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Topics: Education, Spiritual Formation

Homeschool or Public School?

February 18, 2014

by Candice Watters

Question: My husband and I have been married a year and are expecting our first child. I’m curious if you have any advice about the decision to home school versus public education.

I’ve worked in the public school system off and on for several years, as well as some volunteer teaching in a home school program but I am unsure which would be the most effective. I love the idea of being able to teach our children in our own home. It not only would give me more time to bond with them but also the freedom for some really interesting field trips and adventures. I am also concerned about the destructive attitudes and mindset that my children could obtain from their peers in a public school.

On the other hand, the thought of teaching subjects like chemistry or pre-calculus paralyzes me! It’s a little frightening to think that I am in charge of teaching everything to them. I am also aware of the grief home schooled children often get for being “weird” or “socially awkward.” I suppose a sentimental part of me also doesn’t want them to miss out on things that I loved in school (like homecoming or prom). I don’t know what is biblically supported and I would love to have your opinion or advice with this decision. Thank you so much.

Answer: Thank you for writing and for the opportunity to answer your question. It’s commendable that you’re thinking through your long-term plan now, before your baby is even born. What’s more common is just to assume that the neighborhood public school — an institution your property taxes pay for — is the logical and economically sound answer to the education question. Unfortunately, changes in what’s being taught have significantly undermined the value and wisdom of that decision. Where once public schools focused on teaching children to read, write, do math, learn about Western Civilization and other basics, the pressure is increasingly on them to teach a politically correct curriculum to the neglect of what’s most essential.

But even that isn’t the heart of the issue. Beyond the issues you raised of bonding, field trips, subject expertise, social awkwardness and activity deprivation is one that is central to any decision about where kids go to school. You touched on it when you mentioned the problem of peer pressure.

Given the power of peer influence for good or ill, that’s certainly a valid, and major, concern for many parents. What’s equally influential, however, and this is something we often overlook, are teachers. What is the worldview that informs the curriculum they’re assigned? What are the underlying assumptions and values of what they’re paid to impress on the minds of their students?

One thing we know they’re not paid to teach is that God is the source of all truth and by extension, all real knowledge. But without Him, everything falls apart.

As educator and author Douglas Wilson writes in Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning,

God is the Light in which we see and understand everything else. Without Him, the universe is a fragmented pile of incomprehensible particulars…. It has become a multiverse…. When God is acknowledged, all knowledge coheres…. Where God is not acknowledged, the pursuit of knowledge is just one thing after another and the ultimate exercise in futility.

Education is not neutral. Education is, in Wilson’s words, “a completely religious endeavor.” What remains to be settled is what–or whose–religion. Wilson continues,

It is impossible to impart knowledge to students without building on religious presuppositions. Education is built on the foundation of the instructor’s worldview (and the worldview of those who developed the curriculum). It is a myth that education can be nonreligious — that is, that education can go on in a vacuum that deliberately excludes the basic questions about life. It is not possible to separate religious values from education. This is because all the fundamental questions of education require religious answers. Learning to read and write is simply the process of acquiring tools to enable us to ask and answer such questions…. Every subject, every truth, bears some relationships to God. Every subject will be taught from a standpoint of submission or hostility to Him.

As you debate where your children will go to school, the primary driver should be what you want them to be taught. This isn’t limited to just the fundamentals of reading, writing, and math, but the worldview that lies at the foundation of the school’s curriculum. What is the source of the learning? Did God create the world we inhabit, establishing Himself as the ultimate authority over it and the source for truly understanding it? Or did it evolve by randomness and chance, leaving us on our own to figure things out the best we can?

How children answer that question says a lot about what their parents believe the Bible requires of them. The Bible doesn’t have much to say in the way of specifics about this or that school or form of education. But it is clear that the primary responsibility for the education of children rests with their parents. (See Deuteronomy 6:5-9, Deuteronomy 11:18-20Ephesians 6:1-4.)

Some families will opt to partner in this process with the public schools, others will choose private or Christian schools and still others will teach their children themselves at home. Whatever option you select, and however much help you enlist for the process, at the end of the age, God will hold you responsible for the outcome. He won’t be asking the neighborhood kindergarten teacher why your children turned out the way they did. That’s why the decisions you make about schools and education are so important.

Once you’ve decided the purpose of your child(ren)’s education, then you can drill down on how best to achieve that goal. Your hunch about why you would love home schooling is echoed by many home schoolers who list those and similar desires among their reasons for doing it. Additionally, when you home school you have more freedom to really dig into the areas of study that each child is drawn to, in addition to the basics. You are able to customize to each child’s God-given gifts and talents — something that’s not easily done in a traditional classroom.

With the surge of home schooling has come a burgeoning home school support industry including everything from home school-specific curriculum companies to legal organizations to supplementary classes (and that’s just a sampling of what’s available). All this to say, you don’t have to be intimidated by the thought of teaching pre-calculus and chemistry — especially now when you’re considering kindergarten. Those subjects are a long way off and there are a variety of ways to approach them. You may find that by the time your children are ready for advanced math and science they’re also ready for a more traditional school setting. Or you may decide to home school through high school but enlist the help of a co-op, tutor, or even public school setting for certain subjects. Options abound.

As for the good experiences you don’t want your kids to miss, even those are being offered in non-traditional ways. One of the home school organizations in our city offers social events, banquets, graduation ceremonies and more to families who want to round out their kids’ educations with some of the extra-curriculars they enjoyed when they were in school. The same goes for music, the arts, and sports. There are lots of ways to add those experiences to your children’s lives. It’s key to remember, however, that the whole point of education is learning how to think biblically, not about being crowned homecoming queen.

What about the weirdness, socially awkward factor? Have you ever visited a middle school classroom? Social awkwardness isn’t limited to any one educational setting. Given all the support and availability of outside-the-home activities and classes, I’d say it’s more common that the kids who are socially-awkward home schoolers would still be socially awkward if they were in a public school setting (possibly even more so, given how cruel peers can be). Living in a community that’s populated with lots of home school families, I’ve found the “home schooled kids are backward” belief to be a stereotype that’s not only outdated but untrue.

I notice you mention you’re facing an either/or decision — either home school or send your kids to public school. As you weigh your options, I would encourage you to add one more possibility to the list: sending them to a private Christian school. Since Jesus said the greatest command included loving God with all our mind, it only makes sense to add a school designed to teach students to think biblically to the mix of options you consider.

By having a baby, you’re embarking on a life-altering, world-shaping endeavor. Adding to that his or her education will certainly make the journey more interesting. I’m glad you’re considering the option of homeschooling. In the words of G. K. Chesterton, “How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe?”

May God grant both your husband and you wisdom for guiding this new life He’s entrusting to your care. []


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