Our oldest kid’s in second grade, and we’ve “done school” lots of ways since he started kindergarten. We’ve homeschooled full-time. We’ve homeschooled through a charter school’s homeschool program – 2 days there, 3 days home. We’ve done public school. And right now we’re in a private homeschool “hybrid” program– school setting three days, home two days. And co-ops with other homeschooling families: we’ve done two of these so far (three-ish hours every other Friday morning). Whew!
Point being: there are a TON of choices out there today in the (home)schooling world today. And – though it can be overwhelming at times to chart the best path – I’m so glad. As the homeschooling movement has grown, it’s become easier and more doable to homeschool. Today opportunities for homeschooling community and guidance abound; scores of solid curriculum choices are available; and the benefits of homeschooling are well-circulated. America’s more willing to accept it as normative than it once was.
When Christian parents decide to school their kids at home, their decision generally boils down to some combination of these reasons:
1. Spiritual reasons. Parents want their kids to learn about God, the Bible, and Christian truths in thoroughgoing ways. Not only will this not happen in public school, their kids may in fact receive teaching that directly opposes Christianity’s beliefs. Parents view home education as a way to intentionally, time-fully, and holistically train and immerse their children in the Christian faith and worldview.
2. Social/cultural reasons. Parents want more access to their children’s friendships and relationships than school life permits. In particular, they want to be able to oversee the nature and quality of their kids’ social setting and connections – helping them find positive friendships and avoid negative and potentially destructive social relationships. (Bullying, peer pressure, and simply kids being drawn into cultural norms that don’t fit with the family’s faith/values would all fall under this heading.)
3. Academic reasons. Parents feel that the hours a child spends in school, and the content being disseminated in school, aren’t the best use of his energy or mental efforts. They feel that homeschooling can yield better academic results (as the parent would measure them), often in fewer hours, than a child is likely to receive in school.
4. Reasons related to time/family influence. Parents want more time and influence in the daily lives and activities of their children than a normal school week allows for. Maybe related to reasons above – spiritual training, social relationships, academic progress – or maybe others, like a slower-paced life. Perhaps they want to involve children in other priorities– family priorities such as homesteading or traveling; individual interests of the child like a sport or interest; or others. Many families just want more flexibility in their lives than full-time schooling provides.
5. Financial reasons. Parents who want educational options that better fit their family’s style and faith than public school, but who can’t financially send their children to private school, may meet many of their goals through homeschooling. It provides what can be an excellent third option.
There are other reasons to homeschool, but these seem to be the biggies. And they’re solid, logical reasons. All of them certainly play into why my husband and I have largely homeschooled our children, and why we do now — half-time.
This is where it gets interesting. Because, based on the importance and validity of these reasons, some Christians go further and take the position that homeschooling is better. Better than public school for sure (maybe even better than any other form of schooling). They see it this way pretty much across-the-board.
I don’t see it this way. I don’t think schooling kids at home is always better than public school. Why don’t I? Because of who God is. We don’t have a “formula” kind of God with a one-size-fits-all approach to how His people should walk out their lives on earth. Instead God works through the direction and calling of the Holy Spirit: different paths for different people. The path He laid out for Peter was not the same path He had for John; Jesus was clear.
Clearly there are real risks to engaging our children in public schools. They’ll certainly encounter information, values, and lifestyle choices that conflict with Christian teachings – and in many cases, these will be presented positively. Any parent considering a public school path will have to look these realities square in the face, pray diligently through them, and pursue a careful strategy of addressing them with their kids. But I think this can be done, and it can be done well. Several of the families we consider mentor families – whose kids aren’t just great kids but have fully adopted the realities of the Christian faith – send their children to public school. The parents are extremely intentional and proactive in how they handle their children’s school lives – the content being taught, the cultural components, and the social environment/connections. And they’re also very intentional about how they coordinate and manage their home lives: it’s not just that Christian faith and worldview take precedence at home, but they’re also unpacked and applied daily to what’s happening in school.
