If you are anything like the typical Christian parent who loves their child, you probably have an opinion about whether a child should (or may) be schooled at home, at a private Christian school, or in the public school system. The way some proponents of the various views air their opinions, one would think they’re helping you to choose whether to send your child to Heaven, Purgatory, or Hell.
I don’t view Dante’s Inferno as an allegory for school selection, but I do empathize with the heavy responsibility that presses on a parent’s shoulders like Atlas. And I know I will annoy you who passionately hold to any of the above options. We have three little kids (and counting), and I can already tell that they are each going to thrive in different environments, and by God’s grace could probably survive in any educational atmosphere.
School is not an institution that God recognizes as responsible for the spiritual formation of your child. The role of teaching children about God is up to the parents.
Parents may recognize their inadequacy in imparting calculus and trigonometry to their wunderkind. They may decide to staff that out to a local school; no harm, no foul, if you ask me. But that is an entirely different matter from whether or not parents are involved in teaching the children about the Lord, and how to apply the Bible’s wisdom to their lives.
Your offspring may prove as prodigious as Good Will Hunting, but if he cusses, brawls, lies, and otherwise behaves like a hellion, as Matt Damon did in that movie, then what’s the point of his education? God is not impressed by evil genius.
It makes sense to me why a parent would get upset with a school that does a poor job at teaching a child Ohm’s law or English grammar. What are we paying them for, if not to teach the students the math that is over our heads? But we’ve missed the point of school if we become disgruntled because of the absence of Bible instruction offered in the classroom, or a presence of unwholesome morals, or spawning misinformation about world views. It certainly is nice when a school helps with that stuff, but biblically it is not their role, it’s ours.
Homeschooling is an effective approach that avoids using the school as a support of the family at all. But there are legitimate reasons why a family may choose to avail themselves of the help a school offers. There is nothing sinful about parents who dropped out of high school admitting that they cannot keep up with their gifted eleventh-grader’s chemistry syllabus. A parent doesn’t have to be smart to be wise, and he or she doesn’t need a diploma to be godly. But parents do need to do the best they can to equip their children for the spiritual traps that will await them while they are in school.
So, how can we use the school as a helper, without letting it become a substitute?
1. Spot the Mistake
As a parent you should get involved in the content of what is being taught. Hunt for inaccuracies in science textbooks (concerning Evolution, for example) and adjust an erring biology teacher’s opinion about when life begins. Bring the Bible to bear on the material that your child is being exposed to.
When a teacher ventures away from their subject and begins to interpret the material in ways that have spiritual implications, he or she has drifted into spiritual education. A teacher is not my kid’s pastor or parent, and my children need to understand that.
As Paul warned Timothy,
1 Tim 1:5 The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, 7 desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.
Get to know the teachers, and frequently quiz your children about what they are learning.
Be involved in the social influence that is part of school life. Unlike friendships that develop around church and through extended family gatherings, schools bring together children of all walks of life, religious backgrounds, and world views. This can be a valuable opportunity, but must be very carefully managed. Always bear in mind the warning of Scripture that “Bad company ruins good morals” (1 Cor 15:33).
These days bad company is carried around on smart phones. A parent who doesn’t know their kid’s FaceBook password is a parent who doesn’t know the company their kids keep.
3. Remember Who’s the Boss
Let me start by admitting that when I taught high school English, I would not have appreciated someone saying what I’m about to say. But as a parent, I’ve switched teams.
Schools shouldn’t be permitted to dictate your family’s priorities. Teachers understandably view their particular subject as the most crucial knowledge your child can gain, and their homework and testing schedule as more important than other teachers and certainly more urgent than the student’s family time.
As a former teacher I can vouch for how easy it was to convince parents that they should not take their child out of school even one day early for their family vacation, because of a critical quiz or lesson that would allegedly affect their kid forever. As a parent, however, I realize something that never occurred to me before: the parent does not work for the school, the school works for the parent.
If our family acquiesced to every school event presented to us we would have literally no time alone as a family. There is always a track-meet that needs spectators, a play that requires an audience, a club that begs for a parent to assist and a child to participate. There are friend’s parties, and parent-teacher conferences, and meetings, and countless other activities of vital importance that invade precious space on our family’s schedule like an aggressive cancer.
The family needs to close ranks against all the good things they could be doing through the school, and instead insist on the better things they need to be doing through the home.
If a school situation is becoming untenable due to unreasonable demands on time and commitment of the children and/or their parents, it may be time to reconsider the education path your family has chosen. Perhaps if the “define the relationship” discussion didn’t work, there needs to be a “it’s not you it’s me” break-up talk.
Seriously, we need to remember who works for whom.
If you don’t agree with my view, I’m sure you’ll allow me to blame these misguided notions on my schooling.
Also by Clint on this topic: