We put our children in the public school

A little history:

I grew up in a pastor’s home in Missouri.  I was in a Christian school through 6th grade, and then was home educated through the completion of high school.  I went to a Christian college for a bachelor’s degree, then taught in a Christian school for 2 years, then went back to the Christian college for a master’s degree; my doctorate is also from a Christian university.  My wife spent 12 years in a Christian school and then went to two different Christian colleges.  When we had children, we began home educating them.  All we have known is Christian education.

The home education philosophy worked well for us in the early stages of our family’s educational journey, but several ago, Carol and I started thinking, talking and praying about making some changes in the education process of our children.  Eventually, we came to the conclusion that God would be pleased for us to put our children into the local public schools.  I suppose the following post will turn out to be more of a thesis, but if it is important enough to you, then I suppose you’ll take the time to read it (I will put headers over the different reasons so that you can scroll to that which interests you).

Every family is different:

This has been a decision based on our family DNA.  Not every family is the same; I have 6 boys and 2 girls – if the genders were reversed and I had 6 girls and 2 boys I might not have made the same decision.  If we had fewer children (hypothetical obviously – I want all of the children that I have and chose to have each one) we may have selected a different course.  Or, if the personalities of the children were different, I might have chosen something differently.  I live in a small, conservative mid-western town, if I lived in Chicago, I might have chosen to find a Christian school or continued homeschooling (but can’t say for sure because that isn’t where I am).  I live in a relatively small house right in the middle of town, if I lived in a big house on several acres out in the country, I might have continued home education (we spent a couple of years looking at different houses in the country but couldn’t sell our house in order to purchase one of those).  If my wife or I had different personalities, strengths and gifts than we do, we might have made a different decision.  If I was a missionary I might have made a different decision.  If my vocation was something other than what it is, I might have done differently.  All of that to say this, we made the decision that we believed was right for our family based on our unique circumstances.  Therefore, my decision is not an indication that I believe others who are home schooling or using Christian schools shouldn’t be.  Every family must make the decision that works best for who they are; a family is unique like an individual because each family is made up of individuals; we all know that every individual is unique (otherwise the word “individual” would be worthless) and so logically every family is unique.

The uniqueness of our family is sobering to me.  We have 6, very strong willed sons and 2 daughters who are not lacking in will themselves.  I have no passive children; the one that I used to think was passive has proven me wrong.  Our house is 3 bedrooms with only 2 baths, it is only 1640 square feet, and our yard is just an average city yard.  Natural energy must be expended for healthy growth, you can’t suppress it!  When we were homeschooling, we let our kids play outside (according to regular school hours 3pm till dark) to the point that our yard was dirt when it was dry and mud when wasn’t.  But, due to vehicles, my schedule, the ages and number of our children, it was impracticable to be constantly finding outings, and so it would often be that our kids never left our property from Sunday evening until Wednesday evening and from Wednesday evening until Sunday morning (imagine if the weather was in-climate and they couldn’t play outside; many adults would go crazy if they were in the house for that long, yet we think that children “just can’t get along”).   Living in such small confines with no outlet did not have a good effect on the general deportment of our family (understated).  Furthermore, the responsibilities were piling up on my wife: cooking for 9 people (now 10), directing laundry for 9 people (now 10), directing housekeeping for 9 (now 10) people, educating 5 children (at the time), restroom training the young ones, her own Christian walk with God, her relationship with me, and the fact that she is a pastor’s wife.  It took me too long to realize that with our family DNA, I was expecting too much of her.  To use the apostle Peter’s thoughts, I needed to “live with her intelligently, giving honor to her more delicate nature.” (1st Peter 3:7)   When I began to realize the toll that it was taking on her, I tried taking the 5 older children to church with me to do their school work there; that change made a huge difference for Carol, but while I was doing my pastoral work, I began to depend on the older children to help the younger ones get their work done.  The older ones were developing resentment because not only were they trying to get their own work done, but they were also expected to help the younger ones keep their work caught up to date.  Many will say that “young people should be taught to do their laundry, help with the cleaning, the dishes, and help take care of the younger kids!”  I agree and ours did and do, but by placing too many expectations on my children, my conscience began to tell me that I was in violation of Ephesians 6:4, “. . . fathers, provoke not your children to wrath. . . ” and Colossians 3:21 . . . “lest they be discouraged” all the while preaching to them 6:1, “children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”  I could see that down the road, my kids would be glad to be out of my home.  Essentially, home schooling for our family was unsustainable for me, for my wife, and for our children.  We (parents and children) were becoming quite frustrated trying to properly home educate our children but recognizing that we were unable to do so – and I can say with assurance that is not God’s design.

Again, I’m careful and quick to assert that this is a personal decision based on our circumstances.  There are families of an entirely different make up and lifestyle than ours that should be homeschooling.  There are families that should have their kids in a Christian school.

Personal observations of the results of the different methods of education:

Home schooling and Christian schooling do not guarantee that children will turn out as they should.  I was in a Christian school through 6th grade and I taught in a Christian school for 2 years.  Unfortunately, many of the young people that were my school mates and many of the young people that I taught have no evidence of spiritual life today.  I have also known many home schoolers through the years and sadly, many of them have not turned out in a manner that is pleasing to the Lord.  On the contrary and for sake of argument, there are many public school kids that have turned out well.  In fact, many of the people who are home schooling now, went through the public schools themselves and turned out to be dedicated Christians.  The argument will certainly be made that “the public schools are far worse now than they were 30 years ago!”  That is a relative statement – so are many churches.  In the public school in the 60’s and 70’s my dad had to deal with immoral reading assignments, mandatory dancing in P.E., the rock and roll culture with drugs and immorality, a teacher or two who undermined and mocked religion at every opportunity, the dating game, and etc.  But most importantly, it was when he was a teenager in the public school that he realized, “if what I’m taught in science is correct about evolution and biology, then my mom and my pastor are wrong and have been teaching me fairy tales from the Bible.”  After expressing this concern to his mother, she gave him a copy of the book Evolution and the Modern Christian by Henry Morris.  He became convinced that the Bible was true and that conclusion led him to another very reasonable conclusion, “nothing but Christ matters!”  He has been pastoring for over 40 years and as someone who knows him as well as anyone – other than my mom, he is the most genuine Christian I know – and I know his faults too.  The public school served to prove his faith.  It is a false assumption that “your children will turn out right if you put them in the Christian school or home school them” and it is also a false assumption that “you will lose your children if you put them in the public school.”  Dogmatic statements like those can’t be verified and so they should be left out of a reasonable decision making process.  I’m not asserting what it is that causes children to turn out right (I have some beliefs, but am saving them for another writing), but I can say with assurance, that whether children turn out in a manner pleasing to the Lord – and benefiting to the church or society – is not based on whether they are home schooled, have gone through Christian school or have been in the public school.

Practical education:

My wife and I both completed bachelor’s degrees; I have a master’s degree and a doctorate.  We are not dumb and are probably at least – if not better qualified than the average parent to home school, but we recognized that there are limitations to what we could do with our children’s education.  When we toured the junior high school where our two older children would be attending, we were amazed at the science lab, the computer labs and technology, the art lab, the library and etc., that were being used for sixth and seventh graders.  We could never, even if we had more substantial financial resources, provide those things for our children.  Furthermore, we are not specifically trained as experts in the different subjects like their teachers in the public school.  For instance, I went through Algebra II in high school, but would have to re-learn it to help my kids get through it now.  On the other hand, their math teachers now specialize as those teaching everything from consumer math to advanced trigonometry.  So, as painful as the conclusion is for me, my weakness would have created a deficit in their education.  I understand that there are resources, such as videos, that can be used – but you can’t ask a video a question and get one on one attention from an expert.  Even the resource, such as Bob Jones Academy has, that allows interaction with a teacher can only provide those things via a screen, not a lab.  My conscience began to tell me that I was limiting the potential of my children by not allowing them to have the resources that were immediately available in the local schools.

Regarding the potential of my children, I don’t expect or anticipate that all of my children will be in vocational ministry.  I think that some of them may, but I also think I might have some who are like Aquilla and Priscilla, Lydia, Luke, Stephen and Phillip.  I desire for my children to have influence, no matter their vocation.  Perhaps a congressman, doctor, teacher, businessman, or something like that lies in the future for one of my children.  It seemed to me that the best path to the education that would support that kind of a calling was through the traditional system.  (I speak from experience – sadly, the homeschooling curriculum that my family used when I was in high school did not award a diploma.  So, even though I did quite well on my ACT test, I still had to get a G.E.D. before I could enter the first College that I attended.)  Adjusting to college from the homeschooling format was difficult for me.  I was an excellent reader and had great retention.  I could study well in preparation for a test, but unless the professor wrote out a pretty detailed outline on the board and I had time to copy it verbatim, I did not do well with the lecture system.  I have observed this problem with others who have struggled to adapt to the traditional classroom format.  The traditional school format seemed to be the best way to prepare our children for higher education than the homeschooling format.  For me to have continued home schooling, I would have had to have been convinced that the education that I could offer them was superior to that which the traditional schools could.  Some home schooling parents have been able to give their children a superior education – I could not and so it would not have been just to my children to have continued.

Some might say, “a Christian school is a traditional school format.”  I understand that, but we are 45 minutes from the nearest one, simply put it was not only cost prohibitive, but impossible.

To conclude this point, I feel very well prepared to help my children work through philosophy, but not math and other academic subjects.  So, I’m utilizing my strengths to help them through their educational journey and allowing the current secular education system’s strengths meet the other needs.

Is it Biblically acceptable to use the public schools?

Yes.

I know that some will argue this point – vehemently.  Please do not assume that because my children are in the public school that they are not getting a Christian education.  I am a Biblical philosopher by choice and I am constantly indoctrinating my children with the application of the truths of God’s Word to everyday life.  The chief part of wisdom is the fear of the Lord; it doesn’t matter where one’s academics originate if they do not see the fear of the Lord as the most important part of any education.  So, though I’m an imperfect parent and pastor, my children are still getting a Christian education.

There are several reasons why I believe it is acceptable for me to put my children in the public school, some are philosophical and some are Scriptural.

1.  Inoculation instead of isolation.  Isolation is not the same as inoculation.  My dad put us in summer baseball leagues, he let us work for people in the community, he let us play with the kids in our town.  His intent was to help us see what the world was and he carefully guided us through that introduction to the world so that when we were old enough to face it on our own, we weren’t shocked by the depravity that we saw.  To illustrate this problem, think of the chicken pox.  Children that are vaccinated will usually have a mild fever and flu like symptoms for a couple of days and then their body has recognized that sickness and from then on they are immune to that disease.  Some parents avoid vaccinations and allow their children to be exposed to chicken pox (this is not recommended by me or doctors); the children get a full case of it with the sores, fever, and etc.  Those children pull through it after a week or two and then are typically immune to the sickness.  However – doctors will tell you, that when an adult gets the Varicella virus, some of the possible complications are pneumonia, swelling of the brain, and vision loss.  All said, it is far worse for an adult to get chicken pox than a child.  Using those medical facts to help build a principle, I chose – for my family – to begin inoculating my children to the world when I’m able to help guide them through the process and when they are far more resilient.  I want them inoculated to the world so that they can live in the world (more on that later), I don’t want them isolated from the world, so that when they face it – and they will – that its effects are more dangerous.

As I was wrestling through this decision, I was going through David McCullough’s book on John Adams.  When John was getting ready to go to France during the Revolutionary War and he and Abigail were trying to decide whether their 10 year old son John Quincy should accompany his father, Abigail – fearing the influences of the French – wrote to her son, that he would “assuredly . . . encounter temptation, but to exclude him from temptation would be to exclude him from the world in which he was to live.” (Page 176)  Anyone who knows anything about John Quincy Adams knows that he was one of the most accomplished men that ever lived.

2.  A litmus test.  Perhaps many of you will think I’m crazy for thinking this way, but I’m not interested in raising hypocrites.  I was a pastor’s kid and I know that it wasn’t until I faced the real world and my faith was tested that I really knew who I was.  The only life I know is that of a pastor’s family.  I could live the pastor’s life without giving it much thought; it is the kind of life in which I’m comfortable and can operate freely.  Fortunately, the truths of God’s Word sunk deep into my heart and began to bear fruit as an older teenager.   However, I’m convinced that many pastor’s kids grow up, some do and some don’t go into the ministry, they are not really dedicated Christians, but they continue attending church, putting their kids in the Christian schools, teaching Sunday school, singing in the choir, and etc, but it is not because they are committed disciples so much as it is the only life that they have ever known, they are comfortable in it, and they can live that life by default.  If they are even disciples, it is pretty clear that their works are wood, hay and stubble because they are not built on the foundation of Christ. (1st Corinthians 3).  I want my children to be genuine disciples and the public school is what I have chosen for a proving ground.  I think it is far more difficult to raise a hypocrite in the public school than in home school or Christian school.

3.  An influence for truth.  By most evaluations, I have a quiver full of children (Psalm 127).  The simple question is, what is the purpose of an arrow?  Its intent is to be shot forth (the Hebrew word for “law” – torah has a nuance of “something shot forth” . . . food for thought).  Are not my children supposed to be a testimony of truth impacting those around them – or perhaps a tool of truth used by the Holy Spirit in our society?  Some might argue that you spend the formative years “sharpening the arrow.”  However, the Psalmist clearly says “the children of the youth.”  Read Psalm 127.

