My friend and fellow pastor, Joseph Spurgeon, has blogged about my recent posts on education and I reproduce most of his post here with comments interspersed. I appreciate Joseph taking the time to provide this counterpoint to my recommendations. Following my interaction with Joseph, I end with specific recommendations for education from elementary school through college and graduate school separated by age and sex.
Pastor Tim Bayly of Clearnote Church recently stirred up some controversy (what’s new) with some posts on Fatherhood and education. You can find the the first in the series of blogs here. What caused the pot he was stirring to boil over was his criticisms of homeschooling and his apparent love, l-o-v-e, for the public school system. In reality, Pastor Bayly was challenging several tendencies in the reformed church about education that he believes to be harmful.
I’ve never hinted at any love for public/government education. For fifteen years online through scores of posts, I’ve worked to expose its horrors and the hypocrisy of its claim to be non-religious. Yet what I’ve also been saying that should never be controversial is that wise Christian fathers must not rule schools out merely because they receive tax dollars. After all, they are our tax dollars and there’s as much variety in public schools as private Christian schools and homeschools.
Rather than simplistic condemnations of a categorical nature, fathers should carefully consider their child’s interests, strengths, and disabilities as well as the nature of the school and its teachers, the size and location of their community and whether its schools reflect pervasive pagan, secular, or Christian commitments, whether their particular state returns tax dollars to Christians for their children’s education in private Christian or public classical and charter schools, etc.
Concerning homeschooling, no one has responded negatively or postively to anything I’ve written. It’s the third rail of Christian discussions of education, so perfect silence.
I’ve repeatedly emphasized that what is harmful in the conservative church is the refusal of parents to consider, admit, and write warnings of the weaknesses and problems of private Christian schools and homeschools, but no one does it. Ever. It’s a simple enough task, but crickets…
Rather, evading the issue, everyone rehearses a bunch of very old observations that have been known for over almost a century now about the dangers of public schools. Pastors and fathers think they’ve done their due diligence merely by trotting out well-worn talking points about secular humanism and government education when those talking points say nothing that hasn’t been being said by Christians for many generations now.
One of those tendencies is the inability to be self-critical. That is, the reformed church and its homeschool families tends to be only critical of what is out there in the sinful culture while forgetting that we harbor within our flesh all the wickedness needed to destroy ourselves and our families. If you want proof of this tendency, notice how us homeschoolers respond to any criticism of homeschool. A while back I posted this short quote from Doug Wilson on my Facebook page and you would have thought I asked all homeschoolers to vaccinate their children. I kid.
Yes, precisely my concern, and not just in decisions about education but in the teaching and preaching of the church on almost everything. The enemy condemned is always out there—never in here—when the Biblical principle is that judgment should start inside the household of faith. With Christian schooling and homeschooling.
Something about the log in our own eye…
But seriously, the response to this quote was over the top. Now I get that homeschoolers often feel like the redheaded step-child. We have to defend our school choices often. Yet I couched this quote with the fact that I am a homeschool parent and that I am opposed to public schools. The response was still atrocious. We have to be able to have some self-awareness. We Christians, especially of the reformed kind, know that we are born with a sinful nature and even when we are saved we wrestle with that flesh our whole life. That means we will have blind spots that we need others to help us see. Furthermore, it means we have to learn to question our own motives and our own wisdom. When a pastor who has been in the game for quite a while comes along with some criticisms and suggestions, we should at least be humble enough to consider them.
Well that’s kind, and I’m sure Doug would join me in thanking you, dear brother.
The second tendency that Tim Bayly rightfully pointed out was our tendency to look for salvation anywhere else other than our Lord Jesus Christ. We want a process, a magic button, that will put the power to save our children in our hands rather than the Lord. Therefore, we have a tendency to make education to be a plan of salvation for our children. “We won’t be like the 90% of professing Christians who send their children to public school and lose many of them to the world, instead we will homeschool our children and guarantee they will be believers. We got the golden ticket to heaven.” Now I know most of us won’t ever articulate anything close to that with our words and yet in our hearts and in our actions, we too often act as if this is true. R.J. Rushdoony wrote a book called “The Messianic Character of American Education” in which he documented how the secular humanists have made public education their plan for salvation. Education to these humanists is the answer to what ills humanity. We too must be on guard that we do not make a Messiah out of homeschooling or any other method of education for that matter.
It’s not so much that Christians are looking for salvation outside of Christ, but that homeschoolers and those in certain types of Christian schools have a religious fervor towards their method of education that indicates they trust it to save their child from evil. Their promotion of their homeschool or Christian school or curriculum seems to be of a sacramentalist nature—something on the order of a former baptist’s commitment to infant baptism and paedocommunion.
There’s nothing original about Rushdoony’s statement or theme. It’s quite mundane, actually, and many said it very long before he started thinking and writing. But I suppose each generation needs their own authors to repeat very old truths.
None of what is said above, removes the responsibility of parents, fathers especially, to educate their children in the Lord. Education is discipleship and we must disciple our children according to the commands of God. But that will take fathers being fathers. It will take men who take responsibility with each of their children, submitting themselves and their families to godly authority, leading their wives and children in obedience, and being open to criticism.
Yes, and I’ve been saying repeatedly that the vast majority of the Christian father’s education of his children in the Lord happens outside formal education. Outside.
Now in the course of Pastor Bayly’s posts he did leave open public school as an option for fathers to send their children to be educated. I don’t think this was meant to be an endorsement of the public school system but rather I believe his way to drive home the seriousness of the problems that can occur in homeschool or private schooling. I take his point to be that the problems and challenges that can occur in homeschooling and private schooling are as serious as the problems and challenges that public school has. A parent with an uncritical view of the pitfalls, temptations, challenges, and problems that can and often do occur in homeschooling and/or Christian schooling is setting his children up for failure.
I have not said the failures endemic to Christian schools, public schools, and homeschools are each “as serious as” the other. What I’ve said is that each of them have very serious problems. Never in my writing have I placed public schooling on one side, and private Christian or homeschooling on the other side, saying or even hinting their dangers are all on the same level.
That’s a key point that gets missed again and again, and I believe it’s missed because of the vehemence of (mostly) homeschoolers in their attack on taxpayer-funded education. Either I condemn it for being godless, wicked, destructive, unfaithful, and idolatrous, leading the souls of our children to Hell in each and every case, or they’ll claim I put taxpayer-funded education on the same level of danger as homeschooling and private Christian education.
But I choose neither position. Sorry not to fit the mold my opponents prefer to place me in.
Pastor Bayly does, however, seem to allow public school as a viable option for a Christian parent. And this is where he and I would disagree. I can affirm wholeheartedly what I believe his concerns to be and yet cannot bring myself to affirm that the public school system is a viable option especially in its current form. Let me give an analogy which as with all analogies loses is analogous nature if taken too far.
Yes, this is the disagreement. Good schools funded by our tax dollars exist in communities around the country and condemning other Christians who come to a faithful (not a faithless) decision to employ such schools in the education of their children is precisely the sort of uncharitable and second-level moralism that should be condemned.
In downtown Louisville Kentucky, there is a place called EMW Women’s Surgical Center. This place is an abortion mill (I won’t dignify it with the name clinic.). This place performs abortions Tuesdays through Saturdays slaughtering over 3000 babies a year. The vast majority of people who come to this place will pay to have their children murdered. However, rarely, the place will perform a D&E (a procedure to remove the miscarried baby) for someone who has already had a miscarriage. These procedures are mostly done at hospitals and other medical centers, but they may be cheaper at EMW. Now, I could never in good conscience recommend someone who had a miscarriage to darken the door of this wicked place. Nor could I recommend that someone go to a Planned Parenthood facility for a pregnancy test or any other legitimate type of health care. EMW and Planned Parenthood need to be abolished and do not need to be legitimized in anyway. Could someone go to these places and get a non-abortive procedure done? Yes but they would be helping to keep in place alters to Moloch.
Bad analogy. Really bad analogy.
To equate a godly and faithful Christian father in a town of 1,500 sending his child to the elementary school where the child’s Sunday school teacher every Sunday is the child’s Second Grade teacher Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday with that father sending his child to an abortuary for birth control or a DNC is self-evidently ludicrous.
