A Position Paper of Heritage Bible Church
This is a Position Paper of Heritage Bible Church, published by the elders of the church as a guide to help Christians understand an important issue in light of the Scriptures. Complete agreement with the positions of the elders on all matters is not required for a person to serve with this church, but the elders do want you to understand what to expect from the leadership of the church. Interaction with the elders on the contents of this paper or any other issue is always welcome.
And these words,
which I am commanding you today,
shall be on your heart;
and you shall teach them diligently
to your sons 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 up
PART ONE: Introduction
Your child is the most precious thing God has entrusted to you. As His steward, it's your job to take care of this human being for eighteen to twenty years or so, and to give him or her the best possible equipment to serve God for His glory. The Bible uses a graphic word picture to describe the task of raising a child:
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one's youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them . . . (Psalm 127:4-5).
I remember a day at youth summer camp when I accepted the challenge to become an archer. I still remember the pain I felt when my young wrist folded back and the string on the bow grazed my arm, taking skin with it. Soon I learned to rejoice over hitting the bales of hay. During my third of fourth session I was able to hit the target occasionally. A bull's eye was a rare occurrence, even by the end of the week.
God's words to describe the task of child rearing were chosen carefully. The job requires patience, strength and hard work as in learning to shoot an arrow straight and true on its intended course. Your job as a parent is to "shoot" your children into the next generation like arrows headed for the bull's eye, which is God's will.
God's will is that they know Him personally and that they be prepared to serve Him. They must know His word so they can know Him and so they can tell misguided "arrows" about Him along the way.
One part of your responsibility as a parent is to oversee the formal education of your child. Education is central to productivity in our world, so the choices you make about education will have a lot to do with the direction your child takes and the opportunities he or she will have.
On behalf of the elders of Heritage Bible Church my purpose in this article is to present the fruit of thirty-plus years of observation on the subject of educational choices available to Christian parents. This is not a scientific study, nor is it full of rhetoric and statistics calculated to convince you one option is best. I have watched parents and children who have chosen each path. I looked carefully into each choice. On several occasions I interviewed leaders of Christian schools, public schools and home education. I re-evaluated my own parental choices each year. I have good friends who are involved in every option. I have read extensively the comments of people who have used every option - some using different methods with different children at the same time.
We offer these observations with the prayer that you too will weigh which choice available to you is best for each arrow in your quiver each year.
There are three options available to most Christian parents for kindergarten through High School. In some cases one option might be impossible or highly impractical - like a single mother home schooling three children, or sending your children to Christian school if the nearest one is twenty miles away and teaches doctrine you believe is wrong. But most parents have a reasonable chance to choose any of the three.
Public School is available everywhere in this country. We all support public education through our taxes, so in a sense you "own" this option even if you don't like it or use it. Public school is the "default" option for every child. It is assumed you'll send your children to public school unless you actively pursue a different alternative.
Private Christian School is the next most popular choice for Christians. There are other private schools but they are a rare choice for Christians at any level below college. In the last thirty years the number of Christian schools has exploded, to the point that now there is a quality Christian school available to most American families.
Home Schooling is the option which has burst on the scene with snowballing popularity in the last twenty years. Home school support groups are available everywhere in the country. The growth of this movement has led to an ever-increasing variety of quality curricula.
How Do I Choose?
The Bible does not specify - directly or indirectly - which option is best. Public school, Christian school and home school are tools available to parents. In any construction project, you must choose the tool most useful for a specific situation. The same is true for educating your children.
While the Bible doesn't tell you which option to choose, it unequivocally reveals the starting point for the entire project: Parental Responsibility. No school will answer to God for shaping your child. Only you (the parent) will be held accountable for the stewardship of the young life entrusted to you. Consider some Biblical instructions to parents:
Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it. . . . Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of discipline will remove it far from him (Proverbs 22:6, 15).
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your sons 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 up (Deuteronomy 6:5-7, emphasis added).
The beginning point for choosing among educational alternatives for your child is adopting the proper attitude that you are responsible for your child's education because you are responsible for all your child's training.
We support all three alternatives and the families who use them. Excellent, committed Christian young people come out of all three. The primary influence in the lives of spiritually successful and mature kids is not their school - it is their parents. The common denominator in almost every spiritually committed young person is dedicated, involved, active, loving and caring parents who accept their responsibility before God.
