education: the default option is still ok

[Health warning: more an essay than a blogpost, but after all, it’s been a while.]

Few things worry parents so much as how their children are going to turn out. Christian parents worry especially about bringing up their children in a way that is consistent with their Christian profession. This makes Christian parents especially interested in (and vulnerable to pressure from) various theories of how children should be educated.

In recent memory, there were two options for how to get your children educated – state school or private school. Since private schools are prohibitively expensive for most people, state schools have normally been the obvious and natural place for children to go.

Recently though, people have started exploring other options. One is home educating, once the preserve of hippies and parents of children who struggled in the conventional classroom (as victims of severe bullying, or with medical conditions, or similar), and the other is Christian schools.

Parents faced with this array of choices need to be reassured that there is no single right option. None of these options comes with a divine blessing attached. None is automatically the right choice for everyone. The decision to select one or another is constrained by circumstances – the personal circumstances of individual families, given their geographical location, their finances, their academic ability, their context in their community, and their personal tastes, inclinations and temperaments. It’s not a question of absolute right and wrong but a question of what’s appropriate, wise, and practical in a particular set of local circumstances.

On the one hand, this means that homeschooling and Christian schools are perfectly legitimate routes for Christian parents to go down. Nobody would or should deny the right of parents to educate their children at home or in Christian schools. It’s a question of what’s appropriate in their circumstances.

On the other hand, it also means that it is a perfectly legitimate option for Christian parents to educate their children in state schools. This is unfortunately a point which needs to be stated explicitly in our current context where Christian parents may find themselves in constant danger of being rebuked, browbeaten, guilt-tripped, and judged for sending their children to state schools (or for that matter private schools that are not overtly Christian). But for them as for anyone else, it’s a question of what’s appropriate in their circumstances.

In particular, any of the following considerations could quite rightly weigh heavily in favour of Christian parents educating their children in state schools.

1) Everyone else is doing it

Most of us have been brought up on the mantra that just because everyone else is doing it, that doesn’t make it right. But the converse does not hold. Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t make it wrong.

It is important for the functioning of civil society that Christians along with everyone else are part of their community. That means that Christians are not expected to be different for the sake of being different. Christians are meant to be good neighbours – to participate in community activities, join in with local customs, play their part in their local society, to the fullest extent possible. While this world is never going to be a comfortable stay for pilgrims whose home is above, Christians still have a responsibility to be good friends, neighbours, and citizens in their local contexts. Society itself is not evil, and our non-Christian neighbours are not people to be feared or distrusted or kept at arm’s length. Standing aloof and refusing to be involved in what everyone else regards as a perfectly normal part of life, especially if you’re transmitting overtones that your children are too good or otherwise too special to mix with the rabble, is hardly conducive to good relationships in your community.

And school is just part of our society. Everyone – not literally everyone, if you’re ill, or bullied, or the offspring of hippy parents, but as the norm – goes to school and sits in a classroom and plays in the playground and learns with their peers. Specifically in the UK context, and even more especially in the Scottish context, the reason that this has ended up as the norm is not because of some outrageous secularist wickedness, or an evil socialist conspiracy, but because of a vision stretching back hundreds of years, for every parish to be supplied with a school for the education of local children. This vision was embraced and adopted by our Reformers, and over the years Christians have invested a lot in this system. Scottish Christians have valued education highly. Ministers serve as chaplains in local schools. Congregations take a prayerful interest in their local schools. Teaching is regarded as an honourable, respectable profession for Christian men and women. Scottish Christian parents today need not be ashamed of continuing to participate in the local provision for local children.

2) Children need a good education

State schools aren’t perfect, but they’re not as bad as people make out. There is a scaremongering tendency among those who object to the state school system to recycle the horror stories they’ve read in the tabloids dramatising the worst perpetrations of feral children rioting in the iniquitous dens which pass for classrooms in inner city schools. They tend not to notice that these stories shock everyone, however wedded to the concept of state education, or that they are not representative of the state school system in general.

And whatever wonders homeschooled children may perform in American spelling bees, there remains a strong case to be made for both the academic and the social benefits of attending a state school. Children in conventional classrooms learn in the conventional way how to get along with children their own age and stage. Teachers are professionals who know about children’s development from a broader perspective than any individual set of parents learning about their own child’s development, and they teach in an environment geared towards learning. A mum and the family doing long division around the kitchen table while the oldest changes the youngest’s nappy in the background is something of a different kind of learning environment. Arguably it’s one that works for some families, but there’s nothing wrong with Christian parents who don’t find it appropriate for their own situation.

Further, even where Christian schools can in principle avoid the drawbacks of homeschooling, it is legitimate for Christian parents to choose not to send their children there. Christian parents have the right to be cautious about setups which are demonstrably amateur and lacking in resources even if they are indisputably enthusiastically Christian in spirit. Good intentions, fine principles, and burning convictions have to be weighed up against the quality of the actual teaching being delivered, the kinds of exams children will be able to pass, the support provided for children with learning difficulties, the pastoral care available, and even the ability of the organisation to pay its teachers a decent wage. Tiny classrooms run on a shoestring budget where children have to sink or swim academically through their own efforts because the staff are inadequately trained and resourced might work for some Christian parents, but there can be no cause for condemnation when other Christian parents don’t find it appropriate for their own situation.

3) Home is where the heart is (shaped)

The home has a bigger formative influence on children than their school does. People who fret about the negative influences which Christian children may potentially be exposed to in state schools are massively underestimating the role of parents and the home environment in equipping children with the principles to live by in activities outside the home.

Parents are obliged to provide children with an upbringing which will equip them to bring Christian principles to bear on every situation they find themselves in. In the (Scottish) Reformed context, the duty of bringing up children has traditionally been understood as involving baptising them, including them in family worship, praying with and for them, taking them to church to hear the gospel preached, ensuring that they understand the doctrines of the Bible, and showing them by example how to live a God-honouring life. By bringing children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, parents provide their children with a worldview, or a set of guiding moral principles, to carry around with them as they go about their lives, whatever their circumstances may be.

Although this obviously includes when they go to school, those who object to state education have a tendency to refuse to believe that the influence of the home, which they’re otherwise so intent on emphasising, can truly be carried over by the child into school, or at least not concurrently with being brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. But this generally fails to recognise the amount of active effort that Christian families put into preventing their children from succumbing to undesirable influences in the school environment (or life, in general). Parents and children are more conscious of worldly influences, and more exercised about dealing with them, than they generally get credit for among those who object to state education.

If Christian parents only started to consider the need of bringing up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord once it came to wondering whether to send them to school, or find a Christian school, or start homeschooling, then they would evidently have been somewhat remiss. But Christian parents who have been concerned from the outset about their children’s spiritual wellbeing and attempting to raise them in a way consistent with Christian faith and practice need not fear that sending them to school is automatically incompatible with bringing them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

4) Scripture is our only authority for defining sin and duty

‘Sin’ is an accusation that needs scriptural backup, just as the imposition of ‘duty’ does. Because Scripture does not specify how children should be educated, therefore the education of children is an area for people to exercise prudence and discretion as they seek to apply the scriptural principles on the duties of parents towards children in their own specific practical circumstances.

Education has, after all, become the single biggest opportunity for the flourishing of legalism in contemporary Christianity. This needn’t mean legalism in the sense of people believing that they or their children will be saved by the good deed of homeschooling (or opting out of state education), but rather legalism in the sense of imposing their own definitions of duty and sin on other people.

Some of the most disturbing rhetoric from those who object to state education seems to say that simply sending children to a state school is sinful, a neglect of parental responsibilities, a failure in parental duty, a moral wrong perpetrated against the child if not even against God. This is essentially guilt-tripping parents who send their children to school, or in more technical terms, binding burdens on their conscience which don’t come from Scripture – accusing them of sins, and holding them to duties, which don’t scripturally exist. Granting that all parents have the duty of raising their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, it’s still not obligatory by biblical principle to opt out of the state education system. What parents are obliged to do by biblical principle is to provide children with a Christian worldview, a Christian way of acting and interacting within God’s creation and providence. One family may decide that this is best done by homeschooling. Another may decide it is best done through a Christian school. Another may decide it is best done in a way which includes conventional schooling. None can accuse the others of failing in their duty to their children simply for making one decision rather than the other.

