Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Need for Christian Education


Douglas Groothuis

Many arguments are marshaled against Christian schools and Christian home-schooling. Those, such as myself, who categorically reject state (public) education as insufficiently Christian, inefficient, and inherently unfair are, in for some lively debates. The objections raised must be met.

Objection #1. “If you send your children to Christian schools they’ll be in a sheltered, hot-house environment and will be isolated from the ‘real world.’ ”

Non-Christian education is what shields a child from the “real world,” the world God created and the world God speaks of in the Bible. Education ungrounded in God’s truth from beginning to end is necessarily poisoned with un-reality. Christian children should be exposed to non-Christian thinking later in their education through a thorough grasp of Christian apologetics (the defense of the faith). Biblical truth must be instilled before error is confronted.

Objection #2. “You should send your children to public schools to evangelize other children and teachers.” Soldiers are not sent into battle immediately after being drafted. They require training in the skills of combat. Thus so with Christian children. The young are not equipped to adequately counteract the entrenched secularism of the public schools. Those in the state schools can be evangelized in other contexts.

Objection #3. “Christian parents can debrief their children after school to counteract the non-Christian thinking.” This could be called “anorexic education.” The child is gorged with secularism seven or eight hours a day and then coaxed to vomit it up after school. If Christian education was pursued such extremes could be avoided. It is also questionable how effective such a method can be. Can a few hours a week of discussion really neutralize the teaching of an entire week? While an antidote may neutralize the effects of a poison somewhat, the best course is to avoid the poison to begin with.

Objection #4. “We must improve our public schools.” These are really “state schools.” We must here squarely face a neglected dilemma. “Public” education supposedly belongs to everyone. We all pay for it through taxes; we all have access to it; we all must send our children there (compulsory attendance laws) or to an “approved” alternative. Yet how can public school curriculum fairly represent all those who finance it? How can it become “all things to all people” It cannot. All education proceeds according to its worldview. Facts and values cannot be separated. Education is not ideologically neutral. Eliminating “sectarianism” (specifically Christian ideas) from state education certainly will not fumigate the schools of religion. The religion of Secular Humanism will simply take its place. A look at the history of state education will show that its instigators, by and large, were far from Christian. This is especially the case with Robert Owen (atheist socialist), Horace Mann (Unitarian), and John Dewey (atheist socialist). Their goals have been implemented and are deeply engrained at every level. On this, see Rousas John Rushdoony, The Messianic Character of American Education.

Equal access for Christian ideas in the state schools (such as Intelligent Design) should be viewed as an emergency measure, not a final solution.

Objection #5. “But the public schools are free.” No, they are not. We pay a high price of taxation (whether we use them or not). Because of the inefficiencies of statist bureaucracy, private (free) education is more cost-efficient. No culture can afford to subscribe to secularism (see Proverbs 8:36).

Objection #6. “But how many people can afford Christian education?” This is a difficult matter. But we must think according to biblical principles first and foremost. It’s been said that Christians cannot afford not to send their children to Christian schools. They must not relinquish their children to institutionalized error about the things that matter most. Financially, sacrifices might need to be made. The church should band together in this, sharing her resources. Tithing and giving must be applied to this end. In the long run, if state education is dismantled—or even if an voucher system was put in place—more money would be available for private education.

Objection #7. “But so many Christian schools are unaccredited.” This may be so. But who is the ultimate accreditor, Jesus Christ or human institutions? We must work to build a Christian counter-culture not dependent on the recognition of the non-Christian world. But this counter-culture should advance the kingdom into every area and so become the dominant culture over time. We are not there yet. Yet we should not sell our educational souls for the sake of accreditation. We must not be “unequally yoked” to apostate curriculum.

Objection #8. “We’ve had some bad experiences with Christian education.” Undoubtedly, many have had this happen. We also have “bad experiences” with poor preaching, bad meals, and irritating relatives. But this doesn’t lead us to condemn preaching as such, give up eating, or hate our family members. You are either part of the problem or the solution. If you jettison Christian education because of a few bad experiences you are definitely part of the problem. You are also illogical. A few bad experiences cannot be universalized to apply to all Christian education. Furthermore, bad Christian education is better than good State education. State education (see #4) is beyond reform in principle.

Objection #9. “It’s too late. How can we change it all now?” Some thought it too late to deal with the institution of slavery. But it was not. Christian ethics is governed by truth, not expediency. Our culture gives us the context for our ethical deliberation and action but it should not determine them. If it does, we have been conformed to the world (Romans 12:1, 2; 1 John 2:15-17). We must expand our Christian vision, not give in to the circumstances.

Objection #10. “If we disestablish public education, many will not be educated.” We forget that mandatory, State education is not as old as America. We did well without it for a good long time. And state education today is not doing a sterling job of decreasing illiteracy as is. Education should gradually be returned to the family and the church, instead of being monopolized by the State. Christians must also open their Christian schools to those who cannot afford to go elsewhere. This is a long-term, gradual solution. We need the fortitude and patience that only the Holy Spirit gives to be successful over time.


Recommended Reading:

1.      Blumenfeld, Samuel. Is Public Education Necessary? (Old Greenwich: The Devin-Adair Company, 1981), 263 pages. A scholarly and cogent treatment of the development of public education. Dissipates a score of popular misconceptions. Excellent.
2.      Gato, John Taylor, Weapons of Mass Instruction A Schoolteacher's Journey Through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling (New Society Publishers, 2010.
3.      Kienel, Paul A. The Christian School: Why It Is Right for Your Child (Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, 1974), 131 pages. Short, but cogent.
4.      LaHaye, Tim. The Battle for the Public Schools (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revel, 1983), 283 pages. LaHaye is sometimes simplistic, but he exposes just what is happening in the State schools and what can be done about it.
5.      Rushdoony, Rousas John. The Messianic Character of American Education (Ross House books, reprint, 1995.)

5 comments:

J Kanz said...

Dr Groothuis,
My wife and I currently homeschool our 3 children, but have been really struggling with whether to shift the kids to public high school. I can see some advantages, but some drawbacks as well. Some advice we are getting tells us that if we do not transition them in high school, they will face tough choices in college when we will be unable to help them walk through them. Another advantage we considered to public school was actually taking examinations in a group format, etc. Others say that we should continue to homeschool through high school so as to avoid many of the things you mention in this article. Thoughts?

John said...

Wow, #3 is a great metaphor. That's a great list.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

J Kanz:

Some children can intellectually and spiritually handle high school if they have had a strong biblical, worldview, and apologetics education before that. Sadly, few have. Patrick Henry College emphasizes admitting home-schooled children, if you did not know.

Laura Edwards said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeanete Dowling said...

In a Christian school, a student is exposed to the center of God in all of life. In public education, a student is legally “sheltered” from this important dimension of education.


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