Public, Private, or Homeschool - Mistaken Assumptions

I received this comment from Bridgette last week in response to my post “Before You Bury the Bus . . .”

“Hi, Brian - Do you think choosing to home school strictly for the purpose of sheltering children from the evil they may face in public school, or even Christian school for that matter, is 'burying the bus in the Mojave'? I can see how that could be literal 'withdrawal' so is it more biblical to prepare children for the things they are likely to face in school rather than avoiding them altogether? ... I realize this could potentially open a can of worms via the comments, but its becoming a hot topic in our home this summer as we prayerfully make the decision to continue homeschooling or not.”
This is a great question and one in which there are a wide variety of strong opinions from both educators and parents.  To answer this, there are two categories to keep in mind: 1) mistaken assumptions and 2) deciding factors.  With this post I want to deal with the mistaken assumptions.  I will follow up tomorrow (hopefully) with deciding factors.  
Mistaken Assumptions:
Most of the time mistakes we make in decision making are driven by fear and lack of information.  This is especially true when it comes to making choices about educating our children.  
Mistaken Assumptions with Homeschool:
I have found that strong proponents for public education often try to demonize homeschooling.  Because public education is the social norm, homeschool usually comes out of the gate with the opinion polls jaded against it.  
We usually hear that one can expect a homeschool child to be socially inept and academically behind.  My opinion is that the strong public school advocates make this their platform of argument because homeschooling inherently lacks what unionized educators believe to be fundamental - standardization, qualification (ie. degreed educators) and expert hierarchal accountability.  
While the homeschool certainly offers an environment in which this can happen, and has, it is statistically not the case to the degree that home school opponents wish to make things seem.  Here is an interesting study published by CBN you may find informative (    
The truth of the matter is that many home-schools are now connected and offer creative environments in which children flourish under well qualified teachers.  Home schoolers are taking great advantage of the freedom that homeschool offers and are not turning out children that are merely social survivors but leaders.
A mistaken assumption that homeschool parents may make is to assume that by withdrawing their children from the public school option that they are saving their souls from sin.  The word public does not mean it is of the devil.  McDonald’s is public, as is your street, the library many homeschool parents would use, as is the pool where your kids take lessons.  Public school doesn’t send a kid to Hell, failure to shepherd their heart and share the gospel with them will give them a one way ticket.  If the strategy of the home school parent is to save a child’s soul by withdrawal only to offer them an alternative solution of neglect we have not done better, we have done much worse.  If homeschool means you go to work while your kids do a workbook for a few hours and then spend the rest of the day watching television and playing video games - I would even argue that your children may be exposed to much more smut in a few hours than they are going to hear down at Roosevelt High.  
Mistaken Assumptions with Public School
The big mistake with public school is that it is often demonized by strong adherents of private Christian and homeschool education.  Public education is not a moral death sentence.  All of my years from 1st grade - 12th were spent in the Catoosa County Georgia system and I am thankful for all of them.  Until recently my daughters were daily in the public school and we had a great experience all along the way.  The public school is full of dedicated, gifted educators; many of whom are strong followers of Christ.  Our experience was that even when our children’s teachers were not believers that they were morally astute and sympathetic to our beliefs.  Public school often offers a diverse environment in which your children can explore a wide variety of opportunities, each of which can be profitable in the broader conversation of discipleship.  
However I find that Christian parents and teachers sometimes make a mistake by thinking that being in the public school makes them more obedient to the gospel while Christian school and home school are less gospel centered choices.  The assumption is that by being in less sanctified institutions, somehow one is doing more of what Jesus did by entering the world and sharing the gospel.  
While my daughters were in public school we prayed for this everyday.  God honored our prayer and during our last few weeks in Birmingham God used my daughter and her friend to lead two girls to Christ.  Now three years down the road, these girls are in church and being faithfully discipled.  
As incredible as this experience was, I reject this assumption on two grounds:
  1. It assumes that unless YOU are there that people will go to Hell.  I do believe that people need to hear the gospel to be saved, but I don’t think that a change in venue makes one automatically disobedient to the Great Commission.  Choosing an alternative route to public school doesn't mean you love Jesus less.  Had my daughters been home schooled or attended private school, they would have met these same girls through their swim team or some other community activity with which we were engaged.  I have more confidence in the sovereign will of God and His grace than I do in myself.  I think this premise that my absence is a sentence to Hell for anyone is built on theological guilt rather than on Biblical theology.  I am to share the gospel out of obedience, not out of guilt. 
  2. It ignores a Biblical precedent.  Notice in the Bible that Jesus did not send His disciples into the world until they had been with Him and were prepared.  In sending them out on mission, He also debriefed them.  One, we need to remember that our kids are not evangelism tools, they are kids.  They need to be brought up in the way they should go.  Whether they are in public school or not, their presence is useless without preparation and discipleship.  Sadly, a lot of the very people I hear say that they are being salt and light in the public school return week after week to their church fruitless.  I don’t see them leading anyone to Christ.  Evangelism is not a matter of presence but of prepared proclamation.  If this assumption is true, the churches should be full of publicly educated children coming to Christ, but they are not.  This is a matter for a broader conversation of the church and discipleship in the home.  All I am advocating here is that we don’t need to make an irresponsible assumption on this point.
Mistaken Assumptions with Private (Christian School)
The big assumption across the board with the private, especially Christian school is that you get what you pay for.  Parents of the private school, Christian or not, believe that they are turning out scholars for their investment.  For the Christian school parents, the belief is that we are paying for our kids to become Jesus followers.  
As with any institution, private school, church, public school, etc. we have fallen victim in America to believing that we can subsidize an outcome with our children.  Institutions are not replacements, they are partners.  As I will discuss later, private schools often offer a place where parents can be a greater source of influence in their child’s education - they are often more socially, morally, and idealistically agreeable places or you would not be paying the price - but I know that the private school was never intended to replace parental responsibility.
In observing the hubbub surrounding private, especially Christian school, I have also noticed that the most detrimental assumption is the undue pressure put on the kids.  From within parents pressure the child to produce an A every time.  Well, isn’t that what we are paying for, A’s with a reputation?  
Many private schools require a higher degree of academic rigor as opposed to some public schools.  If you send your kid to certain private schools, be prepared that they may not always get an A.  Reputable private schools have a way of exposing what your child would otherwise find out in college, they may be a B or C student.  If so, celebrate who they are rather than try to manipulate with money what they are not.  
From outsiders, especially with Christian schoolers, I almost see a glory in the children’s failure.  If a mistake is made, it is often much more public and the kids are exposed to a greater degree of disgrace.  We often forget that wearing a uniform does not change the heart.  Not all kids in Christian schools know Christ personally.  Not all kids that know Christ are perfect; in fact, none of them are.  A kid who stumbles coming out of the door of the home school, public school, or private school deserves the same opportunity for grace and Biblically rooted discipline as any other child.  
When the kids stumble, I usually hear the following mistaken assumption, “See there, the school says Christian but they are not real.”  I disagree.  The Christian school is just as indicative of reality as is the church, Roosevelt High, and the home school.  Sinners are sinners whether they wear uniforms, do math at the kitchen table, or go to class on the government dollar.  We all need Christ.  Institutions do not change that reality.

