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Every parent wants his or her children to have the best in life—including the best in education. But what does that mean in our society? Dr. Al Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has thoroughly outlined the pitfalls and problems Christians will encounter in public education. But what are the options for Christian parents who want to raise our children not only in knowledge, but also in godliness?
God, in His infinite wisdom, has given us the wonderful gift of children. And
He instructs us to shape their pliable hearts and minds toward Him while they’re
in our care. But amazingly, God doesn’t leave the job of parenting to moms and
dads alone. He loves our children even more than we do! And He gives power to
serve Him in every area, including education. As we seek His direction for how
to help our children become imitators of Christ (Ephesians 5:1–2), we can remember,
and claim, the promise in James 1:5, “
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him
ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be
given to him.”
With His promise of wisdom in mind, let’s evaluate the main possibilities:
If you live anywhere near a metropolitan area, you probably have many educational choices, including Christian schools.
One of the major advantages of Christian schools, according to Linda Holloway, director at Grace Christian Academy in Shawnee, Kansas, from 2001 to 2008, is that, “Most of these schools will teach academics from a Christian worldview—for example history and biology.”
Some Christian schools may be more Bible-based than others, but most offer at least some supplemental Bible training and may give students opportunities to exercise their faith—memorize scripture, study their Bible, pray, and practice other spiritual disciplines—as part of the school routine.
A public school may include some Christian teachers here and there who have a biblical worldview and bring that into their classrooms instead of only teaching from a humanistic philosophy. But teachers in a Christian school will be more likely to offer spiritual nurturing. Counseling is more likely to be Bible-based, and students are more likely to find friends who share their Christian beliefs—they’ll usually have the opportunity to enjoy positive peer pressure, instead of feeling spiritually alone or at odds with their classmates.
With all of these benefits, why doesn’t every parent rush out and enroll his or her children in a Christian school?
One of the big challenges is finances. Any kind of education costs money. Christian schools don’t have the tax funding that public schools have. As a result, the average Christian school costs $4,000 or more per year per student, depending on where you live and what the school offers. While this may not be as costly as secular private schools, it’s still a chunk of change.
If finances are a challenge, Linda encourages parents to talk to the school officials. “Ask the administration at the school if there is a way to lower the cost through parents trading services,” she suggests. “For example, one of our parents teaches music, one works as the assistant to the director, and one father did some painting. Also ask if any funding is available to help parents who can’t afford the full tuition.”
Some schools offer discounts for additional children or limit how much tuition a family must pay. When a school is connected with a church, members may receive additional discounts or scholarships from the church. A parent can research the Internet and talk to admissions counselors about other scholarships that might be available. Some families and schools host garage sales and fundraisers to help cover the tuition costs.
Even in a Christian school, the main drawback may turn out to be philosophy, rather than finances. Sadly, some Christian schools are almost as secular as the public schools. A school that teaches evolutionary and humanistic philosophies while calling itself “Christian” may be even more damaging than a public school. A Christian student in a public school is more likely to be on defense against worldly philosophies from his or her teachers than a student in the apparently “safe” environment of a school that is Christian in name only.
Parents of Christian school kids are just as responsible for their children’s education as homeschoolers or parents of public school kids. Ask to see the textbooks; find out what the teachers believe. What will the school teach to your children as God’s truth?
Some parents hesitate to put children in Christian school because the Christian school can be an alternative for kids who have been asked to leave the public school system. After all, Scripture does tell us that bad morals corrupt good character (1 Corinthians 15:33). Should parents be concerned or is this just a myth?
“There may be some truth, depending on the school,” Linda says. “However, the public schools for sure have ‘bad’ kids. The private schools cannot allow kids to stay when they are too difficult to work with. Our own principal has told two sets of parents that we just cannot meet their kids’ needs and that they need to find another school—this was after a year or two of working with the students.”
