Saturday, August 1, 2009

Homeschooling v. Public Schooling: Its NOT Black and/or White

I never really gave a whole lot of thought to the idea of being in this position again. I'm sure somewhere in the back of my mind I thought to myself "some day the kids will be back in a public school setting" but I'm quite sure I never entertained how that really feels, until now. If you've ever been in the homeschool v. public school (very heated) debate, you probably already know how it feels. In some ways I hesitate to write about this due to the heat this subject can sometimes generate, but I think it's important for parents in the decision making process to hear as many voices as possible, and especially those with at least some hands-on experience in this field. That was the kind of advice I looked for before Kev and I made the decision to homeschool, because it's the folks who have been there that know what they're talking about.

As much as I firmly believe homeschooling is the best option for Christian kids, I also realize that there are limitations, and that it's not the best option for every Christian kid, 100% of the time. I've always maintained that, even during my most vehement anti-public school arguments. I think it's probably more accurate to say that Christian homeschooling is the best option for Christian kids, in the best of situations. Not every parent out there lives in the best of situations or has vast resources or uninhibiting circumstances; but for those who do fit that criteria, homeschooling is the best choice. I know some would say this is a sort of waffling defense of a position, but I'm perfectly at peace with it, after having homeschooled five different kids with five very different learning abilities, disabilities, strengths, weakenesses and gifts, for nearly 10 years from kindergarten all the way through grade 11. I don't know that this "officially" qualifies me for any kind of authority or anything, but it certainly does give me a perspective and some experience that I didn't have 10 years ago.

Recently I was directed to an article by Voddie Baucham entitled "The Top Five Reasons Not to Send Your Kids Back to Government Schools". It's a bold title, indeed. There is in fact no shortage of articles out there with bold titles either in favor of homeschooling or in favor of being anti-public school. I've even written a few of both kinds, myself.

There is much to agree with in Mr. Baucham's article. Depending on your experience you may read this piece and find yourself nodding your head in affirmation of the way he describes what public (government) school are like. From the curriculum to the social interaction to the blatant anti-Christian/pro-secular humanism approach to teaching. Likewise, from your experience you may also read this piece and have strong disagreement, because you live in a blessed school district that takes a vastly different approach. This is where blanket statements about such things as "all public schools" can be misleading. I have certainly never been to "all public schools" but I am quite certain that while many of them are the same, many of them are also quite the contrary to the horrible (but accurate, in many cases) picture Mr. Baucham paints. The same can also be applied public school teachers and administrators themselves. For those of us that went through public schools (which would be most of us), we all remember the good teachers, the lousy teachers, the ones who left a lasting impact on us, and the ones we even knew as kids, should have been fired on the spot. As much as Mr. Baucham would have us believe ALL public schools are the same, that simply is not true, any more than saying ALL public school teachers and staff are the same. I would like to point out that it's just as inaccurate and unrealistic as implying all homeschooling is the same, when every homeschooling parent knows that is simply not the case at all.

Mr. Baucham writes:

"Of course everyone says, “Our schools are different.” News flash... that’s a lie! One of our elders taught honors math at one of the “best schools” in one of the “best school districts” in Texas (you know, one of those schools people lie and cheat to get their children into so that they can get a better education). His advanced geometry class was filled with a bunch of imbeciles who could barely do basic arithmetic. As a result, most of them failed their first major test. You know what happened next. That’s right, the principal called him into the office and told him to make things right. One of the things he was told to employ was a grading technique called “Square root times ten.” Thus, a student who made a 49 on a test ended up with a 70 in the grade book (for those of you who went to government schools like me, that’s the square root of 49 times ten)."

If you say "our schools are different", either you're lying or you're deceived? What if your local public school is in fact, different? It's entirely possible, but Mr. Baucham makes it appear as if this kind of dumbing down is going on in EVERY public school. Is that true and accurate for all public schools nationwide based solely on the report of one of Mr. Baucham's elders who taught a class full of "imbeciles"?

