My family is coming down to our final decisions about education. Our oldest is already safely squared away at Boyce College and the Southern Baptist Theological seminary, where he seems to be doing really well. My middlest, who is currently in twelfth grade, has already decided that she will also head to Boyce next year. And that leaves just the youngest, who is in eighth grade. We’ve got two major decisions left to make with her—what she will do for high school and what she will do for college.
High school comes first, of course, so we are just now sorting through the options. And while to this point all of our children have gone to public schools from kindergarten all the way to graduation, that’s by no means a foregone conclusion when it comes to our youngest. As best we can, we are laying all the options before us and deciding what’s best for her and what’s best for the family. And with all those options laid out, and a big decision looming, I find myself grappling with this thought: What if God doesn’t care a whole lot about how we educate our children?
Over the past couple of decades, we Christians have elevated education into one of the the most important elements in the successful raising of our children and, perhaps even more so, in their future salvation. We made it seem as if the decision about whether to put our children in public, Christian, or home school was going to be the determining factor in their future. Over these years I’ve read many articles and discussions about education. I’ve participated in many more. One thing I’ve never heard anyone suggest is that maybe it’s just not that big of a deal. And, honestly, I am beginning to lean that way.
I suppose we could say that the goal of parenting is to raise children who are well-skilled and well-adjusted so they can contribute to society. Then as Christian parents we have the additional goal of raising children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord with the expectation that they will come to faith in Christ. We acknowledge there is some mystery to both of these goals, but also acknowledge that the decisions we make along the way have a huge bearing on our parenting success or failure. It strikes me that over the past few years we elevated education to near the very top of the list of factors, up there with whether the family is committed to a local church or whether the family reads the Bible and prays together. But what if the way we educate our children should actually be 19th on the list, or even 25th? What if it should be nestled somewhere between whether our children participate in team sports and whether they memorize the order of the books of the Bible—factors that aren’t unimportant, but also factors that clearly don’t have a huge bearing on their future success and failure in life and faith.
One of the reasons I’ve begun to wonder this is that I have been thinking about what I’ve seen over the course of my life. I was raised between two Christian subcultures, one of which highly valued Christian education and the other of which defaulted to public education. Meanwhile, I witnessed the early days of the homeschooling movement and saw many close family friends begin to educate their children in that way. Today my church and friend group is roughly equally divided between the three. So while my family has chosen to make use of the local public schools, we know and love (and have known and have loved) many people who have chosen the other two options.
And do you know what I’ve observed? I’ve observed that there’s little observable difference between the outcomes. Now, I need to offer a key caveat: I’m thinking particularly of families who had biblical convictions about education and followed those convictions to one of the options. They believed before the Lord that homeschooling would be best for their family so homeschooled, they believed before the Lord that Christian schooling would be best for their family so Christian schooled, or they believed before the Lord that public schooling would be best for their family so enrolled their children in public school. They did not just dump their kids into whatever option was the easiest, or the “default” for their subculture, or the one towards which they felt the most peer pressure. Rather, they operated according to biblical wisdom and conviction. They also built other structures into family life that would strengthen and support their children—church commitment and participation, family devotions, personal habits of Scripture reading and prayer, and so on.
As I consider all the families I’ve known who have lived this way, and then consider how they chose to educate their children, I just can’t see that one option consistently delivers better results than the others. I don’t see that one option delivers consistently worse results than the others. I’ve seen kids raised in all these ways go on to be tremendously successful in life and become godly, reproducing Christians. I’ve seen kids raised in all these ways go on to do very poorly in life and rebelliously revoke the Christian faith. And this makes me wonder if perhaps education just isn’t as big a factor as we make it. That’s not to say it doesn’t matter, but to say that perhaps God doesn’t care which option we choose nearly as much as we think he does. At least, maybe God doesn’t care which option we choose as long as we choose on the basis of conviction and then make sure that we don’t act as if that choice alone will make or break our children.
Somehow along the way, we Christians began to treat the education of our children as if it is the most important element in the success and salvation of our kids. And if it wasn’t ever the most important, it was certainly at nearly the top of the list. But I am coming to believe it’s not nearly as simple as that. I’m coming to believe that, though education is undoubtedly very important, what’s more important is not the decision we make, but the basis on which we make it. I’m coming to believe that when we operate by wisdom and conviction, when we pray fervently and decide boldly, God is eager and willing to pour out his blessings upon us and upon our children, no matter what direction we choose.