Another perceived challenge is that Christian school kids can rebel against the “religion” they feel is forced upon them and end up further from God. “Of course there is some of that,” Linda says, “but it’s definitely no more common than in public schools. And in a Christian school, the staff can work with these students from a biblical basis.”
Concerned parents should remember that rebellion stems from the heart. It is a result of the sin nature we’re all born with, not a product of a student’s environment. A child struggling with rebellion against “religion” will fight that battle whether in a conventional Christian school or a homeschool. A public school would only exacerbate the problem.
Of course, the students’ sin nature doesn’t excuse any school from demonstrating grace. Besides evaluating schools for their biblical standards, also consider how each school practices Christian living from day to day. A well-balanced Christian school will not only strongly uphold God’s Word as inerrant, timeless, and trustworthy but will also be steeped in grace and love.
Linda encourages parents considering the Christian school option. “If God is leading parents to educate their children in Christian schools, He will provide a way. Of course, for many, it takes the sacrifice of new cars, a vacation every year or other things.” But, she asserts, it’s well worth any sacrifices.
An increasingly popular educational option is homeschooling; and it does seem to be the most direct way to give children the nonstop biblical instruction Moses commanded in Deuteronomy 11:18-19.
Nicole Frieze is a young stay-at-home mom who has recently embarked on the homeschool journey.
“When it was time to find a preschool for my son, I looked around my school district and didn’t feel right about the options. I looked at both Christian and public preschools, but neither of them seemed to be right,” says Nicole. “They were either too expensive or not in a good area. I didn’t trust the most-likely liberal opinions and teachings that would be brought into my children’s lives in a public school. I also wanted the Bible and theology to be a major part of my kids’ education.”
As Nicole began to look into homeschooling, she quickly discovered that she wouldn’t have to undertake the task alone! She found an amazing number of people were ready to help guide her through this new field. She learned about local homeschool networks, big homeschool conferences, and homeschooling seminars sponsored by some Christian bookstores.
At first thought, homeschooling can seem intimidating on several levels. After all, what parent hasn’t felt left behind when they see the technical subjects kids study today? Not many parents feel qualified to teach calculus.
Over Your Head?
Nicole quickly learned that she doesn’t need to already know everything she will teach her children in school. She learned about the plethora of curriculum and supplemental help available—and found that many Christian publishers offered her exactly what she needed to teach her children, including parent guides.1
She also learned that many local homeschool groups offer classes in technical subjects, like calculus, chemistry, art, history, and some of the advanced sciences, taught by parents with special qualifications in those areas. In some places, homeschooled students can pick up enrichment classes in local public, Christian, or private schools, while getting the core classes at home.
Some parents like homeschooling because they find it easier to train their children in godly social graces without negative influences they may encounter from peers in a traditional classroom and prefer to limit socialization. Others want their children to enjoy almost as many extracurricular activities and exposure to different personalities as they would in a public or Christian school. A great benefit of homeschooling is that each family can find the socialization level it is comfortable with.
Nicole joined two homeschool groups—a local group and another associated with her church. Both offer educational field trips as well as time for students to get together for fun and learning. Such groups are usually free or inexpensive and allow children to enjoy the dynamics of being with others. Some also provide extracurricular activities similar to those offered at Christian or public schools, such as sports activities and even bands and orchestras.
Co-teaching is another option for homeschooling parents. Co-teaching can mean students come together for a class that one of the parents teaches, or the parents and students gather in the same place while each parent teaches his or her children.
Nicole often team teaches with Amber, a mom who works full-time outside the home. One of the good points about homeschooling, Amber has found, is the flexibility. Sharing the teaching responsibilities eases the load for both women and allows Amber to fulfill her homeschooling dream despite her time limitations.
We’ve all heard the stories about parents being harassed for homeschooling. Some states have stricter laws on this, but there again, people in a local homeschool co-op or group can help you understand and prepare for challenges. Nicole found clear guidelines for every state at www.hslda.org. Nicole doesn’t expect harassment from state educational representatives, but her state does require some basic record keeping. Nicole finds preparing for a potential audit is as simple as keeping track of her teaching hours and subjects and filing samples of her child’s school work.