Mr. Baucham goes on to say:

"Please don’t buy the lie. Your child’s school is probably terrible. If you really care about the stewardship of you child’s mind, don’t send them back to the worst schools in the industrialized world next year."

This was hard for me to read, especially since I read it just days after returning from a meeting with the local public school principle, and having a very open and frank discussion with her and a tour of the school. Is the school perfect? Of course it's not, there is no such thing. However, I also met many of the teachers and watched the interaction between teachers and children (we were there just before school let out for the day) and noticed something quite impressive. It was a very open and friendly environment, and many of the kids were eager to speak to the teachers and be around them. Of course this doesn't mean it's the best school in the world, but it does mean that these are dedicated adults striving to make a positive impact in these children's education and that these kids know these teachers and staff care, and they appreciate it. By and large, public school teachers acutally DO care about the kids they teach. Teaching is their passion and helping those kids reach their potential is a joy. I know this because I am also a teacher at home and I know that passion and joy.

I confess this was also hard to read because I have a child with learning disabilities that would have failed that math test Mr. Baucham refers to, and wonder if he'd call her an imbecile as well? At the school she'll be attending this fall, they have a Learning Resource classroom with a dedicated teacher for those kids that have these kinds of challenges. They don't "dumb down" anything but they work with the kids one-on-one with the same material the rest of class is doing, to help them where they struggle. Anyone with more than one child knows that not all kids excell at the same subjects, and what may come easily or naturally to one child, may prove impossible or deeply frustrating to another. Failing a math test doesn't mean they're imbeciles. I failed plenty of them in public grade school because math did not come naturally to me at all. I had to work very very hard to grasp mathematical concepts and even then, I still failed tests. Many kids are the same way, in various subjects. Many adults are, as well.

Mr. Baucham goes on to say:

"The headlines speak for themselves. Student-teacher sex scandals, student-student sex, immodesty, foul language, drugs, alcohol, radical homosexual agendas, teachers taking students for abortions, “sexting”leading to suicide, sexually transmitted diseases, brutal beatings, and school shootings (see These are just some of the headlines that have become the norm. And that does not include things like cheating, disrespect for authority, impropriety towards the opposite sex, and other moral behaviors children learn regularly and repeatedly in school."

While this is no shock to any parent who reads the daily news, it's most certainly one-sided, and I think we all know that. This is a description of some of the very worst aspects of some of the very worst public school settings - but - does it define EVERY public school? I don't believe that it does, I believe that these are simply the worst of the worst, based on today's headlines. It would be interesting to read that same paragraph if it were re-written to speak of the best of the best settings in public schools, and see how the two stack up. I believe it to be unfair to categorize and broadbrush this way, as if it speaks for all public schools.

In Mr. Baucham's number #1 reason not to send your kids back to government schools this fall "THE BIBLE COMMANDS CHRIST-CENTERED EDUCATION"

he says this:

"I recognize that educational antinomianism is the norm in the modern American church. According to the common refrain, “It doesn’t matter what educational choice you make... you just have to pray about it and do what the Lord leads your family to do.” However, I must confess I find this this concept disturbing on a number of fronts. First, this kind of thinking denies the sufficiency of Scripture. The Bible speaks either directly, or principially to every aspect of life. There are no grey areas. Sure, there are things that are difficult to discern, but education is not one of them. Though you won’t find the word ‘education’ in Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, there are a number of passages that speak directly to the issue of training ourselves and our children intellectually, spiritually, philosophically and morally (See Deut. 6:6,7; Prov. 1:7; Eph. 6:4, etc). We also have numerous warnings against allowing others to influence us intellectually, spiritually, philosophically, and morally (Psalm 1; Rom. 12:1,2; 2 Cor. 6:14ff; Col. 2:8, etc.).

