Reprise: Should Christians send their kids to non-Christian schools?

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!

14 thoughts on “Reprise: Should Christians send their kids to non-Christian schools?

  1. If Christians become too insulated from non Christians then this makes it difficult to spread the gospel message, and then church is just a social club amongst the believers. This is one good reason for public education for Christian children.

  2. I was going to say something along those lines, but I’m not too sure.

    First, my limited experience of Christian schools suggests that many of the families there aren’t Christian—they send the kids for the education and discipline, not the religion. If that is indeed the case, there’s no insulation.

    Second, something doesn’t seem right to me sending your kids to a non-Christian school for evangelistic purposes. It feels like you’re just sending them to the lions, and might be a little unfair on them.

    Having said all of that, that’s much the way we see it. We don’t send our kids to the school so much as involve our whole family there. We know the kids, parents and teachers at the school and we spend a lot of time there just being us. If nothing else, we make sure we model the way Christians should live in a secular world for our children. I think that will be a very useful lesson for them.

    (I also realise that I’ve used ‘Christian school’ and ‘private school’ synonymously. I am quite aware that there are many non-Christian and even non-religious private schools around. There aren’t any where I live though, so they’re not relevant to my choice of schools for my kids!)

  3. Another reason Christian parents send their kids to public school: special needs. We went down the road of home school, Christian school or public school and ended up even moving our family so our child with an autism spectrum disorder could specifically go to a public school where he could receive the services he needs (PT,OT,Social Skills – I am not kidding about the social skills part). And our other 2 children go to public school as well. At one point before we moved I was homeschooling my son with ASD, 1 girl was in a Christian school and the other girl was in a different Chrisitan preschool. My husband said that this was not sustainable. So we didn’t do that the next year. Every year I talked to the principal of the Christian school about whether they would take my son there and every year the answer was no. We eventually discovered that having all 3 kids in the same school worked best for us. We also discovered that while homeschooling our son, we could get none of the services he needed (OT, PT, etc) because our insurance wouldn’t cover them. We also had problems with the public school educating him where we lived because of his autism so we left. The “socialization” issue I referred to: both my son and youngest daughter have responded well to the routine and presence of same age peers (gasp!). We were homeschoolers and I know all the arguments about that. But for us, it is helpful. And from being in public school my children haven’t turned into scary secular children. If anything, they have (unintentionally by us) brought a refreshing point of view to the schools they are at – the teachers have told me this repeatedly. My children are notably well behaved and they like to learn. (Totally home environment, as my one daughter was only homeschooled for a year and a half (not in a row) and attended Christian school the rest of the time – except for a 6 month stint in a public school where we used to live). We did not “dump” out children in public school by any means. It is what is working for us now. We view the different education options as tools we are in control of (even the “liberal secular environment”). Every teacher, school, therapist, counsellor, personal aide, everything public, private, or homeschool we see as someone/thing we choose yearly for the education of our children. If homeschool is appropriate for someone at some point, I’m all there. Except…after a head injury. We considered home educating our daughter last year but as I was suffering the after effects of a head injury we chose to use the resourses at the public school and send her there. Where do we fit in? We wanted to homeschool and do Christian school but it didn’t work out that way for us. Does that make us lesser Christians somehow?

  4. Thanks Michelle, that’s a perspective that (I hate to admit) I hadn’t thought of. I hate to admit it because my wife used to work in special needs education, and I don’t know why it slipped me by.

    It’s a great point that you make. I think you sum it up well—as parents we are responsible to make sure our kids get the best education possible. That’s a pretty broad thing. It doesn’t only apply to the three Rs. You’ve found yourself in a situation in which home schooling and the private system aren’t appropriate.

    As I think about it, I would face a similar situation in the town in which I live. ‘Special needs’ children of primary school age are integrated (for the most part) into the mainstream education system here. They will be given an aide to assist them in class—it’s not unknown for there to be two or three aides in a class as well as the teacher in my daughters’ school! As far as I’m aware this is the case in both public and private systems.

    However, the secondary schools (both public and private) aren’t able to accommodate kids with more than moderate disabilities. There is a ‘Specialist School’ for those folk. We can argue the rights and wrongs of this approach till the cows come home, but my point is this—it’s the only non-home-schooling option available and it’s part of the public system.

    Thanks for your insight!