In like manner, the public school system in the United States has been a tool for Satan to bring much harm to this country. Its pretension to neutrality while pushing sexual perversion, rebellion to parents, the denial of the Lordship of Christ over all things, and socialism has harmed multiple generations. It is not a neutral institution, but one built upon the false religion of secular humanism. Christians who would not consider sending their children to Islamic, Mormon, Hindu, or Buddhist schools far too often send their children to these secular humanist schools without a thought in the world.
Well, the only part of this paragraph I’d disagree with is the first phrase, “in like manner.” The rest of the paragraph I’d not cavil with. It seems pretty well stated to me. In fact, many years before Pastor Spurgeon was old enough to have even a thought about these things, I wrote most of them here on my blog myself. How many times must I say that it’s not the criticisms of public schooling I disagree with, but the extreme conclusions young men feel those criticisms must require of, not just themselves, but every last Christian father in North America.
That and that alone is what I’ve been opposing. Do not let simplistic arguments take you captive, Christian father. Pray and get counsel and make your own decisions without feeling any pressure to validate the rigid boundaries other men in your church, as well as their wives, wish to erect around you.
Pastor Tim Bayly has more experience with homeschool and private Christian schools than I do but I do have experience with the public school system as a student and as a youth minister working with students.
I know Pastor Spurgeon didn’t say this precisely, but whatever considerable experience I have with homeschooling and Christian schooling, I have more with many different public schools starting with my own public schooling in junior high and high school. And this experience and knowledge I have concerning schools around the country on every level, including students, teachers, principals, school board members, and a superintendent who was an elder in our congregation. Then too, I’ve had a number of Indiana University students in our congregation who were education majors and matter-of-factly joked about IU’s school of education being the “IU school of propaganda.”
As a student in small town West Virginia where the teachers and principles go to church, I was introduced to pornography in the schools at a very young age. It was in public school that I was taught that all religions are basically the same. I can remember very clearly in 6th grade being taught in “social studies” that a socialist democracy was a much better system of government than what we had in our country. Our county would be better off if it adopted the socialistic systems of Europe. In High School, the male band director would make passes at me and others. I was pretty naïve at the time and just thought it was a joke until he was convicted of sexual abuse of minors just a year after he had been declared teacher of the year. I had Christian parents who worked hard to disciple me at home and that did make a difference but I have had to work hard to leave behind the unbiblical worldview I was trained in at school. Many of my fellow students did not have that same advantage. My experience as a student in public school is 20 years ago or more. Things have changed not for the better.
All of the above goes on in Christian schools, too, and some Christian schools are worse in these things than the public schools of their community. Read that sentence over again—maybe twice.
Also, there are homeschools where sexual immorality of a most perverse nature cries out for the children to get out of the home to the safety of a Christian school or public school. My wife and I tire of helping homeschooled children in early adulthood recover from the abuse and incest they suffered in the conservative homeschooling world and its families.
Again, this is not to say the dangers of city public schools are equivalent to the dangers of small-town public schools, or small-town public schools to the dangers of parochial Missouri Synod Lutheran or Roman Catholic or Christian Reformed Church schools, or the dangers of classical Christian schools are as high as the dangers of homeschools, but the man who acts as if (or teaches) there is never a time or place for taxpayer-funded schools or taxpayer-funded public schools is a man not to be trusted in his advice or counsel, at least in this matter.
Rather, the man to be trusted is the man who can give a good set of criticisms of each method of education showing his discernment about each method’s benefits, limitations, and spiritual dangers—each method—and then giving level-headed counsel about your own particular town, school system, private school options, disabilities and gifting and behavior of your particular child, strengths and weakness of your wife for homeschooling, etc. If he simply says, “Whatever you do, never put your child in any public school,” don’t trust him.
Find another counselor who is not naive.
