To home-school or not to home-school, that is the question...or is it?
This blog post has been many years in the writing. I have been faced with and exposed to the question of home-schooling vs public schooling since 2000 when my eldest officially started Grade 0. Home-schooling as an option in SA was relatively new at that time and was on the fringe but was becoming a strong movement and gaining momentum, especially in the Church.
My intent in writing this is not to persuade you or to convince you that one type of schooling is better than the other because I don’t think that is the question before us.
I think this issue of home-schooling is a straw man. Straw men have the ability to promote prideful attitudes, self-righteous hearts and harsh critique.
Putting forward a straw man often results in division and condemnation.
Has the measure or standard of faithful Christian parenting really
boiled down to one question: to home-school or not to home-school?
Do I have to home-school my children in order to honour God?
My views expressed are simply that; my views.
They are personal and I have had to work through the many facets of this discussion at a heart level over many years. I have moved from a self-righteous and outspoken posture (against home-schooling) to a defensive stance, having to justify our choice, to a position of grace in understanding that this is a Christian freedom issue. I have come to realise that I can fulfil my role as a mom whether I home-school my children or whether they go to a public school or private school. I really don’t think the issue is home-schooling, but it keeps raising its voice, loudly and proudly, drowning out all others.
Tim Challies says the following: ‘I am convicted that in almost every case schooling is a matter of Christian freedom. What I mean is that it is for each family to look to their local context, to look to the options available to them, to search the Scriptures, to examine conscience, and then to decide how they will educate their children. What is best for your family may not be best for my family; what is best in your district or your country may be very different for a family in another district or country; what is possible for one family may be impossible for another one and what may be wise for one family may be unwise for another.’
Just for the record, my children have had the benefit of being in Private Christian Schools, they have been home-schooled for a year while living in Rwanda, they have been in Government Model C Schools, they have been in non-Christian private schools and presently at a Private Catholic School. I call it giving my children an holistic education!
If you are a mom, there are two questions that are unavoidable;
How many children do you have? and
Where do they go to school?
However, across the conservative Christian landscape over the last few years, the second question has been replaced with:
Are you home-schooling your children?
If you answer ‘Yes,’ you are embraced with open arms and invited to join the inner circle. You can just feel the pats on the back and you are considered to be quite spiritual.
If your answer is ‘No,’ your order for sackcloth and ashes better be on its way. The question that follows, together with tight lips and raised eyebrows is, ‘Why not?’ No answer is going to suffice, so don’t bother.
If you are brave and ask a home-schooling mom what made her consider home-schooling, be ready for a combination of the following confident responses:
I believe this is what God has called me to do, or
It is biblical, or
We want to raise our children in a godly environment
I want to be faithful in my role of nurturing and training my children in the fear of the Lord, or
We want to do the spiritually right thing for our children.
What comeback do you have for that? You may think me harsh, but I have been on the receiving end of all of these responses and more. The follow on to these responses is a well prepared liturgy of generalisations, stereotypes and alarmist theories as to the cons, negatives and dangers of the public school system. (Please remember, I am not defending, condemning or critiquing either system and I am not naïvely unaware of problems every education system faces).
The lobbying doesn’t end there. Facebook and blog pages are riddled with bloggers lobbying for the home-school agenda. This is often done with little grace or sensitivity.
I had a friend at a previous Church who had chosen to home-school her children. I had not. We did Women’s Ministry together. After attending a conference by Paul David Tripp, she came to me admitting that all this time she had thought that moms who didn’t home-school their children were sinning.
You see, where does this leave us in the Church family, who don’t home-school? How does this affect our true fellowship as sisters in Christ?
It leaves the single mom feeling condemned.
It leaves the stay-at-home mom feeling judged.
It leaves the working mom feeling criticized.
‘The person who writes that public schooling can only be done out of ignorance or at the expense of a child may be deeply wounding the single mother who simply cannot home-school her children because she needs to provide for them and cannot do both; she may be wounding the family who has weighed the options and felt freedom.’ [Tim Challies]
I think that in many of our interactions we have forgotten Ephesians 4:29:
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
We cannot downplay the importance of educating our children, but let us not make a Christian freedom issue one of bondage and judgement. If we make home-schooling a Biblical command, then we are declaring that you are sinning if you are not home-schooling and ought to be put under church discipline.
So if home-schooling is a Christian freedom issue, why are we not treating it as such when we interact with one another?
If it is a Christian freedom issue, then it is a secondary issue and the problem is that Christians are not exemplary when it comes to secondary issues. We are default legalists.
We are tempted to sin against those who believe the opposite of what we believe.
As Christians, we are called to love one another in Gospel community. We are a family full of diversity but bound together in faith and doctrine. This diversity extends to many areas of application.
In Romans 14, Paul addresses the secondary matters of vegetarianism and the observance of holy days. But his teaching is applicable to any Christian freedom issue within the church. He talks about stronger and weaker Christians and how they were to love and accept one another.
Tim Challies comments on this passage: ‘What we see is that Paul does not tell these people that they have to come to a common agreement. Rather, he allows them to hold differing views and instructs them on how to love one another even with those differences. What we learn is that being of the same mind in Christ and being part of the same family in Christ does not require that we think the same things about secondary matters.’
Christianity is not meant to uniform us but to unify us.
So, who is the weaker and who is the stronger brother in the home-school discussion?
Perhaps 20 years ago in the church, the home-schooler, due to their minority and standing against the norm of public schooling, could be considered the strong. They were pioneers.
Perhaps today in churches where home-schooling tends is the norm, the public schooler is the strong. As culture changes so do the weak and the strong when it comes to secondary issues.
The one who is weak is the one who is adamant that his way is the only right way. The strong permits both options, but prefers one. You are weak if you shake your head at the seemingly foolish decision of others.
If I shake my head and condemn and despise a home-schooler, I am sinning against you. If you shake your head and in your heart condemn me for not home-schooling, you are sinning against me.
Weakness and strength can vary from issue to issue and so I may be weak on one issue and stronger on another. It is referring to conviction about what faith in Christ allows or prohibits. But both groups are doing what they believe flows from a heart of faith to honour God.
As I said in the beginning, this is not about home-schooling. This is a heart issue. This is a Christian freedom issue.
The temptation of the strong is to despise the weak and the temptation of the weak is to condemn the strong.
The strong tend to see the weak as being ensnared by legalism and may become impatient and the weak will see the strong as going beyond the confines of Scripture and condemn him and pass judgement for being lawless. This has brought division and bitterness where gospel unity should prevail.
‘Paul offers theological reasons that you cannot condemn or despise. As he does so he poses this rhetorical question: “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls.” In other words, Who on earth do you think you are? The weak would dare to stand in the place of God and pass judgment; the strong would dare to exclude people for whom Christ died. Both behaviours are abhorrent to God, who is the Father of both.’ [Tim Challies]
I think we all have reason to search our hearts. Pride and condescension lurk in the corners of our hearts, ready to pounce. We all need to repent of wrong attitudes and opinions. Unless we are humble, these issues can divide us and break down the sweet fellowship God has called us to in the Church.
To home-school or not to home school? That is not the question.
I am a mom. God has bestowed the privilege of this role on me and He calls me to be faithful in it. I am to be faithful in raising my children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. To use every opportunity that presents itself to point them to the beauty of a holy God and to the Gospel of Christ. This is not dependent on whether my children are home-schooled or not. It is dependent on God’s grace.