Thursday, March 20, 2008

Education - Part II

"Jack from Jersey" pointed out that I didn't really say where I stand on this issue, so I will try to lay it out. It is a delicate and difficult topic to write about; delicate, because nobody who has school-aged kids can be neutral on the issue - to take a stand on one of the three major modes (public, private, or home) is by definition to stand against other parents - often good, godly, and intelligent parents - who have chosen otherwise; it is difficult to write about because there is just so much that could be said, so many angles from which to approach the issue. I'll attempt to be brief.

Let's start by being idealistic, and work toward realistic. Idealistically, our kids would be educated by qualified, gifted, godly Christian teachers who excel in their respective academic disciplines, integrating a Christian worldview into every subject; who motivate students to learn, who appropriately discipline them when they are out of line, who model and teach what it means to live a godly life. This would take place in a school full of other kids who exert positive peer pressure on our own, with an evident spirit of Christlikeness and a shared passion for ministry; this school would offer many extracurricular activities, without imposing too significantly on a family's own time, would allow students to advance academically at their own pace,and would, best of all, be free. There could be more, but this list will do for now. I would go to great pains to send my kids to this school, although it shouldn't be that difficult, since this school is free. Realistically, however, this school does not even exist -I know of no school even close to this. Therefore, parents have to choose which of these criteria are most important, and thereby make their decision.

A few caveats before I lay out where I stand; first, money will make the decision for some people, for better or for worse. Private/Christian schools are expensive, and not all families can afford it; we certainly could not right now. I wouldn't, however, trade Christian education for my kids for a new Hummer for me. Secondly, you have to weigh the availability and quality of schools in your area. A small, rural high school (say, Fairview) would be easier for me to consider than a large urban school (say, Saginaw High). If your area doesn't have a good Christian school, then that really isn't an option either. Thirdly, if considering home-schooling, you have to consider whether you have the time, energy, or skill to teach your own kids at home. "A student will not be above his teacher," Jesus said, so if you struggled in school or find learning difficult you might be well-advised to solicit the help of an established school with credible teachers to educate your kids. Furthermore, a mother of several young kids might find it almost impossible to teach her 5-year old if she's got three younger kids running around the house. This is no small difficulty, and one I've given some thought to, without any satisfactory answers yet.

Having stated my criteria, and then my caveats, I would like to suggest that homeschooling is the best option for those who are able. I would never have said this 5 years ago, and the chance exists that, 5 years from now, when Owen is old enough to go to school, and we (hopefully) have a couple more kids, that I'll change my mind again, but I doubt it. The only thing that might possibly change my mind is the presence - in whatever town we're living in 5 years from now - of an excellent, reasonably affordable Christian school, and I'm of the opinion that such a creature is rare: if not extinct, at least endangered. There are some that are reasonably affordable, but few that are excellent, and almost never both. Public schools, despite the convenience, are fraught with enormous risks, greater than I am willing to take right now. Many great Christians have graduated from public education, and many more may in the future. But many have also made shipwreck of their faith, and the public school is a godless institution: not relatively so, but categorically and structurally so, save for the influence of some christian students and teachers, which, although not negligible, is itself structurally marginalized. This risk, which I think is undeniable, is nonetheless greatly mitigated if parents are actively and aggressively instilling biblical character and a biblical worldview in the hearts and minds of their kids at home, and if such teaching is being reinforced in the church. However, a family that neglects this kind of aggressive and purposeful spiritual formation in the home, and then sends their kids to a public school, which will pursue an aggressively secular formation in their hearts and minds, is (in my estimation) taking a reckless and foolish risk.

Well, there you have it, although I could say much more. I may make a later post on some of the things that I think are (theoretically, at least) great about homeschooling. Since the only people that will read this are friends, I want to say two things in closing. First, I'm really hoping not to offend anyone - I don't have any kids in school yet, so I'm just contemplating decisions that many of you have already had to make in reality, which is certainly more difficult. Secondly, though, I'd like to humbly and gently suggest that it is possible to make a poor decision in this matter, whichever of the options you in fact choose. Everyone does have to make their own decision, based on their location, finances, family situation, etc.; but, it doesn't follow logically from that that any decision is as good as any other. As individuals, we need to think carefully, examine the motives behind our decision-making process, and pray for wisdom. As churches, I think we need to give careful thought to how we can help families in these matters. Parents (at least those who will read this post, if anyone has made it this far) want to do right by their kids in this matter, and the church should consider how it might advise and assist.

As always, thoughts and criticisms are welcome!


Kara said...

Well, you pretty much hit the nail on the head when you said, " Furthermore, a mother of several young kids might find it almost impossible to teach her 5-year old if she's got three younger kids running around the house." This would be my biggest problem right now. I know a family near Bay City that has 9 kids and they homeschool, but I am not nearly that talented or organized!

WILD GHESE said...

When I think about what you are saying, I agree, whole-heartedly. Two things that I would bring up, to toss around, if you will, is - 1) the risk of pulling all the Christians out of public school would be leaving a huge void evangelically.
(A lot of school is interpersonal, and even parents can have an influence in the lives of the friends made at school.)
2) as every child is not able to handle social pressures, still, some are.
(I think it depends on the child.)