4.  Separate . . . but from whom?  1st Corinthians 5 is not typically a passage used in relation to a parent’s choices for children.  However, there is a principle there from which I’ve not been able to escape.  Paul was rebuking the Corinthians for their tolerance of immorality.  In context, what we call “1st Corinthians” was not actually his first letter to them.  He had already written at least one letter to them and he realized that they had misunderstood part of the first letter.  He had told them to separate from fornicators.  They thought he meant fornicators of the world, but he meant fornicators who claimed to be a brother.  He made the point, that the only way for them to separate from fornicators, or covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters of the world – would be for them to go out of the world – he seems to view that option as practically impossible.  Paul’s assertion was, “I meant separate from those who are immoral and claim to be Christians, I didn’t mean that you should separate from those who are immoral of the world, otherwise you can’t even exist in the world.”  An argument might be made that “these are adults.”  Perhaps, but they weren’t acting like it.  Paul told them they were fleshly and selfish (attributes of most children); they were arguing constantly and generally didn’t behave themselves with any maturity.  Paul’s expectation was that Christians would be living in the world – my children will be living in the world.

5.  In the world but not of the world.  In John 17, Jesus prayed for His disciples knowing that they would soon be without His physical presence.  He spoke of the fact that while He was with them in the world, He kept them (12).  But He would be leaving them in a world that hated them (14) and His prayer to the Father was not that He would take them out of the world, but that He would keep them from the evil (15).  The disciples – just like Christ – were not of the world (but were still in the world) and so the prayer of the Lord was, “sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy Word is truth” (17).  Jesus sent the disciples into the world and expected the Father to guard them while there.  Call me presumptuous if you want, but Jesus later spoke in the same prayer that His praying was not only for the original disciples, but for all those who would believe on Him that  . . . “the world may believe that Thou hast sent me.”  So, I’m sending my children into the world (understanding the context of John 17) believing that they can be kept by God and used of God to help the world see that Christ is of God.

6.  Illustrations.  Moses and Daniel and the other three Hebrew young men are examples of young men who were thrust into the secular educational systems of their day.  It is safe to say that the Egyptians and the Babylonians did not teach creation by Jehovah; I’m sure that the morals of the Egyptians and the Babylonians were far different from the morals of the Hebrews.  Yet these young men not only survived but were great examples of faithfulness to the truths that had been instilled into them by their parents (Moses for just a few short years while his mother nursed him for Pharaoh’s daughter and Daniel and the other three in captivity in their middle teen years).  Obviously, these young men did not have the typical Hebrew upbringing, but the point should be accepted that it is possible for someone to be educated by secular institutions and still be a person of faith.

7.  Delegated education.  Some assert that the education of children is incumbent upon the parents.  I don’t disagree, but I do argue that it is acceptable to delegate training to others should the parent desire.  Did not Paul acknowledge that schoolmasters existed when he used them as an illustration in Galatians?  (Theology is not my point here; I’m simply proving that Paul spoke of the fact that there were people whose purpose it was to teach the children of others.)

8.  Isn’t Christian education mandated in the Bible?  As much as I love the O.T. (my master’s degree is in O.T. and I spent several years of my doctorate reading about Israelology), many of the arguments that I’ve seen people and organizations use to promote either home schooling or Christian schooling are supported with O.T. passages of Scripture that relate to Israel.  That is fine if your method of interpretation allows you to apply the O.T. instruction to Israel to the N.T. church, but I’m a dispensationalist (follow the link to read an article that I wrote on dispensational interpretation and application). It would be inconsistent hermeneutics to demand that I home school my children based on Deuteronomy 6:7.  (Many homeschooling organizations are not dispensational anyways, and some even push dominion theology.)  The common passages in the N.T. that relate to the education of Christian children are Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21.  For Pastors, there is also 1st Timothy 3:4-5 and Titus 1:6.  One can also learn from 2nd Timothy 3:14-17, but none of these mandate home education or prohibit public education.

9.  Silence . . . ?  I know that in the rules of logic, an argument from silence is not valid.  However, since Peter stated that God has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness (2nd Peter 1:3), I’m disinclined to allow that particular rule to dictate my thinking.  So, Biblically speaking, the argument from silence on many issues is valid and puts them in the category of individual soul liberty. 