  5. I have been a public school teacher for over ten years and during that time I have sent my own child to a private Christian school. I have the experience and perspective the average person just doesn’t have concerning this issue. While most teachers in the public system work very hard to educate all students, I can tell you without batting an eye that most public school kids never get the quality of education most private/parochial kids get. The reason for this is not the quality of the teachers but because public education has turned into a money-wasting bureaucratic boondoggle that is a slave to government mandates, endless testing cycles, and politically correct social agendas. Add to all that the overwhelming discipline and behavior probems teachers deal with on a daily basis because of the breakdown of the family and the damaged children chaotic home environments produce (I could tell you stories that would blow the top of your head off) and anyone who really believes that public school children, in general, get as good of an education as private/parochial kids do has their head buried so deep in the sand they’d need a crowbar to get it out. Whether you’re a devout Christian or an athiest, your child will most likely not get as good of an education in a public school.
    One last thought, Cameron I saw on one of your websites the statement that it would be a great day when schools got enough money and the Navy would have to have a bake sale to buy ships. The fact is, between federal, state and local property taxes, the United States Government spends more on public education than on Defense, Social Security or Medicare. This is a documented fact found on government websites regarding spending. The total cost for my daughter’s private school education is about $6100 a year. Most public schools now spend between $10,000 and $13,000 a year.
    I know people who support public education mean well, but if they really knew what when on in an average school on a daily basis and the endless amounts of money we spend on education most people would change their minds.

  6. Thanks for your comment, Stasi. It’s great to have comments from overseas!

    From your comment and other conversations I’ve had it I get the idea that the public system in the States is quite broken, for all the reasons you’ve listed. Thankfully that doesn’t seem to be the case here in Australia. Of course, there are some pretty bad schools in our public system (my sister-in-law taught in what was officially the third worst school in Australia for a few years. Perhaps you could swap stories!) but there are some very good ones as well. Most of them are, of course, close to average.

    I have no data about the home life of students in the schools in our area, so I can’t speak to the contribution of the breakdown of family in my context. Having said that, I have noticed an interesting trend lately. In my role as a welfare worker I see many ‘broken families.’ It seems to be quite common for the non-custodial parent to pay private school fees as their financial contribution to the care of their child.

    I note your comment about my quote about the Navy, but I still stand by it. The Defence Force is just as good at being overly bureaucratic and inefficient as the school system. Why can’t they be responsible for raising a bit more money for themselves, rather than expecting the taxpayer to keep forking it over?

    Finally, on your last point, one of the bugbears about the private system here is that it is largely funded (~60%) by the government! In fact, it is possible in some situations for a private school to receive more public money per student than a similarly sized public school.

  7. I’ve enjoyed reading these posts–great topic! I see this as a simple obedience issue. Here are some verses to consider, among others: II Cor. 10:5, Col. 2:8, Luke 6:40, Prov .22:6, Deut. 6:6-7, Psalm 1: Prov. 1:7, Rom. 12:2, I Tim. 6:20-21, Eph. 6:4, Prov. 23:7, Isaiah 54:13, Jer. 10:2, Matt. 22:37, Prov. 13:20, I Cor. 15:33, and Matt. 22:21.

    When God rescued the Israelites from the Egyptians, he took them out of their land. When he established them in the promised land, he warned them not to intermarry with other cultures, because he knew that in most cases bad corrupts good, not the other way around. He always kept his people separate, as a city on a hill.

    Also consider the founders of modern education, John Dewey and others. If you do a quick search of their beliefs about education, you will find that their purpose from the beginning was to take God out of society.

  8. You would do well to listen to the government teacher’s above. I am not a Christian and I would not send my child within 1000 feet of a government school. There are no public schools. THey are GOVERNMENT schools. They political correctness is rampant there. As Rush Limbaugh has accurately stated, schools are liberal breeding grounds. Think your child is going to be light? Think again. Children do not go to government schools to evangelize. They are severely outnumbered. In fact, it is the super ultra rare child that attempts to evangelize anyone. It is a fact that when Christian children go to government schools, they come out evangelized the other way. They are more like the liberal world. Anyone who sends their child to a government school is letting liberalism raise their child. government schools are taxpayer-funded governent abuse. It is also your job to raise your child, not the government. I am laughing (or crying) at the thought that you will do everthing in your power (nothing) to make the schools better. Please.

  9. What do Bostonmom and Brett think of the special needs issue? Do they have any ideas where parents can go for education for their special needs children if homeschooling or private school are not options for the family? Anything specific would be appreciated. Thanks.

