For some time now I have been pondering the value of writing about the reasons that wife and I have chosen to have our children educated through the public school system. Public schools are not the only option available to us. We are capable of homeschooling our children–we are both well-educated and each have a university degree. There are homeschooling groups in our town that we could tap into and endless numbers of homeschooling resources available to us. While it would definitely be a huge strain on our finances, (to the point that either my wife or I might have to be willing to take on a part-time job), we could possibly even come up with $10,000 a year to enroll our children in a local Christian school. Practically, though, the options for my family come down to public schools or homeschool. We have chosen to place our children in public schools. And now I am going to tell you why.
Before I continue, I would like to affirm that I believe this is an area in which Christians have freedom from God to do what we feel is appropriate for our individual families. This is an area of weaker and stronger Christians. I do not believe that any of the options–homeschooling, Christian schooling or public schooling–is inherently wrong, but feel that each family must follow their convictions on this matter. I do not judge or condemn those who choose other options. The real sin would be to violate one’s conscience or to look negatively upon those who choose other options. As my pastor says in this article, depending on your view on this subject you may fall into the weak category or the strong category. In either case, you will be “tempted by the devil, the world and your flesh to either despise or condemn those who hold a different view from yours…Depending on whether you are weak or strong, you are being tempted to despise other members of this church or condemn other members of this church. If you deny that, you deny God’s Word. Paul does not say, some of you are in this weak/strong struggle. No, he says all of us fall into one or the other classification.” The strong are tempted to despise and the weak are tempted to condemn. Let’s be sure that we do not fall into either sin.
Of course not everyone believes, as I do, that we have freedom in this area. To these people I urge charity. I grew up in a church where Christian schooling was expected and demanded. I have read any number of articles by those who choose to homeschool who believe that homeschooling is the only biblical option for educating children. While these people may make some valid arguments, I am not convicted by Scripture or by plain reason that we must avoid public schools.
There is one more thing I would like to say before I get too much further into this article. Homeschooling parents are easily offended (See? I offended you just by saying that!). Some may consider this a rash generalization, but in my experience it is true. Homeschoolers are often on the defensive, though certainly this is changing as homeschooling becomes a more widely accepted option in the church and in the wider culture. For many years homeschoolers have had to defend their choice in education and they have grown weary of defending against misunderstandings and strawman arguments. I am not going to argue that, if we homeschool, our children will end up having no social skills, we will have to move to the country to raise our own beef, I’ll have to throw away my deodorant and my wife will have to grow her hair past her waist and begin making all of our clothes. I hope not to fall into caricatures of homeschooling. Feel free to correct me if I do. There is much I admire about those who choose to homeschool. Honest. At the same time, please do not use caricatures to describe public schools as being always boring, filled with disinterested Wiccan teachers or serving as training grounds for automatons who are being trained only to work in factories.
And with this in mind I would like to explain why my wife and I have chosen to have our children attend public schools. Please note the word “chosen.” Some people seem to feel that only in the absence of conviction do parents send their children to public schools. This is not the case with my wife. Aileen and I, having spent a great deal of time thinking and praying over the options available to us, send our children to public schools on the basis of conviction.
I think it bears mention here that homeschooling is not typically an isolated choice. In my experience (and I have quite extensive experience with families that homeschool) the decision to homeschool is an aspect of a larger ideology. There is a set of underlying beliefs that prompt a family to homeschool their children. In my experience an aspect of these beliefs deal with how Christians are to interact with the world. For example, I am sure you would find it true that families that place their children in Christian schools are somewhat less likely to allow their children to participate in Halloween than families that place their children in public schools. It is easy to say that these families only participate in Halloween because they do not feel they can deny their children a privilege every other child in the class will enjoy, but I think this is too simplistic a view. Some people’s understanding of how Christians are to interact with the culture lead them to participate in events such as Halloween. There would be a further degree of separation between families that homeschool versus families that accept public schools so that children of homeschooling families are far less likely to participate in Halloween than children who attend public schools. You and I both know this is true.
I would suggest that there may be other differences relating to children participating in sports leagues (children in public schools will, in my experience, be more likely to participate in leagues than children who are educated in other ways) and even in the way a family relates to other families in the neighborhood. Homeschooling can rarely be separated from other aspects of a family’s beliefs and the outworking of those beliefs. Parenthetically, I will affirm that this is not always the case. There are some families who may break the mold, but I think the point is valid and clear and applies to the majority of families who homeschool.
Douglas Wilson differentiates between homeschoolers and what he called “Homers” in an article he wrote for Credenda Agenda. Homeschoolers, he says, are “people who have carefully considered all the options available to them in the education of their children, have prayerfully weighed them, and have decided to provide their children with an education at home.” Homers are extremists who “have a completely different attitude toward the process of homeschooling. No longer an instrument or means of educating their children, homeschooling has become, in their hands, a very modern manifestation of home as ideology. In this thinking, home is a defining principle to which everything else must conform. Even the church is brought into the service of the home. Father is no longer a father; he is a prophet, priest and king. Any home is capable of doing anything that is worth doing. A radical home-centeredness takes over, insisting that the home can not only replace the school, but also the church and the civil magistrate, not to mention Safeway and General Motors.”
I am not sure the distinction between these two groups is always perfectly clear, but do think Wilson makes a distinction worth noting. What makes both groups similar, though, is that the decision to homeschool cannot be removed from other beliefs and ideologies. At the risk of belaboring the point, let me state this once more: homeschooling is rarely a decision that is completely independent of other beliefs. The beliefs that impact educational choice are, in my experience, related to the understanding of how we, as Christians, are to relate to the people and to the culture around us. It is related to how we are to be in the world but not of the world.
And all this is to say that my beliefs about the world and the culture and the relationship of Christians to them is a large part of what motivates me to send my children to public schools. Just as ideology is what motivates some Christians to homeschool, ideology motivates me to have my children in the public school system. I am convicted that my children ought to be in public schools.
And, lest this article grow to a ridiculous length, I will break here and return tomorrow (Lord willing) with more on this topic. (Part 2)