My experience as a youth minister working with students has bolstered my repulsion to the government school system. There was a night and day difference between the students that I ministered to who were public schooled and those who were not especially those who were homeschooled. I am not claiming that the homeschool students were perfect angels but when it came to issues of worldview and morality, there was a stark difference. Even the public school youth who had both parents who faithfully attended and served at church were more likely to accept homosexuality, socialism, and other perversions of the truth. They were also less likely to know their bibles and to be interested in spiritual things. My experience lines up with testing done by other groups such as the Nehemiah Institute. They surveyed over 110,000 participants during a 28-year period from 1987 through 2015. Their results have shown a vast difference between those who are public schooled and those who were educated at home or a Christian school with an intentional focus on a biblical worldview. In 2015, the test showed that 90 percent of students from Christian homes attending public schools score in a range that indicates that their views are firmly grounded in basic tenets of secularism. Hardly anyone would doubt that this would also be equally true if not worse for those not from Christian homes.
The Nehemiah Institute is a very successful business making loud claims for its products. For myself, worldview businesses have never impressed me. What I believe in is the Christian church and home for teaching and passing on orthodox Christian doctrine, life, and practice.
Asking children or adults a set of questions aimed to divulge their “worldview” is worlds apart from examining those children or adults for the fruit of a redeemed and sanctified mind and heart changed by the Spirit of God.
So once again, we come up against what I believe is a superficial reliance on ruling out this and that method and context rather than a deep and faithful dependence upon God’s work in our children’s lives through their father, mother, pastors, elders, and the fellowship of the people of God.
Which is to say I am deeply opposed to hucksters who sell any method but the Christian home and Church as the God-ordained institutions for the protection and salvation of our children.
Also, my anecdotal observations do not match Pastor Spurgeon’s, although I cannot fault him for acting on them himself as the father of his own children. Nevertheless he ought not declare his own judgments and experience normative for all Christians.
The point is that the public school system is a system based off of rebellion to God that has done much damage to this nation which is exactly what some of the great reformed theologians used to warn about. For example, A. A. Hodge wrote, “the United States system of national popular education will be the most efficient and wide instrument for the propagation of Atheism which the world has ever seen.” Again, Hodge wrote, “I am as sure as I am of the fact of Christ’s reign that a comprehensive and centralized system of national education, separated from religion, as is now commonly proposed, will prove the most appalling enginery for the propagation of anti-Christian and atheistic unbelief, and of anti-social nihilistic ethics, individual, social, and political, which this sin-rent world has ever seen.” Who would dare argue that Hodge’s predictions have been off base?
I think we’re simply rehashing the same tired rhetoric, here. Let me simply say that I’m done responding to Pastor Spurgeon. Those who want to read the rest of his piece may find it here.
Meanwhile, one last point: the statement of Hodge quoted above by Pastor Spurgeon should be firmly in mind when any Christian father and mother chooses public education.
What Pastor Spurgeon will not do and cannot quote A. A. Hodge concerning is the many serious dangers of homeschooling and Christian schooling.
When the Christian father knows those dangers as well as he knows the dangers of public schools, he’s finally ready to make an informed, and therefore wise, decision.
If you want to know what I really think about your children’s education instead of what homeschoolers say I think, listen to this episode of the second season of our The World We made on fatherhood. Please?
Now then, if I were to rate the choices myself, in most cases this is the order I’d give them for each age and sex in most situations with most children:
Elementary School (boys and girls):
- Homeschool/Christian school
- Christian school/Homeschool
- Public school
Junior High School (boys and girls):
- Christian school
- Not Public school no matter what
High School (boys):
- Christian school
- Public school
- Not homeschool almost no matter what
High School (girls):
- Christian school
- Not public school almost no matter what
- Public university
- Private Christian college such as Grove City, New St. Andrews, Cedarville, Hillsdale
- Private college non-Christian (I would not recommend other private Christian colleges)
- Only non-Christian colleges and universities
- Wherever you can get in and get a good scholarship
- Wherever you can get in and will be trained to think precisely and litigate; then, if you’re a man, after getting through with law school and passing the bar, think about…
Training for the pastorate:
- Greenville Seminary, Greyfriars Hall (in Moscow, ID), Reformed Evangelical Pastors College (at Christ the Word Church in Toledo, OH), or Clearnote Pastors College (at Clearnote Church in Bloomington, IN) Don’t bother with older legacy seminaries; they remove the male principle from their students and their underlying (but never stated) curriculum is “if there’s ever conflict in your church, you’ve failed.”