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New Horizons

Home Schools or Christian Schools? A New Fault Line in Today's Churches

Brad Winsted

Oftentimes fault lines in the earth's crust are not noticeable at the surface, and shifts in them (producing earthquakes) are not predictable. Consider, for instance, an earthquake that hit southern California in 1995. The epicenter was in a northern suburb of Los Angeles, where people thought they were relatively safe, some distance from well-known fault lines like the San Andreas Fault. What a surprise it was when the earthquake hit!

Similar fault lines characterize the issue of how our covenant children should be educated. Disagreements between parents over the best way to school their children can smoulder for years, and then suddenly erupt again, catching everyone by surprise and shaking a church to its knees (where we should be anyway, before God!).

The education of our children is one of the most important responsibilities that we have as parents. Ten years ago the "home school movement" was embryonic, consisting of only a small number of scattered families; there was little consideration then of homeschooling. The debates of ten to fifteen years ago were almost strictly between parents who were keeping their children in public schools and parents who were part of the growing Christian school movement. Probably many parents today don't remember those struggles because their children have already grown up or they didn't have any school-age children at the time. Yet there were plenty of arguments and misunderstandings between the two groups over the best, most God-honoring way to educate their children. Sometimes families left churches over the issue.

The arguments went like this:

Arguments for Public Schools

Those favoring public schools often could not afford to cart their children off to private schools. For many families that had two or three (or even more) school-age children, the tuition of Christian schools seemed beyond reach, especially in single-income households.

Others were unwilling to give up on public education. They believed that their children needed to be salt and light to their unbelieving classmates. They often cited believing teachers in the public school system who needed support.

Another popular argument was that children had to learn to deal with the real world anyway, so why not begin right away? Christian schools appeared to be hiding from reality in a never-never land of dogmatic moral absolutes that had little relevance in secular society. Anyway, to abandon the public schools appeared to be premature. Most parents had graduated from public schools and didn't turn out all that bad. Parents could remain involved through PTA and parent-teacher conferences, and could give positive reinforcement to moral education.

They were already paying taxes to have their children educated by the state, and the benefits of seeking out a Christian school did not seem to many to justify paying additional educational expenses.

Also, most Christian schools had limited sports programs, and the public school for many communities and neighborhoods was an important social center. In more rural areas, the Friday night football or basketball game was the weekly activity! Not to attend the neighborhood school seemed almost un-American.

Arguments for Christian Schools

Those who had children in Christian schools brought forward their set of arguments, sometimes quite heatedly. Many churches had their own Christian school, which the session actively supported. Not to support such a school, which the congregation helped to build, seemed disloyal.

Financial sacrifice was of small consequence when the eternal souls of their children were on the line. Training children in "the fear and admonition of the Lord" had a higher priority than supporting the local public school.

Supreme Court decisions in the early 1960s had already made it practically impossible in state schools for Jesus Christ, let alone God, to be mentioned in class. Children with Christian standards were ridiculed for their faith. Scholastic aptitude scores declined in public schools, sex education contradicted moral training at home, busing kept some children on the road half the day, gangs grew and violence escalated, and dangerous peer pressures were felt from students who had little or no Christian training at home.

All of this and more pointed the concerned Christian parent to Christian schools—possibly sponsored and run by their own church, or controlled by parents. Public schools in many communities became not only distribution centers for drugs and immoral lifestyles, but also propaganda machines for ideas that were antithetical to most Christian parents' basic beliefs.

The Shift in the 1990s

Now we reach the mid-nineties in America. My family went overseas in 1991. When we left, homeschooling was just beginning to appear in Orthodox Presbyterian congregations. When we returned in 1994, we were surprised to find that homeschooling families formed significant minorities or even majorities in many congregations. Since then, the number of homeschoolers has increased further. A dramatic shift has taken place in a few years. What happened?

