OK, guys, this is a LOOOOOONG one. I know finding the time to read these things is hard, but I feel so strongly about this one, that I encourage you to make time to read it. It is an issue important to all Christian parents, homeschoolers or otherwise, and something I think we all need to spend time thinking and praying about to figure out exactly where we stand on this issue...
I am reading a book called Standing on the Promises: A Handbook of Biblical Childrearing by Douglas Wilson. I found the chapter on 'The Necessity of Christian Education' especially interesting and wanted to share parts of it with you. Then I'd like to share some thoughts of my own...here goes...
The Necessity of Christian Education
Is Christian education something which Christian parents are morally obligated to provide for their children? In order to argue to the affirmative, we must seek to place the ground of the obligation in the plain reading of Scripture. If a prohibition or requirement is not based on Scripture, no true moral obligation is involved.
As Christians, we must begin with the assumption that there is no area of life where biblical principles are irrelevant. So even though the Bible does not directly address every problem in the modern world with our terminology (including the problems posed by the existence of government education), nevertheless, the Scriptures do address the problem in a very clear way. God has revealed in His Word how He wants us to rear and educate our children.
In saying this, it is important to distinguish things which differ. Nowhere does the Bible label as sin the practice called "sending a child to government school." Consequently, we must imitate the Scriptures in this. At the same time, the Bible is very clear on the central parental responsibility in education, and this principle, when applied to our contemporary situation, provides us with clear direction.
To guard against misunderstanding, we should begin with a definition of "government schools." For the purposes of our discussion in this chapter, a government school is an officially agnostic, tax-supported institution of education for dependent children. Frankly, quite aside from the following arguments, I believe any Christian who grants this definition must immediately concede that a strong case has already been made. And anyone who denies the definition will have trouble maintaining his case because the definition is so obviously descriptive of what we call the government or public schools here in America. Having given this definition, we may turn to the scriptural arguments for the necessity of Christian education.
First, Christian parents are morally obligated to keep their children out of government schools because the Scriptures expressly require a non-agnostic form of education. Consider this passage in Deuteronomy on the instruction of children. "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words I command you today shall be in your heart; you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.." (Deut 6:4-9). We should remember that this required instruction in the law of God was not limited to "spiritual truths." It involved agriculture, economics, history, sex education, etc. - what we call education today. The biblical mind is not compartmentalized into two distinct areas of thought: secular and sacred. All of life is under the authority of God's revealed Word, and children were to be taught in terms of this comprehensive authority all the time.
The same mentality about the instruction of children can be seen in the New Testament: "Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 'Honor your father and mother,' which is the first commandment with a promise, 'that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.' And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord" (Eph. 6:1-4).
In the Deuteronomy passage the requirement is that children live in an environment pervaded by Scripture. A thorough and biblical instruction can only be provided successfully if it is happening all the time. Teaching in terms of God's law must occur when walking, driving, sitting, and when lying down. Nothing could be clearer - God wants the children of His people to live in an environment conditioned by His Word. In Ephesians, we see the same thing, and is stated just as directly. Children are to be brought up in something; that something is the Word of God. The arrival of the New Covenant did not make godly education somehow optional. We can consider the question another way. What area of life has God declared to be neutral, in which is it permissible to ignore Him, and His Word, while we instruct our children? The answer is that there is no such neutral zone, it does not exist.
Secondly, Christian parents are morally obligated to keep their children out of the public schools because of the requirements involved in keeping the greatest commandment. Jesus requires His people to love the Lord their God with all their minds (Mt. 22:37). This means that the command to be teaching our children all the time must not be interpreted as simply applying to religious instruction, set off by itself in an airtight compartment. If our children are not taught to think like Christians when they study math, history, or science, then they are not obeying the command to love God with all their minds. And if they are not obeying the command, the parents are held responsible. This is because parents are responsible to instruct their children in what God requires of them. And it must be remembered that Jesus taught us that this is the greatest command - it is the most important one of all. It is clear that God's people, and their children, are required to love the Lord their God with all their brains. This involves more than a general acquaintance with David, Goliath, Samson, Noah, et al. Sunday School once a week will not get this job done. Nor will family devotions suffice for a few minutes each night.
This second consideration is obviously related to our first, although there is a difference of emphasis. Deuteronomy 6 requires instruction of the law, all of the time. The greatest commandment requires the child to receive and love this instruction with all his mind. Because parents are responsible for bringing up children in such a way that they will obey the requirements placed on them by God, it is obvious that the education they provide for their children must teach them to love God in all subject areas. This is not possible when the instructor, school, textbook, and classmates are all in rebellion against God.
A third reason Christian parents are morally obligated to keep their children out of the public schools is because God expects parents to provide for and protect their children. It is truly odd that one of the most common charges made against parents who provide a Christian education for their children is that they are "sheltering" them. What is our nation coming to? Parents sheltering children!
Because pluralism (with regard to worldviews) is a false theology (it is institutional agnosticism), Christian parents are required to protect their children from this lie. Because the public schools are an established institution, required by law to teach and practice agnosticism, Christian parents are obligated to protect children from exposure to this false teaching. The principle is acknowledged by all Christians; it is simply not applied to the issue of public education by some. It is hard to imagine us having this debate about Christian kids in Vacation Bible Schools run by the Jehovah's Witnesses. So why do we treat agnosticism as preferable heresy?
