Public School vs. Homeschool: What’s a Christian to Do?

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.

education
education (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

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?

15 thoughts on “Public School vs. Homeschool: What’s a Christian to Do?

  1. I’m a former public school teacher who now homeschools and I think you make some good points. I had bad experiences as a teacher, but some great things happened too. And while I love having my kids with me each day there are times I know my son would learn better without me. For my family its a matter of doing what God has called us to do; what’s best for our children. Today that’s homeschool. Next year? God knows.

    1. Thank you for commenting, Daddystractor. My wife and I are, or soon will be, in a situation similar to yours. As we discern how best to educate our child we want to weigh the options on biblical scales and do what seems best in light of eterna realities. More and more, though, I realize the benefits of not thinking in terms of one form of schooling being more sinful or sanctified than another. And, like you alluded, we would do well to understand that it’s not a one-time decision, but circumstances may change over time. I appreciate your thoughts!

  2. Jemar, I understand your feelings. I prefer not to touch on my life history to comment on your post, but I must say that as a Catholic, I have serious issues about public education in the United States. I was lucky to grow up in two different worlds, one being my native country of Peru and the United States.

    My experience from both worlds served me to learn about the good and bad from both systems. Unfortunately for students in the United States, their government has been removing religion from schools and everywhere else. My family, my friends, and I seriously believe that there has to be a spiritual component in education, especially in public schools.

    Just the other day, I read an article about some idiot college teacher in Florida who asked his students to print an image of Jesus, then asked everyone to put it on the floor and step on it. This is something I would never want children or young adults to witness. For this and other reasons, I find it justifiable for parents to choose home schooling, where they have more control and no exposure to anti-religious acts.

    I know this topic is fuel for further discussion, hopefully to come up with some good ideas about the future of education.

    Thank you for posting.

    1. Paulo, as both a Christian and an educator, I, too, have serious concerns about public education in the United States. That’s one reason I’m an advocate of public education reform. I agree that it is justifiable, and even wise, for some parents to choose homeschooling. My point here is simply that Christians ought not condemn other Christians for choosing public OR homeschool options. I think we can have productive conversations about the topic with folks like you. Just from the tone and content of your comment it seems like while you choose to homeschool, you wouldn’t decry as sinful those who do not. Thanks for reading and replying!

  3. I was a teacher as well, and now I homeschool. We take it one year at a time. Each family does choose their own reasons for homeschooling. There are so many flavors! My motivation was the fact that I had a Masters in Education…why in the world would I want to send my kids away for 8 hours a day when I could just teach them myself? Time is precious….and it slips away so fast. I have the blessing to see my kids grow everyday in their walk with the Lord and gain understanding of His world as well. We are not guarantied tomorrow. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but the most rewarding.

    1. Future Flying Saucers, your story seems like a great example of looking at your particular situation through a Christian lens and deciding the best way to make disciples of Christ in your household. What a blessing to have experience and training as a teacher and to have more time with your family. Thank you for reading and posting a response!

  4. This is such an impossibly complex issue, with great flaws and advantages to both options. After teaching in an awful public school, homeschooling our kids (4 years), then putting our kids into a great local public school, we’ve been able to see them flourish in ways they probably couldn’t have at home (such as the music classes they’ve been participating in with 20 other students, getting a chance to experience playing music as a united group with others). We’ve also been able to help them walk through the difficulties and pitfalls of public school, leading them and helping them make sense of their struggles. As with most things, there seems to be no ‘right’ answer, but mostly a lot of grey. Thanks for trying to live in and write about the grey Jemar, a much more difficult task than adhering to some rigid ideal out of fear of being ‘wrong’.

  5. This is a great post, Jemar, and I think it comes down to what you wrote above. Parents must choose the route that is right for their individual families. Since you have the advantage of seeing both sides, go with your gut as to what feels right. If it turns out you feel you made the wrong decision, you can always change later.

    As to your question above – what is your perception of how conservative Christians view public education – it’s my view that conservative Christians (speaking generally as a whole) view most things that are NOT conservative Christian with far too much judgment, perhaps even disdain. I chose to leave the Church decades ago for this reason. Coming from people who Christ himself told to “love one another” – I felt the modern interpretation of Christianity was “love one another, as long as they’re just like you.” Of course, this was my individual experience. I’m sure many would strongly disagree.

    You have a beautiful, inspiring blog here. I look forward to reading future posts.

  6. My feelings exactly. Thank you for this article. My husband and I are public educators and we are heavily involved in our church. Unfortunately it seems that more and more we are being judged for our decision to be involved in public education, not only because we work for that system but because we send our child to public school as well. Our careers are part of our ministry. Thanks again for such an unbiased article.

    1. Sarah,

      I know public education is hard. The profession itself is challenging and it’s even more difficult when you face skepticism by brothers and sisters in the Lord. I pray God grants you perseverance! I also hope you find the classroom and your school fertile ground for the gospel. May He bring many people to faith as a result of your and your husband’s ministry in education.

      Thanks for reading!

  7. I really appreciate and am encouraged by this article. I have had SO many conflicting feelings on this topic. I homeschool my girls now – but this decision was based on nothing more than our move from our hometown. I did not want them to have the pressure of switching schools in the middle of the year, when they were already taking the news of moving from their friends and family (and hometown) so hard. I really didn’t feel particularly strongly or convicted toward either homeschooling or public school. Now I understand a little more why. 🙂 I’m not indecisive – it’s just that there’s not “correct” answer. Now that I understand a little better – I think I will be more equipped to look at our individual situation and make a decision regarding next year. Thank you thank you thank you!

    1. Thanks reading, Amy. I understand. We’ve got a four year old who started pre-school last year and at first we agonized over the decision about which school to send him. In the end, we knew our child and simply had to make the best choice for him and for us. We’ve remained involved and committed parents at the school, and are pleased with our decision. I just wish we didn’t have to defend it to other Christians… 🙂
      Thanks again for reading!

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