Briefly, I’m looking to toss out some principles that should guide Christian parents as we think about educating our children. With three young sons, I’ve been thinking about the issue and would welcome any comments (firstname.lastname@example.org).
1) All of life is ethical.
Day by day, we make choices—individually as well as parts of groups. All human behavior can be appraised by moral values. Each of our actions gives expression to an unspoken moral code of right and wrong. In short, all of life is ethical.
While discoursing on the issue of Christian Liberty, the Apostle Paul closes his remarks by saying, "whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (I Cor. 10:31). If, as Paul says, even in natural functions such as eating and drinking we must honor God, the implication is that honor is demanded in every sphere of life. Jesus said, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Luke 11:23). In short, there is no ethical neutrality.
2) The Scripture must be our yardstick
Paganism invariably places ultimate ethical authority in the polis, effectively making the state a divine entity. On the other hand, the medieval church fostered two sources of ethics—the divine revelation of Scripture, and the realm of human wisdom, or the laws of nature. The reformers stood in opposition to both paganism and medieval ethical dualism and proclaimed sola scriptura and tota scriptura—that only Scripture and all of Scripture is not merely a guide for faith and practice, but the yardstick for every sphere of human action.
3) According to God’s self-attesting revelation in Scripture, wisdom begins with theistic presuppositions.
The Bible states very clearly that it is the fear of God that is the starting point of all wisdom, and that His precepts and law are to serve as our guide: "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding" (Ps. 111:10; see also Job 27:28, Prov. 1:7, Prov. 9:10, Prov. 15:33).
4) Education is inescapably religious.
Doug Wilson hits the nail on the head when he writes: "Education is a completely religious endeavor. It is impossible to impart knowledge to students without building on religious presuppositions. Education is built on the foundation of the instructor's worldview (and the worldview of those who developed the curriculum). It is a myth that education can be non-religious -- that is, that education can go on in a vacuum which deliberately chooses to exclude the basic questions about life. It is not possible to separate religious values from education. This is because all the fundamental questions of education require religious answers. Learning to read and write is simply the process of acquiring tools to enable us to ask and answer such questions."
Writing similarly, R. L. Dabney showed that it is impossible to teach ANYTHING without reference to some worldview: "The instructor has to teach history, cosmogony, psychology, ethics, the laws of nations. How can he do it without saying anything favorable or unfavorable about the beliefs of evangelical Christians, Catholics, Socinians, Deists, pantheists, materialists or fetish worshippers, who all claim equal rights under American institutions? His teaching will indeed be the play of Hamlet, with the part of Hamlet omitted…Since all truths converge towards God, he who is not to name God, must have all his teachings fragmentary; he can only construct a truncated figure. In history, ethics, philosophy, jurisprudence, religious facts and propositions are absolutely inseparable."
5) The purpose of Christian education is to demonstrate the glory of Christ.
Ultimately, we desire that our children become Christians and that the Holy Spirit uses our efforts toward that end. At the same time, we do not see that ALONE as the goal of “Christian” education, for “by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy" (Col. 1:15-18).
Education must be Chistocentric, for in the falling rain and the rotation of the earth we see the power and supremacy of God. In the beauty of a Shakespearean sonnet or a Bach concerto we glimpse God’s glory. In the narrative of history we take note of the merciful providence of God. In mathematics we see the order of God. In government we glimpse the justice of God. So our duty as parents is to ensure that our children are not taken captive "through hollow and deceptive philosophy," but that they learn to "demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (Col. 2:8, I Cor. 10:5).
6) As parents, we are responsible for what our kids learn.
I recall Doug Wilson once saying, and I’m paraphrasing, that "We are responsible for what our children learn, whether we teach it to them or not." I recall reading through Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 6 and being struck by the fact that I am responsible for what my children are taught. That by no means implies that I must teach them everything. However, should I choose to delegate certain things to the church or school, I am still ultimately responsible.
So all of life, including education, has an inescapably religious and ethical component. For the Christian, divine revelation is our authoritative source, and from Scripture we learn that education must be theocentric, with the glory of God being the ultimate objective. Moreover, as parents it is our obligation to ensure that our children obtain the sort of education I’ve been describing. Therefore, education that is either statist (advancing the interests of the state) or ecclesiocentric (advancing the cause of the church) is problematic. Education must ultimately be under the authority of parents, acting as God’s trustees on behalf of their children.
Having said that, I think parents can come to very different conclusions about the best way to educate their kids. While I think it is time for the church to begin discussing an exit strategy from the public schools, it is also necessary that dogmatism not guide the conversation. As Dr. Mohler has written, any such strategy must "acknowledge that Southern Baptist churches, families, and parents do not yet see the same realities, the same threats, and the same challenges in every context."
As I noted above, I have three children. The oldest started kindergarten last fall. He is currently enrolled in a Christian private school, but I’m not certain by any means that the environment there is best suited for our families needs. As the son of the schoolteacher, much of my antipathy for public education was learned at home. The remainder of my distaste stems from my own experience being sent to one of those reeducation camps. However, I realize that not all parents have the same scruples as I, and must refrain from issuing blanket proclamations.
One other item in conclusion. The time has come for churches to equip parents, support families, and offer alternatives—including subsidies where necessary. We must avoid the siren song of vouchers, which would ultimately ensnare private and religious schools in the tentacles of the state, and we must covenant together in search of new and inventive options.