Other than 1st Corinthians 9, in which Paul acknowledged that some of the apostles were married (the gospels speak of Peter’s mother-in-law), we know nothing of their wives or children.  I was exploring the web site of a home school organization (The now disgraced Vision Forum Ministries) several years ago and noticed that they asserted that the “family is the backbone of the church and the fundamental vehicle for evangelization.”  That statement assumes more than the Bible teaches either by precept or precedent (1st Corinthians 11 tells us Who the Head is and chapter 12 tells us of the members being the different parts of the body, but nothing is ever said of the family being the backbone.  Also, to claim that the family is the fundamental vehicle for evangelization is to ascribe more purpose to the home than the Scripture does. According to the N.T., the individual, Spirit-filled believer is clearly the fundamental vehicle for evangelization).  Assertions such as these are actually quite revealing of a theological bias rather than letting Scripture speak for Itself.  It is unfortunate that such statements have been accepted by so many as Biblical truth.  (This discussion will have to be taken up on another post.)

If homeschooling by modern definition is the mandate of Christian parents – and is necessary for a strong church – and for proper evangelization to be accomplished, why do we know nothing of the apostle’s children and why did they not give explicit instructions on how it should be done?

Conclusion and some final thoughts (in no particular order):

1.  We understand the risks.  I think any one that knows me knows that I think things through very analytically and logically.  This was not a quick decision (it may have seemed that way, but that is only because I didn’t tell anyone I was contemplating it until I had decided what I would do).  Ultimately, this is the decision that my wife and I are convinced that God led us to make for this time in our lives.  You may not understand or agree with all of my reasons, but I can’t violate my conscience.  If I would have continued homeschooling at this point in our family, I would have been in violation of Ephesians 6:4, Colossians 3:21 (the parts about provoking them to wrath and discouraging them), and 1st Peter 3:7.

2.  Since this is a matter of conscience and not Biblical mandate, I ask for your prayers for our family.  I don’t mind further discussion if you are curious, but I’m not interested in debate.  I’ve thought through this matter very carefully and though I’m fallible, I know that I have not missed anything big enough that if you brought it to my attention that it would change my mind.

3.  I’m not bitter that I was homeschooled.  My parents did exactly what they believed God wanted them to do.  All of my siblings have turned out to be lovers of Christ and the truths of Scripture – but they will state strongly that it is not because of the method of education that they chose for us.  My dad would tell you that you can raise a Godly child in a Christian school, home school, or public school.  In fact, I’m glad I was home schooled; when my parents began homeschooling us it was the first time in my life that I began to have a relationship with my dad that was anything more than sporadic.  My parent’s devotion to our family and the support of the church that my dad pastored (there were no home schoolers in the church then) is a big part of the reason that my siblings and I love ministry today.

4.  The adaption to the local schools has not been perfect.  The kids have been exposed to the sinfulness of humanity as we expected, but since they are at an age when they trust us and communicate with us, we have had great opportunities to teach them as a result of the circumstances into which they have been thrust.

But, we have found that their teachers and the administration are generally conservative, if not Christian, and appreciative of the values that we and our children hold.  Even those who we suspect may not hold the same values or philosophies that we do, have been kind and supportive of our family.  The children seem to be respected by their teachers and schoolmates, they are doing well academically, and they love their teachers and schools.

5.  Carol’s life has been drastically eased.  She used to struggle with headaches, exhaustion, and all kinds of related stress, but life is conspicuously more cheerful.

6.  The demeanor of our home is far better than it used to be (though since we are all still sinners it is far from what we wish it to be; as of this writing we’ve had strep for a week and so we’ve all been cooped up again together).  Whereas they used to be eager to get away from home, they are now glad to come home and where they used to fight and argue, now they are typically chattering about the different happenings of each other’s day.

7.  We have met a multitude of people in the community – other parents, teachers, administrators, etc.  We feel like we are far more a part of this community than we have been for the previous 7 and 1/2 years.  We believe we can be more of an influence for Christ when we are less isolated.

There will probably be some updates or corrections of typos that follow, and as I rethink some wording, I may make some changes to this post, but by and large, it represents the various stages of thought through which I’ve traveled.

I want to state emphatically – one more time – I do not believe that my decision is right for everyone!  The fact that I have chosen the public schools should not be viewed to mean that I believe home schooling or Christian schooling are wrong – this decision is a part of “individual soul liberty” which I extend to every Christian!  All of my siblings home school their children; many of my dear friends in ministry either home school or participate in Christian schools; many of the people that I pastor did or do home educate their children.  If you are a part of a Christian school or if you are able to home school effectively, you have my respect!  I have been in your shoes, I know your struggles, I understand the labor involved; my prayer for all of us is that by investing in our children, no matter the method of education to which God leads us, we will be able to stand together as parents and grandparents some day and rejoice as we see our children and grandchildren influencing their generations for Christ and His truth!