Rather than seeing the decision to withdraw from state schooling as something inherently noble and virtuous, the only safe way to view it is as a pragmatic response to a particular set of circumstances which happens to be apparently the most appropriate choice for a given family taking all the details of their context into consideration. Change the circumstances and the most appropriate choice for even the same family could equally be to use the option of a state school. Christian parents need to be assured that how a family chooses to educate their children is determined by circumstances and not by black and white scriptural absolutes.

5) Salvation is by sovereign grace

The outward and ordinary means by which souls are saved are the ordinances of God, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer.

Education is not one of God’s ordinances.

If we believe in original sin, then we must acknowledge that children who are sheltered from every possible pernicious external influence have fundamentally the same wicked hearts as everyone else. This remains true even when their sheltered upbringing means they are outwardly unblameable in every aspect of behaviour. They might not be ‘worldly’ in the senses that Christians have traditionally deprecated, whatever we understand by worldly entertainment, worldly music, worldly dress, worldly pleasures, worldly language, worldly companions, worldly tastes. But you can be unworldly in all these external respects while having an incorrigibly worldly heart, a heart in which the love of the Father doesn’t exist.

The very best outcome that home schooling or Christian schooling can hope to achieve is only on this external level. It’s not even capable of making children’s hearts less hard against the gospel. It certainly doesn’t make children more eligible candidates for salvation. Education, even on the soundest Christian principles possible, is incapable of reaching the heart so as to bring about a saving change – there are simply no grounds for expecting it to do this, because it is not one of the ways God has ordained for achieving this outcome.

The Word, sacraments, and prayer, on the other hand, are the ordinances which God especially uses in the work of saving souls, including children’s souls. If we were more able to appreciate the value and efficacy of these means which he has actually ordained, we might be less tempted to grasp at non-ordained means such as ‘Christian education,’ so as to invest it with such undeserved significance, whether in itself, as a silver bullet to escape the ruination of our children’s souls, or as a standard for judging the holiness of other Christians.

Salvation is gifted by a sovereign God, who blesses the means he has himself ordained. Christian parents weighing up the options for educating their children will undoubtedly be able to see advantages in home education and Christian schools, but Christian parents are right to keep them in perspective – they belong to the domain of what is pragmatic, appropriate, constrained by circumstances – they are not remotely in the same league as the Word, sacraments, and prayer. When their children are saved, it will be in the diligent use of the same outward and ordinary means as ever before.

The bottom line

Any, or any combination, of these considerations would be weighty enough for Christian parents to decide to send their children to their local school, or decline to withdraw them from it, without needing to feel guilty. How Christian parents educate their children is not a question of absolute right and wrong but a question of what’s appropriate, wise, and practical in a particular set of local circumstances.

46 thoughts on “education: the default option is still ok

  1. I suppose the choice of school depends on whether parents have a desire their children to have a Christian education or a non-Christian education. Genuine knowledge of any given subject should surely begin with reverence and submission to God. It is important that the whole philosophy behind what is being taught adheres to the Lord Jesus Christ rather than the fallen world or mere human traditions. The supposed neutrality in education which proponents of secualar state education would have us believe exists is actualy an impossibility. Surely the goal of Christian parents must be to encourage their children to “bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” , “in whom are deposited all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” rather than conform them to the ideals promoted by the secualr state.
    Whatever children learn, be it maths, science, history, social studies, literature or the, parents have a God-given duty to make sure that their children learn it, as much as is possible with the perspective and application of the Christian worldview as derived from God’s revelation.


  2. “How Christian parents educate their children is not a question of absolute right and wrong but a question of what’s appropriate, wise, and practical in a particular set of local circumstances.”

    I completely agree with this sentiment.

    I would add to your discussion, though, similarly to the earlier commenter, that we must not underestimate the problems involved in allowing our children to be educated in a system that is rooted in a non-Christian worldview and by teachers who do not share that worldview. And this is the case in much public schooling, at least in the United States. Perhaps it is less so in Scotland at this time.

    Of course, God is in control of our children’s development and spiritual health. But God has also appointed means by which he works. We would not say, “Well, who cares whether or not the preachers of my church are heretical or not? If God wants to regenerate people and give them spiritual life, he doesn’t need our help! Besides, they are still using the Bible, and you can glean a lot of good things out the sermons, etc.” Similarly, I think it is a point of great importance to whom we entrust the education (and thus to a great extent the maturation) of our children. I am all for exposing children to alternative points of view (I often take my children to atheist events, for example), and I am against trying to shelter them from these things. On the other hand, they need parental guidance through these experiences, and while it is possible to give some of that guidance to children who are in public secular schools, it may not be possible to counteract the extent of indoctrination in non-Christian ideas/values/ways of seeing/practices that are instilled into them through the day by teachers as well as by peers. (“Bad company corrupts good morals.”) At least in the US, school takes a good portion of the day, and it is hard to then subject the children to “stage two” of their education every day when they get home, where parents have to sift through the whole day, correct errors, give alternative views, etc.

    Children are designed in such a way that their minds and hearts are being formed by those who raise and educate them. God has appointed it that way, and he often works through those means. Just as giving bad preachers to members of the church will have a tendency to corrupt them, so giving bad teachers and a bad educational system to children will have a tendency to corrupt them, even if we think we can counteract it in the other parts of their lives. I think that, understand how children grow and learn, it is very unwise to hand over such a large portion of their daily experience and education to people who are approaching life from a non-Christian viewpoint without far more parental supervision. I mentioned that I take my children to atheist events. Yes, but I would not send them off to an atheist summer camp by themselves. Nor would I hire Richard Dawkins to be their person tutor and let him spend most of five days a week alone with them! It is the job of parents, according to the Bible, to ensure the raising and education of their children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” We dare not be presumptuous and assume that God will bless our efforts if we are not doing all we need to do to raise our children carefully and properly.

    Is it possible that there might be some circumstances in which it might be appropriate to send children to secular public schools? I won’t make an absolute statement here. But I think that if there are such circumstances, they are not nearly as widespread as your article would suggest. And, again, things might be different in Scotland than they are in the US (just as different places in the US are different). I am not at all speaking of a public school in an orthodox Christian environment, which is what Knox and other early reformers envisioned. But I doubt that Knox would have advocated sending Presbyterian children off to be educated by the papists!

    Anyway, I don’t want to present absolutes without any possibility of exception, but I do think that it is very often very unwise to send Christian children to secularized public schools. Education should be centered on Christ, and it should encourage children towards Christ and not away from him. I would question whether many parents are really able to counteract sufficiently the effects of a godless education on their children. I wouldn’t try it.


  3. Some thougths I jotted down while reading your article:

    First of all I agree with the general sentiment. We should not judge parents for how or where they have their children educated. Especially in Scotland where Christian schools are very few and often require a great deal of financial contributions. Also not every parent could cope with homeschooling. I for one finds the thought very daunting. It is really up to the parents own conscience.
    That said, I do not agree with your wee ‘propaganda’ piece on state schools

    1. You argue that it is good to send children to a state school because everyone is doing it. We have be a part of society, I wholeheartedly agree with that. But do we have to let society TRAIN our little children form the age of 5? I don’t think so.

    ‘A school for every parish’ is part of a vision stretching back hundreds of years. You are right. But the vision was for CHRISTIAN schools for every parish. They were set up primarily to teach people to read so they could READ THE BIBLE. Academic succes and acceptance in society came second. These men knew what it meant to seek first the kingdom of God. Not in their wildest dreams would they have wanted schools like ours in every parish I’m sure.

