by Coleen Sharp | Mar 19, 2018 | Podcasts
On this week’s episode of Theology Gals, Coleen and Ashley discuss education. They talk about the pros and cons of different education options.
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by Coleen Sharp | Mar 15, 2018 | Blogs
I’ll never forget the day my husband said, “You just can’t do it, not now, not with how sick you are. I think we need to send the kids to school.” I’d been sick for a while and things were only getting worse. I think I’d ended up in the hospital something like fifteen times already that year. It wouldn’t be long before I’d spend a month at the Mayo Clinic in another state. I knew he was right, I was barely able to care for myself, let alone homeschool four children. My children were already falling behind. There may be people who are thinking we could have continued homeschooling if we “really wanted to”. There is nothing you can say to me that I have not already heard from my circle of homeschool parents, or that I myself would have thought about someone in my situation. This was my husband’s decision, and I respected it. My husband is amazing, everything he has done to love and care for me through a horrible illness, while he provided for us and made sure our household ran smoothly. There was a time that I would have also been very judgmental of others in our situation.
We were never going to send our children to public school, not that awful place. Even before our first date, my husband and I talked about homeschooling our children. Brenton announced, “My children will be homeschooled.” This was great with me since I wanted to homeschool my children one day. Those of you who may judge our family now for sending our kids to school, you are probably not thinking anything that I did not also think when I would hear that a Christian was sending their child to that ungodly place we call public school. If there was an award for being a self-righteous, judgmental, homeschooling mom, I would have won first prize. I had no grace for families who weren’t homeschooling. Surely they hadn’t done everything necessary to make it work. I believed every mom could find a way, and if you weren’t homeschooling, then you just hadn’t tried hard enough.
There’s nothing like finding yourself in a situation like we did, which was in many ways humiliating, but also brought other moms and dads our way with their own stories. And what I’ve learned is that there are many wonderful Christians in situations where homeschooling wasn’t the answer. It simply wasn’t possible. I have heard from parents who are single due to divorce or the death of their husband or wife, from parents with a severely ill spouse, and other situations.
Homeschooling has been a good option for many families
In the last 25 years the homeschooling movement has grown quite rapidly, especially in Christian circles. With the decline of public education, many Christian families have looked for educational alternatives for their children and in many cases homeschooling has been the best option available to them. In recent years Christian attitudes towards public education have become more and more negative, and rightly so. In some circles, especially my own, Reformed and Calvinistic, some will go so far as to accuse Christian parents of sin if they send their children to public school. I’ve been a part of multiple conversations where such a view has been expressed. There are parents who find themselves with no other options but public school, who are struggling because of it, especially because they themselves often desire other options, but have none. They are being judged by their brothers and sisters, which adds to their heartache. Often those judging don’t know all of the details of the situation one finds themselves in, and may be making assumptions.
Is public school a sin?
Accusing Christians who send their children to public school of sin concerns me, because while I believe there is often wisdom in choosing alternatives, there are situations where homeschooling isn’t an option. I’m not going to address the arguments at this point about whether it’s a sin, but rather explain why we should be careful with such accusations. If it is a sin to send children to public school, then it would require confrontation with the hope of repentance and ultimately church discipline if the unrepentant sin continued. I know only a few churches, generally small and independent, which are known for their stance on homeschooling, that would take it that far, and yet many are still being accused and condemned on places like social media. Few Reformed churches would consider it a sin or a church discipline matter. When I bring up single parents who find themselves with no other options, or my situation, I’m often told, “That is different, and the judgments aren’t for those parents.” The problem is that it’s either a sin for Christian parents to send their kids to public school or it isn’t. More care should be taken with accusations of sin, especially if it’s not something which would be dealt with in the church the same way as we deal with other unrepentant sin. And even if one isn’t going so far as to accuse sin, the judgments are often quite harsh, much like my own were. What I can still agree with is that there is wisdom in finding other educational alternatives aside from public schooling. Many Christian public school parents would say the same, but feel stuck without any other options.