If there is a dichotomy between what you say you believe and how you live at home, your children will sniff it out. They will struggle with your hypocrisy, and they will likely rebel against your faith because your life contradicts it. But if your children see your faith at work in life, they will be almost irresistibly drawn to it.
Obviously we're not prescribing perfection, because it's impossible. Only the proudest of hypocrites pretends he doesn't struggle with life. But Christianity is all about the grace of God - His amazing grace which forgives and changes lives; His grace which is sufficient for us every day of our lives.
Every situation of life is therefore a teaching opportunity for you to show your children how to walk with God in His grace. They need to see you practice your faith in every decision you make "when you sit in your house and when walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up."
Parental responsibility is the key. That means you are the key.
Weigh The Choices
My policy as a parent and my advice as a pastor is: You must decide which educational alternative available to you is the wisest tool to use for each child each year. Every child is unique, just as each parent and each family is unique. Different localities have good or bad schools available; some places have great Christian schools, but some don't. Some families can afford private school, but some can't. (Until vouchers or tax credits for education find success in our country's political machinery, some will not have access to the option of private education.)
Every option provides something the others do not. Every option has something negative compared to the others. And every option has a price to pay associated with its use. Here is a summary of many factors you should weigh for each child each year.
Public Schools have positive attributes many Christians today ignore. They are a readily available mission field for Christian families. The opportunities are unlimited for Christian children, parents and teachers to be involved - through public schools - with people who need the Lord. The breadth of programs and variety of experiences, including extra-curricular activities is better in public school than anywhere else. There is literally "something for everyone." In specialized subjects, public schools usually employ experts not available in smaller schools.
Public school is the least expensive alternative, not because it costs less, but because you pay for it whether you use it or not. There is good reason to criticize uses of funds by public schools, but the fact is you do not have to "pay" to send a child there (except by your taxes).
On the negative side, the same exposure to people who need the Lord brings danger of negative peer pressure. Christian kids need strong support from home and church to resist.
Academic standards of public schools continue to erode in our nation. There are exceptions, but if you choose public school it will up to you to monitor and guide your child to perform up to his or her academic potential. Teaching is not as personalized as with other options, so you need to make sure your child is challenged at the appropriate level.
The secular nature of the schools means your children will be exposed to a number of ideas contrary to your faith - evolution and a secular view of history, for example. You'll have to monitor, evaluate, and sometimes correct what they're taught. (But you could also consider this a "positive" in the sense that it presents opportunities for you to teach your child critical thinking and to show them how to reason.)
Most stories of persecution of Christians in public school are over blown, but it can happen. You need to "know the territory" in your local school and be prepared in case you or your child come under attack.
The price to pay for sending your child to public school is the discipline of constant vigilance. You'll need to filter, critique, and sometimes correct things. You'll need to work hard at being involved in your child's education. But at the same time, a willing and loving parent is almost always welcomed by teachers and administrators.
Christian Schools have carved out an important niche in America in this generation. They usually offer teaching from a Christian world view which sees all things in light of God's creation and providence. Your children will be sheltered from many anti-God perspectives.
Most Christian School teachers see their task more as a ministry than a job. School leadership usually sets high standards for behavior and academic performance.
Overall, Christian Schools are more "user-friendly" to Christian parents, and they see themselves as an extension of the home. Most Christian schools include Bible and basic Christian doctrine in their curricula.
There are negatives to consider as well. Peer pressure is present in Christian schools as well as in public schools. While there might not be as many and as varied opportunities for creative sinning in a Christian school compared to a public school, the influence of peers is strong with kids of all ages.
Some kids rebel at being in a Christian school if they don't share their parents' zeal for being there. If they see it as limiting their horizons rather than helping their growth, it can be a source of resentment.
While sheltering from worldly thinking can be a positive, sheltering from the world can be negative if it's taken too far. Some children in Christian schools learn to think of non-Christians as enemies rather than as captives of The Enemy. Some become frightened of dealing with non-Christians and have trouble when they "leave the shelter."
Christian schools are smaller than their public counterparts and have far less money, so the breadth of programs and extra-curricular activities is more limited. Programs for children with special needs are often not possible for Christian schools.