    2. Children need a good education. Totally agree.
    State schools are not as bad as people make out to be. What evidence have you got for saying that?
    State schools have social and academic benefits for children. I would say Christian schools could have those things too.Christian schools could give children a very good education indeed. But Christian schools are never going to be able to do that if Christian parents keep trying to ‘make do’ with state schools. I totally accept that parents might be cautious about the set-up of a Christian school, the level of education, funding etc. Of course the needs of one’s own children come first. But if all parents only provide for their own children’s best interest with the choices they have available just now then we will never be able to have good Christian schools as viable alternatives to state education. We need to think not just of our own families and circumstances, we need to think of our fellow Christians who are maybe unable to homeschool, who can’t access a ‘good’ state school and who have no option but to send their children to a school they wouldn’t have chosen. Most of all, we have to think of FUTURE GENERATIONS! Would it not be good to leave a legacy to our children in the shape of the kind of schooling many of us could only dream of!

    3. You argue that the child’s time at home can counteract the time at school. Again, where’s your evidence? I would argue that there might be some parents who are very Godly, spiritually minded and able, who keep a close eye on what their children are taught. But there are also parents who are not so able, parents who are backslidden, parents who find it difficult to cope with busy family life as well as being closely involved in their children’s education, parents who find it difficult to talk to their children etc.

    4. You say the Bible doesn’t specify how children should be educated. I agree it doesn’t specify by whom, in what building or in what set-up. But it does in effect say that children are to be educated in the fear and admonition of the Lord. You say it is the parents duty to provide their children with a Christian worldview etc. Does their duty stop at the school door? I would say it is the parents responsibility what their children get taught in school, they will have to answer for that. So why would a parent choose to ‘hire’ someone to teach their children who teaches an entirely different worldview? A parent would surely only do that IF THEY HAD NO OTHER OPTION. High time for other options then!


  4. Hi Janneke!

    Just to be clear, this isn’t making the case that state schools are the only option – as you know, I do have sympathy for exploring the options around Christian schools.

    But it doesn’t help to uncritically recycle the dogmas of the American homeschooling movement –

    a) that education needs to be explicitly Christian in order to be worthwhile

    b) that we can take it for granted that state schools are every bit as bad as people make them out to be (where “bad” can take any value from “atrocious” to “totally depraved”)

    c) that parents abdicate responsibility at the school gate when they send their children to school

    In more detail for those who wish it –

    (a) People are very selective in applying the “needs to be explicitly Christian” criterion – it’s easy to wheel this out when there’s an emotive context like “But Think Of The Children!” but if we applied this principle consistently life would barely be possible. We wouldn’t go to the doctor unless they were practicing in the fear of the Lord, or take the car to the mechanic unless they would pray over the MOT, or give local shops our custom unless they understood the spiritual significance of just weights and balances. But the reality is that teachers, doctors, mechanics, and businesspeople can deliver good education, medicine, car repairs, and commerce without being Christians at all. Even if we went down the route of getting paranoid about the Subtle Influences they could potentially exert in their non-Christian way, it would still be missing the point that although it’s nice to get a nice Christian mechanic and a nice Christian on the checkout, we wouldn’t be expecting their Christian influence in our lives to be doing our souls any good, because that’s what we have Word, sacraments, and prayer for. What we look for in professional people is professionalism, not grace.

    (b) It’s a major part of the justification of homeschooling that state schools must be outrageously awful. But most of them aren’t. Instead they’re generally staffed by dedicated professionals who care about children and their learning, and they generally produce hard-working, articulate, imaginative, enthusiastic kids. Evidence for this can be seen in any local school, when you meet teachers, when you meet your friends’ and colleagues’ children, when you see kids in school uniform on the street or on a school trip, when work experience students come and shadow you, etc etc – the evidence is all around. The anti-school agenda of the homeschooling movement, which seems to be mostly borrowed from politically motivated paranoias from across the pond, simply doesn’t match the concrete experience of most people in Scotland.

    (c) There’s no reason to think that parents who wave goodbye at the state school gate would take any more interest in their children’s welfare if they went to Christian school instead (or that they’d be at all effective at homeschooling them). The contrast always seems to be between Careless Parent and Concerned Parent, where “concern” is always synonymous with “homeschool.” To recognise that children could be in state school without their parents being sublimely unconcerned about their moral and spiritual wellbeing would undermine the rationale for homeschooling beyond repair. Yet in Scotland, it is the norm for Christian parents to care about their children *and* send them to state school. The overwhelming majority of children and parents in all our congregations and churches have always only been to state school (ie, the evidence that home matters is again all around us).


    Nobody’s saying state education is always and only the ideal. I’m watching with great (friendly!) interest the discussions for setting up a Christian school over in the West and think there could be a lot of potential in it if done well. But the discussion needs to be temperate and realistic – it needs to take account of the actual situation that holds in Scotland. The frame of reference has to be Scotland (and the UK), not the US. Import those polarised, uber-zealous, Fox News style debates and people will visibly write you off before you’ve hardly started. Our families really do deserve better than that.


    • Hi Cath!

      I see what you are saying, but all these other professionals you mention are not ‘hired’ to help train up one’s children, to help shape their personality, shape their worldview, to be ‘confident individuals’, ‘responsible citizens’ etc. Also these other individuals are not with one’s children for such a very big part of the day. I am not saying parents who are sending their children to the state school are unconcerned about their welfare. What I am saying is that most parents I know are only sending them there because of a lack of other options. Something that needs to be dealt with desperately.
      Let’s take the situation in the Netherlands where there are good Christian schools in plentiful. Do you think any Christian parents over there would even consider sending their child to the state school because everyone is doing it, it is local, it is being part of the community, because non-christians can teach maths etc as well as Christians? I certainly have never heard of it over there. What I am trying to say, the state school might be a valid option in our current context with it’s lack of options but surely good accessible, sound and free Christian schools would be the ideal to most Christian parents!


  5. It sounds good in theory: maths can be taught by a non-Christian as well as by a Christian. Although your child will still loose out a bit, as the teacher won’t be able to explain maths in relation to God being the God of order etc. But I could hire a maths tutor for my son and not be too worried about the consequences. Yet that’s not what it is like though, is it. Maths teachers don’t just teach maths. If you read the Curriculum for Excellence, it makes that very clear. All subjects have to be used to work towards the 5 main goals. Not just that, certain pressure groups are starting to understand this and make use of this. A while back the homosexual lobby came with a plan to use maths lessons to further their agenda.
    Also it might work more like that in secondary. My worries are a lot more to do with primary. If my children could go to a Christian school for primary and maybe the first 2 years of secondary then I would be quite happy. Especially in primary the teacher is more than just a tutor. He is a role model for the children. And young children soak up what they are being taught.


  6. Michael Grove, the education minister, is currently insisting that children are indoctrinated with evolution theory at the age of 8, instead of 14. The government plans to require evolution to be taught as the ONLY theory of origins to all 8 years old from next year. Surely this is evidence that the state school system is failing to provide an adequate eduction for our children. Most people know that evolution is an unscientific theory and is also historicaly innaccurate and yet one of the main arguements for secular over Christian education is that the standard of education in state schools is high!

    All subjects apart from religious education are treated as being entirely secular.
    The religious education which is provided for children is often inedequate and is far from having a predominantly Christian emphasis in most circumstances.

    Sex education is often provided to children without a clear moral framework, and although parents currently have the right to withdraw children from these classes one wonder how long that this liberty will continue for.


  7. (It’s Gove, and that’s England.)

    Hi Janneke,

    I’m not following your objections to the Curriculum for Excellence? I know it’s a bit starry eyed and idealistic sometimes but it seems a bit of a stretch to see it as a vehicle for demoralising our children? Wouldn’t it be something a Christian school could adopt as a way of keeping up standards?


  8. Hi Cath,

    I see you are not following my argument. I am not against the Curriculum for excellence as such, I am using it merely to back up my claim that teaching maths isn’t simply about teaching maths anymore. There’s other agendas and goals for maths teachers to follow. Which in itself isn’t wrong either. What I am trying to say is that in that way Maths could be used for the furtherance of the secular agenda. So your claim that in effect maths can be taught by a non-christian as well as a Christian in theory sounds right enough. However in practice a maths lesson in school doesn’t just have to be that. It can be a vehicle for trying to influence our children. That’s why it definitely has benefits having a Christian maths teacher!


