Education choices for Christian families

Education choices for Christian families

Do matters of faith belong in a separate realm from education? Is education essentially neutral, or does it reflect the beliefs and assumptions of society? Does education simply teach value-free skills and knowledge, or does it inform your child on life’s meaning and purpose? PETE SLANEY explores the pinnacles and pitfalls of three educational choices.

You stand, transfixed, in the darkened room, gazing at the tiny sleeping form. Precious, delicate new life. Staring, motionless, it is as if the one-day-old baby is a complete surprise. For all the preparations of the last eight months, there is now only wonder and amazement. A new human being. A miracle. Words fail.

Those first years are a blur of milestone moments, interrupted sleeps, turbulent tantrums, dirty diapers and family festivities. The joy, celebrations, stresses and anxieties that coalesce into the practice we term ‘parenting’ become the new normal. Before you know it, the little person is walking unaided, breaking everything in sight (OK, so I only have boys, but this is true in my experience), and starting to engage adults in conversation. This little life reflects something of the image of God and also quite readily manifests the reality of indwelling sin—often approaching the extremity of each pole several times in a day!

Just as parenting begins settling into some form of manageable routine, a well-meaning friend asks what you have planned for your child’s education. As if you have had the headspace to work that out! However, you take your faith seriously and you intend to bring up your child or children to honour and love God. Will your faith inform your educational choice? How so?

State school option

Government funding means you have already paid for your child’s education in taxes (nobody likes paying for something twice). It is well-resourced, close to home and there are probably some Christian teachers on staff. Little friends from kindy are enrolled, so it makes sense to do the same. You take the Great Commission seriously and you recognise the outreach opportunities that will present themselves at school events.

Is there a downside? There may be some behaviour issues that you do not want to ‘rub off’. Perhaps more dangerous is the secularism that underpins the curriculum and claims a position of neutrality? Are you equipped and ready to pour time and energy into identifying and unravelling biases and assumptions that are not so much deliberately taught as assumed and insinuated?

Stuart and Jane Monk considered their options and settled on a state school.

We did not find it very difficult making the decision of which school to send our two boys to. We were very eager parents and as a result, during their preschool years, one of us was always at home for our boys. We believed the preschool years were foundational in instilling our Christian values into them...

We also did not see ourselves as school teachers. We respect the profession and the skills possessed or learnt by trained teachers. These skills are not found in either of us. The socialising that children receive by attending a school with twenty plus children in their class and several hundred children in the school was also important to us... Consequently, we did not consider homeschooling our boys.

We considered sending our boys to one of the local Christian schools. We attended and spoke with the deputy principal. We were somewhat surprised when we were advised the main advantages the school would offer our boys were the small class sizes and the consequent time they would receive from each of their teachers... We believe that is one of the main reasons parents send their children to any private school, Christian or not. What Christian schools should do well is to reinforce the Christian values that should have been taught in the children’s homes. However, we believe the primary responsibility lies with the parents.

One of our Christian friends had warned us of the problem of sending a child out of their local community to a school far away. As a result, it will be much harder for them to socialise after school and on weekends with their school friends. Our friend’s son missed out on many social occasions because he lived so far from his friends’ suburbs.

We consider ourselves fortunate to live close to one of Auckland’s best public high schools. It is best not only in its academic achievements but in the inclusive, supportive culture that it upholds. Our boys were able to walk or bike to all their primary, intermediate and high schools. It meant their friends were also in our local community and were easy to see after school.

We realised that during the high school years they would start to be confronted with other values, beliefs and ways of doing things. If they went to a Christian school, that confrontation of their Christian world view with the secular world view would occur later in their lives, perhaps when they went to university, and when they may not be so willing to discuss these issues or listen to our opinions on the matter. They may even be in a different city, so not open to our persuasion. We felt it was better to be able to influence them about those big issues when they were still under our roof.

Christian school option

A Christian school is more than a mechanism for delivering ‘the three Rs’. It is a tool through which children learn God’s truth about what it means to be human. Children are educated about the world’s goodness and its fallenness, through a biblical lens.

Admittedly, small schools do not produce the sporting opportunities that large schools do. There is a limited pool of friends, and if one student is a pain, they are a pain that is always around and this can be tricky to deal with. Often Christian schools are further from home, and they are expensive. You will have to stump up $2500 per year for an integrated school, or about $8000 for a private Christian school. There goes Sky TV. It might even delay the purchase of your first home.

However, Pete and Lynda Slaney viewed the cost as an investment.

To us, the question wasn’t, ‘Can we afford it?’ but ‘Can we afford not to do it?’ To be fair, when we enrolled Caleb in a private Christian school we had very little understanding of Christian education. However, as time progressed we saw that beyond the sight words, sport and the school plays, a rich metanarrative underpinned everything—a story of biblical truth. We learned that none of the ‘facts’ taught stand in isolation. ‘Just the facts’ is a myth. Facts are only relevant within a story about life. The secular story tells us nobody made us; we evolved. Nobody controls us; we are autonomous. We have a finite life span so heaven is merely eighty comfortable years on earth and we can engineer this through science. God’s story is very different and we came to value immensely that all facts taught at this school were embedded within God’s story of life—creation, fall, redemption and ultimate restoration. It was as if a curtain was lifted off our eyes and we could see what lay behind the scenes.

