Do Christian Kids Need Christian Education?
by Thomas Kidd
There’s nothing like having school-age children to get you thinking about education. Yes, I went to college for eleven straight years (from B.A. to Ph.D.), and yes, I have taught at the college level for eleven years, too. But I had never thought so much about education—specifically, what kind of education is best for kids in Christian families—until the last few years, as we have been homeschooling our children.
I recently reviewed David Dockery’s book Faith and Learning: A Handbook for Christian Higher Education for The Gospel Coalition. Although this excellent book is focused primarily on collegiate education, it helped me reflect on broader issues in Christian education generally. In the review I asked,
How badly do Christians need Christian education? And what exactly does Christian education entail? The answers are not always obvious. Even among evangelicals, there is no consensus about whether to put children in Christian schools, or at what level. If parents send their children to a Christian school, it is most likely to be at the collegiate level. Students often make key decisions about their faith in college, an unparalleled time of intellectual formation. Many figure that the extra expense of a private Christian college is worth it. Still, factors such as financial resources and children’s personalities weigh in the decision, made for the most part without official pressure from churches (excepting some Anabaptist and Reformed traditions).With all due deference to people’s judgments about their own children, and to their financial circumstances, I wonder whether churches should prod Christians more directly to consider Christian education, even when public schools are not openly hostile to the faith. (Doing so would require churches to help make Christian schooling more feasible in cost and accessibility, and to make sure that the Christian schools they sponsor or recommend are truly worthy options. Just because a school is called Christian does not make it a good school.)
As I noted in the Dockery review, some very thoughtful writers have argued that Christian education is essential:
Prophetic voices throughout the past century as varied as J. Gresham Machen, Christopher Dawson, Douglas Wilson, and Anthony Esolen have insisted that placing children in state-backed, secular schools at any level is unlikely to produce Christian adults capable of proper thinking. Even if secular education is not overtly anti-Christian, these critics say, it tends to produce people who are vocationally trained rather than seriously educated. As Dawson provocatively wrote in 1961, state schools seek to create functionaries for bureaucratic and industrial systems; they form “worker ants in an insect society.” If these prophets are right, then some formal Christian education is extremely important for training intellectually adroit Christians.Some Christians will argue that withdrawing Christian children from public schools also withdraws their Christian witness. And I know a number of Christian families who have given serious thought to educating their kids, and for a variety of reasons have settled on public school. But I suspect that many other Christian families have simply given little thought to the question.