A large number of committed Christians today see public education as a moral and academic wasteland that cannot be reformed. Political correctness and the anti-Christian values of the National Educational Association ensure that abortion on demand, homosexual rights, and safe sex will be dominant themes in the education provided. As a result, one finds fewer and fewer children in Orthodox Presbyterian congregations who are enrolled in public schools. Those who are so enrolled are often from families that are new to the OPC. This leaves two predominant groups: families with their children in Christian schools and those providing homeschooling for their children.

Let's take a quick look at each side's reasoning. Christian school parents now use a different approach when expressing their decision not to homeschool. And since both groups require considerable sacrifice on the parents' part to educate their children, whether in money or in time, the arguments are different yet profound.

New Arguments for Christian Schools

The Christian school parent sees the good academic results of older siblings and other friends who have graduated from Christian schools. Such schools have matured in what they have to offer and in their administration. Gone are the days when the busy pastor had to be the principal of the school. Trained administrators now handle the complex task.

In many sections of the country, parents can choose among various Christian schools. With the mega-church has come the megaschool with large sports, arts, and other programs that even some public schools cannot support.

Socialization of the child is argued to be clearly superior in the classroom, where interaction with diverse personalities can take place under committed Christian supervision. Key transition points such as the senior prom, homecoming, and other nostalgic rites of passage are honored (but lost to the homeschooling family).

Home educators generally lack the credentials that a highly specialty-sensitive society demands. The subjects that advanced high school classes teach normally cannot be taught by parents at home. The same argument against sheltering the child from the real world now rings out from the Christian school parent to the homeschooling parent. To qualify to enter college, students must have a level of educational attainment that the homeschooling parent may neither possess nor be able to deliver.

The Argument for Home Schools

For the homeschooling parent, the growing cost of private education is a significant factor, especially for large families. I have, since returning to the United States, been taking a private survey of large families within the Reformed constituency. So far I've noticed that almost 60 percent of families with four or more children are homeschooled. When the number of children reaches six or more, it is nearly 100 percent!

The reason for this, I've found, is more than economics, since the cost of raising children is high in any case, and homeschooling almost always means that the wife will not be gainfully employed outside of the home. The homeschooling parent has usually decided to homeschool because of the conviction that children should be primarily educated by their parents. Therefore, even if their children were given full-tuition scholarships at the finest Christian academy in the city, many homeschooling parents—maybe most—would still choose to homeschool.

Josh McDowell has written in several of his recent books that surveys have demonstrated that the moral values and behavior of "Christian" children differ little from their "non-Christian" counterparts. Accordingly, many homeschoolers look at Christian schools and see little indication that the values and behavior of the children there differ much from those of public school children they know.

As the secularization and moral degeneracy of society made inroads into Christian schools, many parents wanted to ensure that their children would be given an education that is Christ-centered in every way. Improper peer dependence that undermines the authority of the parent and the morals of the child is the bane of every Christian parent. When the values of the majority or of the popular rebel are mirrored in their child, there can often be big trouble ahead. The homeschooling parent sees this and becomes rather the daily model of behavior, thus eliminating undue peer pressure.

As for higher education, the homeschooler often sees colleges, even Christian colleges, as places where they themselves had once been "corrupted in mind, body, and soul," and so they look for apprenticeship alternatives. In any case, SAT scores for homeschoolers have been shown to be equivalent to those attending Christian schools. And more and more homeschooled children are applying to and being accepted into Christian colleges.

Battle Lines or Common Ground?

So the new battle lines are now drawn. Both sides can argue from the Bible that they have made the right choice, whether they have chosen Christian school or homeschooling for their children. After all, the parents who are sending their children to Christian school can say, were not the rabbis in biblical times instructed to teach children how to read and write? The homeschooler will quickly reply from verses in Deuteronomy 6 and Proverbs that, from the beginning of the day to the child's going to bed, the parent should be the primary instructor.