Christian schools make a point of partnering with parents. We were expected to be involved with fundraising, sports events, school productions and the like. When the children messed up it was called sin, we were informed quickly and were involved in the disciplinary measures. There was one set of goal posts and all the important people in our boys’ lives were aiming at those posts. In reality, if we as parents had not been modelling Christian values at home, I doubt that the Christian school would have discipled the boys very effectively, but it was all about partnership and working together.

We, along with our two boys, are very glad we made the investment. We realised that there is a window of opportunity to educate children in a particular way and once this window closes, it closes for good. Finances were tight some years, but we knew that easier times lay ahead and that better cars and dinners out could wait.

Looking back, it really was so worth it! The boys’ best friends from school are still their best friends today. They formed wholesome, healthy friendships and were not desensitised prematurely by smutty locker bay bragging or unhelpful internet images. Our boys have now left school, but they know who they are, why they exist and what life is about. They are following God’s ways wholeheartedly and we are grateful for the Christian schooling opportunity.

Homeschool option

If you can afford to do life on a reduced income then why not homeschool? Homeschooling has the potential to truly fulfil the mandate of Deuteronomy 6:6-9, impressing God’s commands on our children’s hearts, talking about them in the incidental moments of each day, and being intentional about their discipleship.

Some of the most brilliant lessons and most passionate teaching sessions have been carried out by homeschoolers, and there are various Christian curricula that can be harnessed. Being part of a regular homeschool cluster or network helps children adjust to the norms of social interaction and also overcomes any feelings of isolation.

However, homeschoolers must be highly organised, intrinsically motivated, and deeply committed to discipling their children with academic rigour. Without sufficient organisation, homeschooling becomes chaotic, random and ineffective. Christian schools sometimes find themselves being rescue workers at the foot of an educational cliff after a failed homeschooling experiment. If you do not know the curriculum material, and learning it does not appeal, then homeschooling might not be the best option for you and your children.

Here is the story of an anonymous couple who opted to homeschool.

As a Christian parent I felt challenged to provide my children with a Christ–centred, biblically based education. I wanted them to know God and his truth in a way that would enable them to make informed decisions about matters of faith from a biblical, rather than secular, mindset.

Observing a friend who had chosen to home educate her children, I also recognised that the efficiency of individual ‘tutoring’ released large amounts of time for learning through play and practical activity. It provided time to enjoy climbing trees, building huts, sizzling sausages over an open fire, and long hours of reading, and being read to, in front of a cosy fire on cold winter days. We made the decision to home educate.

As a home educator I enjoyed the freedom to resource our learning programme from a wealth of both New Zealand and international curricula, selecting that which best supported the individual learning needs of my children and our biblically based educational vision. The freedom for my children to begin formal learning as their minds became cognitively ready was invaluable. My daughter began learning to read at age four, but my son was clearly not developmentally ready for this until after his seventh birthday. Home education gave us the freedom to put the building blocks of literacy in place, without the negative pressure of being the ‘only child in the class who could not read’. After my son turned seven, his reading sky-rocketed. He quickly became an avid, highly capable reader, without the emotional baggage that developmental delay can cause in traditional educational settings.

Involvement in various Christian home educators’ groups and networks provided opportunities for the development of lifelong friendships, group learning, and specialist instruction across areas as diverse as physical education, art, drama, science, dissection, Shakespeare and debating.

Education outside the classroom was as simple as jumping in the car to visit parks, bush, rocky shores, volcanic craters, M.O.T.A.T., Kelly Tarlton’s, the zoo, or the museum. An archaeological ‘dig’ was as simple as secretly burying artefacts in the backyard, gridding the site, and providing the children with shovels.

One of the most treasured outcomes of our home education journey was the development of the kind of strong family bonds that grow from spending a great deal of time together. In view of the erosion of familial ties in modern culture, this is something for which I am extraordinarily grateful.

We chose to make the transition to school-based Christian education at the beginning of high school. Because the change to classroom-based education can involve significant change to the way in which learning is acquired, if I were doing this again I would make the transition a little smoother by working with a longer timeline, instead making the move in Year Seven/Eight.

Home education is a lifestyle choice requiring significant commitment and sacrifice, but it is also a freedom that we are privileged to be able to choose. This season, with its opportunity to sow God’s truth into my children’s lives, flew by quickly, as childhood always does. I am thankful for the times of joy we experienced together and for the closeness we have that may not have been developed had we lived these years another way.

Three options but what verdict?

The educative process presents both wonderful opportunities and myriad challenges. I believe there is no single ‘biblical’ way to educate your child in today’s world. State schools are underpinned by a secular world view, but they are convenient, affordable and can provide an opportunity for outreach in your community. Christian schools are expensive and they are sometimes quite small, but you know the education will be God-honouring and the teachers will partner with you in the discipling of your child, which is no small thing. Homeschooling takes one parent out of the workforce and is a huge commitment, but it is ultimately rewarding if it can be done well.

The truth is all parents pay for education, whether through financial outlay, reduced income, or through an alternative world view being promoted at school. However, is it not wonderful that in Aotearoa New Zealand we have options with regard to education? May we choose wisely.

Story: Pete Slaney

Pete Slaney holds a B.Sc (Auckland University), a B.App Theol (Carey Baptist College) and a Dip Teaching. Pete is the Principal of Immanuel Christian School in Auckland. When he is not at work he may be found playing music, studying God’s Word, doing DIY jobs or attempting to catch waves on his stand‑up paddle board.

Photo: Forgiven Photography/

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