Choosing an educational path for your children is one of the most important choices we make as parents. I think most Christian parents of young children are confronted with the dilemma of what is best for their kids and their family: Should we homeschool? Should we send them to a private Christian school? Or is public school OK? Is public school best?
I address this question on this blog, because it seems that this question is especially difficult and relevant in the small town setting. Schools in small towns are often struggling. The local school may have closed or is in danger of closing. Many of these factors serve as detractors both for the decision to utilize the public school system and the decision to homeschool. And lower salary in a small church setting (and limited options) more or less eliminates the private school option.
The general case for and against sending your kids to public school and the case for and against homeschooling are laid out in detail other places, so i won’t delve deeply into those arguments here. The advantages of homeschool come down to controlling the environment, pace, and content of your child’s education, along with the personal attention that you are able to give each child. The argument for public school is that your family is better able to be a part of the community and your child is able to hold to their beliefs and bear witness as they interact with people who have different backgrounds.
Our decision to homsechool our oldest child, Joseph, was sort of born out of his date of birth. He was ready, by all accounts, to begin kindergarten when he was five years old, but he turned five a week too late to be enrolled in public school (at least without some sort of special ruling). We had been leaning toward homeschooling anyway, but that sealed the decision, at least as we got started. We’ve revisited the decision again since that time, and we are confident that the best thing for Joseph (and Hope, who begins kindergarten this year) is to have school at home, at least for now. Here are a few reasons why:
We are able to teach. My wife was a classroom teacher for several years in the public school system, and I have a couple of years of teaching experience as well. We are confident in our ability to choose and adapt curriculum and to teach. Homeschooling is a completely different animal from a regular classroom, though. We’ve faced a lot of challenges, but we feel that God has equipped us to be up to the task.
Flexibility is good for our family and ministry schedules. As a pastor, my work week is Sunday-Thursday, with a Friday-Saturday weekend. We also live remote from family, so when we need to make a quick trip to visit, we need to leave Thursday afternoon and come back Saturday. We can do that whenever we want, adjusting the school schedule just like I adjust my work schedule. This flexibility was extremely important last year during my mom’s illness and passing. We lost several weeks of school during that ordeal, but we were able to adjust the schedule, accelerate things a bit, and still finish the school year on time. In a ministry setting that puts you away from “home,” that kind of flexibility is really useful.
This flexibility contrasts to the fact that public school takes up a colossal amount of time. Since our local school closed a couple of years ago, kids in our area get on the bus well before 7 a.m. and do not get off the bus until after 4 p.m. Then after nearly ten hours with the public school system, they are still expected to complete an hour or more of homework every night. That’s a ton of wasted time. We can allow our kids to sleep late enough that they get adequate rest, spend enough time in school to do all they need to do for the day, and still be finished by the early afternoon, with no evening work at all. They’re getting enough sleep, and they are not going to miss any opportunities with friends or in ministry because of homework. It’s just a better use of time.
We determined we were not homeschooling out of fear. The stereotype of the homeschooling parent is that they are afraid of the world, wanting to shelter their babies and their precious little ears and eyes from all the bad things that exist in the world. Pictures like these become stereotypes because they have an element of truth to them for a lot of people. We won’t deny (and are not ashamed of) the fact that one factor we considered is that we want to preserve our children’s innocence. We don’t want our kids exposed to certain knowledge at such a young age or to be taught about these things from unreliable sources. But that sense of protection can easily morph into an unhealthy fear of the world that betrays a lack of trust in God. We know that we can’t live in fear: no one can lock enough doors, watch closely enough, monitor media enough, or shelter their kids enough to make all the good we want to happen and to keep out all the bad. So we had to examine our motivations. We both have a lot of experience in the public school system, both as students and teachers. We faced that environment as believers, so we know it can be done and are not afraid of it.
We are not afraid for our children to meet the world as it is, but we take it as our responsibility to prepare them. We don’t think our kids will graduate high school as “homeschoolers.” We plan to one day send them out to meet the challenges of different viewpoints and to bear witness to the gospel. But we don’t think they are ready for that yet. We want to be the ones who teach them about fundamental truths of life before these things are challenged. We want them to be believers, empowered by the Holy Spirit, as they face these challenges. It is our prayer that they will be ready sooner than later.
Choosing how your kids will be educated is a very personal decision, dependent on factors that are unique to the circumstances of each family. Beware of people who are dogmatic champions for one choice or another. The decision to homeschool has drawbacks for every advantage. Next time, I will be writing about the challenges we’ve faced as a result of choosing to homeschool while pastoring in a small town.