by Chrissy Evans, Agape Christi board member
How long has the concept of a formal school existed? Are schools really needed? Maybe we are just conditioned to think we need a school to learn? Historically, a learned society has always developed schools for their children. At the time of Christ, Jewish schools existed for the training of Jewish children. Throughout history, as Christians moved to new lands, schools were built soon after the construction of homes and a local church in which to worship. We see this in our own country with Princeton and Harvard University and the development of grammar schools. Obviously, something about a formal school, outside of the home, was valued. As Christians, should we esteem “homeschool” education as an ideal for Christian families, or is it worth the labor of creating and establishing a classical, Christian school with a robust Christian worldview? Today there are many outstanding Christian curricula and cooperatives, and with the expense of a tuition cost per child, is a classical Christian school worth the effort of starting or the cost to send them? As a mother with the experience of both homeschooling a handful of kids and also having been part of a classical Christian school for two years, three factors come to mind when thinking through this question: atmosphere, community, and culture building.
First of all, let us consider the atmosphere of learning. Notably, children do well in an environment that is orderly, efficient, and joyful. Good homeschooling seeks to provide this for children along with a routine of “simplicity” – perhaps reading, writing, math, memory work, history, chores, hobbies, hygiene, etc. As one can see already, the “simplicity” can evaporate, especially when there are multiple children at various ages. And then there are other life issue that present themselves- maybe a sick child or aging parent that moves in, health issues, or any host of trials that come and need attention and care and Christian service. What a Christian school can provide is routine, order, accountability- learning to read and know your math facts, phonograms and Latin vocabulary even if mom came down with mono or had a baby or the plumbing broke, or the car needs service. A school provides learning that is deliberate, rigorous (challenging for energetic, excited kids), and sequential (each year follows and builds upon the previous). In addition, there is an atmosphere of expertise that comes with delegation. Instead of a spread-thin mother, a child has a second grade teacher that has taught the same material to various children, sometimes for many years. Think of the benefits of a teacher that is aware of many learning styles, personalities, and continually builds upon her understanding of second grade content. Then there is the expertise of a music teacher, an art teacher, a gym teacher- each passionate and talented with their giftings, without mom driving kids to various teachers to “compensate” for whatever she lacks in time or talent. A school easily lends itself to an orderly atmosphere.
Second, let us think now about community in learning. How can I consider giving up all those precious moments of learning together with my children? Well, only if I begin with humility. Humbly, I acknowledge that other people have something to offer my children; I am responsible, but I am not ultimate. Humbly, I acknowledge my limitations and need for help in teaching my children. I need their watchful, caring eyes upon my children. Why? Because there is wisdom in a multitude of counselors. How often is a parent quick to look over their own child’s weakness, out of parental affection? We are made to need community and accountability, therefore separation is not necessarily the ideal. Perhaps we have embraced a rugged American individualism- “I can do it on my own” and applied it to educating our children. In a school community, children learn… community. They learn to obey and honor, not just their parents, but others whom God places above them in authority. They obey their parents by obeying their teachers and this honors their heavenly Father. They have many opportunities to love their neighbor and “bear with” and encourage others. They spur one another on in their training, to press on in the goal which is heavenward. Gospel living begins in our own heart and homes, but it doesn’t stop there. A school reminds them to take what they have learned in their home and let it permeate the world.
Perhaps the most important thing to consider is the benefit a faithful school has in building its own beautiful, faithful Christian culture. Doug Wilson writes, “Christians have not presented a true cultural alternative [to the world] until recently, when they began to provide their own children with an education consistent with what they believe.“ Granted, if the culture is cheesey or hypocritical, the effect will be impotent towards the culture of the world. But think of a school with students and teachers known for their love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control in the classroom, on playing field, and throughout town on field trips. To be known as a place where people repent when they sin, rather than make excuses; where young men are brave, honorable, considerate, forthright and valiant in the truth; where young ladies are kind, thoughtful, witty, and lovely in their speech and actions, portraying an outward beauty which reflects a cultivated inward beauty. A home living like this is beautiful, but think of a whole school like this, shining like a light to the world!
Lastly, is it worth the cost? This really depends how we measure things, doesn’t it? Homeschooling is cheaper monetarily, but it costs a great deal in other areas such as relationships, health, and commitments with anything else. A woman may be enabled to be an even better wife and mother with the aid of a faithful school. A school does what can be delegated: math, spelling, writing, literature analysis, science experiments, etc. while a mother is freed up to be ready to parent that child upon return, not to mention any younger ones in the home all day. Academic lessons need not constitute parenting, but knowing her child’s heart, being refreshed enough to listen in the evenings and discuss various issues are things that must not be delegated… or neglected. A woman who keeps her heart (spiritual refreshment), home (the many housekeeping tasks from cleaning to appointments) and health (some time for exercise) in order, may make for a more attentive mother. Considering these things, there is immense value in a school providing a rich, orderly, thoughtful atmosphere of learning; the blessing of community with its accountability and prompting in excellence; and also the glory of culture building. A faithful (I didn’t say perfect) Christian school is a tool for parents in this great calling to bring up their children in the wisdom and fear of the Lord. A school is not essential, but it is a great blessing. Those who have walked before us thought so. I homeschool my kids, but if there is a classical Christian school, that is where I want to be.
“Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding.” Proverbs 4:7
Note: Agape Christi offers a home school track (two days a week) as an alternative to our day school.