Before you read this post I pray that you will approach it in the spirit in which it was written: with a passion for the truth, a love for fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and a desire to know and glorify God more. If you are reading this and you find yourself disagreeing with the author, I ask that you pause, and heed the advice of Elisabeth Elliot:
“Before we open our mouths to protest, we might consider carefully the possibility that we disagree only because agreement will cost us something, will be inimical to our vested interests.”
Education, I believe, is an issue of wisdom, not sin, and as such we Christians can disagree. But we cannot remain stagnant in our thinking, which means, we ought to be able to talk about it.
This is why I asked Anthony to write these posts, and this is why I think it’s important that the conversation doesn’t end here. We want to be Christians who think well, who know what we believe about things and why, and who are willing to ask questions that hold our choices up to scrutiny. We cannot afford to be easily offended, there is too much at stake.
Let us commit to one another to seek the truth together in love, grace, and patience. May our speech–and comments–always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that we may know how we ought to answer each person (Colosians 4:6).
What first strikes me is his use of the word “how”. Challies is conflating methodology with educational principles. He’s divided home and public school, not in terms of any underpinning philosophies, but instead in a utilitarian sense. If Challies had wanted to write an article on performing open-heart surgery, his article would have been a detailed explanation of different surgical techniques when the real issue would be how surgeons ought to think about medicine. There is certainly a time and a place for discussing education in a utilitarian or pragmatic sense, (Which curriculum do we use? Do we join a group? Do we do lessons every day or only three days a week?) but Challies tries to go for something deeper and just ends up talking about the matter as if education is of little importance. While I certainly cannot speak to his’ character or mind, this article does not seem to indicate that he’s thought any deeper on the issue than logistics. Read what he wrote:
“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.”
Here, we see that this argument does not try to plant its feet on an objective philosophy of education—or the parental duty, but on a utilitarian one. It’s assumed that an educational choice is only better if the visible, tangible results are somehow superior to another. It does not consider that there may be immeasurable differences between one who is homeschooled and one who is public schooled. It only assumes that as long as child A is not more or less of a hooligan than child B, then you can not justifiably say that one educational choice is better than the other.
When Challies does get along to trying to offer a parenting and educational philosophy, it’s all topsy-turvy:
“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.“
Here, Challies has expressed the priorities of the Christian parent in an upside-down fashion. The goal of parenting is not that our children be well-adjusted with a spiritual life tacked on, but that they grow in the paideia of God and repent of their sins, placing their faith in Jesus. That is the penultimate goal of the Christian parent. Any set of skills or adjustment is not only tertiary to that goal, but they are fundamentally grounded in that goal. In other words, when our children fear the Lord they will have an understanding of reality and the world around them in light of Truth. They will have strong convictions about being honest, hard working, and courageous. They will not have inherited these traits as some kind of addition to the work of the Gospel in their lives, but as the natural outflow of the Gospel. I’m hoping that Challies here simply wrote quickly and got himself twisted. If not, then it stands to reason that his choice in public education and his growing conviction that God doesn’t really care that much is ultimately a result in his backwards philosophy on education in the life of the Christian parent
This is why homeschool advocates are often misunderstood. We are seen as being really passionate and judgemental about a specific way to perform a certain task when there are multiple ways to get the same results. The problem is that public schools do not want to perform the same task that Christians ought to be striving for. As already discussed, outside of Christ man hates God and is hostile towards Him. And the public school system as it stands is comprised of people who are setting out to squash His Gospel and keep His Kingdom from advancing. They are teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic (and all other disciplines) as though they exist apart from the God who created all. Time and space do not permit me to explore the history of our current system and how it is specifically designed to extinguish Christian thought. But allow me to briefly ask why a Christian would want to send their children to an institution that systematically teaches, either explicitly or implicitly, that they have no objective worth because they are nothing more than a floating gas bag of carbon? Or why a Christian would want to send their children to an institution that systematically, either explicitly or implicitly, teaches that sex is merely a biological function of the human body with no transcendent meaning or value behind it? We could run through a whole host of things that public education teaches our children today that are intentionally contrary to the Christian faith. I’m not talking about tertiary things like how to interpret a specific piece of literature or how to properly articulate a specific scientific theory. No, the educational system is just that; a system. It is delivering an entire worldview for eight hours a day, five days a week, six months a year, and Christians are naively sending their children to be trained in the fundamental ways of viewing and interacting with the world apart from God, convinced that it’s no big deal.