While no education is completely free, homeschooling can be very reasonable. Homeschooling expenses usually fall in the areas of curriculum, supplies, activities, and sometimes homeschool association dues.
Nicole was pleasantly surprised by the options. “There are countless online sites where you can get free curricula and printouts to use with your children. I also discovered curriculum and homeschool fairs are held in our area at least once or twice a year where we can get an entire teaching package for low cost. You can sell your curriculum when you're done with it and use that money to buy new curriculum. People also use sites like eBay, Craigslist, Amazon, and Facebook to buy and sell curriculum.”
She has also discovered the public library is a treasure trove of materials, and she can often use documentaries on cable or Netflix to supplement the curriculum.
“There are so many resources out there via internet, book stores, churches, Facebook groups, and even seasoned homeschoolers that it’s really easy to find a solution to any problem, question or worry.”
Nicole acknowledges that she spends hours each day, not only teaching, but also researching, planning lessons, and preparing materials. She also realizes that the load is likely to increase as more of her children reach homeschooling age. Homeschooling is a commitment on the part of both parents.
Though Nicole is the homeschooling teacher right now, she is thankful that her husband is willing to sacrifice the extra finances they would have if she were to get a job outside the home. And she’s thankful that he helps her with chores around the house when she is tied up in the work required to homeschool.
Nicole says. “I was really scared to homeschool, but I really enjoy it. Not only do the children learn but you get to learn right along with them! In the end we definitely made the right decisions, with God in the lead.”
Al Mohler’s article clearly reminds all of us of the dangers inherent in public schools, but what if it truly seems to be your only option?
Parents who choose this option cannot afford to be naïve but must realize they are putting their children on a battlefield. Public schools are not designed to help kids grow in godliness. Depending on the school and their peers, a Christian child’s very soul may be tested. When we send our kids to public school it’s not a matter of waving them off to the bus and hoping for the best. We are sending them into battle, and we are committing ourselves to battle as well.
The first step in making the public school option work is to prepare your kids intellectually and spiritually for the philosophies they’ll face.
As a teacher in a Missouri public school, and a parent of two kids in that school system, Tammy Steinwachs says parents should, “make sure they discuss their beliefs with their children and teach their children to know how their beliefs may be different from others.” She has also taught her children that on essay and opinion tests at school they have the freedom, as far as she is concerned, to write what they believe—whether or not it lines up with ideas the school is teaching.
“The biggest thing is for kids to know their beliefs and be able to support them,” She says. “I tell my kids to be the light in the darkness. And I always pray for God to show me how to minister to my students and how to show God’s love to them.”
When sending a child to public school, parents have to be more alert to their children’s rights. For instance, twelve-year-old Jasmine wanted to wear a Christian T-shirt to school, but was afraid that she would get in trouble.
Fortunately Jasmine’s parents knew about the Equal Access Act of 1984, which clarified students’ rights to live their faith in school. Jasmine learned that if any students at her school could wear T-shirts with sayings or advertisements on them, she was allowed to wear her Christian T-shirt.
If students are allowed to bring a book to school to read during breaks or extra class time, a Christian student may read the Bible or other Christian material. If students are allowed to form nonacademic interest clubs in school, the same rulings apply to student-led Bible studies.
Parents need to know the rights because surprisingly, sometimes school staff members aren’t familiar with them. Kids who know their rights aren’t easily intimidated and learn to explain their rights to others who ask. They also tend to be bolder about giving an answer to those who ask about their faith in Christ (1 Peter 3:15).
No Christian parent can relinquish the responsibility for his or her children’s education, but parents of public school children have to be even more diligent in their teaching at home. Christian parents have to know the philosophies their children are being taught matter-of-factly: evolution, moral relativity, sex without marriage, and many more. To successfully steer students through these dangerous waters, parents must talk to kids about what they’re being taught at school and take time to present, repeatedly, what the Bible says (the Answers in Genesis resources can be of special help in this area).