  9. Ok, I see what you mean.

    I suppose I just think it’s not surprising that society in general expresses itself in less and less Christian ways as Christianity declines as a force in society at the moment. Granting that this seeps into the education system, the fact still remains that it affects everything about society to a greater or lesser extent. Education is just one aspect of the society we live in. The objections that you/one can raise against education as currently delivered in our society eventually just come down to objections against society as we currently experience it. As the education system is just a microcosm of society, so how we respond to difficulties for Christians in education is just a microcosm of how we respond to difficulties for Christians in society at large.

    If our response on the education front is to say “schools are so immoral that Christians can’t participate in them,” this is more or less the same as to claim, “society is so immoral that Christians can’t participate in it.” In other words, it’s a response of withdrawal and rejection and turning in on ourselves (either ourselves as families in the case of homeschooling or ourselves as little Christian communities if setting up separate Christian schools). It’s not really a response that Christians should too readily make. The ordinary expectation for Christian life is to be standing and withstanding amidst all sorts of overt and covert antagonism, whether among a secular society or among a society where Christian influences are flourishing – ie, whatever the background society is like, it’s always a case of a spark of grace in perpetual danger of being swamped in an ocean of worldliness. To say or act as if society is too worldly for us to function in it as Christians is essentially to throw in the towel altogether. It must in the nature of the case be possible for us to live with integrity in an antagonistic environment even if it was literally the case that everyone in the classroom and everyone in the neighbourhood was a rabid atheist peddling evolution and same sex marriage with horns growing out of their head.

    Ghettoisation is never an option that Christians should voluntarily or spontaneously impose on themselves. Instead of withdrawing and huddling together, as if society isn’t a fit place for Christians and their families to be seen or heard, we need to continue to demonstrate that (a) we do have a contribution to make to society and (b) we have nothing to fear from society. In the world though not of it is simply where the Christian life is meant to be lived. Parents (like yourself if i may say so) who are so alert to the problems in our societies/schools are the ones who we most of all need to be still actively engaging in this very society that we belong to.

    This is also a reply to Concerned P. Just accepting for the sake of argument that the proposals you’ve mentioned are as bad as they sound and that Christian emphases and Christian morality aren’t getting the airtime they deserve, etc, the question would then be, what else would we expect in a context where Christian influence is in decline. But given that this *is* our context, where did the idea come from that our only option is to throw up our hands in horror and run for the hills. The only place where we can legitimately expect to be instructed in the Christian worldview and Christian morality is in the spiritual institution of the Christian church – in God’s ordinances of Word, sacraments, and prayer. Education arrangements sympathetic to Christianity would a nice bonus, but it would still remain the responsibility of Christian parents to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and the responsibility of their local church to instruct them in the Christian doctrinal and moral framework. When the institutions of a post-Christian society turn out to be unsympathetic to Christianity, for one thing it shouldn’t be surprising, and for another thing it shouldn’t spell the end of Christian participation in these institutions. Otherwise, we would have to go out of the world.


  10. Dear Catherine,

    You say

    “schools are so immoral that Christians can’t participate in them,” this is more or less the same as to claim, “society is so immoral that Christians can’t participate in it.”

    With all due respect, I believe this reasoning is flawed.
    1. Yes we have to participate in society, but at the same time we do not join in with society in EVERYTHING. I am sure you yourself don’t participate in certain activities that the vast majority of people do, or frequent certain places that most people visit. That is not the same as withdrawing from society as a whole.
    2. Yes we have to particpate in society but this doesn’t mean (as I said earlier) that we should give society the opportunity to jointly TRAIN UP our children from the tender age of 5 onwards. Especially if that training tends to be in opposition to the word of God.
    3. I am not saying that Christians should withdraw from schools period. We need Christian teachers in secondary school, to be a witness there. But Christian teacher can be witnesses because they have been taught, trained, given spiritual armoury and are so able to withstand by grace. What I am saying is that we should not be sending CHILD SOLDIERS into battle (if we can at all help it, as I said some people have no other option) and we should not send these child soldiers into battle with LITTLE OR NO ARMOURY. Most of our children. haven’t come to trust in the Lord so how can they be true witnesses? How can they withstand? They have not been trained in God’s word sufficiently, they haven’t the Spiritual armoury. Once they have had a good grounding in the truth they will stand a better chance (humanly speaking).
    I have heard people argue that although the children cannot be this witness, the parents can when they are closely involved with what their children are taught. This might be so, but I do not think it is right to put one’s children in spiritual danger on the off chance we might be able to do good to some. The little witness you might have as a parent doesn’t balance out the great secular witness your child is confronted with.

    You say:

    “The ordinary expectation for Christian life is to be standing and withstanding amidst all sorts of overt and covert antagonism” You talk about throwing in the towel altogether. We
    “throw up our hands in horror and run for the hills”.

    Yes we are called to battle. However, it is also a Biblical principle to count the cost before we enter into a Battle. And sometimes retreat IS the best way to victory.

    I totally agree with the sentiment that we are to be in the world though not of it. You contrast this with withdrawing and huddling together. I would argue that a Christian school doesn’t have to be like that. In fact, the school we are setting up in Glasgow (with God’s help) will be open to children of all types of background, of all types of faith. We want to be a school which is a witness in the midst of what is a deprived community. We want to give children in this deprived community a chance to go to a ‘good’ school where they will have ‘good’ examples and where they will hear the word of God and SEE the Word of God being lived out in the lives of the teachers. We want to involve the community and we want to BE involved, through initiatives like a neighbourhood clean-up etc. Yes we WILL be “actively engaging in this very society that we belong to”.

    We want to GO BACK to the ROOTS of our education system. It was set up to instruct children in the CHIEF END OF MAN, in How to glorify God and How to enjoy Him forever. The secularists have taken our education system from us, we are going to BATTLE to get it back. Our long-term vision is to establish schools like this all over the country. If we have to start again in order to achieve the vision men like Thomas Chalmers had, then we WILL start again! With God all things are possible!

    I am glad you said “Education arrangements sympathetic to Christianity would a nice bonus”. It is more than a nice bonus though. It is a thing LONGED for and PRAYED for by many many parents of lots of different denominations and backgrounds.
    Yes they believe that “it would still remain the responsibility of Christian parents to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord”. That’s exactly WHY they long for Christian schools. Because they believe that their responsibility DOES NOT STOP AT THE SCHOOL DOOR. Teachers are simply ‘In Loco Parentis’. We as parents are responsible for what our children are taught. NOT the council or the government, however much they would like to think that. Yes we let the schools teach our children, because it makes sense. But WE have to give an account of the decisions we make with regard to our childrens education and We are responsible for the choice as to WHO we allow to educate our children and WHAT we allow them to teach our children.


  11. We are thankfull that there are Christain teachers in the state schools as they can help to stem the tide of secularism and the breakdown of family and society but for some Christians the idea of Christian education means more than having a handfull of Christian teachers in state schools.

    Christian education is education that is consistently and completely Christian, surely there is a need for a Bible based and Christ centred education for our children. A Chritian school could teach all the subjects which are taught in the state schools but from a Biblical perspective.
    Science could be taught in the fundamental truth that the universe is created by and ruled by God. Historu could be taught as the story of God’s dealings with the nations.

    Where in the Scriptures does it say that the calling to instruct children belongs to the civil government rather than to parents? Instruction of children in the home and bringing them under the ministry of the Word in the church are not the the whole caliing of parents. Home, church AND school should work together. While the child is a at an un-chritistian school he is lost to the influences of the godless world in which we live.

    The argument that we live in a corrupt world and that it is good for our children to be exposed to the World around them even from a young age does not seem to be in agreement witht eh call to be spiritualy seperate from the wocked world. Children are like young olive plants and need to be protected from evil influences. It is nurture which children need not eposure.


  12. Proverbs 22:6 says; “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” That is God’s promise and our hope in the corrupt world in which we live. How can we be sure that our children will not depart from God’s ways if they are spending their time in schools for over six hours a day, five days a week in learning other ways than the “way he should go”. It is wise to let someone teach a child in the ways that he ought not to go?