Much like the assumption that placing your kids in public school makes you more missional, is the mistaken assumption that placing your kids in Christian school makes you more devoted to Christ.  I knew a pastor who would make statements to the congregation both publicly and in private that made people in the church feel as if they didn't fork out the dough for private Christian school that they were second class citizens of the Kingdom.  There is really no biblical premise for this type of thinking in any form.  It is legalism, not obedience.  It is like saying I am less of a pastor because I am in Georgia instead of in Africa.

So whether you send your child to the living room, private school, or public school for class one needs to sort fear from fact.  Discern opinion from proof.  In moving to a new town two years ago, I said in jest that if I listened to all the parents that there is not a school in town fit for a kid :).  
You can’t make good decisions based on bad information.  Pray through the information you have.  Stay involved as a parent.  I will discuss this more in my next post, but Deuteronomy 6:4-9 shares the key for any educational paradigm - parental involvement!
Sending your child to one avenue of education over another is not a matter of automatic withdrawal, nor is it a recipe for successful engagement.  In any choice there is responsibility.  As a parent we have to own it.

Bridgette, thanks for your question.  I hope this helps.    


Karl said…
As a retired public school teacher I am convinced that our only hope is to rescue our children from the public (government) schools and raise a godly generation.

Public schools cannot be redeemed. Saying we should not abandon them is like saying the passengers of the Titanic should have stayed aboard because the band was playing good music and the captain was a good man.

For the solution see

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