These, of course, can inform a pastor’s thinking but they should not become the law for all other families to follow. Many families in our state now have three options to educate their children; public school, private school or home school. I have experienced all three firsthand. Both my wife and I have education degrees and taught in public schools before ministry. My father is also a retired public school teacher. I have six children and my wife homeschooled our two oldest children for 3 years, then they attended a private Christian school along with our third child. Now the two oldest are in public school and my wife is enjoying homeschooling the middle two. I’ve seen great benefit and growth from all three settings. I have also observed that each setting has its own set of challenges. This is why, as a pastor, I try very hard to encourage each individual family to make the choice that best fits their own needs. To help families with this I’ve often asked them a few questions. Perhaps these, along with a bit of commentary, will be beneficial to you.
What are your options?
Not every family has the financial ability to consider private school. Likewise, some families do not have the ability for a parent or caregiver to stay home full time in order to home school. It is factors like these that cause me to cringe when I hear a spiritual leader say that Christian families must put their children in a private Christian school or must home school them in order to be godly. Is the day coming when Christ-followers will have no choice but to pull their children out of public school? If the Lord does not return, I believe this is a possibility. Is that day upon us? Perhaps in some communities, public school is that detrimental, but certainly not in the Upstate. In fact, some of the most mature and authentic Christ-followers I know are teachers, coaches, administrators and board members in our public school system.
What fits your family?
I know many highly educated stay at home moms who are choosing to home school because they have both the time and ability. It just fits their family. I also see this among exceptionally large families. I know some families who choose the private school route because, unlike my community, the public schools in their area are weak academically or grossly underfunded. I know some families who are extremely involved in the community and use their child’s public school as a gateway into the lives of people that they would otherwise not know or be able to minister to. God makes each family unique so each family must decide what works best for their children.
What fits your child?
Don’t miss the wording. Child is singular. Families with multiple children need to understand that each child’s education needs are different. One child may flourish in a large public school setting with multiple avenues of social, academic, artistic and athletic involvement. Another child may be much more comfortable and able to learn with the one-on-one attention of a parent. Still, others may need the values and parameters present in a private school setting. Parents should evaluate the options available not only for the whole family but also for each child.
You do realize that this is not forever?
I don’t think parents are capable of making 13-year decisions for their child’s education. I’ve had some young couples burdened about their kindergarten choices because they wrongly assume the child will remain in the chosen setting until high school graduation. This is simply not true. Each child’s journey should be monitored and, if needed, changed along the way. A stable home allows most children to make quick adjustments to new schools or new settings. I encourage families to take it one year at a time.
What is God leading us to do?
I know a man who raised three godly sons. He felt deeply committed that giving them access to a Christian education was crucial to their development. He made financial sacrifices to do so, and I would argue that his efforts have paid off. I also know another man, my father, who raised two sons who are now pastors. Private Christian School was just not an option for his sons so he (along with my mom) was intentional about monitoring our growth, friends, influences and academic progress in the public school setting. I would like to believe that this man’s sons turned out to be faithful men. I also know several young adults in their 20’s who were homeschooled all the way to graduation and have turned out to be great men and women, deeply committed to their faith. They are not socially awkward and don’t feel as though they missed out on anything by attaining education at home. My point is obvious. The freedom we have in Christ translates into this decision for parents. Each Christian family must come before The Lord about this decision and trust and follow His lead.
How will you redeem your child’s educational experience, and how will you teach them to do the same?
This is the most important question. No matter how parents choose to educate their children it is clearly their responsibility to display a commitment to Christ and His gospel throughout the journey. Spiritual education lies first in the home and nowhere else. Neither the church nor the school can replace the heart shaping influence of a mother and father humbly following Christ in front of the child moment by moment, day by day. Whether it is the worldly values among peers in a public school, hypocrisy in a private Christian school or laziness at the kitchen table of a homeschooled child, every challenge, struggle, and sin must be seen through the lens of the gospel and The Word of Christ. By doing this, any educational setting can be a place of redemption and training for the glory of God.