Besides teaching our children the biblical facts, we have to take extra time, care, and prayer to help our children develop their realization of who they are in Christ. While this is true for all children in all educational modes, the Christian child in public school must have a firm grasp on this understanding. As his or her heart is more attuned to the Holy Spirit, the child will be better able to spot lies not only intellectually, but also with the intuition given by the Spirit of God within.
Most schools (public and private) welcome—and respect—parent volunteers. Volunteering can be as simple as helping at a school fundraiser, giving a hand in the office, or assisting the PTA; or as complex as becoming an adult mentor, helping students in their studies for a set time each week.
As you become involved in your children’s school you get to know the other adults who are working with them. You gain a sense of which teachers and administrators are Christians, and which may even be opposed to Christianity.
And volunteers certainly have influence! Parents who work in the school library sometimes learn that it’s not as hard to get Christian-based books into the library as they expected. When Christian parents form good relationships with school administrators by volunteering, the administrators tend to respect their Christian beliefs because they respect the parents. And they’re more likely to take the parents’ concerns to heart and act upon them.
Besides being volunteers in the school itself, parents can be involved at the district level by attending board meetings and even serving on the board. Parents who go out of their way to be present at meetings often end up being the ones who influence policy for the whole district.
Working with the public schools can be an opportunity for believers to fulfill
the admonition of 1 Peter 2:12 (NIV), “
Live such good lives among the pagans
that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and
glorify God on the day he visits you.”
Parents who send their children to public school also have to learn to stay abreast of what’s going on and communicate with the schools.
Jenni Davenport was concerned when her elementary daughter brought home a blanket permission form to view any PG movies the school chose to show. Jenni sent a note and an email asking for clarification. Both times, the teacher’s response was vague.
Just as Jenni began to wonder whether the teacher was being so vague because of the nature of the movies, the teacher called her on the phone. She explained that many of the nature films, such as ones showing an alligator catching prey, were actually rated PG because of violence. She told Jenni her parameters for choosing movies, their system of screening movies, and their moral stance. And she offered to let Jenni know when movies were scheduled.
Jenni learned several things from the discussion. First, not only did the teachers respect parents’ morals, but their guidelines were as strict as her own. Second, instead of resenting her questions, the teacher encouraged her to call any time. She learned the importance of communicating instead of assuming the worst. Third, Jenni learned that though email may seem the easiest way to communicate, some people, like her daughter’s teacher, respond best to a phone call or meeting.
While there are other considerations about communicating with a public school staff (when to go beyond the teacher to the principal, and when to contact the school board or district superintendent), the main thing to remember is the golden rule: Treat others as you’d like them to treat you (Luke 6:31).
Do feel free to examine curriculum, and do ask the hard questions, but remember your conduct reflects on Christ’s name. While the overriding philosophy of the public school system is becoming more antagonistic to the gospel, the individual teacher and local school are not necessarily the enemies. In most cases the teachers are parents themselves and love children. In many cases they’re Christians, like Tammy Steinwachs, who endeavor to present balanced teaching, pray for their students, and try to minister in their circle of influence.
While all Christian parents should fervently pray for their children in the realm of education, parents who send their kids to public schools should consider committing to additional prayer for their kids. You might join other Christian parents to pray for the needs and issues in your public school. Check with local churches to see if a prayer group is already organized, or create your own. Let Christian teachers or other school officials know you’re available to pray for the needs of the students and staff. Even if they don’t understand or appreciate the power of prayer, most will appreciate what they see as a gesture of good will and support.
If public school is the option you must choose, arm yourself for spiritual battle (Ephesians 6:10-20). Be strong in the Lord, stand firm, pray always, speak boldly, and be an ambassador. As David points out in 1 Samuel 17:47, the battle is the Lord’s and He will give the strategy and strength.