By Dr. Brian D. Ray
Yes, homeschooling is biblical. A clunkier and more academic title for this article would be, “Discipleship, Education, and Schooling of Children: A Biblical Perspective.” I kind of like it but I am not writing for a philosophy journal right now. On the other hand, Christians must be scripturalists. That means, they must be philosophers because they must love wisdom.
God’s Word, Not Human Experience
Where should Christians get wisdom? The Word of God. But very few – truly very few – Christians with whom I have ever talked about education start, travel, and end with God’s word when it comes to the education of children. Not church leaders, not parents, not professors of education at Christian colleges, and not certified teachers. But the Bible is where we must go on every topic.
If only it were easier to do. What is “it”? How about trying to look at the word of God on a particular topic as if it were the first time, and as if you had not been biased by your family growing up, your local churches, your favorite Bible teachers, your friends of the past and present, your elementary and secondary school experiences, TV, and what all the experts say? It is not easy. But it is imperative that every Christian consider doing this on the topic of the discipleship of children. If not, a core aspect of what it means to live a Christian life is ignored and part of God’s best plan is lost.
Many Christians try to come to terms with the education that is given to children and youth – about 86% of all children in the United States – in state-run (i.e., public) schools. (And the percentage of children in State/public schools in most nations is very high, the majority of children.) Some of these Christians have already sent their children away to public schools to be taught there, some are considering doing so, and some have grandchildren in them; others are church leaders who are trying to determine what counsel to give to parents about the education of their young.
Along these lines, I saw an article by a nationally well-known Christian leader on this topic a few years back. I carefully read and thought long and hard about what he wrote. It was clear that he had struggled for years over the concept of who should be teaching, training, and indoctrinating children (i.e., educating them) and he was expressing himself to many thousands of people related to his sphere of influence. I had to conclude that his advice was murky and rife with historical, logical, biblical, and philosophical problems.
I do not want to identify this man but I do want to give you some of what I wrote to him in a letter.
First, from the very beginning, one of the main reasons for the founding and existence of “common schools” (i.e., what are now called public schools) in the United States was the control of one group of people (or one group’s vision) over another group of people. For example, historian of education Dr. Charles Glenn wrote the following: “In the United States, as in France and the Netherlands, the mission of the common school was defined largely in terms of the creation of convictions and loyalties, of shaping a common mind or soul for the nation” (p. 261).1
Second, many Christians think that there has never been as much controversy over the public-school system in America as there is now. But whether the “system’s” level of controversy is now at an 8 on a 10-point scale and it had never exceeded a 7 before this decade is a red-herring fallacy. A quick but serious reading of the history of education in the U.S. indicates that there has been plenty of vigorous controversy regarding state-run schooling at various times during the past 160 years. Some historians might even say that the acute controversies many decades ago split groups of people far more than they do today.2 Historical renditions and debates regarding public school’s past and present are in some ways, however, only a small piece of what Christians should consider.
Third, plenty of today’s scholars recognize that state or public schools are religious in their very nature. Professors James Carper and Thomas Hunt wrote: “In sum, then, we contend that the public school is the functional equivalent of an established church, buttressed with religious language, expected to embrace all people, legitimating and transmitting an orthodoxy or worldview, and underwritten by compulsory taxation” (p. 4).3 In other words, state schools are religious. Parents are basically sending their children to a church when they send them away to school.
If any readers are in doubt that State/public schools are not designed to teach the truths of God and generally teach things antithetical to the truth of God’s revelation, many sound resources are available to study. These cover much of at least American history and reference events, ideas, and content from hundreds of years ago to current times.4
A basic premise of this article is that there is much overlap in the meanings of schooling and education and discipling. A reasonably accepted definition of school is that it is a place or organization outside the home where teachers instruct, teach, or drill students (i.e., children and youth) in specific knowledge or skills such as reading, language, mathematics, and arts and, allegedly, only secondarily in manners, philosophy, and morals. Education, on the other hand, is the bringing up and instruction of children and youth to enlighten their understanding, instill their philosophy, develop their morals, form their manners, correct their tempers, give them knowledge and train their skills such as in reading, language, mathematics, science, history, and arts, and fit them for usefulness in their families, associations, and communities. Education comprehends all that series of instruction and discipline which is intended to accomplish the aforementioned.
With these definitions in mind, consider that many Americans tend to think that State/public schools only school children, but the full truth is that they also educate them, always and at all times. That is, philosophers of education recognize that all schooling is education. All schooling is the teaching, training, and indoctrination – to imbue with particular opinions, points of view, or principles – of children and youth. The impression that many parents and the public have and that many public-school teachers and advocates present is that school is mainly or only about instructing students in knowledge and skills and that it does not teach them in ways of sectarian values and beliefs, worldview, and how to judge or evaluate things according to philosophical presuppositions. That is, all forms of schooling or education engage students in discipleship, the spreading and inculcating of the doctrines or teachings of a famous person or perspective (e.g., Jesus Christ, neo-Marxism, critical theory, statism, democratism).
