Christians and Homeschooling: A Response to Jonathan Merritt

Yesterday, I read with interest an article by Jonathan Merritt concerning the Christian/Religious response to the Homeschool trend. Merritt does an excellent job of pointing out some positives and negatives of the issue, while ultimately stating his support of the rights of homeschool parents.

While I’m not sure that this is an issue that justifies the granting of political asylum to someone, I certainly agree with the right of parents to homeschool their children. I also believe that many children are quite often getting an effective education through homeschool.

The nature of homeschooling has changed dramatically in recent years.There are more resources for teaching, cohorts for socialization/interaction, and collective or co-op setups to share teaching duties. Interest has expanded beyond Christian circles, although Christian families still make up the most significant element of the homeschool crowd.

There is strong evidence that more and more homeschool students do just fine in many areas of education and society. Aside from Merritt’s graph (which is a bit skewed in its presentation), the evidence seems clear that homeschooling has evolved and advanced over the years.

Homeschooling is a definitively Christian enterprise, in spite of increased participation from other religions or non-religious people. In the previous link, 95% of homeschool families come from Christian denominations. With that in mind, Merritt may be asking the wrong question.

The better question might be:  What are Christians going to do to support public schools?

In the last 50 years, we have witnessed a dramatic drop in the status of public education. Respect for teachers is at an all-time low (feel free to Google this, you may be surprised at some results). Public schools are vilified in some Christian circles as bastions of evil and secularism. We see news stories about teacher strikes in Chicago, and label all educators as greedy, money-grubbers who just want summer breaks and big paychecks.

Like it or not, some Christians are very opposed to public school and have essentially given up hope for public education.

Homeschool is one response to this. But what about all those students who don’t have anyone to educate them at home? Is it a Christian position to just say, “Tough crap, survival of the fittest” and leave those students behind?

Is it right for us to continue griping about the cost of education when teachers go five years without a pay raise, while still having to pay out of pocket for their copy paper and copies?

Is it right for us to ignore the students who don’t have a place to wash their clothes or anyone at home who can help them to do math?

The reality is that many Christians already support homeschool, or at least the rights of parents to choose that option. I would challenge Christians to also find ways to support public schools as well.

Christians are sometimes guilty of letting our “buttons” get pushed a little too easy, and public education is one of those buttons. Just think for a minute:  What if churches began to support their local public schools the way that some support homeschooling?

Schools need people to go in just to give a teacher a minute to go to the bathroom! They need copy paper. They need pencils and pens. They need “Study Buddies” and classroom help and tutors. It seems that perhaps we need to invest less in our own buildings and more in our school buildings. And it will be a lot more productive than chastising public education from the pulpit or the Bible study group.

In other words, stop complaining and invest yourself in making the situation better!

No, you can’t go into a public school with a Bible or preach sermons or hand out salvation tracts. But your purpose should not be to win converts, but help students learn. You might be surprised at how effective you can be at witnessing by leaving the agenda at the door and simply focusing on the needs of students and educators.

You might also be surprised at the impact you can have in Jesus Christ without ever quoting a verse or directly saying His name. Your prayers, even silent ones, before/during/after your visit to the school building is just as effective as any that are said out loud, if not more so (Matthew 6:5-6).

I don’t disagree with anything that Jonathan Merritt says in his article. I just think we need to change the focus of the question. Homeschool is here to stay, and it’s going to be supported by a lot of Christians. We need to start asking ourselves how Jesus wants us to support ALL students, including the public school students.

How we react to the needs of public school students and educators may say a lot more about who we are called to be as followers of Christ. Are we willing to put aside exclusive self-interest and individual agendas in order to help others? Homeschool is fine, but it should never come at the expense of education for all students. A less educated society is a loss for everyone.

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4 thoughts on “Christians and Homeschooling: A Response to Jonathan Merritt

  1. I just want to share our experience. My daughter went to a public school close to our home for kindergarten. For many reasons we chose to homeschool her for first grade and are finishing out our first year now. I really liked her school, specifically the principal and her teacher. I contacted her teacher and offered my time to volunteer in whatever way she needed once a week. I was willing to do clerical chores since my 3 children are with me. I was able to help her 3 or 4 times this whole year. Each time took me several emails to coordinate. Finally I came to the conclusion that either she is very overwhelmed and not able to get materials together or she just did not need help. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt here. But this was not the only experience regarding trying to volunteer that was difficult. As parents who want to volunteer and be involved, my friends and I have found that with our particular school is just is not that easy. I want my kids to be involved with our community- and with homeschool we have the flexibility to do so. This isn’t the end of the story by any means. I think that there are homeschoolers helping their local schools and those who are trying to help maybe unsuccessfully. One last thing: the church where our homeschool coop group meets gathers box tops (we have done this as well) so that’s an easy way to support schools. Recruit your family members into sending in their box tops and if you buy an educational magazine or books, find out if they have a way to donate a portion of the sale to your local school. Going off of memory I think we were able to do that with Ranger Rick or NG kids.

    • A thought: Have you gone to the school and met with the teacher, principal or guidance counselor to ask, “What do you need?” Some folks from our church recently did this and found interesting results. But it was almost disarming to the staff that we showed genuine interest in their needs and it is beginning to open some doors.

      Not asking this in a critical way, as you may have done exactly that. Just a thought.

      I’ve also heard from teachers that they have difficulty getting time to do anything outside of their “to do” list, including the organization of volunteers.

      • Tom, I thought my post demonstrated that we did take similar steps? But, anyway, what is really like to see is for each person to evaluate what they can personally do for the school in their community… and to see less of the finger pointing and generalization towards groups like homeschoolers.

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