We sent our oldest two kids to public school for six months when we moved to a new state in mid-January, and the experience was fine overall. We would send them back, and at some future point we likely will. Our main takeaway was this: it takes every bit as much time, energy, and attention from a parent to “do public school well” as it takes to homeschool. The demands are equally high, they just take on a different form. Right now, our homeschool hybrid is the right fit for us. In a different season, that might change and God might direct us to do schooling in a different way.
There are, as I see it, positive things about children attending public school. A few that come to mind:
1. It keep kids from living in a Christian bubble. School life brings kids into the reality that the world is filled with all kinds of people, and many of them are very different from us. This it the world God put us all in, and the one He’s sovereign over. Relationships and friendships with people from all backgrounds and belief systems is normal, right, and Christ-like. Only by living intentionally in such a world can our children walk in the footsteps of Jesus. School is one way to keep kids out of a Christian bubble – one that disservices both them and the world.
2. It allows kids to grow up understanding the difference faith in God makes in people, and in their day-to-day lives. Up close. This is one of the things I’m most thankful for in my own childhood (Christian parents but no home- or Christian schooling): by the time I was seventeen, the difference between living a Jesus-based life versus a no-Jesus life was evident to me in real and age-appropriate ways. Seeing these differences played out in the lives of my friends built understanding, compassion, and ultimately a drive to continue making my parents’ faith my own.
3. It can teach children to receive authority from others outside their family or immediate circle. There’s value in learning to sit under authority figures – even less-than-stellar ones. And it’s constructive for kids to be part of a group in which their immediate interests are peripheral to how the day’s going to be run. Important lessons about pride, entitlement, appropriate obedience, and how to get along in the world can be learned at school (though it’s not the only place).
4. It can contribute to family harmony. Many – and perhaps most – children receive instruction better from someone who’s not a member of their family. A parent seeking to instruct her child academically can yield great frustration – and sometimes negative dynamics – for mom and kid alike. Yes, these dynamics can (and in some cases should) be overcome, but they’re real. A homeschool mom I love and respect, after years of butting heads with her homeschooled daughter, said, “I needed to just be her mom again, not her mom and her teacher.” Their relationship – by her account and her daughter’s – improved infinitely after she stopped homeschooling. Of course some find families find the opposite to be true; it depends on the family.
5. It may better take a child’s specific needs and situations into account. Some who take a “we-must-homeschool” approach hold such a black-and-white view that the possibility of a child thriving more in a (public) school setting than at home is virtually impossible. But I think sometimes school settings can actually be better for a kid. Possible reasons? Special needs; language needs; loneliness of a child; inability of the parent to provide appropriate structure or oversight for a season… Or others. It’s not defeat to acknowledge this and experiment with changing up schooling paradigms to see how kids respond.
To some, the possible advantages of schooling – certainly in public school – would’t register as worthy of consideration compared to its drawbacks (or to homeschooling’s benefits). And that’s absolutely fine. To others, the positive elements of public school may balance out or even outweigh its drawbacks, and that’s fine too. For them, public school’s an option on the table.
As moms, a primary job is to optimally marshall and leverage our community’s resources on our children’s behalf. This is true for all moms – homeschool moms, public school moms, and private school moms. And there are tons of resources out there, in all realms of life. The Holy Spirit’s the One who directs this process, and it’s always subject to changing and redirecting as He sees fit. Our job is to listen, trust, follow… and pray. Whatever the path is that He calls our individual family to.
In some situations, Christian mothers are made to feel second-class for sending their kids to public school, almost as if they should apologize for not homeschooling. This is not as it should be. Because where God is leading, there is freedom. As moms seeking to raise our children in the Lord, there’s no room for formulas, for fear, or for a ‘groupthink’ spirit. We walk in trust and obedience – however we school our kids.
Originally published March, 2014