The price to pay for Christian school includes the price to pay. Paying tuition in addition to paying taxes for public school is a heavy financial burden. Christian schools are usually good stewards and typically make their dollars stretch farther than public schools, but the fact is that tuition is expensive. Sending two or three children to Christian school can be like taking on an extra mortgage.
Though not a "price" directly to the families involved, another price the body of Christ pays for Christian schools (and home school) is removing the influence of thousands of Christian students, teachers and parents from the arena of public school. We must weigh the individual benefits of the more comfortable "user friendly" environment of a Christian school against the forfeited opportunities to be salt and light in classrooms, lunch rooms, faculty lounges, PTA's and every other avenue of involvement in public school activities.
Home schooling has earned its place in American evangelicalism in recent decades. Once considered a radical approach of fanatics, it is now accepted in the mainstream of Christian people, and it is a worthy alternative to be considered. Its strengths have been brought to the attention of Christians around the country.
Home school is the ultimate in a sheltered educational environment. No more of the world's thinking will enter in than what is brought in by parents. It therefore minimizes the daily effects of peer pressure.
The very best student-teacher ratio is provided by home schooling. There is no more caring teacher than a parent who knows a child's uniqueness.
Home school has proven to be the solution for some children with special needs which cause them to be confused or left behind in a traditional classroom. A one-on-one relationship quickly overcomes confusion which might go unnoticed for some time in a busy classroom.
Like the other alternatives, home schooling also has its negative aspects. Also like the other choices, these negatives are part of the package.
Sheltering from the world is a strength of home schooling, but it is also a weakness. Sheltering can go too far, and become escape from the world. The goal of education and child-rearing is to produce mature adults, equipped to be productive and evangelistic in the world. The separatistic nature of home school requires hard work on the part of parents to prepare children to enter the world.
Christian school teachers, public school teachers, Sunday School teachers, youth pastors, AWANA leaders and Christian college faculty members have alerted me to a problem associated with some home-schooled children. Since their everyday learning and social environment is highly structured and limited to a special few people, some of these children have difficulties when they enter traditional school or other socialized environments such as church activities or organized sports. What seems normal to most children can feel like chaos to a homeschooler. It can be overwhelming to them, and it can cause problems for leaders.
The price to pay for home schooling is related to its very nature. It requires a major commitment of time and hard work by parents - usually Mom. Some parents are ill-equipped for teaching, so for them the commitment is even more grueling. Obviously, any employment outside the home is impossible for a homeschool mother.
While home school drastically reduces peer pressure, it can increase sibling rivalry which requires more parental patience. Financial expense is also a factor. Books and materials must be purchased. Most homeschoolers pay extra for supplementary help in specialized areas such as art or music. Field trips are at your own expense. Many pay for their children to be involved in more clubs or teams in order to help with their socialization. Some parents who have experience in all three alternatives - public, Christian and home schooling - have told me home schooling turned out to be the most expensive of the three options in their case.
Among the alternatives available to you how do you decide? It isn't always easy, but God will guide you in the process. Talk to lots of people involved in any option you are considering before you make your choice. Pray for wisdom. Talk to your children, and involve them in the exploration process.
We support all three alternatives. None is more "spiritual" than the others. The decision must be made child by child and year by year. What worked especially well for your friend's child may or may not be good for your child. What worked well for you first child may not be the wisest choice for your second child.
Have you noticed I left out most references to academic achievements in my overview? I did so for a reason. Experience has shown me that academic excellence is far more related to the commitment and involvement of active, loving, caring parents than it is connected to school alternatives. It's also true that the Bible requires you teach your children Christian character, and you make them disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible does not require maximum SAT scores.
It's true the average achievement test scores of home school and Christian school students is markedly higher than the averages of public school students. But to compare the averages ignores important differences which render the comparison unfair.
Suppose each home school parent was required by law to include two non-Christian neighborhood latchkey children whose parents are totally uninvolved. Suppose each Christian school was required to include every child within a one-mile radius of its campus. The results would devastate the average achievement in both cases, despite the continued excellence of the children from the best homes and the commitment of the best parents and finest teachers.
