A few months ago I asked the question: Should Christians send their kids to non-Christian schools? I also asked the same question around Facebook and continued the conversation on the mailing list I mentioned. The discussion was quite eye-opening.
Generally speaking, there were three types of responses.
First, there were the Christians who are strongly opposed to secular education. In fact, a lot of these people believe that home schooling is the only real option for Christians. I had a real time dealing with these guys—they didn’t want to engage with me. When I pointed out that home schooling would be very difficult in my situation, I was told that it wouldn’t be. How could this guy know what is possible for me and what isn’t?
Not all the replies in this category were from people like this. Some were surprised—why wouldn’t I send my kids to a Christian school? Isn’t that what Christians do?
Second, there were the Christians who are not opposed to sending their kids to a secular school, but prefer the Christian ones. The main motivation seems to be the quality of education available there—Christian teaching is a secondary consideration.
Third were the Christian parents who are quite happy to send their kids to public schools. Some see this as a mission thing. Others can’t afford private schools. Yet others hadn’t ever thought about it.
There were also non-Christians who responded. Their responses were broadly similar, but without religious motivation.
I’m in the third category. I send my kids to a public school. I don’t find any of the arguments against it compelling. In fact, some of the arguments against tell me I’m doing the right thing. Allow me to explain (WARNING: the following paragraphs are largely based on conjecture, speculation and quite possibly fabrication. Apparently I’m allowed to be opinionated for no good reason in a blog, so here goes!)
To begin with, I’m not convinced that the secular system is anti-God. I have heard this a lot, but in my experience it is simply untrue. My kids’ school has a chaplain, they are taught religious education every week. There’s even a reference to God in the ‘pledge’ they recite at assembly every Monday morning. I’m not sure I like all that. I don’t think kids should be forced to participate in religious observance in school. Still, I find it hard to make the claim that the school system is inherently evil.
Neither am I sure that the education is substandard. Private schools generally score better than public schools in testing. Yet I don’t think it is all that straight forward. Private schools tend to attract brighter students and in many cases will provide scholarships for the very brightest who might otherwise go to public schools. Public schools can be far less picky about the students they take. None of this means the education is better or worse in either system—it simply means that one system has more students who are likely to do well.
Even if that theory is discounted the high test scores mightn’t indicate better education. When I was at university there seemed to be a common belief that students who had been to private secondary schools struggled a lot more than students who had been to public schools. The received wisdom was that private schools taught their students how to do very well in their final year exams at the expense of teaching them how to learn. I suspect there was some truth to this, but my hazy memory suggests that this only really affected those who went to the most expensive schools. Those schools had a strong financial interest in the final results of their students, so if the students weren’t as good as they’re results suggested, the more cynical of us weren’t surprised.
Ultimately, we each have to do what we think is the best thing for our kids! Christians also have to ask, ‘What would God have me do?’
In my case it boils down to this question: What is God trying to do in secular schools?
If he has washed his hands of the system, it would probably be wise to remove my children. There’s no point sending them there. But I don’t think he has given up on the system. Sure, it’s got a lot of problems, especially in some other districts. There is a lot of work that needs doing.
If God is doing something in the secular system then the very last thing I want to do is get away from it. Sure there are lots of bad kids there. Is the answer to remove the good ones? That might be the only safe solution in some cases, but those would be quite rare. And sure, public schools don’t seem to do as well educationally when compared to the private system. Is the answer to take the best students (of course, this includes my kids!) out of the school? Of course not!
Let me also say that those certain groups of Christians are right when they say that I am responsible for my children’s education and up-bringing. That doesn’t mean I can’t send them to school It does mean that I will do everything in my power to make the school a better place. It means that I will closely monitor my children’s progress and speak to teachers if I have concerns. It means that I will be involved in different activities at the school. If there are bad influences there, there’s no reason why I can’t do my darndest to be a good influence.
From what I can see God is doing some amazing things in my kids’ school. It’s not necessarily the sort of stuff that would get many evangelicals excited, but they’re good things nonetheless. I want to be involved and I want my family involved.
Hmm, this post seems to have gone on long enough. I’d love to hear other people’s opinions on the issue. Please bear in mind that it is not my intention to criticise those who have a different take on the issue. I’ve had enough criticism over this, and I don’t want to do the same to anyone else!