Public, Private, or Homeschool (Deciding Factors Part 1)

A couple of weeks ago I posted an article I wrote entitled Before You Bury the Bus on the topic of using sheltering as a strategy for raising our children.  In that post I mentioned the education environment.  In response, Bridgette asked,
“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.  Last week I dealt with mistaken assumptions.  It is a mistake to assume, in any educational venue, that one will accomplish a greater degree of sheltering or engagement.  We must separate fear from fact and make good decisions on good information.  Choosing out of fear is often misleading.
With the next few posts, I want to address deciding factors in choosing a path for your child’s education.  Those deciding factors would be: 1) the choices you actually have 2) quality of education 3) affordability 4) freedom 5) curriculum 6) parental involvement 7) your parental commitment.
The choices you actually have.
For a single mom or dad who works long days just to keep the family afloat, homeschooling may not be a viable option.  If both mom and dad are working, plopping the kids down at the kitchen table with a textbook and leaving them for 8 hours to do it on their own is not education; that’s called busy work.  
If you live in an area where there are no private schools, well, that makes it easy to strike one choice from your list. If your child has been expelled from public school, to the dinner table for class he will go unless there is a private school nearby that will accept him.  
Once you see the choices that are before you, sample them.  As I said in my previous post, get real information.  I would not allow the “I heard” story to be considered as fact.  Sample the homeschool curriculum.  Make a visit to the local prep school.  Make an appointment at your local public school.  When we were choosing a school for our daughters when moving to a new community we made a day of visiting our options.  We found most all of the schools were incredibly accommodating and welcomed our investigation.  I would recommend that you call and set up an appointment ahead of time.  It seemed to me that the larger the school the more difficult it was for them to accommodate a walk in visit.  Yet in those same schools, a few days notice made all the difference.
In our previous community both of our attended public school for three simple reasons.  1)  Neither of us were willing to homeschool our children.  2) There was no viable, affordable private option within a reasonable commuting distance for us at the time.  3)  We knew a lot about our community school and felt comfortable with it.  None of this made us any more or less of a Christ follower.  It made no statement about how much or how little we loved our children.  It said nothing about how naive or worldly we were.  
Look at what is there.  That’s really all you have to decide on.  The rest of it is called worry or anxiety, and the Bible never offers a high opinion of either.
Quality of education.
While it is true that there are a myriad of ways schools can be rated according to test scores and student/teacher ratios, all of which is easily accessible online, before you go to you must personally answer a critical question.  What is education?
Test scores are misleading and teacher/student ratios aren’t all they are cracked up to be.  A horrible teacher of 40 is a horrible teacher of 4.  The number of students in a classroom does not determine how qualified for the task a teacher is.  Small class sizes do not make bad teachers great.  Instead of asking how are the ratios, ask rather, how are the teachers?  Also ask, what are they teaching?
These questions will inevitably bring you back to your philosophy of education.  When our children were in elementary school we wanted them to learn math and science.  We wanted them to be able to write sentences.  We expected the school to keep them safe, but we did not expect the school to lead them to Christ.  We wanted a school that would help them become capable academically.  We wanted book learning and our local elementary school was on target.
There was a private Christian school just down the road from our church, but academically it was subpar.  I was involved in that school as well and felt a lot of unrest and instability in the organization.  Although the faculty were sincere followers of Christ who had a heart for children, the school did not offer what we needed to accomplish our educational goals for our children.  Again, we discipled them, we needed someone to help them grow academically.   Eventually the school closed.
That being said, philosophically and practically for our family, there was nothing homeschooling or a private school could offer us that trumped our choice of the public school.  We discipled our children both in and out of the context of their experience in public school and all went well.  
This does not mean that I believe a public school is morally neutral.  No doubt there is a more liberalized climate of content both morally and philosophically in public schools.  Along the way, there were books and films the school wanted to expose our children to which we objected.  The school officials were incredibly accommodating.  They were sensitive to our beliefs and offered our children alternatives. 
I should say that they were not sensitive to us because we barnstormed the office or pitched a sanctified fit; neither of which is Christ honoring.  I believe the school was sensitive to us because we served the school and we were constantly involved.  It actually came to the point that my wife and I were often asked to pray or to offer a devotion at parent sponsored events.  
I will discuss this in a forthcoming post, but the key to education according to Deuteronomy 6, which we are using as our pattern text, is parental involvement, strategy, and intentionality.  This holds true for any venue of education, private, public, or home.  Parents must be involved.  If parents are merely passive onlookers the educational process crumbles at its foundation. 

More to come.


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