  13. As Janneke and Concernedparent have said, we are indeed to be in the world, a part of the larger society around us, and yet this is to be balanced with our needing to be separate from the evils of the world. One good example of this from the NT is the issue of meat sacrificed to idols. We see Paul describing this balance in discussing that issue. On the one hand, we have dealings with unbelievers, we go to their houses when they invite us to eat with them, we do not ask questions about where the meat came from, etc. But if they say it has been sacrificed to idols, we do not eat it, nor do we participate (along with just about everyone else in society) in the pagan rituals themselves in the temples of the idols. Remember that these pagan practices were very much a part of society, and you were ghettoizing yourself to some degree if you separated from them. But, nevertheless, the Christians were to do so. The lesson here is the balance between living in the world and yet remaining separate from the evils of it.

    If it is the case that it is very unwise for Christians to send their children to the secular public schools that exist today, this fact cannot be gainsaid by pointing out another truth, that we are to live in the world and in the society as much as we can. That is true, but it does not rule out a need for separateness in some things. As you (Cath) said in your original post, the particular circumstances determine what is wise in particular cases when it comes to education. We do not say, “We must participate in society at all cost, so I’ll keep sending my kids to public secular schools no matter how bad they get or how much they could be harmful to children.'” We weigh the pros and cons and decide what is best. It is my conviction that while exposure to and participation in the broader culture is good for children, yet the extent of unsupervised exposure to non-Christian ideas and approaches to reality, the nature of the secular schools these days (and they aren’t getting better as time goes by), the influence of constant demoralizing and unsupervised peer influence, the nature of children as being designed to learn and be trained by the nature of the education they receive, etc., makes it wise to seek other educational options if we can–options that we can, hopefully, offer to the broader society as well in some way, as Janneke suggested. I have heard (though I haven’t researched this myself) that the early Christians provided alternative law courts to the public Roman courts, and that even pagans began to make use of them because of their reputation for justice. There is often more than one way to be in the world and to hold up the truth in it.

    And, at the same time, as Janneke also suggested, Christian adults can work in the public educational institutions to help influence them in better directions.


  14. Hi Janneke,

    A nice bonus is as far as I’m prepared to go though :-) What we think of as “the education system” is just a convenient arrangement that has grown up over the years, much like the NHS or the Royal Mail. When the various structures and arrangements that help society to function are consistent with Christian principles, that is a good thing, and definitely something to value and maintain as far as possible. But it’s not schools (etc) but the Christian church which exists to instruct us (children included) in man’s chief end. We’re expecting too much of society if we’re wanting arrangements like these to genuinely promote godliness, and in a broadly secular society, we just have to take the rough with the smooth when the institutions of an increasingly secular society become less sympathetic to Christianity. (Obviously we can’t participate in activities that are inherently sinful, no matter how common or popular they are, but obviously state schools aren’t inherently sinful.)

    I’m interested in the plan to run a Christian school which will be open to children from non-Christian families. It reminds me for one thing of Church of England schools south of the border, and that leads me to wonder whether you’ve taken much of a look at the ‘free schools’ options being offered in England? (Just curiousity, not picking a fight!) Would there be any value in trying to import the idea of free schools into Scotland?

    Concerned Parent,

    I’m not sure who makes the argument that it is good for children to be exposed to the corrupt world. It is not good in itself, but in a fallen world it is inevitable. Drawing a strict contrast between “nurture” and “exposure” makes it sound like these are two mutually exclusive options. In reality, the normal way for children to be brought up is experiencing both: they are brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and they are brought up in a fallen world. There is never a good time for children to be exposed to the wicked world out there. If 5 is too tender an age, so is 7, and 12, and 16, and 21 … But the world isn’t “out there”, it’s just where we live. Why is it that the parents who are so often the loudest in their insistence that they and they alone must bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord are simultaneously the ones demonstrating such little confidence in the nurture they’re providing that they can’t even let their children go to school?

    There’s also something confusing about your mention of being spiritually separate from the wicked world. The separation we need to make is spiritual, ie an attitude of heart and mind that is perfectly consistent with going about your everyday life in a fallen world. If we were really going to apply the ‘separation’ in the way you imply is necessary for education in a consistent way to all of life, we would have to go out of the world.


    The more I see of argumentation in favour of homeschooling, the more I’m becoming convinced that homeschooling is an American solution to an American problem. The whole topic is so culturally determined and carries such local baggage that it is deeply counterproductive for UK families to be much swayed by US discussion on the issue. When it’s extremist rhetoric from American homeschoolers that drives so much of this debate in the UK, the trouble is that people in the UK are starting to believe the homeschool hype, no matter how alien the proposed remedy is to our British values, and often flatly in the face of experience that our schools simply are not as bad as people seem to make out on the basis of scaremongering about American schools. In the UK the political context is different, the religious context is different, and the educational context is different. This isn’t a matter of doctrinal universals, equally applicable in every time and place. If you grant at all that it’s an issue of what’s wise rather than absolute right and wrong, surely you must see that what arguably works in America for Americans will not automatically be at all applicable elsewhere in the world.


  15. Cath,

    You are quite right that we need to take into consideration the differences between the US and Scotland. I think I am reasonably aware of what many of those differences are. But it also seems to me that the same sorts of reasons that cause concern for Americans sending their kids to secular public schools also apply to Scotland. It sounds to me like at least many of your schools have similar problems. Perhaps all of them don’t.

    “Why is it that the parents who are so often the loudest in their insistence that they and they alone must bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord are simultaneously the ones demonstrating such little confidence in the nurture they’re providing that they can’t even let their children go to school?”

    Not sending one’s children to secular public schools does not demonstrate a lack of confidence in one’s ability to successfully raise one’s own children in Christian beliefs and values. It demonstrates an awareness of the reality of all the facts that we’ve been pointing out in previous posts–facts about the nature of children’s personal development, facts about the nature of education and how it should be approached from a Christian worldview, facts about how children are designed to need Christian supervision and the naturally harmful effects constant full-time unadequately-supervised exposure to non-Christian ways of seeing reality, values, and peer moral practices will tend to have on children. Sure, children can do all right when they are put through these things, just as they often turn out all right when we don’t make them wear seatbelts or let them eat too much junk food or don’t bother to be concerned for what kinds of close friendships they form, but it is still often a very unwise thing to do, for reasons that have already been discussed.

    I share your concern for not ghettoizing ourselves out of the society, but this is simply not an all-controlling value that trumps a realistic appraisal of other relevant facts.


  16. Perhaps a comparison to ecclesiastical situations might help somewhat. The Church of Christ ought to be established in the nation. The Church should not withdraw from active union with the rest of the society as represented in such establishment. However, there come times when the church must withdraw from the establishment to protect other values, as happened in the time of the Disruption of 1843, and which continues to be the case to this day in the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. Could a person join the established Church of Scotland today and still be a regenerate Christian? Sure. But I wouldn’t recommend it for spiritual health! Sometimes it is time to stay in; sometimes it is time to come out. There is a balance here in which difficult decisions between a number of values have to be made, the way has to be found to seek all of those values in the best overall way possible.

    The school situation is certainly not exactly the same as the ecclesiastical situation, so don’t think I am saying that it is. But I think both cases illustrate this principle of balance.


  17. Mark,

    The reference to the ecclesiastical situation is massively unhelpful. I’m not at all convinced that you have grasped many of the sensitivities around the church situation in general, and it is a whopping red herring in the current discussion. Please can we not go any further down this line.

    The principal fact which the American rhetoric refuses to engage with is that schools in the UK (a) are not the same as schools in the US and (b) are not remotely as bad as they imagine.

    You don’t seem to appreciate how tiny a minority of Christians opt out of the state system in the UK. A grudging concession that children can “do all right” when they are “put through” (your negative presentation of) a normal education sits very oddly with the overwhelming experience that children in this country do do all right in school.