When I’ve had this debate before and used the example of sending children to Muslim schools, one pushback I got was “Would you allow your child to take piano lessons from a Muslim?” Yes, I would. While that seems inconsistent at first, you have to consider the difference between what the question is asking and what I’m actually saying. What I am not saying is that we can learn nothing from non-Christians. Anyone who takes the Bible seriously will tell you that all people have been gifted with general revelation, so it would be perfectly fine to use a mathematics textbook from a non-Christian publisher. As a matter of fact, it would really behoove Christians if we read more non-Christian material. But gleaning from a non-believer in one area of study is lightyears away from being discipled in their worldview. This is one of a handful of strong arguments against public education. When we are educating our children, we are laying for them a foundation on how they will view and interact with the world. Should that foundation be laid on the solid rock of the Word of God, or should we sacrifice that opportunity for the opportunity to send our children to the wolves in the names of being tiny missionaries, convenience for our lifestyle, or because “it works for our family”?
What If I Don’t Care A Whole Lot?
The whole premise of the article from Challies is, frankly, disappointing. It’s disappointing to see a sharp Christian thinker reduce such an important topic to surface level concerns such as well-adjusted children and use external behaviors as the barometer for which education is best. It is also disappointing to see a sharp Christian thinker try to argue that as long as we’re making a decision in faith we are always making the right decision. Lastly, it is disappointing to see a sharp Christian thinker speak out of both sides of his mouth. On the one hand, the entire premise and title is that God doesn’t really care how we educate our children, but throughout the piece there are hints of an attempt to convince us that we should care a whole lot about how we educate them. If God doesn’t care that much, then why should I? In other words, if God doesn’t care a whole lot then why shouldn’t Christians 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?” If Challies is right, then I see no reason not to do just that.
I am not naive in thinking that this article will be the nail in the coffin of Christians sending their kids to public schools, but I do hope that this helps to move the ball downfield. Whenever the debate is had, it almost always ends up landing on SAT sores, socializing, evangelism, and other surface level concerns. But we leave behind the issue of the purpose of education and the responsibility that Christians have towards their children. We try to compartmentalize education in literature as being distinct from our education in doctrine. We want to keep mathematics in one box and treat it as if the lordship of Jesus does not bear any weight in that sphere. And education certainly is not the only area that Christians do this; this is also how we treat politics, cultural engagement, and employment. At the end of the day, this kind of compartmentalized thinking is a failure to submit our whole lives to the lordship of Jesus. We act as if Jesus doesn’t care how we vote or how we educate our children. But after He conquered death, Jesus told his disciples that all authority had been given to Him. That includes authority over our salvation and our morality to be sure, but it also means that Jesus is Lord over math, geology, civics, American history, and art. Not everyone submits to that lordship and so they do math and biology in rebellion, and they teach others the same. It is our responsibility as Christian parents to teach them to rebel not against the Son of Man but against the world. In a word, God probably doesn’t care a whole lot about how we educate our children in terms of tools and strategies, but He does have a lot to say about what we educate our children towards in terms of worldview.
There is much that has been left out of this article. There are dozens of tertiary issues and dozens of more important issues that surround this conversation. We could write entire articles on questions like “What About Christian Teachers?” and “What About Countries Where It’s Illegal?” or “How Do You Reach The Lost?” “What About The Single Mom With Six Kids And A Dog?” These are important questions but they are not starting points. These are all questions of logistics and functionality, they aren’t root-level issues. If this article does nothing more, my prayer is that it will cause Christians of all educational convictions to consider what’s been said and prayerfully consider how it works itself out. While I have said that I am not shy about believing that Christians ought not to send their children to government schools, my hope is not to divide brothers and sisters over this conviction nor do I want to bind anyone’s conscience on an issue that I’ve already admitted is not an issue of sin. My hope is that Christans can start to move the discussion of education downfield and to seriously weigh the options in front of them. I want, more than anything, for Christian parents to realize that being a parent is both the greatest responsibility and the greatest joy they can have this side of glory. Let us all strive to do our jobs well as parents, and may we all strive to see our children grow in the fear and admonition of the Lord, trusting Him for the forgiveness of their sins, and advancing the truth of His gospel to the ends of the earth.
Proverbs 1:7, 18:17, 27:17
Anthony is a native of Charleston, WV where he currently lives with his wife Abby and son Solomon. He can be found on Twitter at @ARayWhitlock. He can also be reached with questions, notes of encouragement, or hate mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.