Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Making an Educational Decision (Part 2)

Part 1 of this series can be found here.

If you walk into most conservative evangelical churches these day, you will notice a rise in the number of children who are homeschooled. Homeschooling is a rapidly growing trend among Christian parents for a variety of reasons. What you may also encounter is a general attitude that if you don’t homeschool, then you may be failing as a parent. There is a stench of parental superiority in the evangelical air many of us breathe regarding homeschooling. Homeschool parents are increasingly being represented as the only people who are truly dedicated and willing to make tremendous sacrifice to save their children from Caesar. In fairness, less than a decade ago homeschoolers were seen as weirdos who are going to raise up socially dysfunctional and academically handicapped children. As the evidence is pouring out, however, this image is changing (though admittedly some still suspect this may be a real problem).

As a result of this cultural shift among evangelicals, I am increasingly asked what the Bible says on such matters. I am asked this by dads who want to make good decisions for their families. I have also been asked by moms who feel guilty because some of their friends have been sure to repeat how they sacrifice so much to homeschool because they “really love their children and want the best for them.” Thus, we turn to the question, “does the Bible require a particular type of educational setting?” Does the Bible say anything about whether we homeschool, enroll our children in a private Christian school, or place them in a public school?

Let me compound the problem by suggesting we ought to reject the question as insufficient. The question assumes that education is based primarily in the cognitive arena of transferring information. The argument goes something like this: 

Clearly, our children ought to receive information shaped by a Christian worldview, since all other kinds of learning are a fool’s errand. The public schools have a curriculum that bathes in the waters of secular atheism, thus we should not subject our children to that kind of education. Therefore, if you can afford a Christian school that is a good option. If you can not afford a Christian school, then homeschool is the only Christian option left to you. If you do anything less, you are merely turning your children over to Caesar and you clearly are not taking seriously your responsibility to raise your children in the fear and admonition of the Lord.

There are two possible problems with this line of thought:

  1. This may be sage advice, but it isn’t necessarily a biblical mandate.
  2. The assumption implicit in this argument is that children are primarily thinking creatures and thus our only concern needs to be shaping their worldview (see part 1 for more on this).  

The Bible clearly commands us to raise our children with both a Christian worldview and as Christian worshippers. This means we need to be devoted to making sure they understand how everything they learn is created and designed by God. Their worldview needs to be distinctly Christian. We need to find a way to instruct our children so they know God is and that he is relevant to their daily lives. 

I think it is true to argue that teaching our children a Christian worldview is much easier in the context of a school setting that is assisting us in that endeavor, as opposed to a setting where the worldview is explicitly and self-consciously atheistic. There are many Christian teachers in the public schools, but they oversee a curriculum which intentionally teaches a secular atheist worldview. With that said, this does not necessarily mean it is impossible to raise children with a Christian worldview while they attend public schools. It is definitely going to require more work. It is wise to assess whether you will actually do all the extra work necessary to overcome an expressly godless curriculum. 

We also can’t argue that the Bible clearly requires one educational setting. There is no such biblical command. We can’t say definitively that parents who avail themselves of the public schools to educate their children academically are necessarily violating a biblical command. One could argue that the better part of wisdom militates agains that decision, but we must be careful not to make a wisdom call into a command for all to follow.

Further, we need to be thoughtful to establish a rhythm to our Christian lives that is self-consciously an order of worship directed to the Lord. We need to understand that our practices are a reflection of how we see God and humanity and also serve to inculcate in our children a particular view of God and humanity. Let me provide an example: 

If a family’s week consists of the parents going to work from 8am-5pm five days per week, while the children go to school and do homework, then is followed by multiple athletic practices and hours of watching television at night, and capped off by using the weekend to do some household chores, go to athletic events or mini-vacations, and squeeze in church attendance when there is time, what kind of view of God and humanity are you practicing? What are you teaching your children to love through constant practice? Does it even matter that you tell your children you are a Christian family? Your life is basically a pattern of production and consumption. Your children are being raised to perform up to western standards and to believe rest consists in being entertained. Is it any wonder that so many young people go off to college and walk away from Christianity? Your children have practiced a life of worshipping the world their whole lives!

We can be people who profess to love Jesus, attend church occasionally, and retain a relatively high moral standard in our home, while we are simultaneously habituating our children in a practice of worshipping the creation rather than the Creator! We can do this whether our children are in public, private, or homeschool settings. The educational setting does not guarantee we will practice a pattern of life that points our children to worshipping the Lord. Please don’t buy into the idea that your regular practices don’t matter. Your children’s loves (thus their worship) are being shaped by the rhythm of life you practice in your family. 

What if you reorganized your family’s practices so that most evenings you spent time discussing life while having dinner together, reading the Bible together, and praying together? What if you dialed back the athletic events your children participate in and the kinds of grades you expect from them, so that your family could spend time several days a week enjoying time with the Lord as a family and with your church body? What if you turned the television off and replaced that time playing a game and laughing together? What if you spent time discussing with your children what they are learning academically, how this new information helps them to have a higher view of God, and what challenges they are facing which they can look to the Lord for help with?

I want to provide a personal example of how these patterns of life as worship indeed shape what your children love. My son loves football and basketball. He is a fanatic. This is shaped in part by me playing these sports with him. He was asked just last night to be on an all-star basketball team. He was ecstatic about this! He also found out this all-star team is going to a weekend tournament in June. My son asked whether this tournament would interfere with Sunday corporate worship. He is only willing to play in the tournament on Saturday if the Sunday games interferes with Sunday worship. This is a costly decision for him. He loves basketball and he desperately wants to play in this entire tournament. However, he loves the Lord and corporate worship more. Our family practice has always been to guard Sundays from any interference with other activities. This pattern of worship has shaped how our son sees his week. However we resolve this dilemma for him, the resolution will not include devaluing corporate worship so he can play basketball.