Academic excellence is far more related to home than it is to school. Youth leaders come from all three categories. Mature Christian adults also come from all three.
We recommend five things to do with your children, starting as early as possible. Do these, and you'll find the hard choices about education become much easier.
1. Spend lots of time with them. Quality time doesn't happen without quantity of time. Real life can't be scheduled, and your kids need to see you walk with the Lord in real life, "when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up."
2. Read to them. Do it as much as you can. No one factor has a greater influence on future learning than reading to children when they are young. And they love it!
3. Teach them the Bible like Deuteronomy 6:5-7 says. It shouldn't be limited to "devotion time," but it should be like Life Savers - a part of living.
4. Pray with them and for them. And let them see you calling on God for His wisdom and help.
5. Be involved in their education. Whatever alternative you use, don't hand the reigns over to anyone else. You're the one who will give account to God. As I've learned more, been involved in my son's education, and encouraged Christian parents for decades, my motto is "Whatever educational tools you choose, you have to home school, because you are the one responsible."
PART TWO: Summary of School Alternatives
This summary is the result of gleaning from several sources and years of experience with parents involved in every alternative. These "bullet point" statements may help you be more thorough in your decision-making for each child, year by year. Not every one will apply to every child in every family, but it serves you well to consider all issues. The number of "pro" or "con" items is not important; it's which ones are most important for you, your child and your family.
Schedule is calmer, with less outside involvement
Flexibility exists for vacations and breaks from school to be adapted to the family rather than dictated by the school calendar
Less time (usually) is required to complete a school day
Lots of time with the children for mentoring and discipling, teaching a Christian worldview, teaching practical skills (cooking, cleaning, etc.) and doing special projects
Ability to limit undesirable exposure and potential to control influences
Academics usually are optimized because of individual attention, good curriculum, and phonics emphasized
Decreased cost compared to a private school
Potential overwhelming work load for Mom
Choosing curriculum can be overwhelming
Some subjects can be overwhelming as child gets older
Time demands can be overwhelming if younger children are in the home, especially infants
Academics are overrated among some home schoolers; Some try to prove something or produce a "superior child"
A protected environment can be overprotective
Children can become maladaptive
Breeds "exclusiveness" attitude, often felt by others
Breeds fear in some children
Fear of outside influence
Fear of failing academically
Fear of not keeping up if you don't home school
Limited situations that could provide opportunity for teaching life lessons
Limited exposure to the teaching gifts of others as well as other spiritual gifts of others; no parent has all the gifts of the body of Christ
Parents can be deluded into thinking the child is saved
Limited testing of convictions
Deluded by child's external conformity
Easier to hide a child's true spiritual state than in other environments
Removing the influence of Christians from the arena of public education
PRIVATE CHRISTIAN SCHOOL
Usually a disciplined environment
Exposure to undesirable influence is moderately limited and controlled
Issues that come up (discipline and otherwise) are dealt with biblically; Students learn from this example
Students learn from a variety of teachers
Exposure to more giftedness than only parents
Christian worldview (true of home schooling also)
Integrating Scripture with academics
Opportunities to develop leadership skills
Student is a part of a team
Learning to work with and live with others
Controlled opportunities for witnessing, because not all students in a Christian school are saved; In fact, most are not saved
Potential increased academic opportunities (compared to home schooling)
Encourages very good parental involvement
The school is there to help parents, not replace them
Most involved believe it is a worthy investment
Less one-to-one interaction (compared to home school)
Excessive rules plague many Christian schools
Used as a "reform school" in some cases
Potential pride and judgmental spirit
Academics can be overrated and overstressed
Having to prove something
Drive to make kids better than public school students
Excessive homework to accomplish this agenda
Sports and other activities limited compared to public schools
Transportation and carpooling issues can be difficult
Easy to hide a child's true spiritual state due to external conformity to rules
Kids can be confused as to what is truly Christian
Since not all kids are saved, yet they're in a controlled environment, true spirituality is hard to distinguish from the fake
Wrong doctrine can be an issue, especially if the school is not a part of your church
Theology taught to kids, in conflict with your church, can be hard on the church
Financial challenges to maintain a Christian school are severe
Christian school is the "tail that wags the dog" in some churches
Turnover of teachers because of limited benefits
Difficulty in finding qualified teachers for what they are paid
Ratio of church members to non-members in the school is sometimes a problem
Removing the influence of Christians from the arena of public education
No cost (beyond taxes)
Increased resources and opportunities (especially at high school level)
Broader academic offerings
Increased scholarship opportunities
Increased opportunities for testing convictions
Seeing where your kids are is valuable; can strengthen their convictions and walk with Christ, or can expose lack of convictions. This allows you to know where they are while still in your home; you can see who or what they migrate toward.
