In case you missed it, Canadian (Ontario actually) blogger, Tim Challies has written a helpful 3 part blog series (concluding today) titled, “The Weaker, the Stronger, the Homeschooler”. Click here to read: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. This series is made an irresistible target for controversy and passionate comments by the fact that Tim is on record as having chosen to put their kids in public school. I’ve read through almost all of the comments, and while most are respectful and reflect well-considered opinions, some are sadly excellent examples of the weaker Christian brother condemning the stronger for exercising his Christian liberty.
As a homeschooling parent myself (my wife gets most of the credit for how our kids are developing though!), I have a horse in this race. Not only do we homeschool our three kids—and have for 11 years now—but I myself was pulled out of public school and homeschooled way back in the early 1980’s when it was unheard of in our circles. To this day I am grateful to my dad (who made the decision) and to my mom (who had to live with the consequences of the decision) for bravely bucking the prevailing culture and the entrenched, assumed legitimacy of the System. Homeschooling, under my dad’s occasional guidance, gave me depth in three key areas that have steered me in life ever since: critical thinking, history and theology. These were profound growth areas for me between the ages of 15 and 17. I cannot imagine how that could have happened for me in a public school setting (although there is no reason why, for other families who are more intentional, it could not be!).
Tim Challies wisely framed this discussion around the “love” principle in Romans 14—that stronger Christians are to restrain themselves in the freedom they enjoy out of consideration for weaker Christians, and that weaker Christians are not to condemn other Christians who freely exercise their liberty, having been justified by faith in Christ. He is bang-on in discerning that the homeschooling/public schooling debate often breaks down along these divides—with weaker Christians condemning other from within both schooling camps!
I did take issue with one of Challies’ early points that it seems to him that in the Christian community homeschooling is now the majority position. Frankly, as we have homeschooled in three different provinces now (BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan), where I have worked as a pastor for churches in each place, we have not found this to be true. Rather, though a growing movement in each of these Western Canadian provinces, with emerging support systems and associations now available to organize Christians homeschooling parents for the sharing of resources, etc., we have continued to be ostracized on occasion and even persecuted by a few from among the VAST majority of parents in local churches who public school. Sadly, in one place where I served as a pastor, the church board was heavily committed to the local Christian private school and we experienced significant pressure to conform. In another place, Christians within the church were employed by the large, local public school and though there was a cool, bare tolerance of our decision to keep on homeschooling by the board officially, there was a swift and severe reaction when it was felt that we might have been encouraging other parents to consider homeschooling. It is my guess that Challies is seeing a mature homeschooling movement in Ontario and extrapolating that it is likely also the norm in the rest of Canada. But I am inclined to believe that homeschoolers in BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan, may still find themselves unwelcome in many churches.
This is part of why my wife and I have been overwhelmed by the warm reception and hospitality we have found upon coming to Victoria one month ago and joining Gateway Baptist Church. There are now 12 homeschooling families in the church, and the senior pastor has made it clear that homeschoolers are welcome! So they keep on coming as word gets out that, at least HERE, homeschooling parents will not be blacklisted for their educational choice. This is not to say that the senior pastor’s family homeschools (I think they private school). But they are examples of the Romans 14 strong Christians who extend grace to those who choose to exercise their Christian liberty differently than they do.
At a recent annual meeting of the Victoria Christian Homeschoolers Association (the first meeting of that group that we attended), the discussion turned to a thoughtful agreement to not belittle those parents who put their kids in public school, or those parents who homeschool with some public funding vs. without. It was widely agreed that each parent has the freedom and responsibility under God to follow their conscience and their understanding of God’s Word in the educational choices they make for their children. After all, the primary responsibility of parents is not how to educate their children (homeschool vs. public school vs. private school) but how to disciple their children. This is, I believe, the critical issue in the whole debate. Few things rile me up like hearing a public schooling, Christian mom complain that Summer has arrived, her kids are now at home, and her “me-time” is gone. I’ve often grieved over similar comments made by moms likewise excited that September is almost here and won’t it be great when I can get the kids back in school and have the house to myself… with their children listening in on the conversation. How do those kids feel, I’ve wondered on several occasions, hearing their moms wish they spent LESS time together?
While I do believe that homeschooling CAN be one of the best decisions parents can make to facilitate a lifestyle of discipleship and healthy family relationships, I also recognize that many godly, Christian parents will see things differently, and prayerfully choose to put their kids in public school while not shirking their responsibility to develop a healthy family life and intentionally disciple their kids. I’m grateful to Tim Challies for using his influence as a popular blogger to put this debate in the context of Christian love and grace—calling public schooling Christians and homeschooling Christians alike to act like Christians and love each other. Christ died for our sins. When we depend on Him for our right standing before God, we are freely justified by that faith and no decision or educational choice can make God less pleased with us, or more pleased with us. But if we want our kids to also enjoy the love and salvation of God in Jesus, we had better take their discipleship seriously.
I will leave you with a quotation from my favourite bit of Challies’ three-part blog series, this bit from part 3, published earlier today.
The man who enrolls his children in public schools without counting the cost and without carefully shepherding them along the way is not weak or strong—he is stupid. The person who homeschools his children because he thinks that the 4 walls of his home will protect them from sin and worldliness is not weak or strong—he is foolish.