Second, this line of reasoning smacks of mysticism. Instead of making an argument with an open Bible we dismiss all opposition with the flippant, trite, overused, and theologically problem-laden phrase, “we prayed about it and this is what the Lord told us to do.” The lord ‘has spoken’. (Heb. 1:1-2) We are not awaiting new revelation. Instead of doing what the Lord ‘told us’, Christians are commanded to do what the Lord ‘has told us’ in his Word."

Mr. Baucham would have us believe that educational choices for our children is NOT one of those things that (biblically) is difficult to discern. Mr. Baucham would have us believe that choosing to send our kids to a public school is us (as parents) denying the sufficiency of Scripture and dabbling with mysticism via being led by feelings. Mr. Baucham would have us believe that training our children in every aspect of education can only be done by the parents, in a Christian homeschool setting or maybe a private Christian school setting. Mr. Baucham has essentially declared that Christians are commanded by the word of God to homeschool or place their kids in private Christian schools.

This is very disturbing argumentation indeed. It's exactly the kind of argumentation that I read before I made the choice to homeschool, and caused me (for a time, anyway) a very unbalanced and unfair impression of ALL public schools, and a very impossible expectation of myself as a homeschool teacher. While many public schools are indeed bad places to send kids, not all of them are, as many Christian public school parents will attest to. While Mr. Baucham would have us believe that educational choices is not at all difficult to discern, the fact of the matter is, Christian parents struggle with this decision constantly. Some of us know our limitations as educators, some of us know our financial limitations, and some of us know that it is simply not possible to be the "one" person to provide a well rounded education for our children. Mr. Baucham suggests Christians that send their kids to public schools deny the authority and finality of God's word and instead partake of the mystic "but the Lord led me to this" flight of fancy. I don't think Mr. Baucham has any idea what many Christian parents go through before making these kinds of decisions. The amount of research involved, the amount of prayer, study, and more prayer. Counsel from pastors, fellow believers in their churches, discussions with teachers and more prayer, and more study and an honest assessment of their own teaching abilities and financial situation. Indeed it is not an easy decision to make and there are numerous factors involved. None of which, for the dedicated parent and believer, are mysticism.

Finally, Mr. Baucham seals his argument with appealing to "God has commanded we do it THIS way". What then do we make of all the Christian parents we know that are disobeying God's command? Are they in sin, and do we all need to call them to repentance for such blatant disobedience? Hardly.

My husband and I have studied this issue from Scripture and no where in the text will you ever find a commandment that you alone are to be the only person to educate your child. You will find that as their parents YOU are responsible for their education, and if that means picking and choosing the best teachers for them in areas such as math or science, English or music, then that is what you are obligated to do, to give them the best education you can. You are obligated to train them up in the ways of God, to teach them who He is, who they are before Him, and what His word says. You are responsible to give them a solid Christian understanding of Biblical doctrine, and even that often requires additional teachers such as their Sunday school teachers and pastor. There is absolutely nothing in Scripture that says you and you alone are responsible (or will even be capable) of providing every aspect of a well rounded education for your child, or children.

Clearly this is a subject very near and dear to my heart. While I'm sure it's also near and dear to Mr. Baucham's heart, I believe he has some blind spots on this subject, and his argumentation is somewhat unbalanced. If you are a Christian parent in the process of making these kinds of educational decisions, please do yourself the favor of reading BOTH sides of such arguments, study the Scriptures, make it a matter of diligent prayer and get as much advice as you can from people who have been where you are. It isn't an easy decision to come to, but it must be one that is best for your family, and your circumstances, and best serves the child's educational needs.

In an ideal world, each of our local churches would get together and provide the best possible alternative in a local church run school where all our children's teachers would be dedicated believers. Being genuine servants all the teachers and staff would serve without expecting anything in return, and being recipicients of the blessing the parents sending their kids there would bless those schools and the entire staff with financial gifts (you know, taking care of our own, the way we're supposed to be doing all along) - but not one family would be turned away for not being able to pay a tuition.

We don't live in that world however, and we have to make the best choices we can, with what we have.

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