A Vital Point
Before moving on, let me remind the reader of a vital point: All schooling – whether public/state schooling, private institutional schooling, or homeschooling – is the teaching, training, and indoctrination of children and youth.
Sharpening the Point
To change directions a bit in this article, there are more fundamental issues at stake. The discussion of schooling and where and how the children of Christians should be taught, trained, and indoctrinated can be brought to a more focused point of consideration. And I recognize that now my comments might make uncomfortable some readers, fellow believers, of this article.
Certain persons who want to be gentle or favorable toward “some” public schools claim that in some school systems, the majority of teachers, administrators, and students have an outlook that is friendly and respectful toward Christianity and conservative moral values. The implication is that these might not be bad places for the children of believers. I have not been able to get someone who claims this to refer me to even one, let alone three or four, of such alleged public-school systems in all of the United States. I am not convinced that they exist today. I doubt they do.
More importantly, even if the majority of the state-run school personnel are “friendly” or “respectful” toward Christianity, they are generally not allowed to teach anything very truthful, and definitely not proactive in favor of Christianity due to the state-selected and state-dictated curriculum and law. Even while admitting that public schools are not designed to develop disciples of Christ, some believers will find other ways to make these institutions appear either benign or as part of an unassailable goodness that pertains to life in America.
Many Christians use language that says parents who put their children in private schools or homeschool their children have “left,” “abandoned,” or “exited” the public schools. In fact, however, those parents who continue the home-based education of their children – that all parents begin at their children’s births – or send them away to Christian schools instead of away to state-run schools, are not exiting state schooling, but rather they are moving toward something. That is, they are continuing in or putting their children under the tutelage of those in a “system” who know and love the Lord Jesus Christ. On a related note, those who say private schoolers and homeschoolers have exited or abandoned public schools are often implying (or saying) that these families have taken their energy, concern, and generosity away from something (i.e., state-run schools) that is an essential, good, or laudable part of the U.S. Typically, however, no biblical premises are provided to support this claim. Further, there is no command to or argument for the creation and operation of schools controlled and operated by the State in the Bible. (This topic, in itself, deserves a stand-alone article.)
Honing In: What Does God’s Word Say?
Perhaps most importantly, it is time for Christians to admit a few things that most have wanted to ignore for a long time. The first is that public (State, government-run) schools were never designed to lift up the name and truth of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to lead children and teens to enjoy and serve Him forever, and to teach students that all persons, including those in government-run agencies, should bow their knee to the King. There never existed the “good old days” when this was the main purpose of state-controlled schooling, for example, in the United States.5
Second, every believer (i.e., every parent, church leader, grandparent, each one who has a concern about the biblical discipleship of the children or God’s children) should carefully try a thought experiment that is backed up by some work and energy. Imagine oneself as an alien to the word of God and human society. Imagine putting aside one’s own childhood and all the biases picked up from one’s community, one’s own K-12 schooling experience or college background, one’s local church, one’s favorite Bible teacher, one’s denomination, and one’s civil nation. And then imagine picking up the Bible and reading from Genesis 1:1 through the end, and asking the following two questions:
- To whom does God give (prescribe) the responsibility for, the authority over, and the duty to do the teaching, training, and indoctrination of children?
- Does God prescribe for His people to willfully put themselves or their children under the tutelage of pagans or nonbelievers? Or, does He forbid this?
Consider, for example, the following scriptures in answering the two questions above:
- Exodus 34:10-16
- Deuteronomy 6:6 9
- Psalm 1:1 2
- Psalm 78:1 11
- Psalm 127:3 5
- Proverbs 4
- Proverbs 6:20-23
- Proverbs 13:20
- Proverbs 22:6
- Proverbs 23:7 (see NASB, KJV)
- Ecclesiastes 4:12
- Isaiah 54:13
- Jeremiah 10:2
- Ezekiel 33:1-9
- Mal. 4:5 6
- Matt 7:24 29
- Matthew 18:1-7
- Matt. 22:21
- Luke 1:57-80
- Luke 6:39-40
- John 7:15
- 1 Corinthians 15:33
- 2 Corinthians 6:14
- 2 Corinthians 10:5
- Ephesians 6:4
- 2 Tim. 2:15
- 3 John 4
And there are many more related to how God prescribes for His people to, and not to, raise their children.
