Public, Private, Online, Homeschool?
Public school. Private school. Online school. Homeschool. What are the pros and cons of these options? And how do we decide on the right option for our kids? The question today comes in from Lauren. “Pastor John, hello! I’ve searched for a while now to see if you’ve said anything about homeschool, and I cannot seem to find anything. What do you think? Is homeschool now required for Christians in this age? Is it possible that public school can be an option from God? Where are you at in considering local public, local private, online Christian schools, homeschooling, and schools connected to a local church? Do you have any advice for how we should weigh each option and mix them together for each of the interests and needs of each child we are called to raise?”
I’m glad for the question because the longer I live, the more concerned I become about how we train our kids. Let me read four passages of Scripture, and then draw out a principle, and then make some applications.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today [that is, a whole-life love for God] shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deuteronomy 6:5–7)
He established a testimony in Jacob
and appointed a law in Israel,
which he commanded our fathers
to teach to their children,
that the next generation might know them,
the children yet unborn,
and arise and tell them to their children,
so that they should set their hope in God
and not forget the works of God,
but keep his commandments. (Psalm 78:5–7)
Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction,
and be attentive, that you may gain insight,
for I give you good precepts;
do not forsake my teaching.
When I was a son with my father,
tender, the only one in the sight of my mother,
he taught me and said to me,
“Let your heart hold fast my words;
keep my commandments, and live.” (Proverbs 4:1–4)
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up [nurture them, train them] in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)
So, here’s the principle I’m going to draw out from those passages. God has designed families, and fathers in particular, to take responsibility for bringing up children in the knowledge and the skills they need to be mature and fruitful Christians in the home, in the church, and in the world. That’s my conclusion.
Five Principles for Parents
Now, here are some implications that I see.
1. This implies that fathers and mothers will make educational choices that strengthen a child’s true understanding of God, true understanding of human nature, manhood, womanhood, history, the church, the world — physically and socially — with the necessary abilities to learn a useful skill and vocation. In other words, it is the parents’ responsibility — not first the church’s, not first the government’s — to shape a child’s worldview according to Bible-saturated, Christ-exalting, God-centered truth.
2. The more complex and technological and diverse and global the world becomes, the more parents will need to partner with others to fulfill their responsibilities for their own children. The children will need knowledge and skills that parents may not be able to give them.
3. As America becomes more pervasively secular with commitments — not just ideas, but commitments — that are not neutral, but anti-Christian, both in worldview and on numerous moral issues and numerous faith issues, partnering with public-school teachers to accomplish biblical goals for our children becomes, year by year, less feasible — and, indeed, in many cases, unthinkable.
4. More and more parents, and more and more pastors, therefore, should give very serious consideration to starting academically excellent and affordable Christian schools. Money considerations is what makes public education popular with many Christians. It’s free. If it cost as much to go to a public school as to an academically excellent Christian school, millions of Christian parents would choose excellent Christian schools. So, it’s a money issue.
Therefore, one implication of the biblical view of education is that teams of parents, together with their church leadership, should be creating thousands of excellent Christian schools, along with creative alternatives like co-ops or online learning.
5. Parents and churches need to think deeply and wisely about the principle of “apart from the world for the sake of the world.” Let me say it again: apart from the world for the sake of the world. This principle has always been true. It’s always been our duty to various degrees of cultural connectedness.
Jesus said in John 15:19, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” Or John 17:14–15: “[My disciples] are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” In other words, in the world but not of the world.
I don’t think most Christians have awakened to the crisis of worldliness and weakness in the church, but part of it is the education of our children. Education is not evangelization. In other words, we shouldn’t justify where we send our kids because we think they should be evangelists when they’re 8. God does not intend for Christian children to be taught by unbelievers and to be surrounded most of the day by intense, worldly peer pressure. That’s not what childhood is for. It’s for being shaped and molded by wise, loving Christian adults.
Now, this is not escapism any more than West Point is escapism because the instructors are American soldiers, not ISIS soldiers. We prepare a pretty good military for engagement with the enemy, and we don’t do it with the help of the enemy. We Christians prepare for maximum faithfulness in the world by coming out of the world for the education of our children.
There will be time and ways for them to know the world and meet the world head-on. I remember our own kids when I thought this through for K–8. We sent them all to a Christian school, and we lived in the real world. And we didn’t even have a television. People say, “How are your kids going to even know the world?” I said, “Just go outside.” Just go into the inner-city and have your bike taken away from you, or watch a man beat up another guy, or rip the spout off the side of the house and smash a man in the head with it. There’s the real world out there. You don’t have to bring the world into your house to teach your kids about knowing the world.
We have our hands full; I know this. We have our hands full. There are no guarantees, neither positive nor negative, that our children might be mighty in the Lord if we educate them at home. There’s no guarantee of that. And we won’t know that they will become compromising nominal Christians if they go to public school. There’s no guarantee of that. We may lose or gain them either way. God decides that ultimately, so we pray earnestly, desperately, and then we do the best we can with their education.