    Similarly, what you present as a list of known facts is simply not common ground between Christians in the UK and Christians in the US:
    * fact: children’s “personal development” is shaped in the home more than in school
    * fact: education does not need to be delivered from an explicitly Christian worldview in order to be worthwhile
    * fact: classrooms in the UK are not environments that can realistically be described as “constant full-time unadequately-supervised exposure to non-Christian ways of seeing reality, values, and peer moral practices”

    The gulf between UK and US culture, perceptions, and understanding is large enough that, with all due respect, it does the case against state schools in the UK no favours to be so strongly associated with or so heavily dependent on such a thoroughly American perspective.


  18. Is it not the case that children who are taught in an unbelieving world and by the unbelieving world will hardly ever be a blessing to the church of Jesus Christ? Even if in time they come to faith in Jesus Christ, they will be beginners in the faith, having learned little or nothing about the Christian doctrine and of the Christian life. Once children have been schooled in the ways of the world is it likely that many of them will turn from the ways of the world? How can it be beneficual to the church or the child if they raised in and by the world for the better part of every day?
    Surely Christians can see the benefits of a child being trained every day and all day in the fear of the Lord?


  19. Perhaps the secularised view of history, science, law, politics, sex, God and man which is taught in schools in UK has had more of an affect than some Christians realise.
    “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Colossians 2:8).


  20. Wait so if you weren’t home schooled you’ve barely a chance of being a blessing to the church of Jesus Christ? And if you weren’t home schooled you know little to nothing about Christian doctrine Christian life? ConcernedParent are you serious? Have you ever met any real life believers?


  21. Concerned onlooker,

    Where did I mention homeschooling, I wasn’t even refering to it? Why is it that the pro-secular people always associate christian education with home schooling? Yes I have met real life believers and I have been through the state school system myself so I know about it all to well. Maybe you could give the matter of Christian education some serious thought and prayerful consideration. What are the advantages of a secular godless education over a Christian one?


  22. Concernedparent said: “Is it not the case that children who are taught in an unbelieving world and by the unbelieving world will hardly ever be a blessing to the church of Jesus Christ? …”

    Sorry, but you really mustn’t make generalisations like this; you have no evidence at all for what you’re saying and it doesn’t accord with the experience of the church in Scotland. The vast majority of ministers and elders that I know were state educated – not all of them are completely useless to the Church!

    As a teacher in a state school in England, I can say with a lot of confidence that the worldview and beliefs of teachers almost never rub off on students; much less on those children whose parents take an active interest in what’s happening at school. It is actually deemed to be highly unprofessional to even imply that a child’s beliefs are ‘outdated’ or false, and every teacher I know makes very deliberate efforts to avoid slighting the views of children from religious homes, including Christians. They would be in quite serious trouble if they didn’t, and there are still a large number of (sometimes only nominally) Christian teachers in the state system who would never allow their own beliefs to be undermined in the way that some people imagine.

    I find it interesting that so few (if any) of the Christian professionals who work in the state education sector are to any significant degree in favour of home education or ‘Christian Schools’ – is it too much to ask that those who have little or no experience of the realities of state schools stop decrying it in the face of the testimony of those who do??

    PS, Anonymity is (sort of) ok on message boards; it isn’t on private blogs.


    • “I can say with a lot of confidence that the worldview and beliefs of teachers almost never rub off on students”
      So much for Christian teachers being able to influence their children with their christian world view then.
      “the vast majority of ministers and elders that I know were state educated – not all of them are completely useless to the Church”
      Most of them are quite advanced in years and went to school over 40 years ago.
      “I find it interesting that so few (if any) of the Christian professionals who work in the state education sector are to any significant degree in favour of home education or ‘Christian Schools’”
      Part of the reason for this could be that they heavily involved in the state system and a biased towards it.


      • No sensible person would expect or wish for teachers to be trying to ‘influence’ children in lessons. It would rightly be frowned upon. It is not our job. What Christian teachers can do is try to set a good example of Christian living to all with whom they come into contact. They do this in the context of the children they teach by upholding the teaching standards and professional behaviour as much as possible; all teachers are professionally bound to do this, but Christians should do it more conscientiously than anyone else.
        I know many ministers, elders and others, both young and older, and the fact is that many of them are young enough to have been in school at the same time as me. It is unworthy of either side to imply that the Christianity of their opponents in the debate is deficient as a direct result of their place of education. You shouldn’t be supporting the original slur.
        It is equally unworthy of you to besmirch the honesty of Christian teachers, and cast doubt on their ability to be objective and balanced. If any sort of real experience is dismissed as ‘bias’, there is little point in pretending that the debate is based on real fact. We might as well resort to the sort of wild, speculative and emotive ranting that is typical of the home-schooling debate on the other side of the Atlantic.


        • I’m not doubting their Christianity, just pointing out that schools have probably changed a lot since they were at school. I wasn’t besmirching Christian teachers, I was merely suggesting that they will perhaps have a tendency to support state education as that is what they are mostly/only familiar with. I haven’t realy noticed any facts being presented in support of the status quo, only opinions. Which child will have have the most exposure to Christianity, the child in a state school or the child having a Christian education?. I didn’t realise that there was a massive home-schooling debate accross the Atlantic. I personly am not a big fan of home-schooling (but if parents wish to go down that route we should not attack them for it) I would rather have reformed Christian schools. If parents have not got the option of Christian schools then state schools could also be an option, people have different circumstances which may contribute to their descision on where and how their child should be educated.


    • Dear Mr Fin,

      You seemed to have taken my comment: “Is it not the case that children who are taught in an unbelieving world and by the unbelieving world will hardly ever be a blessing to the church of Jesus Christ? …” the wrong way. I was not suggesting that someone who has attended a state school can not be a blessing to the church. What I was attempting to say is that of all the children that are taught or have been taught in an unbelieveing world and by the unbelieveing world very vew of them will ever be a blessing to the church. Of all the millions of children that are educated by the state, how many of them will become a blessing to the church?

      Interestingly you also seem to be suggesting that the influence which Christian teachers actualy have in the classroom or in the school can be rather limited.

      You say that you are a teacher in England, I provided a link to a newpaper article which was dismissed as being irrelevant to this discussion because it was related to schools in England so perhaps your opinion is irrelevant because you are involved in the English education system and not the Scottish one.

      You said “PS, Anonymity is (sort of) ok on message boards; it isn’t on private blogs.” but if you read the Disclaimer section the person who owns the blog has actualy said:
      “As long as it’s a decent contribution, your anonymity doesn’t bother me.” Whether my contribution is decent or not is open to debate but it would appear that you are making up your own rules for internet discussion.

      Anyway, what do concerned parents know?


      • Fin,

        Further to my last comment, I’ve just read through my comments and it wasn’t actualy a link which i put up it was a comment which I put up after reading about Gove’s proposal to make the teaching of evolution as the only theory of evolution compulsary. Here is what I wrote:
        “Michael Grove, the education minister, is currently insisting that children are indoctrinated with evolution theory at the age of 8, instead of 14. The government plans to require evolution to be taught as the ONLY theory of origins to all 8 years old from next year. Surely this is evidence that the state school system is failing to provide an adequate eduction for our children. Most people know that evolution is an unscientific theory and is also historicaly innaccurate and yet one of the main arguements for secular over Christian education is that the standard of education in state schools is high!”

        Cath responded by pointing out that Mr Gove’s name was spelled incorrectly and that it was in England and not Scotland, giving the impression that happens in England is irrelevant to this discussion (in the same manner which Mark’s views are invalid due him being American).


  23. Is an education which teaches evolution and the inherent nobility and upward progession in the history of mankind and moral relativism more desirable than a Christian education with Scripture as the foundation of every subject?

    “The Bible is not only the book for the church, but also for the family and the school. Biblical intruction is the soul of all instruction, the organising power of all rearing” (Herman Bavink).


  24. I think this discussion is getting very unhelpful, if not NIPPY at times.
    For parents reading this and wondering what their duty is it must get very confusing. Parents cannot say: I’ll send my children to a state school because Cath and Fin say they are not as bad as they are made out to be, or, I won’t send them because others say they are very bad. The evidence that can be presented on both sides are at best anecdotal and they are just people’s opinions based upon their own experiences. There has never been a study done on whether children who have gone through state school have suffered as a consequence, or whether children who have been through Christian education have more chance to stay with the church. So neither side can base their opinions on any hard facts.

