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.