Like you said, and I am just bringing up other thoughts. (Personally, I fall into the homeschooling category, at least for the first part of their lives (my kid's). As it stands, now, however, it's illegal in Germany to do so. Does that mean we leave? I don't know.)

One interesting point that you brought up and has been raised by a teacher I know. Is whether or not the parent is 'qualified' to teach. I really do think that is something to consider and seldom is in the homeschooling arena.

I do know, that fear is not a good reason to escape the school systems. I am learning that. If I have no other choice, I will have to send my kid to a godless, humanistic school. What will be the reason he/she succeeds in walking with the Lord? the Lord. Same as every other school. It's the Lord that will finish His work.
Me, on my knees.
Him, in their hearts.

Phil Luter said...

I applaud you for your thoughtful study on this issue. There are good arguments for all sides, but the most important thing to remember is that no matter which way you go parents are the most important factor in the education of their kids. Without good home teaching that is consistent with the Word of God and consistent modeling of the Christian life any can fail. I can point to those who have had great success in each model. I can also point to those who have kids who have rejected Christian principles that have come from each model. We can not insulate our children from the battle, but we can prepare them with the tools that they need. "If God be for us, who can be against us."

Travis,Stephanie, Olivia & Alex said...

nicely said Phil,
this can be a touching subject !

Trail Rated said...

I agree, this can be a touchy subject, particularly when parents make it so. I would agree on many fromts with Ben (which is a ong stretch from a man that once said that he would never - under any circumstances - homeschool his children). That statement (made on far more than one occasion) marked my own foolishness and ethnocentric view of homeschooling and homeschoolers.
My wife (Kami) and I have prayed fervently at the end of ach year through the summer months for wisdom concerning each of our children. We believe strongly 9hopefully not foolishly) that each child will need to be parented, taught, and educated a an individual.
As of now mitigatng circumstances (money not being the least) and the testimony our chldren have maintained have helped direct our steps to remain in public education (where we stay thoroughly involved as parents - all of our childrens friends can rcognize us on the street).
ben your thoughts are well formulated - as always - and not the least bit offensive. thanks for the perspective. And if you find that school, let me know if they need a chaplain of
Bible teacher.

Diana said...

I do completely agree with you, and you bring up a lot of good points. We think home schooling is great, like you said, as long as it is done right. I think it is SO important that they are also in social situations, whether part of their schooling. I think it is important for them to be around other kids, as well as learn to be in a structured setting other than their own home, and to learn to respect other adults, and other kids, although they should get this at Church too. I also think that private Christian schools are great, but we think it is very important for Christian kids to be in the public schools. It is so good for them to be challegned in their faith everyday, and to learn to defend their faith, as well as envangalize to other kids. I think socially it is so important for kids to be around other kids, and I think it is so important for Christian kids to be around other kids. By going to a Christian school, they would almost be "sheltered" in a way, never being around non-christians, they might almost think that everyone is a Christian, they don't really get a sense of reality. We have of course not had to experience this yet. But we have talked about it a lot, and we have every intention in sending our children to public school. Our personal experiences, and seeing those close to us, have helped us make this decision. Not to say I would never home school. But we think it is very important for Christian kids to be tested in their faith, and sharing the Gospel in their schools.

Trail Rated said...

Just a point of clarification. We send ou kids to public school out of necessity (financially) first and foremost, but out of a desire to see the learnd to stand for Crist (even if that means standing alone). We encourage their social time to be at church (like ours). light and darkness have no place together, but that light may illuminate. That is their goal in the public school. With that, we have been blessed (particularly with our oldest - victoria - to find other likeminded kids and parents. We praise God for other believers in their classes.

chris k said...

I have two opinions as I am a mom and a teacher. As a secondary teacher, I see the need for having trained people in their field of knowledge teaching children so that they may learn at a higher level. Just thinking that the standards in math are very different than when I was in school is alarming. The beginning of Algebra concepts are started in second grade and full blown Algebra in 7th or 8th grades, some schools as young as 6th grade. I know that IF the child wants to learn, there is a huge amount of knowledge in most secondary classrooms. The only downfall with public education could be your location and your school. You mentioned the two schools and you are correct about the different experiences that a child would have. I am in the public school because I want to make a difference in the lives of children. I am a Christian and I maintain a standard for my students. However, parents must understand that they take the risk of having some varied personalities and beliefs in their teachers. Always know the teachers and learn about them on parent-teacher nights and conferences. In other words, stay involved in your child's education.
As a mom, I want my children to be able to stand up for what is right and true in the public schools. In order to do that, I need to maintain a Christian base at home. the church is also a great back up for us. I am concerned that a great many people are taking their children out of the public school and not understanding that these children can set the standards and tone. Kids can still have fun and enjoy their education while still being a believer. We sent our children to BBA and while I was pleased with a few teachers, several were not qualified in the grade or area. They didn't know the standards or benchmarks and that was alarming to me. I know what the students are up against, as far as education, and we pulled them from there because of the teaching staff and closed-minded views.
Once again, research what your state has set out as far as standards and benchmarks for each level of a child's learning and be involved!

Ben said...

There is so much good stuff here, in all the comments! I will try to post some follow-up remarks when I organize my thoughts. A week lounging in Florida leaves the brain a little sluggish!