    My personal opinion on whether children are ‘in danger’ when they are sent to state schools, (for what it is worth) is twofold: Firstly I wouldn’t want to take the chance – my children are precious, they have precious souls and precious minds and yes I want to shield them from the world as much as possible till I feel they are firmly grounded in the Truth and ready to go out into the world. If that makes me monastic so be it. Secondly, I wonder why the churches in Holland are full and they are empty here. Of course this has many reasons, but I firmly believe an important difference is that young people go to Christian schools, they make Christian friends their, their home life, their school life and their time with friends are all in agreement. Over here I see many young people, they seem to have two lives: a Christian life at home and Church and a ‘secular’ or ‘neutral’ life at school and with their friends. I have seen many leave school and go to uni and as soon as they leave their parental home they stop going to church. This is much more of an exception in Holland. (Although I realise that in Holland they have gone too far in their seperation from the world). One Scottish minister amongst my acquaintances said that he believed we lost 80% of our youth to the church because of secular education.

    I have taken the opportunity to give my opinion. But as I said, it is only an opinion. And at any rate, basing your decisions on how bad the schools are would be reactionary.
    If any parent was to ask my advice, I would tell them to work out for themselves first of all what The Bible says. Forget everything you know/believe/want to believe and ask yourself: does the Bible require education to be Christian or not? This is the very question over which Christians in our circle seem to be most divided. Homeschooling discussions ect just blur the issue. This is the REAL question which is at stake. And again, people on both sides claim to have the Bible on their side. Any Christian parent will have to make up their own mind, studying the Bible and asking the Holy Spirit to enlighten their mind.
    (BTW just an observation, so far it seems to be mostly FP’s amongst the reformed churches who do not see the need for Christian Education in my personal experience. I have no idea why)

    Again, I will give my personal opinion on whether Education should be Christian. Yes I think it should be. Look at the text “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, & when thou walkest by the way, & when thou liest down, & when thou risest up.” Deut 6 v 4-7. and ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge’ Prov 1:8 or ‘The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.’
    In Eph 6:4 Paul writes ‘And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.’
    I am now quoting Rev Gavin Beers explaining this text, because he does it a lot better than me: “It is evident from this command that parents are again addressed as being the ones responsible for the education of their children. Furthermore this education is again to be explicitly Christian.
    According to this we are to:

    a) Bring them up – that is to raise and guide them to maturity, from childhood to adulthood all the while they are under direct parental care.

    b) This upbringing however is specific. It is to be in the Nurture and admonition of the Lord – where the word translated ‘nurture’ is the very significant and informative Greek word paidea.

    In ancient Greece ‘paidea’ described the entire process of educating humans into their ‘true form,’ seeking the perfection of ‘the real and genuine human nature.’ It involved the whole training and education of children in the development of mind and morals, and for this purpose it employed instruction, commands, admonitions, reproofs & punishments.

    In Eph 4:6 this idea is taken from a Greek culture and rooted in a Biblical one. Paul is not concerned with ‘nurture’ alone, the command concerns the NURTURE OF THE LORD. In other words, the whole process of instruction & discipline of the child is to be in the Lord. To paraphrase what he is saying correctly we could say ‘Fathers give your Children a Christian Education in all things.’”
    See for his articles on Christian education.

    Catherine, I believe your reasoning is very pragmatic. I also believe it is influenced by the thinking of our time. God and religion belongs to the private sphere and the Church, society should remain ‘neutral’. And so you are arguing in effect that the education in the state schools is ‘neutral’. I believe this is a myth. Furthermore I believe it is unbiblical. The Lord makes clear that everything which is not in agreement with Him and His truth is in fact in opposition to Him. There is no neutrality. Personally it just seems so wrong for me to send my child to a school where most of the teaching is in opposition to God precisely because it doesn’t allow for the existence of God.

    If parents believe in the neutrality of education, if they do not think education necessarily has to be Christian, then fair enough, send your children to a state school and try your best to counteract the bad influences. Even then I for one wouldn’t like to take my chances humanly speaking. But I must say again, Cath and Fin seem to be in the minority here. I have been discussing this topic with many Christian people from many denominations and so far the vast majority would be very much in favour of Christian education.

    Of course all of the aboce must be read in the light of the fact that
    a. the vast majority of parents have no access to Christian education and therefore have no choice but to send their children to the state school: I do not condemn them for that
    b. especially up north there are still schools where Christianity has a big influence and where there are a number of Christian teachers. Agitating for Christian education isn’t as pressing there as it is in the big cities.


  25. By the way, this belief that Education should be Christian isn’t a recently developed opinion, or a belief come over from America. Our forefathers thought so.

    Martin Luther – “I am much afraid that the universities will prove to be the great gates of hell, unless they diligently labour in explaining the Holy Scriptures, and engraving them in the hearts of youth. I advise no one to place his child where the Scriptures do not reign paramount. Every institution in which men are not unceasingly occupied with the Word of God must become corrupt.”[i]
    see also

    Knox – “John Knox in 1560 outlined a plan for ‘the vertue and godlie upbringing of the youth of this Realm’. Education for rich and poor alike was seen as a joint enterprise between the family, the school and the Kirk.” (I took this quote from the Moray house website!)

    Calvin, Melville, Edwards, Dabney, Hodge,James Begg, Hugh Martin, J. Gresham Machen, Cornelius Van Til, Professor John Murray to name but a few.

    It seems to be a relatively new opinion that Education is just as valuable when it is secular / ‘neutral’


    • It’s fair enough to argue that schools might not be as bad as some poeple think they are but to suggest that it would be safe to send a child to a school even where it was apparently obvious that the teachers are rabid atheists and homosexual relationships are being promoted would surely have obvious risks?


      • Sorry if the above comment does not make sense, I wrote it on the bus. My nf1688 username for WordPress also came up instead of my proper name.


    • Thanks Peter! I especially like this quote from Louis Berkhof, because it says what I have been trying to say:

      “It is utter folly to think that you can inform the intellect without giving direction to the will, that you store the head with knowledge without affecting the emotions, the inclinations, the desires and the aspirations of the heart. The training of the head and of the heart go together, and in both the fundamental fact that the child is the image-bearer of God must be a determining factor. Again, in view of the fact that education is and should be a unitary process, we understand the absolute absurdity of saying that the school is concerned only with the head and should limit itself to secular education, while the home and the church make provision for the heart by adding religious education. We should never forget that the education which the child receives in the school, though divorced from religion, is nevertheless an education of the entire child and is bound to make a deep impression on the heart”
      (page 12)


  26. According to Cath the vision for public shools is “a vision stretching back hundreds of years, for every parish to be supplied with a school for the education of local children. This vision was embraced and adopted by our Reformers, and over the years Christians have invested a lot in this system. Scottish Christians have valued education highly. Ministers serve as chaplains in local schools. Congregations take a prayerful interest in their local schools.”

    The vision which the Reformers had become so blurred that by 1872 the Church handed control of its schools to the state in 1872. Sadly it did not insist on legal safeguards for the protestant religious ethos and rather compromisingly settled for an assurance that religious education would continue on the basis of locally determined “want and usage”. The Roman Catholic Church on the other hand cunningly refused to accept that settlement and did not accept state funding until the 1918 Education Act gave it a framework that ensured Church control over staff appointments and school management. It’s a pity that the presbyterians didn’t have the same foresight. They did not demand such safeguards because they assumed that their schools would continue to reflect the religious ethos of their surrounding environments. When society became more and more secular so did the schools and now we find ourselves in the current poor state of things. One wonders why nothing was done by those in church office to make alternative provisons for our children decades ago perhaps it was because they thought that by 2013 the Millennium would have already started instead of things getting worse (this is apparent from some of the extant sermons of some of the ministers).


  27. Dear all,

    As a primary teacher who was educated and also worked within the Scottish state system, and who now works within a Christian school, I feel compelled to add a few thoughts of my own to the conversation. I also apologise if my thoughts are a little rambling. Being succinct has never been my strength!