Public education is rapidly declining
There have recently been bathroom policies being enforced in public schools so that boys can go into the girls restroom if they identify as one, and vice versa. I know some schools are coming up with alternatives, like making a private bathroom available when necessary, and not all schools have such children which are needing to be accommodated. We will continue to see changes in public education which will make us uncomfortable.
Christians have valid concerns regarding public education: non-Christian teachers, curricula which is not from a Biblical perspective, the influence of peers, a science curriculum which teaches against a Creator, sex education which finds homosexuality and sexual immorality acceptable, and an overall non-Christian worldview. Entrusting our children to the ungodly for their education may be a valid concern.
I don’t want to neglect to recognize that public schools can vary, something many parents have pointed out to me. A public school in a small, midwestern town may be quite different than one in an urban area. I spoke with one public school mom who lives in a small town and works at the school her children attend. A lot of the staff are people from her church. Having spoken with many public school parents and teachers from different areas, the vast differences are evident. I understand that all are still run by the state and are not Christian, but the tendency towards broad generalizations is not helpful, nor fair, nor the consistent experience of all of those who have chosen public schools. There are often statistics mentioned by the homeschool crowd which are not representative of each and every individual public school.
Should Church schools be an option?
J. Gresham Machen talked about Christian schools. He said, “I can see little consistency in a type of Christian activity which preaches the gospel on the street corners and at the ends of the earth, but neglects the children of the covenant by abandoning them to a cold and unbelieving secularism.” Many covenant children are being abandoned and left with only public schooling as an option. Even most Christian schools today are full of children from outside the church and promote theology contrary to what most of us are raising our children in. Machen went on to say, “But one of its marked characteristics, in sharp distinction from the secular education of today, is that it exalts the family as a blessed divine institution and treats the scholars in its classes as children of the covenant to be brought up above all things in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” I think the church’s help may be necessary in starting these sorts of schools, as few exist. I think what Machen is referring to is not happening in most Christian schools today, but I believe would happen in church schools. I’d like to see the kind of schools Machen is referring to. How can we provide a good Reformed Christian education which is available to all covenant children? While homeschooling is working for many, there are those who are left out who are ultimately being abandoned to a cold and unbelieving secularism as Machen said.
“Christian education of our covenant children is a moral obligation of Reformed families,” says R. Scott Clark. “I don’t want to hear from any of you about how I’m denigrating Christian education. I’m not. There is no question about the necessity and importance of Christian education of our covenant children. If we are not diligent to see to it that our children receive a Christian education, we will reap the whirlwind. Nevertheless, the local Christian school is not a divine institution and neither are the several dozen other Christian agencies that we often support. The only agency directly instituted by our Lord for the advancement of His kingdom is the agency to which He gave the keys of the kingdom: the visible, institutional church (Matt 16:18; 28:18-20). As important as it is as an aid to the Christian nurture of our children, the local Christian school may not preach the gospel in an official way, it certainly may not administer the sacraments or church discipline. It belongs to the sphere of the family, not the sphere of the church. That’s why we don’t have parochial schools.”
I agree with Dr. Clark that the education of our children belongs in the sphere of the family. The problem is there are few options for Reformed Christians. I think at this point we may need the church’s assistance in providing a good Christian education to all covenant children, especially one that will teach correct theology and exalt the family. We need to talk about how we can make Christian education available to those with no options. I’m not sure how good Reformed Christian schools could be created at this point without the church. At the least, we need to be having conversations about future options for Christian education.
Church schools could be the answer. I am not denying the primary work of the church, preaching of the Word and administering the sacraments, but I still believe the church could assist in helping to offer educational alternatives for its covenant children. After speaking with many and researching, I don’t see a lot of educational options for the children of Reformed Christians. Homeschooling just isn’t the answer for everyone as it leaves so many families out and most Christian schools don’t promote Reformed theology. I’ve also spoken with many homeschooling parents who are struggling to provide an adequate education for their children, especially as they get older, and who would love to see church schools as an option. While many homeschool children are succeeding academically, there is also the problem of educational neglect in some Christian homeschools.