Common ground is needed so we can talk about why each of us made the choice we did, without condemning the other party. Some families are not set up to homeschool, or the mother is incapable (either mentally, physically, or emotionally) of doing the job satisfactorily. When there are younger children in the home, it is difficult to attend to them and also teach the older children. Some parents cannot establish the disciplined lifestyle and make the necessary sacrifices in order to set up a homeschooling schedule. Many parents have reason to be concerned that their children, if educated at home, will not get the depth of education that is both generally desirable and also necessary for admission to a good college.

Yet many families have seen that they can accommodate their schedules and their temperaments to be great homeschoolers. When the older children teach the younger ones, a one-room schoolhouse atmosphere is created. Real-life challenges around the house become school projects. Homeschooling parents unite to share their wisdom on difficult subjects. Homeschoolers have many opportunities to both plan and lead in the home.

The homeschooling movement will continue to grow, whether we agree with it or not! As more and more parents are choosing to teach their children, other parents are beginning to consider it as our culture continues its moral slide.

What Should the Local Church Do?

First of all, we must admit that there will be plenty of room for misunderstandings. My family has seen this happening again and again in our travels around this country and the world. Subgroups of home-schooled children within youth groups consisting of broad constituencies will be common and sometimes unavoidable. They may seem to brag about, or at least defend, their parents' schooling decision, often appearing to "put the other side down."

When you know that misunderstandings are inevitable, be sensitive to the issue. It's very easy for the homeschoolers to get together during the week, and it might look like cliques are forming in the body of believers. In actual fact, more often than not they are merely sharing educational resources. Therefore, both sides need to check out appearances that can be misinterpreted.

Home schools are often seen as siphoning off students who could form the backbone of a Christian school. Christian school principals can relate to the public school bureaucrats who see every family choosing an educational opportunity outside the public school system as promoting fewer teachers, classrooms, and NEA members. However, if you are an administrator at a Christian school, numerous opportunities might be presented to you to assist homeschoolers (for an appropriate user's fee) in subjects and activities that are not available at home. This could be the first step in understanding common goals.

Sometimes, when parents (often the wife) see people whom they respect choose homeschooling, they begin to feel inadequate and think they are not fulfilling their God-given responsibilities. Sometimes a sense of not "sacrificing for our children" will cloud their mind with guilt. The natural response is to put down the homeschooler or to look for issues that make homeschooling appear to be an inferior way to educate.

The homeschooling family may similarly think that parents who send their children to a Christian school are copping out on their responsibility to raise their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Homeschoolers often possess independent and strong personalities (which are sometimes needed to ward off criticism from relatives and others!) that can spark controversy. Rumor and gossip mills will go into overdrive as confused parents attempt to justify their schooling decision by pointing out the error in the other family.

The way to keep such rumor and gossip mills under control is to talk openly about these matters, especially with the person with whom you think you have a problem (see Matthew 5:23-24). Pastors and elders should not be surprised to see strains between families because of this issue, and should counsel them to be reconciled. At one of the churches we attended, the accusations between the two groups were so severe that a special congregational meeting had to be held to resolve the difficulties.

Christian Love

As in all things, Christian love covers a multitude of sins, on both sides. We live in an age and a culture where our children are being assaulted with a degenerate and godless "lifestyle" that is entrapping many. Homeschooling and Christian schooling are both Christian responses to a cultural mainstream gone berserk in sensuality and worldliness. For some, protection is found in a Bible-directed education at a Christian school; for others, it is at home.

The high incidence of Home school burnout and Christian school disappointment and expense causes many parents to switch from one to the other. So we can expect many perspectives on this new "fault line" in congregations. Don't let the resulting "earthquakes" catch you by surprise. This is a real issue, with lots of different perspectives, and it has the potential to divide churches. We can expect Satan to have a heyday with it, if we don't approach it with Christian love.

Mr. Winsted is a ruling elder at Redeemer OPC in Atlanta, Ga. He and his wife, Fawn, have eight children. They have been homeschooling for twelve years. Reprinted from New Horizons, January 1998.

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