Every form of education has its unique strengths and weaknesses because. The only difference between them lies in what kind of human tendencies the educational environment tends to foster. Read on and see what I mean.
I’m in a fairly unique position to discuss this topic, having been involved in homeschooling, private (Christian) education, and public education. I was one of the first generation of students who were educated at home for their entire pre-college education. I attended and graduated from a large Christian university. Since then I have taken graduate courses in a public institution while teaching at a private Christian school. And I don’t have a dogmatic opinion preferring any of those forms of education. I see strengths and weaknesses with all of them.
Homeschooling is a great idea that can have some very bad results. It can be similar to putting all the power of a government directly in the hands of the people (i.e. a “pure democracy”). While many homeschoolers would argue that such control over their children is their divine prerogative, indeed command (“train up a child in the way he should go . . .” Prov. 22:6), still it is necessary for parents to be aware of the dangers of such a position. Many homeschooling parents have abused their power over their children, become totalitarian, defensive, and increasingly narrow-minded in their approach.
Another major problem with homeschooling is the lack of interaction with others. Often parents who choose to homeschool do so in order to shelter their children from negative influences. In its extreme form, this sheltering leads to a hermitic life of as little contact as possible with the outside world, even from church or other Christians. Most people who dislike homeschooling harp on the social awkwardness this lifestyle engenders. Having observed similar awkwardness in other situations and seen young people mature through it, I am less concerned with that outcome than with the intellectual inbreeding that occurs as a result. Many homeschoolers I have known of, having little benefit of rubbing shoulders with other ideas, have increasingly developed conspiracy theories, paranoia, and even mental illnesses.
Finally, the academic integrity of homeschooling must be carefully scrutinized. Again, I’ve seen the gamut: from kids who are tasked with their own education, to those who learn by doing – every lesson is a field trip, to excellent one-on-one pedagogy. As you might expect, the results are mixed. Some homeschool graduates are rising stars, with a passion to learn and an ambition to succeed. Coached by their parents, they are confident, bright, and hard-working. Others are lazy, self-defeated, or have emotional instabilities. They have little more likelihood to thrive than a high-school dropout.
There is a wide range of experiences to be found in private Christian education, depending on the size and stripe of the school. However, there are some similarities between them and general conclusions we may draw from those institutions.
Christian education offers many opportunities for children to interact socially and be involved in activities such as sports, musical groups, and science labs while remaining in a somewhat protected environment during their formative years (depending on the enrollment policies of the school). A Christian worldview is often incorporated into every classroom subject, and opportunities are given for prayer, Bible study, and chapel.
A major disadvantage in Christian education is the academic level. Most Christian schools, especially the ones with a closed enrollment, are continually beset with financial struggles. They cannot afford to pay for the best teachers, classroom equipment, and learning materials. The teachers they can afford are in many cases paid barely more than they would earn if they worked at Wal-Mart, yet they labor on because they have a vision for Christian education. Their heart is evident, and it is the most valuable aspect of Christian education. Students know their teachers care. It makes a difference.
But does it make enough of a difference? Competing for their influence is the pull of peer pressure. From my experience it can be intense. Even Christian school kids feel an excrutiating pressure to fit in, to be “cool”. Again, a basic factor of human nature, especially among kids, is the “lowest common denominator” factor. The most worldly students are usually the ones with the most popularity. And when those Christian school kids graduate and go to college, they take the same approach to “fitting in”. If they go to a secular college, very often they cave in to the pressure as they try to fit in. If they go to a Christian college, they face this struggle after they graduate, although they may be slightly more mature by that time. My greatest concern is that they will not be prepared to face the “you’d better jump on the bandwagon of public opinion or else” type of persecution that Christians are and will be facing in this country.
It takes stomach for committed Christian parents to send their kids to a public school. It’s almost like sending your kid to jail (relatively speaking) to get their education, complete with barbed wire and armed guards. They will face drugs and immorality on a daily basis – even in elementary school (at least exposure to if not witnessing the acts themselves). They are barraged with liberal bias, inappropriate media, and the worst sort of big-government machinery as the latest government programs are pushed in and out by teachers who are average unmotivated government employees.
Yet the strong survive. Some Christian kids who attend public school with the support of strong parents have a level of maturity it is difficult to find elsewhere. They know who they are. They are not afraid to say what they believe. They are winsome and they know how to get along with people with whom they do not agree. They have earned respect. And they will have great opportunities as they carry those strengths into the public arena.
In every one of the case studies above, the major factor in the success of the student both academically and spiritually lies in their home. If their parents have strong character and values, and a balanced approach to whichever situation they are in, their children have a strong chance of success. And that, I think, is the real key to understanding Proverbs 22:6. “Train up a child in the way he should go” does not mean force-feed them. Instead parents must intentionally build a sincere culture of love, respect, and strong Christian values. This can be done through family devotions, commitment to church, open family discussions, traditions and even game nights. The important thing is that the child is given a solid foundation, biblically and emotionally, from which he or she can draw spiritual and emotional security to face the opportunities and challenges of any educational environment.