Answering the objections to church schools
I’d like to address some of the initial objections that Christians make to the idea of church schools:
- I attended a Christian school and it was no better than public school.
A church school isn’t a Christian school that is open to anyone who can pay. I’m speaking of parochial schools that would be available only to the children of members of that church. It is staffed by the people in the church. It’s run by the church community.
- Most of our members can’t afford any extra expenses like tuition.
I agree, especially those families who are unable to homeschool. These schools are provided regardless of ability to contribute financially, but we need the help of those in the Church to make it work. There are several different models and there are churches who have them in place already. I have even talked with a couple of very poor churches which have made this happen. There are ways to do it which I will explain in more detail later in this series.
- We’re a small church, we can’t afford it, and we don’t have the space.
The wonderful thing about putting together a church school is you can be flexible. There are different models and inexpensive options which I will be talking about later in this series. Church schools are staffed by members of the church, often moms. I’ve seen a one room schoolhouse model in the basement of a member’s home. It’s possible with the church working together. If moms can homeschool, they can help run a church school. It can even look like many of the homeschool co-ops that homeschoolers are a part of, and where many moms teach.
- Our church already has something in place for those unable to homeschool.
If this is the case, wonderful. I have heard of churches that have put into place ways to assure each of their children are receiving a good Christian education, especially in situations where the parents themselves are unable to homeschool. I have in the past, homeschooled the children of a single mom, and other children whose parents are not able at that point. I don’t think that happens very often though. When I found myself in the same situation, not one person offered assistance, except my mother, and she could only offer so much help. I’m not upset at those in my circles for not offering help. It’s hard enough homeschooling your own children. Regardless of what educational options we come up with, I think it needs to be a joint effort.
My family’s story
You may be wondering what happened with our family since I started this article on a very personal note. All of my children were homeschooled for quite some time before they were sent to school. When we initially enrolled two of them in school, and eventually a third in our local charter school, I received some help with my children still at home from my mother, a retired teacher. I heard from people in our homeschool community about someone who homeschooled through whatever illness, and if they could do it, so could I. I think it’s dangerous and unfair to make comparisons. I won’t get into the details now of the illness which continues to be debilitating. It has been quite life changing, but I can point to God’s grace, even though we had to make some difficult decisions. It’s not an exaggerating when I say that there were times when both my husband and I wondered if I would live through it. During one of my hospital stays, the Dr. Sat by my bed and said, “Do you understand you almost died last night? Do you understand how serious this is, that you could die?” I was clearly aware. That was right before we put the kids in school. We were in survival mode for a while.
Three of my children have attended small charter schools and have done quite well. We’ve had a fairly good experience with the charter schools in our small town. We are especially grateful for the small math/science/technology charter high school only a few miles from our home. They have a great program with our local college. My son who is a junior now hopes to graduate with a year of college under his belt. The school also has home study days. That same son was able to start with Algebra 2 in 9th grade followed by trigonometry, calculus and so on. He’ll graduate with five years of math, which will be beneficial for the things he’s considering studying in college. I don’t doubt that the foundation I helped build in our homeschool has been helpful. I also have to recognize he has received a better high school education than I could have provided at home. My youngest son will be a freshman next year and is on much the same educational track.
My children love learning, which I believe my husband and I have instilled in them. My 11th grader goes to bed early so he can wake at 3:30am to finish up any studying, but especially to have extra time to work on the languages he’s been learning on his own through an online program. He’s gotten quite good at Swedish and is working on two other languages besides the Spanish he’s taking in high school. Each of my children have things they enjoy studying on their own, specific areas of interest which they plan to pursue in some way and I’m quite proud of them. They love learning and have many ambitions. My kids are doing well and I’ve enjoyed the teenage years.
I will be writing more on this topic. We do have a problem, and we need to be talking about it. There are several who are preaching the evils of public education and homeschooling has worked for many as an alternative. But there are more reasons than what I’ve outlined here why I’m unsure if homeschooling is the answer. Let’s start talking about some long term solutions for educating covenant children.
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