“Should we send our kids to public school?”
It’s a question many Christian families ask, and one that Dr. Albert Mohler recently addressed in an article. Dr. Mohler concludes:
Is public school an option? For Christians who take the Christian worldview seriously and who understand the issues at stake, the answer is increasingly no.
I have a lot of respect for Dr. Mohler, I graduated from his seminary, and I appreciate his insights. I have also been in almost every type of schooling imaginable: public, private Christian, homeschool, Christian homeschool co-op, community college, public university, Baptist seminary.
My own kids aren’t old enough to attend school yet, but my wife and I have already wrestled with this issue. I don’t even know exactly where I stand, or what we will decide yet. But I would like to respectfully offer some thoughts in light of the issue and Dr. Mohler’s article specifically.
1. This is a question reserved for privileged socio-economic groups.
“Privileged” does not mean “wealthy” or “upper-middle class”. It means “having resources or opportunities others do not have.” Asking the question assumes there is an option. For example, some families might be able to decrease expenses in other areas to pay for private Christian education, or have one parent stay home and school the kids. But for many Christian families, these options aren’t options, because both parents have to work for the family to pay the light bill (let alone private school), it’s a single-parent household, neither parent has the ability to school the kids beyond elementary-level education, and/or thousands of dollars per year for a quality private Christian school is not a budgetary reality. Many families don’t have the option to sacrifice certain things to provide their kids an education other than a public education, even if they wish they could.
In this way, concluding that public schools aren’t an option any longer (or quickly won’t be), doesn’t help these families. And helping them answer the question might as well be helping them answer, “Mercedes or Lexus?” It’s the wrong question, because it’s framed in a way that excludes a large number of Christians. A better question would be, “How should we educate our children in a Christ-honoring way?” Or, as a friend posted on Facebook, “How might the local church support and encourage as well as advocate within the public sphere of education for those children and families whose only viable option is public education?” Both of these questions are better than jumping to the “public school or not?” question, which excludes many Christian families.
2. Complete abandonment of a sphere of society seems like a bad solution.
Many evangelicals have poured out of the public school system, leaving a minority remnant. But complete abandonment won’t help the situation get better. It seems to be a mindset that says we should leave the godless pagans to their sinful, liberal selves. It creates an “us” versus “them” mindset that builds barriers to mission rather than paving pathways of peace. It says that we care more about our children being exposed to the fact that the world is, in fact, a sinful place than we do about bringing peace and grace and reconciliation into the mess. It assumes that Christian parents are incompetent to instill in the rhythms of family life a Christ-centered mindset that is strong enough to endure the rhythms of the sinful world.
It leaves thousands (millions?) of Christian teachers to flounder without support or encouragement, and it ignores the fact that worldview is (or should be) fundamentally formed in the context of a church community. Some parents may choose private Christian, homeschooling, or another hybrid options, and that option (if available to them) may very well be the right option. In all honesty, we have considered all of these options for our kids (who aren’t school-age yet). But encouraging the abandonment of the sphere where much of our society and many future leaders are being formed seems like a bad idea.
3. Be Careful About Projecting Your Calling Onto Someone Else
Many Christian families see opportunity in the public school system. Other families choose private Christian schools or homeschooling for good reasons as well. I think there’s room for all sides, and we should remember that we all have different callings in the Kingdom. We are one body, with many members. We shouldn’t vilify someone who chooses one way versus another way, and we should assume the best about the motives of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Whatever our opinions and convictions formed in the presence of God, the way forward is definitely not homeschoolers and/or Christian schoolers to assume public schoolers are liberals on a slippery slope to perdition. Or for public schoolers to assume homeschoolers or Christian schoolers are retreating into a fundamentalist subculture.