I was home in the afternoon a couple weeks ago and I flipped to the Dr. Phil show. The topic of the the day was parents who choose to "unschool" their children. What is unschooling, you ask? In a nutshell, it is when children are not a part of any formalized schooling and the child themselves are able to set the direction of what they want to study (or not study) and how much (or how little) they'll spend on a topic.
This an offshoot of the homeschooling movement that has become quite common among Christians in recent years. A major difference between these two movements, however, is that parents are typically the ones that teach the courses and set the curriculum for the children that are homeschooled.
Whether we choose to homeschool our kids, put them in private or public schools, or let them watch Barney videos all day, it does beg the question of what is the right (and best) choice for our kids? This is a topic that I have wanted to write on for quite some time, but I have balked at it because it seems to be a pretty heated subject in the circles I run in. In fact, I have a very good friend who is on the staff of a large church that is not allowed to homeschool his children because it has become such a divisive issue that all the church's staff have to public school their kids.
I have a number of friends that have chosen to take their children out of the public schools and either place them in a private Christian institution or school them at home themselves. Let me say that I believe it is each parent's choice how they want to parent and raise their kids and that God has entrusted them as stewards with that responsibility. I respect my friends decisions in this matter and trust that they know what is best for their children and their family.
However... I do wonder sometimes what the reasons and motivations to not place a child in the public schools are. Because, honestly, a lot of the reasons that I hear for why parents do not have their kids in the public schools concern me. I increasingly see a "bunker mentality" among my fellow Christians in which we want to separate ourselves and our families from anything in "the world" so that we can raise godly little Christians just like us.
Lori and I have made the decision to place our kids in public schools (two of them are currently school age) and we don't regret it at all. Do they have the Bible taught in school? No, they don't. And, frankly, that doesn't bother me the least bit. As Christian parents, it is mine and Lori's responsibility to teach our children God's Word. We don't leave that up to a pastor, a Sunday school teacher or a school teacher. It is our job. Anyone else that helps to contribute in that regard is just icing on the cake.
I have a firm conviction that of all the influences in a child's life (i.e. the media, their friends, their school, their church, etc.), I think the influence of their parents is the greatest. That doesn't mean that those other factors don't affect them, but I think the parent is the one that holds the greatest influence. So even though they may see, hear or be taught things at school that we may not agree with, I am not that worried about it. Because we talk with them every day about what they're learning at school and seek to impart spiritual wisdom to them as the Bible instructs us as parents to do.
Furthermore, we don't expect that the few hours they spend in direct spiritual instruction with others (Sunday School and AWANA) will "do the job." It helps and we're appreciative of those adults that teach them, but it merely supplements what they learn at home. That is one thing that I do appreciate about homeshool parents -- the direct and active role that they take in the education and spiritual formation of their children. But I am bothered by the insinuation that some make that we are somehow bad parents because we have our kids in the public schools.
In the circles that we run in, this whole issue seems to be one that some don't feel there is much gray area with. If you don't see things their way, then you're wrong. And that applies to all of us (home schoolers, private schoolers and public schoolers). We Christians tend to be evangelistic about many things other than the gospel and this area seems to be one of them.
Lori and I were both education majors in college and are, therefore, qualified to teach our children at home, but we do not have the desire to do so. One of the primary reasons is that we want our kids to interact with and become friends with kids that are not like them. That includes socio-economic status, ethnicity and religion. We feel that placing our kids in the public schools is a great way for them to learn that not everybody grows up in a nice little Christian family and that they're learning at a young age to not get weirded out by those different them.
And beyond our choices for our young children, I think this subject is even more relevant for our young adults that we send off to college. There seems to be a belief that sending off our kids to Christian colleges will somehow help them grow in their faith and that to send them off to a state school means that they will instantly become drunkards, prostitutes and absolutely forsake God. While there probably is some truth to either of this viewpoints, I do have a caution with it.
The real issue here is the heart. If I have shepherded my child well and they have made themselves available for God to work in their life, then it doesn't matter what college they go to -- they can grow in their faith and God can use them in the lives of others. After 15 years of experience with college students, I've found that most young people that grew up in the church have a very shallow personal faith and understanding of Christianity. Many of them simply learned the rules to follow and how to play "the church game." While it may appear that all these Christian college kids have a strong faith, I don't necessarily think that's always the case. Maybe they're just extending the game for a few more years. Now stick with me here...If I have to require an adult (and that's what 18-22 year olds are) to attend chapel services and place curfews on them, how internalized is their faith really?
This certainly doesn't mean that Christian kids that go to state schools are somehow more spiritual. But it also doesn't mean that they love Jesus less. Again, the issue is the heart. They can grow in their faith at Christian school or a state school. Contrary to popular belief, the Holy Spirit resides at either of those places. And for some kids that want to go into ministry, I think one of the best things that they can do is to go to a state school. For a child that is homeschooled through junior high, goes to a private Christian high school and then attends a Bible college, how realistic is it that they would be able to relate to, understand and connect with non-Christians when they've hardly ever met any their whole lives?!
I have a friend that's a pastor and we were talking about this topic over lunch one time and this is what he had to say, "I know a lot of people that work with your organization (CCC). They are godly people, they live by faith and their hearts burn for evangelism. But one of the things that I find really odd is that a primary area in which they can reach out to non-Christians -- the public schools -- many have chosen to remove their children from that environment. I'm not judging them for this. I just find it odd."
I also have that same question. And I'm not judging either. Some friends that have made the choice to not public school their kids have really valid reasons. But for those of us that think the public schools are going to "hell in a hand basket," do we really think they'll improve if we as parents remove ourselves from the PTA, stop meeting with teachers and administrators and have a mass exodus of our children. As I've heard it said by someone (and I can't remember the source): "I'd rather shine in the darkness than shine in the light."
Technorati Tags: unschooling, homeschooling, public schools, christians