One of my presuppositions while writing this paper is that Christians must be scripturalists. “Scripturalism is that system of belief in which the Word of God is foundational in the entirety of one’s philosophical and theological dealings.”6 A second presupposition of mine is that Christians must follow the wisdom principles and general truths communicated by God to His people in the Old Testament while they are not required to follow all of the laws of the Old Testament. With the aforementioned in mind, what does the word of God say about the education of children?
A stripped-of-culture and simple biblical reading of the word (i.e., the scriptures listed above and more)7 of God reveals that parents – fathers in particular – are clearly given the authority and responsibility pertaining to the education, upbringing, and discipleship of their children. Parents are urged to walk and commune with their children on a daily or more-frequent basis. Parents are to provide an environment for their children that encourages meditation on, the reading of, and discussion of God’s word at any and all times of the day, and discussion and modelling of how to live out the word of God in all the nuances and activities of daily life. Fathers are exhorted to teach all the ways of the Lord to their children, in detail. Fathers’ hearts are to be toward their children, and then the children’s hearts will be toward their fathers and God will be glorified.
The more time fathers and mothers spend with their children, the more they can authentically and effectively teach the words, precepts, and propositions of God, including the basic gospel message, to their children. The more time non-Christians spend with a man’s children, the more the non-Christian will teach diligently the things of the world (i.e., what is anti-God, anti-Christ, and of Satan) to the man’s children. A father should not think that what is being taught to his child (by school teachers, scout leaders, club leaders, or any other teacher) can be neutral toward the things of God. Jesus said, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls.”8 God said, “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot!”9
Professor Warren Nord, a scholar at the University of North Carolina, echoed these biblical concepts when he wrote the following:
“Indeed, I will argue that at least in its textbooks and formal curriculum students are indoctrinated into the modern (secular) worldview and against [Christian] religion” (p. 160). “There is no neutral ground on which to stand in making judgments about content, causality, meaning, and truth. All terrain is contested ground. The natural and social sciences, various philosophies and religions, divide the world up in different and conflicting ways. Philosophical neutrality will inevitably prove to be a will-o’-the-wisp, for all authors approach their subject from within particular worldviews, with philosophical commitments that define for them what counts as important, as knowledge, as reasonable, as true. There is no such thing as a neutral point of view. To write a textbook is to take sides” (p. 165).10 (Emphases in the original.)
The father who sees trouble and pitfalls before his child and does not make reasonable and biblical effort to protect the child is worthy of the wrath of God (Matthew 18:5-6). Fathers must proactively pursue, nurture, and admonish their sons and daughters. Children belong to God under the authority of their parents; they do not belong to Caesar and therefore they should be rendered only to God and not to Caesar. God warns His people to not be yoked to unbelievers in either thinking or practice; this includes yoking children’s minds to the mind of “secular,” (allegedly) “religiously-neutral,” and anti-God texts, videos, articles, workbooks, school assemblies, conversations on school buses, locker-room magazines and revelations, pressures to engage in the use of illegal drugs and alcohol, pressures to engage in premarital sex, music shared from one electronic device (e.g., iPod) to another, and the nice teacher down the street who just happens to be of any number of worldviews other than biblical. The messages and lessons of all teachers, texts, media, and friends are founded on presuppositions; if they are not of God, they are anti-God.
Christians’ children are not to be learning the way of the heathen, to be discipled in their way of thinking, believing, and behaving. Christian parents are to help them set their minds on the things above, of God, and this cannot be effectively done if they spend 6 hours per day, 5 days per week, 9 months per year with their minds on the things of the world. Jesus said that a pupil, after fully trained, will be like his teacher. A child’s teacher is the whole ball of wax, not just the nice Christian teacher he might have in second grade. It is that teacher, the state-controlled curriculum, and all the other activities, methods, children, adults, and anti-biblical thinking that naturally adhere to state-run education (and to institutionally schooling in general).
Scripture is clear that God gives (prescribe) the responsibility for, the authority over, and the duty to do the teaching, training, and indoctrination of children to parents, with the aid of the church. He does not give the discipleship and education of children to the State. Scripture makes it clear that the word of God (e.g., all it contains, all it illuminates, all its propositions and principles) should be the core of what Christian parents transmit to their children, and the word of God forbids these parents from willfully putting themselves or their children under the tutelage of nonbelievers and propositions (in the form of curriculum broadly construed) that are at odds with the Author of truth?
Red-Herring Arguments and Serious Consequences
And then there is the “salt-and-light argument” that so many Christian parents and church leaders try to make against private schooling and parent-led home-based education. The person attempting this one should carefully look into the word for it. Where is the prescription in the Bible for parents to use or pour their young ones as salt and light into a hostile environment? Where is the biblical command to send their 6-year-old (or 12-year-old, for that matter) (who, for example, has not clearly been born again by power of the Holy Spirit and whose gifting has not yet been identified as evangelism) to go out, alone, to take on the unbelieving 40-year-old teacher, the 33-year-old pagan bus driver, the 52-year-old sexuality-education Freudian or feminist school psychologist, the plethora of anti-godly books, music, video, and more that comes with institutional schooling? I will later devote an article to this topic.
