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What is best for the children?
"Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men" (Luke 2:52).

A parent’s first concern should be what is best for the children. Although they may not express it in distinct terms, most parents want development of the complete person as indicated in Luke’s statement about Jesus: mental, physical, spiritual and social. Schooling is not all about facts and skills. It is about growing and learning. Obviously the home is the first growing and learning place. The question is this: What other opportunities for growing and learning should parents provide? How much should come from a formal academic curriculum, how much from church, community, friends and specialized training to enhance individual gifts and talents?

How can parents decide?
Confusion over school choice may result because advocates of various types of schooling tend to go to extremes. Some overly emphasize negative aspects of public schools in order to promote Christian schools or homeschooling. Some have more interest in marketing materials than in helping parents make appropriate choices for their families. When three options are available, decisions should be based on the parents’ understanding of the needs and personalities of their children as well as their own feelings, motivations, and qualifications. After praying for guidance, the best course of action for parents is to carefully examine positive and negative aspects of each option and make specific personal applications.

If you are a parent with options, here are some points to consider:

Successful homeschooling begins with a positive motivation – to give your children the best possible opportunities for growing and learning – not in a spirit of anger and rebellion against public schools and popular culture. The strength and value of homeschooling is not that it protects children from outside influences, but that it cultivates their special interests. It guides them in the formation of values and goals, and allows them to focus on individual achievement rather than competition in a fixed system. It releases them from the need to defend their Christian beliefs and adjust to peer pressure. More of their energy can be devoted to family activities and spiritual growth.

Studies of the results of homeschooling are mostly positive. Those schooled at home are accepted at Harvard and other prestigious schools. Their test scores compare favorably with students from the best public schools. The reasons most often cited for these positive outcomes are parental involvement and attention to the individual needs of the student. The average scores of homeschoolers are higher because homeschoolers are fewer and they receive individual attention, whereas public school scores represent masses of students from all types of homes. This can mean that homeschooling is better. Or it could mean that the involvement of parents always makes a difference.

The advantages of homeschooling include the following:

  • The home is strengthened. Families are kept together with shared goals.
  • Schooling can be tailored to each child’s potentials and needs.
  • Individualized, flexible schedules allow for more learning opportunities.
  • Families can take advantage of community events and volunteer services.
  • Large classes and rigid schedules are avoided.
  • Less time is spent on routine matters required in public schools, so more time is given to learning.
  • There is a spirit of learning together with less competition.
  • Spiritual and moral development can be emphasized.

Homeschooling requires the following:

  • Qualified parents who enjoy reading and are enthusiastic about teaching.
  • Flexibility; willingness to find what is best for the children and the situation.
  • Careful attention to regulations and standards of the school district and the state.
  • Ability to invest the required time and finances.
  • Ability to choose resources and make appropriate adaptations.
  • Ability to provide suitable social activities and opportunities for special interests.

Christian schools
Like homeschooling, the decision to enroll children in a Christian school should be motivated more by positive considerations than by a desire to escape negative aspects of public schools. It is true that public institutions are influenced by politics, economic interests and cultural changes. Good ideas, such as civil rights and equal opportunities, can get twisted to extremes that cause conflicts in values. Children can become torn between parents’ teachings and a "postmodern" school environment. Especially for new Christians and those without a stable Christian background, Christian school is an excellent choice. It is not unreasonable for parents to feel apprehensive and express a need for support. Support is a key word. A primary function of the Christian school is to reinforce home values. From early childhood through the teen years, children notice when parents and teachers agree.

The advantages of Christian schools include the following:

  • Biblical knowledge and spiritual growth are educational aims.
  • Many have accredited academic programs equal to or better than public schools.
  • Curriculum materials are both excellent in academic quality and true to Christian values.
  • Christian schools provide suitable peer groups for the students.
  • Christian teachers are role models for the students.
  • Christian parents can form a supportive community, help and pray for each other.
  • Many of the school programs are integrated with children’s and youth programs in the church, so students have good opportunities to develop talents and interests.

Public school
Dissatisfaction with the public school system has been widely reported. On the other hand, there is much evidence that Christian parents and their children can have exceptional experiences, both educational and spiritual, as a result of involvement in public school. Parents are the most important factor in any child’s education.

In his book Creating a Positive Public School Experience (Thomas Nelson, 1994), Eric Buehrer suggests that public school can be the right choice if the parents do the following:

  • Establish family goals; discuss goals; encourage individual goals.
  • Emphasize spiritual growth through church attendance and family teaching.
  • Initiate opportunities to get to know teachers in the school.
  • Have appropriate understanding of the school’s student culture, customs and beliefs of personnel.
  • Are able and willing to encourage and support the child at home.
  • Display interest in the child’s school subjects and lessons.
  • Read together with the family, and talk about what they read.
  • Limit television time, monitor programs and discuss program content.
  • Promote thinking skills through conversation, sharing ideas, active listening.
  • Promote family togetherness – family traditions, pleasures, feelings of security.

For Christian parents who are able and willing to provide the required guidance and support, public school can be a unique opportunity to cultivate Christian character. Children who experience Jesus’ love and develop faith at an early age can learn to think of themselves as leaders at school, rather than objects of peer pressure. As they are exposed to errors and wrong ideas, they can learn to think critically without questioning their parents’ values. As they grow they can learn to analyze and evaluate without doubting the reality of truth. Often such young persons are especially sensitive to ministry opportunities, receptive to God’s calling, and likely to be among the strong Christian leaders of tomorrow.

Billie Davis, Ed.D., is a former writer and editor of educational materials for Gospel Publishing House and a professor emeritus at Evangel University.

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