  10. You have to understand that I do not believe that government has any business raising our kids or helping people in any way. That is not the purpose of government. The purpose is to protect our life, liberty and property against all enemies foreign and domestic and our rights secured by the Constitution. They do have to regulate the road/transportation system because of land issue. They are not supposed to be in the business of social programs. The endless social programs like school, welfare, social security, food stamps, housing, healthcare and the list goes on and on are the reason why our nations economy is going down the tubes. If we got to keep most of our money, we would have the extra money that can go to charities that specialize in helping people with special needs. There are charities that do such things now also. I just do not ever want to have to stick a gun to the head of another taxpayer and tell him that he owes me help because my child is a specials needs child. That is what it ultimately comes down to except that the government holds the guns for the needy.

  11. Brett:

    All very true. But what should parents do right now? Medical insurance often doesn’t cover physical, occupational, speech, and behavioral therapies. Charities aren’t always available. The level of services which can be obtained in schools or otherwise is very spotty in some locations or with some insurances and very abundant in others. So if you were, hypothetically, a parent of a special needs child and found no availability of services through the government, charities, insurance, or privately in the area where you lived today, March 13, 2010, you would…..

    The question, it seems to me, is: where does the social responsibility lie in a culture towards the less fortunate? If there were no tax money going to those endless programs, who would take up the slack? “The Church?” “A charity?” It would be individual people such as ourselves.

  12. I am not sure I have the perfect answer to you but you say:


    Yes, I believe churches and charities have done these types of things throughout history. I believe in a society where people should volunteer to help people – not be forced to. Socialism and Communism are types of governments where money is taken from some to give to others and these societies clearly do not work because they are not voluntary. That is where the USA is heading. We have been doing this to ourselves since Roosevelt. Have you ever looked up the word “liberalism” in an encyclopedia? It is quite interesting because the orginal definition had a meaning almost exactly like today’s conservatism!! It changed around the time of Roosevelt and his social programs.

    The more we are taxed, the less we feel inclined to freely give to those who truly need it like a special needs child. Ultimately, it is individual people like ourselves who should be taking care of each other. As I said, I am not a Christian but do believe in many of the Cbristian philosophies behind helping those in need and giving. The problem is that most people don’t. Ask your neighbors if they would like to contribute to helping your special needs child and they would most likely point you to the “free” government program that we pay our taxes for to help. I find that sad. What would I do if it were my child? Frankly, I do not know but I guess I would start by educating everyone around me on this type of philosophy and take it from there. I do have a 6 year old that still does not talk very clearly for a 6 year old and I am sure I could get a “free” speech therapist to help but we choose not to. We will let it work itself out in time. He is slowly progressing.

  13. One might like to consider the educational experiences of Moses and of Daniel, Shadrach et al. Their secular education seems in fact to have been part of God’s purpose – albeit at the level of higher education in the case of the exiles. Paul describes his educational credentials which might be viewed as either the equivalent of state school or private religious school. It was his encounter with the risen Christ that led to his salvation. He is rather dismissive of his educational credentials – although undoubtedly his education prepared him for the ministry to which he was subsequently called.
    I am somewhat concerned that the debate in the US has more to do with a political lens shaping views of the Bible. I don’t claim unbiased insights and indeed would seek to avoid dogmatism where really this is a secondary issue in terms of orthodox Christian belief – particularly as public schools as we currently understand them didn’t exist in the Bible.

  14. My daughter has attended a Christian Parochial school since she was 3 years old. We chose this school because preschool in our town is only available to low income families. If we wanted her to go to preschool we had to pay for it. She is now in second grade and after my husband was layed off for 11 months during the recession I had to take a minimum wage job at the school just for the discount to keep her there. She is now struggling with what is possibly Dyslexia. Because she is not in the public school system I will have to pay $1,200 just for the evaluation to determine if she is Dyslexic. If she does suffer from it, her school has no resources available for her. There is not a special needs program in place. I can hire private tutors if I would like, however I am not sure I am able to pay the expensive tuition plus private tutoring. I believe Parochial schools possibly offer a better education because they are able to”weed” out the special needs, handicapped and troubled children from there system. I have experienced at our school if you are below average you will recieve no extra effort or help from the administration or staff. I am a Christian and have worked very hard to keep my daughter in a Christian school, however I may have to send her to the public school 4 blocks from our home, and after working at the Christian school for 2 years and seeing the way some “less than average” children have been treated, I believe we are ready for the challenge of moving to a public school.

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