Christianity is not the only worldview that pervades all subjects; false teaching is also equally pervasive. If a Christian parent attempts to neutralize the false teaching, it means he has to spend many hours every night countering what the child learned that day in school. This is impossible because the parent doesn't know exactly what the children learned that day. And the children themselves have not been equipped to come back and report on what was unbiblical in what they heart. They cannot do this because they have not yet been educated to think like Christians; they cannot do this because they have not been biblically educated. This makes responsible oversight extremely difficult, and I would argue, impossible. The only alternative is a private Christian education, which a Christian parent can provide at home or in a Christian school.
Christian parents are morally obligated to keep their children out of the public schools because sending children into an intellectual, ethical, and religious war zone without adequate training and preparation is a violation of charity. In a physical war, we know that a country is in desperate straits when it sends its children to fight. In the same way, Christianity in this country is in pretty sad shape. We send our kids off to be warriors, instead of training them to be warriors. The point is not to keep children from encounters with those who hate God; rather it is to train and prepare them for it. We don't send adults to the mission field without training and preparation. But during the time of training, our children must be protected. What makes us think that sending unequipped seven-year-olds off to "salt and light" in an officially agnostic institution, without training and preparation, is consistent with charity?
Means for such preparation exist; such preparation is called a Christian education. Once such an education has been provided by the parents, and the child is truly equipped, he may then by sent into the world. If the parents have done their job, the young adult will be more than a match for anyone he meets.
A fourth consideration is this: Christian parents are morally obligated to keep their children out of the public schools because of the declared intellectual goal assigned to the church in Scripture. Paul says, "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ..." (2 Cor. 10:4-5). It is clear to all thinking Christians that the government school system contains many strongholds against the knowledge of God, and many rebellious arguments. Many high things exalt themselves in defiance of God. Our goal as Christians must therefore be to pull them all down. Christians who content themselves, in the educational sphere, with anything less than absolute obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ in all areas are consequently compromising this goal given to us in Scripture.
Fifth, Christian parents are morally obligated to keep their children out of the government schools because the continued presence of Christians subsidizes a lie. Every time the government school doors open, they clearly declare their independence from God in all things. They, officially and on the record, claim the right to teach all their subjects without any submission to God and His Word. Christians who send their children to such schools are subsidizing, with their children as the payment, this particular lie, which we have already discussed. If every Christian parent pulled their children out of the government school system, that school system, along with the lie, would collapse. This means that Christians are keeping an institution dedicated to false teaching in existence.
taken from the book 'Standing on the Promises: A Handbook of Biblical Childrearing' by Douglas Wilson, published by Canon Press, 1997
OK, wow. First of all, if you really took the time to read all that, thank you. Just remember, I had to make the time to type it all up!
Now, here's some thoughts of my own. This issue..."should Christian parents keep their kids out of public schools" is something that I've been pretty firm on, in some ways. Of course I think its the best choice, but I've always been hesitant to tell other people that it should also be their choice.
As I read this chapter, two things jumped out at me: the first was the part about loving God with all your mind and how that applies to giving our children a Christian education. That particular section affirmed in my mind our choice to educate our kids at home.
But what really struck me as I pondered over the chapter was this: while I have been quick to defend the choice to educate your children at home or in a Christian school, I have never been ready to defend the absolute responsibility of it, for all Christians. It occurs to me that it is not enough to justify our own actions, but to stand for the truth in regard to all Christians. It is not enough to list why homeschooling our kids is right, it is also imperative to know why putting kids in public schools is so very wrong.
Do you see what I'm saying? Do you sense the difference? Providing children with a Christian education - be it homeschool or private Christian school - really isn't a choice God gives us. It is not something he calls certain people to do, as I have for so long believed. It is something He calls all Christian parents to do, but sadly, only a few heed that call. We have become so desensitized to the world that we live in, and so used to the "norm" of public schooling, that most parents never stop to think that maybe there is something wrong with sending their kids to government schools to be educated. And, unfortunately, most Christian parents will not appreciate being told that they are in fact sinning by sending their kids to those government schools.
I must admit, our family did not begin homeschooling for religious or spiritual reasons. We began homeschooling for advanced academics and freedom in learning. The spiritual aspect has been something that has grown in our homeschooling, but over the past couple of years, as I myself have become more immersed in God's Word and have sought God's guidance in the life of our family more, I have seen how the ability to provide a Godly, Biblical education is really the most important aspect of our education choice.
I was once one of those parents who would have rolled my eyes at one of those "zealots" who proclaimed that sending Christian kids to government schools was wrong and sinful. I would not have wanted to break out of my own comfort zone to embrace that belief.
But God has used homeschooling to educate me!
The question is, how do you present this belief, which, after much soul-searching, Bible reading, and prayer, I believe to be the absolute truth of God (there is no "gray area" with God, remember, only black and white, right and wrong)? How do you speak these words of conviction and truth to Christian parents who do not believe them?
Or at least, how do you do it without losing a whole lot of friends?
Right now in my life I am praying that God would use me and our family (and other Christian homeschoolers) as an example, a witness to the Christian community, of what true Biblical childrearing and Christian education is supposed to be. I pray that little by little people would be intrigued by the way we do things, and that God would move in their hearts to bring them to us to discuss and question and learn what the Bible has to say about how you raise and educate your children. I pray that then God will give me the right words to say to the parents who come to us for guidance.
We are not perfect. Our family makes mistakes and our family members sin just like everyone else. But we are trying to live the life God has outlined for us in His Word. And part of that life includes the conviction that is the God-given responsibility of Christian parents to educate their children in the Lord and to raise them in such a way that they love God will all their heart, all their strength, and all their mind.