The question of whether our children should attend a public school, a private Christian school, or be homeschooled proves to me to be the wrong question to start with. The better question is how are we intentionally building a liturgy (order of worship) into the patterns of our lives that trains our children to love the Lord? Also, how are we using all the resources at our disposal to help our children learn a Christian worldview? Do the academic choices we make impact our answers to the previous questions? Absolutely! We would be naive to think any differently. At the end of the day, our children are either being taught God is and he is relevant to our daily lives, or they are not. This is the parent’s primary responsibility.

I failed to deliver on the question of whether those who teach our children ought to matter to us. I will answer this in my next post. My final post will be on the story of my family and the advantages and disadvantages we have found in each academic setting.


Kevin Altenhofel said...

I wonder if I'm missing the genesis of this topic since I'm no longer on Facebook. That being said, very well-considered argument you're laying out. I look forward to your next posts.

Celina Abel said...

Thanks Chad for posting!!! I'm excited to read the next one.

Brandy Vencel said...

I'm enjoying this series, Chad!

I hope you don't mind me challenging you a bit, but I think you are missing an essential component of the conversation (so far...maybe that is coming up), and that is the big question of what education actually is, or is supposed to be, or what is its purpose. You did say that education is not merely the transference of information (with which I agree!), but that only tells us what education is not.

The ancients (meaning Greeks and Romans) believed that the purpose of education was virtue. Augustine sort of piggy-backs on this when he says that virtue is ordo amoris--the proper ordering of the affections. Now, of course, the Greek and Roman standards would be different from the Christian's standards in terms of affections, but CS Lewis thought the point remained (see The Abolition of Man).

How education is defined, and what is viewed to be its purpose, has to be central to a discussion about education. I see many families debating over *location* of education (in the home, in the school, if in the school--which school?) without realizing that everything else flows from our philosophy.

If I believe that children have souls and that their minds feed upon ideas and that the purpose of education is to tutor them in right loves--to teach them to love the different aspects of creation as they ought (a friend of mine called this "taking mental dominion")--I am going to teach in an entirely different manner, and my curriculum will be different. Who I am as a teacher will matter because if *I* have not love, I am merely a clanging gong.

But if I believe that education is, as Dewey said, "an organism adapting to its environment" and that the only Permanent Thing is "change," then my curriculum will be what we see in most schools--public OR private--and even in homeschools. It'll be one experiment after another, it'll be focused on experience rather than ideas conveyed by logoi--by words--and who the teacher is (whether he possess virtue of any kind) will seem irrelevant.

Sorry for hijacking your post here. Educational philosophy is a pet project of mine. :)

I look forward to reading your future posts!

Chad Vegas said...


I'm not sure I completely understand your challenge. I'm fairly certain I have defined education as discipleship, as the shaping of the worship (affections) and worldview (ideas) of our children. I haven't limited education to the academic sphere, which I am certain you are not doing either. I haven't yet written on those who teach our children and the importance of that with regard to discipleship. Anyway, could you tell me more what you have in mind as I was clearly giving a nod to Augustine when I was talking about ordering our children's affections thru the worship practices in the liturgy of our families' rhythms. Thanks.

Brandy Vencel said...

"Challenge" probably wasn't the correct word. I suppose that is the biggest danger of being able to post comments--speaking the wrong words!

I was hoping you'd define things more clearly--I think I was looking for a proposition...which you basically gave in your comment here! "Education is ____ and its purpose is ____." I suppose sometimes I need things spelled out. :)

I haven't read Desiring the Kingdom yet (actually, I do not own it yet) so I do not know exactly where you are coming from on the cultural liturgy issue. My experience with that concept is based upon my reading of works by Catholics, from whom I have learned much on this subject, and yet I always feel I must be careful because of our doctrinal differences.

When I read through the basic works of Christian eduction throughout history, from Augustine, to Comenius, to the Reformers and Erasmus, and Comenius, Charlotte Mason and modern writers like Lewis and Hicks and Taylor, I see a stream of thought that extends the concept of affections beyond worship, so I did not interpret worship = affections when I read your post, though now that you say this more explicitly, I see that.

I think that the ordering of the affections was, historically speaking, broader, but not having read the book perhaps the author somehow extends the concept of worship to cover all the affections?

In brief, though, the affections would cover all of the loves and delights of humanity. We wants those loves to stay proportional to the actual, objective worth of the object that is loved, and so we want it *not* to develop into worship. Just as Theology was seen as the queen of the four sciences, and therefore of the seven liberal arts as well, so worship (love of God) was the queen of the affections. But there were other affections (patriotism comes to mind) that teachers saw themselves as developing (and yet keeping from developing into worship--in this case, jingoism). That is why Charlotte Mason said that the ultimate question of whether you have been successful as a teacher is not "how much does the youth *know*" but rather "how much does he love?"

What I see modern education a la John Dewey mass producing is the opposite of this: the apathetic youth, who thinks nothing is worth loving. John Dewey's philosophy is worked out in the education of *most* children in the United States, regardless of where they are schooled, and I believe it has a numbing effect.

Now I am talking too much. I do not disagree with anything you said, but hoped to see you develop it out a little more because I *think* the affections cover more than worship, but also the lesser loves.

Actually, something just clicked for me right now as I was thinking about the word amoris. That is the genitive form of the word love. It is also singular. Maybe I am wrong to not view it as a singularity even though the conversation is usually about affections, plural.