I wish someone had posted a sign somewhere, “If You’re an Advocate of Public Education Reform and Run in Conservative Christian Circles: Beware!” When my family and I relocated to attend seminary we were prepared for meeting new people, the rigors of graduate study, and the inevitable stresses of re-location. My wife and I, both former public school teachers, were utterly unprepared for the skepticism and outright negativity many Christians had toward public education.
First, not all conservative Christians have issues with public education. I just got off the phone with a prominent Christian minister who is proud that his daughter teaches at one of the toughest inner-city schools in D.C. And stories like his are more common than popular culture might reveal. But lots of other Christians, more than I knew, have serious reservations about public education. Their concerns range from the reasonable to ridiculous.
Some Christians take issue with public education as a system because the Bible expressly commands Christians parents to teach their children the ways of the Lord, and they believe this instruction is incompatible with public education (cf. Deut. 6:7, Deut. 11:19). Others call the public school system “Caesar’s school” (cf. Mt. 22:20-21). Due to how the government interprets the separation of church and state, public schools do not and cannot teach a Christian worldview. Still other Christians object to public schools because they hold flimsy, even racist, stereotypes about minorities and their ability to learn. Some even presume an inherently negative impact of public school kids on their own kids.
My point here is not to give a comprehensive description of how some Christians view public education. (See here for views from a staunch Christian advocate of homeschooling.) I just want to make it clear how unprepared my wife and I were to encounter ideological objections to public education based on Christian convictions.
Admittedly, I have a lot more research to do on the subject, but from my standpoint as both a Christian and a former public educator, parents have the discretion to choose what kind of schooling works best for them and their children. The Bible seems to grant Christian liberty–freedom afforded by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, a sanctified conscience, and godly Christian advisers–to make the educational decisions that seem best to them. Some families may choose homeschooling, classical schools, Christian schools, boarding schools, private schools, public schools, or something else. In any case, as long as Christians parents are teaching their children the Scriptures and how to view the world through Christ-colored lenses, I think we are within God’s will.
I know I’m trodding into a minefield here, so I’ll let someone far more knowledgeable and experienced inform your thoughts. I ran across this article by Staci Easton who writes for Writing and Living. I love her balanced and sensitive perspective on the topic of homeschooling vs. public schooling. Here’s an excerpt:
The school year is wrapping up. I’m finishing my tenth year of homeschooling. This is also the second year that my oldest has been in public school and the first year that my middle child has been in public school. This is the time of year that I tend to take stock.
Since I have kids in both schooling situations, I sometimes feel like a woman without a country. I get frustrated when homeschool proponents act as if nothing good can come out of public schools, but I get angry when public school proponents act so surprised that my previously homeschooled kids can function so well, both academically and socially, in the public school setting (I’m looking at you, homeroom teacher). In other words, I’ve heard both sides trash talk the other, and I think both sides are wrong. Having a foot in each world has given me a few opinions.
Read the rest of the article here: “Homeschool Versus Public School: A Few Thoughts”
Staci represents one of the first times I’ve ever heard a conservative Christian speak fairly about the advantages of both homeschool and public school. She’s right. People on both sides of the debate cast stones at the other. But I hope that her thoughts will at least give my Christian brothers and sisters pause before they lambast public education, and by default the parents and children within the system, for being unbiblical.
Discussion Question: If’ you’re a Christian, what is your view on whether to educate your kids in a public or homeschool situation? If you are of another faith, what is your perception of how conservative Christians view public education?