The secularization of modern public schools makes them a poor option for providing children with a Christian education. This leaves homeschooling and private Christian school as the best remaining options. But which should parents choose?
The Ideal Christian School
A good Christian school is certainly an attractive option for parents. Unfortunately, many Christian schools are Christian in name only. They look like the public schools with the addition of prayer, chapel, and creationism in science class. Part of the problem is that many private schools are still controlled by state regulations. They model their curriculum after state schools, use state-endorsed textbooks, and require teachers to obtain state teaching certification. Such “private” schools are catering to the state and should be avoided.
Instead of slightly modifying the state school model, Christian schools should rethink every aspect of education in light of biblical principles. A true Christian school should seek to provide rigorous academics, a biblical worldview, and Christian community. Teachers should be qualified in their field, but they should also be good role models for students. The administration should demand Christian behavior and excellence in the classroom. This means they will be selective in admissions so as to create a positive environment for all students. As for curriculum, Christian schools should teach religious subjects such as Bible, systematic theology, apologetics, and church history. However, they should also teach science, math, history, and literature from a biblical perspective.
Assuming there is a school like this within reasonable distance, there is still the challenge of paying for it. Private Christian schools are not free. They do not have loads of tax dollars available to fund buildings and teacher salaries. So Christian schools have to charge tuition, often somewhere around $10,000 per student per year. This is probably the number one reason Christians opt for public school, as they simply do not want to pay private school tuition.
And of course, sending kids to a Christian school does not provide a de facto Christian education. The Christian school is there to support the parents, not supplant them. Parents who send their children to a school are extending their covenantal authority to the teachers and administration. And if parents do not do their part at home, this will significantly weaken the effectiveness of the Christian school.
Advantages of Homeschooling
There are challenges for the private Christian school model. A private school has the problem of teaching a large number of students at the same time, all of whom vary in ability. A teacher in this case cannot focus his teaching on the weakest or the strongest students, as this would be to the detriment of the other group. Teachers thus end up teaching everyone in class at the same pace, which ends up being a problem for everyone. This problem can be avoided with an individualized education, where the student goes at his or her own pace for each subject. And who is better equipped to provide such an individualized education than a child’s parents? This is a major advantage of homeschooling.
Homeschooling is also much cheaper than private school tuition. The number of homeschool resources available continues to grow, with new books, workbooks, and online videos being made every year. The larger market also means the cost of such resources is going down. Homeschool parents can therefore educate their children for a fraction of the cost of a private school. The main expense of homeschooling is time, as someone has to stay at home with the kids to teach them or oversee their self-study. Of course, this can be a great situation. A mother who homeschools her children is able to spend more time with her children, and she saves money on childcare. She also has the opportunity to work part time from home if she desires, especially as the children get older.
But like the Christian school, homeschool is not a de facto Christian education. Homeschool requires hard work on the part of parents, which is why many would prefer to send their children off to a school. Further, parents who homeschool must make sure they themselves possess a Christian worldview that they may impart to their children. Homeschool is therefore a completely viable option for Christians, but it requires that parents be diligent in the work of educating their children.
Two criticisms leveled against homeschooling are that (1) parents cannot be experts in every subject; and (2) homeschoolers are poorly “socialized.” The first criticism is true. However, online video education solves this problem. Parents do need to be able to help their children learn, particularly while they are young. But as they get older, children are better equipped for self-study and can be guided by online instruction with excellent teachers. As for the “socialization” claim, I have dealt with that elsewhere.
I will say this—both of these criticisms have some merit, but both can be met by participating in homeschool groups. One of the problems with modern schools, both public and private, is that kids are there way too long. Kids are not designed to sit in a classroom for seven hours per day. However, they do benefit from taking courses that meet for an hour or two a couple times a week. This is what a homeschool group does.
These groups can provide high-quality teaching for a lower cost than private schools. They also foster community among students and can even provide opportunity for athletic competition. Homeschool groups usually follow a university model of education, with students meeting once or twice a week with the teacher and then doing most of the work at home. This is far more efficient than having children in a classroom for seven hours per day.
To sum up, Christian schools and homeschooling are both good options for providing children with a Christian education. There are strengths and weaknesses of both. However, homeschool groups are a great solution that provides the best of both worlds.
You can find more on this subject, as well as recommended resources, in my e-book, Thinking Biblically About Education: Why Parents Should Abandon Government Schools and Take Back Control of Education.