Some people also argue that children must be in institutional schools to learn healthy, Christian-like social skills. I will later devote an article to this topic and why the claim is false.
Empirical Evidence on the Effects of Parent-Led Education
Scripture tells us that children should be taught to be good readers that know how to evaluate written propositions, sound economists, and loving servants. Ergo, one might wonder whether there is any evidence that children who experience parent-led home-based education are competent at these things, despite the fact that research evidence is not the a priori foundation of whether the State, private institutions, or parents should be the main educators of children. There is plenty of research done on home-based education (i.e., homeschooling) and researchers have consistently found positive things associated with homeschooling over the past thirty years of studies.11 These positive outcomes continue to manifest themselves despite the fact that only about 10% of homeschooling parents have ever been State-certified teachers. I will write another article about this.
No More Obfuscation
Parent-led home-based discipleship clearly fits the teachings and commands of scripture. Institutional schooling in which parents, especially fathers, are not the main disciplers of their children and not authentically engaged in their children’s hourly and daily lives, does not fit the pure and cloudless teachings of God’s word. Volitionally putting a child under the teaching, training, and indoctrination of institutional schooling that is run by the state and not designed to lift up the name of Jesus the Christ and give glory to God appears, simply put, to be antithetical to biblical teaching regarding the discipleship of the children of God’s children.
Homeschooling is biblical. It clearly allows and empowers and executes the biblical command for parents to raise up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord on a daily and hourly basis all week long.
- 1. Glenn, Charles L. (1988). The myth of the common school. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts. Ball, William Bentley. (1994). Mere creatures of the state?: Education, religion, and the courts, a view from the courtroom. Notre Dame, IN: Crisis Books.
- 2. See, again, historical treatments such as those by Glenn and Ball that were mentioned above.
- 3. Carper, James C., & Hunt, Thomas C. (2007). The dissenting tradition in American education. New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.
- 4. See, e.g., the following: Carper, James C., & Hunt, Thomas C. (2007). The dissenting tradition in American education. New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.; Gatto, John Taylor. (2001). The underground history of American education: A schoolteacher’s intimate investigation into the problem of modern schooling. Oxford, NY: The Oxford Village Press; Glenn, Charles L. (1988). The myth of the common school. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts. Gunn, Colin; & Fernandez, Joaquin. (2012). IndoctriNation: Public schools and the decline of Christianity. Green Forest, AR: Master Books; Morris, Barbara M. (1979). Change agents in the schools: Destroy your children, betray your country. Upland, CA: The Barbara M. Morris Report; Neufeld, Gordon, & Maté, Gabor. (2004). Hold on to your kids: Why parents need to matter more than peers. New York, NY: Ballantine Books; Rushdoony, Rousas J. (1963). The messianic character of American education. Nutley, NJ: Craig Press. (Circa 2003, available from Ross House Books, Vallecito, CA); Shortt, Bruce N. (2004). The harsh truth about public schools. Vallecito, CA: Chalcedon Foundation.
- 5. See, e.g., Carper, James C., & Hunt, Thomas C. (2007). The dissenting tradition in American education. New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.; Gatto, John Taylor. (2001). The underground history of American education: A schoolteacher’s intimate investigation into the problem of modern schooling. Oxford, NY: The Oxford Village Press; Glenn, Charles L. (1988). The myth of the common school. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts.
- 6. Crampton, W. Gary. (2011) Scripturalism: A Christian worldview. Trinity Foundation, retrieved December 10, 2013 from http://www.trinityfoundation.org/journal.php?id=276.
- 7. If the reader knows and understands the scriptures previously listed then the remainder of this paragraph will make sense, even if the reader does not agree with it; it will not make much sense if the reader does not know and understand the list of scriptures.
- 8. Luke 11:17, ESV.
- 9. Revelation 3:15, ESV.
- 10. Nord, Warren A. (1995). Religion and American education: Rethinking a national dilemma. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press.
- 11. See, e.g., the following: Medlin, Richard G. (2013). Homeschooling and the question of socialization revisited. Peabody Journal of Education, 88(3), 284-297; Murphy, Joseph. (2012). Homeschooling in America: Capturing and assessing the movement. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, a Sage Company.; Ray, Brian D. (2013). Homeschooling associated with beneficial learner and societal outcomes but educators do not promote it. Peabody Journal of Education, 88(3), 324-341.