Many come to Christ during these years
Issues are "black and white." It's easier for the child, with parent's mentoring, to tell what is right and wrong
Many opportunities for evangelism
Partnering with Christian teachers
Papers and projects
Parents' involvement with other families, non-Christian teachers, etc.
Philosophies and world view (But again, "black and white," so it's easy for parents to use these for teaching opportunities)
Issues not addressed biblically; requires more parental involvement
Academics both good and bad; must be evaluated in each situation
Potential for negative peer pressure; but this is true in a private school, too, as well as in Sunday School
Increased danger in some settings; must be evaluated in each situation
Looking at all the things to think about, we hope you now know the answer to the question "Which is God's way?"
The answer: NOT ONE! Some have tried to use Deuteronomy 6 to validate homeschool or Christian school as God's only choice, but that is not the intent of the passage. It is for all parents; when things happen in life, use them as discipleship opportunities with children. The experiences of life provide a platform for learning. This is more effective than organized family devotions.
Parents, not the school, are the most important influence on children. Ask any school teacher! A public school teacher friend of mine once heard an impassioned rant about the "terrible" influence of public schools, their curriculum and their teachers. He said to me "I only wish I had as much influence on my students as that person said! It's the parents who are the strongest influence." At home, take parenting seriously.
Contrary to what some people preach, God is NOT absent from the public school. He has NOT been taken out of public schools. We do not advocate trying to restore public prayer in schools, led by non-believers, but no one has stopped Christian children from praying in the public school. Organized, public prayers accomplish nothing. The effective prayer of a righteous person accomplishes much. Consider heavily the potential for evangelism if your family is involved in public schools.
Don't rule out Christian school for your children just because you see the huge financial cost. It may be a golden opportunity God has made available to you.
Maybe you are gifted and willing to make the sacrifices necessary to education your children at home. Only you can know, and only you are responsible for the decision. Don't let anyone else pressure you to violate your conscience.
Make the wisest decision you know to make for your child according to principles. Re-evaluate your decision each year, for each child. Circumstances will change, but the elders of Heritage Bible Church will support all Christian parents.
Do what is best, and trust God for the outcome. Many seminary students and men in the ministry came from pagan homes and went to pagan schools. God is bigger than your choice of how to educate!
The final aspect of the position of the elders of Heritage Bible Church is well-stated by Tim Challies:
So here is my exhortation for those in either camp: we must not let education divide the church. For the sake of church unity, be careful! The church does not need to be fractured between the homeschoolers and the public schoolers. Satan is no doubt doing all he can to set one Christian against another and to make disputable matters into so much more. Homeschoolers need to love and support those who choose to send their children to public schools. When difficult times arise they must not use these times as an opportunity to say "I told you so!" Rather, they can use these difficult times to pray for their friends, to comfort them, challenge them, support them and to bear with them. The same is true of those who send their children to public schools. They must support their homeschooling brothers and sisters, bearing with them and supporting them, understanding that these people are following their conscience. In either case, parents must teach their children to love and embrace children who are educated differently lest we see children divided from one another on this basis.
The church is big enough for both those who homeschool and those who do not. We absolutely cannot afford to make this an issue of division. There are bigger battles to fight and to fight them successfully we must stand together. A little understanding, a little respect, will go a long way to fostering the unity that is so important to the church. So think through the issues, choose carefully, and prepare to love those who choose differently.
Pastor Carey Hardy assembled much of this list for a seminar titled "Educated Guess" for the 2003 Shepherds Conference at Grace Community Church in Panorama City, CA. Hardy has personal experience with all three alternatives among his own children and in his pastoral ministry.
This observation comes from teachers and administrators based on experience with children making the transition from home school to other school environments.