Click around a few Christian parenting websites, and before long, someone will invariably suggest that private school or home-schooling are the only biblical learning options for Christian families.
That is ridiculous, of course.
I have much respect for home-school parents, and Jim taught at a fantastic Christian school in Pittsburgh. Both can be great options for families. However, not only are those choices out of reach for many because of income and access, plenty of Christians desire to send their kids to public school. No one education model is right for every child uniquely created in God's image.
Too often, we want churches, youth groups, and Christian education to play the role that God has given parents: to raise up children in faith. Churches and ministries like Christian schools and camps provide invaluable support to parents in teaching kids to live out their faith, but that instruction begins (and continues) at home:
In his book Fearless Faith: Living Beyond the Walls of Safe Christianity, John Fischer questions the bubble we've created with (often sub-par) Christian alternatives to mainstream movies, music, coffee shops, and even gyms. How will we minister if Christians opt out of life alongside people who don't share our faith?
The central scripture of the book is Jesus' prayer for his disciples in the gospel of John: My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one (17:15).
Public school is not best for every child, for myriad reasons. However, if we take seriously the call to shine God's light in the darkness, Christians cannot advocate a total retreat from the public schools, and we'd be foolish to imagine God is not already present and at work there as everywhere.
Christians need not fear exposing kids to ideas and people we don't agree with and can't control: Jesus has prayed God's protection over us in the midst of the world. I am not saying to let kids watch or listen to whatever their friends like. My point is simply that Christians need not be afraid. We all need to practice discernment and learn that delicate balance of living within the world and yet as people "set apart."
If anything, my faith is stronger for having received a public education. My university professors may not have been Christians (although some were), but they respected religion. Learning about Christianity and other religions within historical context helped root my own faith and grow it into something beyond what I inherited from my family.
I wonder if the Christians who vehemently oppose public education are less afraid of secular threats against faith than they are of progressive political influences. An informal Facebook survey of Christians I went to public school with reveals that our politics are split pretty evenly. My politics lean left. Did public school education influence me that way? It's impossible to say for sure; so many factors shape a person's values and beliefs. I do know that liberal politics are not synonymous with permissive morality or secularism.
Shaping a Christian worldview is crucial in helping kids make their faith their own so that they don't graduate from faith when they graduate high school, but we can emphasize that without sounding the alarm. Public school and the liberal arts are not the boogeyman they are sometimes painted to be, and thriving faith communities can be found on the most "secular" campuses.
Liberal arts education did not mold me into an atheist or a relativist. Seventeen years of public schooling made me a more critical thinker and a lover of learning, and equipped me to serve as a youth minister in my first job after graduation.
My parents didn't try to protect me from the world. Instead, they prayed over me and equipped me to live out my faith in every context, and I remain grateful to this day.
What's your take on the relationship between faith and schooling? Would you do things differently for your kids than you experienced growing up?