Should Christian parents put children in public schools to be salt and light?

Lighthouse

By Marilyn Stewart

Curious George, America’s favorite mischievous monkey, gets curious about Ramadan and visits a mosque in the newly-released It’s Ramadan, Curious George. This summer, President Obama’s “directive” to public schools dismissed access to restrooms, locker rooms and showers based on biological sex, placing it instead on the more illusory ”gender identity” as the standard.

At every turn, it seems, children are the target audience of movements undermining Christian beliefs and values, often in the name of “tolerance.” Scenarios once thought outside the realm of possibility are fast becoming the norm.

So, what’s a Christian parent to do?

Chad Vegas, a pastor and respected school board member of the Kern High School District, Bakersfield, Calif., recently urged parents to retreat from public schools after his vote against LGBTQ regulations landed him in the national spotlight. In a letter to his church announcing his decision not to seek reelection, Vegas warned that the battle for local control over schools is lost and that the public school system intends indoctrination. Vegas now sees it was all inevitable:

…government education has been hijacked as a cause for the indoctrination of your children in nihilism, hedonism, and atheism… I was naive not to think this was the only direction government education could go. I am not calling Christian teachers to abandon their posts. By all means, please keep being a light in a dark place as long as you ethically can. I am encouraging you to find other means to educate your children. Please know that this is my advice and not God’s law, nor an official declaration of our church. We believe in Christian liberty. However, I can tell you after 12 years of sitting through meetings that public education means to indoctrinate your children in anti-Christian ideology.  [Click here to read more Exiting the Public Schools, by Rod Dreher.]

Should Christian parents abandon public schools? Or, should children stay in order to be “salt and light” to a dying culture?

It Depends

For Adam and Laura Harwood, decisions about school for their four children changed when Adam joined the NOBTS faculty three years ago and the family moved to New Orleans. At their previous home in Georgia, education was not a hard decision as the schools there reflected traditional values. Better still, those with whom they interacted at school often shared pews with them on Sunday morning.

In New Orleans, homeschooling seemed the right fit for the two youngest children, but was not an option for their son, Nathan, 15, who missed the classroom environment. Adam and Laura prayed for God’s guidance as they considered the challenges their son would face in a public charter school.

“Was he ready to face that conflicting worldview?” Laura Harwood said they wondered. “We felt like he was. And if he was, we wanted him to go in and stand strong.”

A sophomore, Nathan has only one Christian in his circle of school friends. More challenging still was a teacher who was antagonistic to the Christian faith and outspoken in her atheist views.

“But Nathan feels as if he is one of [the teacher’s] favorites,” Harwood said. “It hasn’t materialized as an issue.”

For daughter Anna Cate, a senior and dually enrolled in university classes, evolution and creationism clashed one day in history class. The discussion moved outside the classroom and became an opportunity for Anna Cate to sit down with another student over coffee and answer questions about her Christian beliefs. While Laura Harwood didn’t expect her daughter to be challenged so quickly after enrolling in a college credit course, she was pleased that her daughter was ready.

For parents facing a school choice dilemma, Harwood recognizes that there is no “one size fits all” and that parents must make decisions based on each child’s needs and maturity, the family’s situation, and the school options available.

“I would look for the evidence in the children’s lives, in the way they speak about God, in the way they treat other people,” Harwood advised. “I would look for that evidence, the fruit. Do they know what they believe, and why they believe it?”

Eye on the goal

When it comes to homeschooling, Michelle Woodward feels strongly. Being salt and light is something she and husband Greg Woodward are convinced their six children need to be, just not necessarily now.

“I’m not sure that my five, ten, twelve, or maybe even 15-year old child needs to be the tool of ministry,” Michelle Woodward said. “I am an adult. I’ve been a Christ-follower for years. It’s my job to lead others to Christ.”

A young teen, Woodward recognizes there were times she did not live a model Christian life.

“It was really hard for me as a teenager for me to be salt and light,” Woodward said. “So why would I expect that of my six-year-old? A six-year-old has no business in an ungodly situation, in a situation with an adult who is hard and fast in their non-Christian or ungodly opinions.”

Still, the Woodward family choose homeschooling not because public schools are growing antagonistic toward the Christian worldview, but on the basis of many factors, Woodward said. Though they once planned to enroll their children in a public middle school or high school, they are now “all-in” for homeschooling. And, being “salt and light” is a goal they work towards intentionally.

“We’ve given our children the freedom to think,” Woodward said. “I can’t tell you how many long nights of conversation and debate and even arguments have happened as they have hashed out the tenets of our faith.”

Through soccer, baseball, dance, and other activities, the family is invested in helping their kids see the world for what it is. While homeschooling is the right choice for her family, Woodward said friends she “loves and respects deeply” feel differently.

“We do things in the world. We don’t shelter our children,” Woodward said. “I feel we are transparent about the world, but in the context of home where questions can be discussed.”

An Unexpected Mission Field

NOBTS student and New Orleans church planter Ryan Melson, and wife Michelle, know that being salt and light is a daily imperative for believers regardless of the setting. But with a daughter two years from college, the public school system’s educational deficiencies prompted the Melson family to choose homeschool.

Ryan Melson said his first responsibility as a parent is to disciple his children and help them grow spiritually as they grow academically. Committed to making sure homeschool did not equal “huddled in the kitchen,” the family joined two homeschool groups, including a group that is non-Christian. One family in the group is Mormon; another is described by Melson as “almost pagan.”

Finding a non-Christian homeschool group came as a surprise. “I didn’t even know they existed,” Melson said. “That was a mission field we never even thought about.”

Through homeschool, Michelle Melson and the children have found opportunity to live faithful to the imperative to be salt and light in the world.

Melson sees God placed his family there. He said, “Who would reach them if our kids were in public school?”

Points to consider
  1. No one size fits all. Parents must make decisions regarding their children’s education based on the family situation, each child’s needs, and the atmosphere of the local school. Pray. Be alert. Be engaged. Be prepared to make changes as needed.
  2. Preparation is important. Disciple your children. Teach apologetically and take advantage of apologetic material that is easily accessible through NOBTS’s Defend the Faith conference in January 2017 and websites such as Stand to Reason and director Greg Koukl or Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig.
  3. Use a Psalm 1 approach rather than a “thou shalt not” approach to Christian values. Humans flourish when they follow God’s principles. Under God’s law, a happy and fulfilled life is possible. The world offers pain and disappointment.