    Firstly, Cath – thank you for your original post. I felt it was a very fair analysis of all of the options currently open to parents in our society, and acknowledged the need for each option in different situations.

    The term education has been used a lot throughout this conversation and I wanted to clarify what ‘education’ means. According to the dictionary, it is:

    The knowledge or skill obtained or developed by a learning process.

    Thus we can agree that for the most part, the two key items to look at here are knowledge and skills. In a school environment, there are two key elements – the obvious academic, knowledge based element, and secondly, the skills – these are both academic and social. This social element cannot be seen as of lesser importance than the academic.

    In Scotland today
    For most parents in Scotland today, their choice is limited. Christian schools are few and far between, and those that do exist are often costly, and out of range for most families. This then leaves two current options: to send their children to a state school or to homeschool.

    There are two issues which I would like to raise regarding this.

    Firstly, the important social skills developed in a state school environment can be missed by those who do homeschool. An importance is often placed on the academic achievement of such children, and the equally important skills of working cooperatively with others, as part of a group or team, and how to interact with others in social situations, are often missed out on. These are taught elements of state schooling today and should not be overlooked. These are key elements which cannot be ‘picked up’ by allowing their children to play with other homeschooled children, or by helping around the house as part of the family group. These are explicitly taught skills, in order to equip and prepare children for their future workplace environment.

    Secondly, whilst I applaud parents who feel they CAN teach all of these elements appropriately in a home environment, it then falls back to the question of academics. Can a parent, who perhaps has little or no training in the field of education, ably and fully teach their child to the same level as someone who has been trained for four years in their particular area of education?

    Yes, the curriculum today in Scotland consists of more than just knowledge and skills. It talks of the ‘holistic’ child. However, it concerns the child’s emotional and social well-being. A very general term, I agree. However I believe that much of this element is borne from our history in Scottish education of placing academics before the health of a child. In previous generations, many children were ridiculed for being ‘less intelligent’ than their peers, or for being unable to retain information. Today, we know that there are other factors involved, and looking at the whole child ensures we are accepting of children as individuals, who do learn in different ways, and require different methods in order to do so.

    Anyway, I digress. There are a few points that have been made which I need to address.

    Firstly, there is the suggestion that we are handing over our children to be ‘trained’. Two things – yes, they are ‘trained’ to go the toilet at appropriate times, or to put up their hand to speak, so as to instill some order within the classroom, but this is as far as it goes. They are not ‘trained’ to listen, they are taught skills to help them to listen. ‘Training’ should be done at home, and therefore I believe Proverbs 22:6 (‘Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it’’) refers to a parental responsibility within the home in addition to what is taught in school.

    Children are also at school for a relatively small amount of time every week –approximately 20 hours per week, out of a possible 168 hours (around 14%). Children spend most of their time with their parents, and as Ephesians 6:4 says, we should, during this time with them, ‘bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.’ Teachers do not bring up other people’s children. Yes, they have a responsibility and care for these children during school hours, and may teach them manners or polite etiquette, but they are not bringing them up – this is the parent’s responsibility.

    Secondly, as Fin correctly pointed out, we have an element of professionalism to our job. No teacher in Scotland would be safe in their job if they either a) passed comment on a student’s beliefs, or b) imparted their own beliefs to the children. Therefore the argument about sending your child to be taught by a non-Christian is irrelevant if that is a concern relating to state schools.

    Yes, I agree it is concerning that evolution and other such things are taught in our state schools. Sadly, we live in a world where these are viewpoints that many hold to, and cannot therefore be ignored. (Just as we do not ignore the other religions of this world, we must educate ourselves in order to be armed appropriately). It gives us a great opportunity to witness to others, and to remind others that we believe this is NOT fact. Most parents I know talk to their children about what they are learning in school, and use it as a tool to talk to children about the truth of God’s Word, and to discuss with their children about the conflicting views of the world which they will come across again and again in daily life.

    From a teaching perspective, I now have the wonderful privilege of working within a Christian school environment. I now have great liberty as a teacher, to talk to the children I teach about Christ, and am able to teach from a Christian perspective. However, from observation, Christian schools are not without their own problems. One problem can be that not all teaching is sound and therefore children can be taught wrong doctrine, which can be more confusing for young children than no doctrine at all. However, one would hope that parents would assess elements like these prior to sending their child to such a school. Secondly, where many from different denominations are involved in the leadership of the school, it can lead to many disputes about day to day practical issues. In addition to all of this, teachers employed in Christian schools come from a variety of backgrounds and denominations, many with differing doctrine and practice, which can again lead to confusion and inconsistencies from classroom to classroom. That said, there are also obvious positives for children taught in a Christian school environment, many of which have already been highlighted in previous comments.

    These are just a few of my thoughts. We must remember that whatever way parents choose for their children to be educated, that choice must be accompanied by much prayer and trust in the Lord. God is sovereign, and however much head knowledge they provide their children with, ultimately, each child must be born again, and this is something they, as parents, cannot give them. Parents have a responsibility to teach their children about their need for a Saviour, something which they can all do, regardless of what way they choose to school their children.


  28. I like what Janneke said earlier: If anybody is reading this conversation and trying to figure out what to do with your own children, consider all that has been said and be wise in making your own decision. I think the dangers and shortcomings of sending one’s children to a secular public school system have been adequately argued, and I think they are evident to anyone who thinks carefully about it. Listen to arguments on both sides, but make sure the decision you come to is based on honest and careful consideration, and not on an attempt to find some justification for going with what might seem the easier or less extreme option. This is no light matter. The good of our children is at stake here. (On the other hand, don’t get paranoid because the matter is important. Just do your best in thinking critically, carefully, and thoroughly, and trust God with the results of what you honestly decide.)

    One more thing: Cat mentioned the concern that homeschoolers may end up not being adequately “socialized.” Certainly, this CAN be a problem, but it NEED not be a problem. It is not inherent in homeschooling. Children are designed to be apprentices to adults. Homeschooling can well facilitate that process, as it naturally lends towards children functioning as a full part of the family and in the activities of the family, both in its internal activities and in its relationships with those outside. It can help overcome the “two lives” syndrome mentioned earlier, where children have their lives at school that are incongruous with their family lives in some ways. I am not saying, though, that this can ONLY be accomplished when homeschooling is involved. I am focused right now on pointing out that homeschooling need not have the problems Cat suggested. Much more could be said here, but I wanted to point out another side of thinking about this issue.

    See this article for further reading on this, and as a jumping off place for further thought and research:


  29. I certainly nderstand where you are coming from and I think easily a majority of our denomination would agree with you. I know some would take it further and say homeschooling is wrong for all — based on the facts we need to be in our communities.

    As an American who went through the typical American system, I can safely say that the reasons Americans homeschool there are legitimate. The situation is totally different. There is no “R.E” or bringing bibles to school. Those privileges are only given when the atheist voices are quieter. Children get into trouble talking about their religion. Don’t believe me? I experienced it — in 1992, in my country bumpkin school. Try that in an affluent excellent school and you are expelled. If anyone wants to complain about the Christian religion, they win. Sure you can teach your kids about sticks and stones but it will probably injure more than help, unless you have an extremely extroverted leader-kid — or one who just has no fear of man.

    The UK is blessed to have the protection of establishment (though there are drawbacks, too).

    I admire parents skilled enough to compete with schools for ther chidren’s hearts. Knowing my personality and my husband’s, we woud have absolutely NO contest. We would lose them. We are neither brave nor “cool” nor exciting nor fun. All we can offer is Christ and
    hope-filled room for them to develop into the people God wants them to be. Both of us went through the “I hate my parents” and “I want to die” stage in teen years.
    Both of us went through school wanting to fit in and never having done. We complied with what we should not have. We were socially awkward — me because I was sheltered and naturally shy, not allowed to do anything outside of school because of mom’s convictions. (I am thankful for that now, in conversion.)
    We feel we have a small chance to affect our kids by spending lots of time with them.
    It also is an excellent way to force us to be more organised and has been a great tool for our Sanctification. It is hard but the difficulty does not offend.

    It is not for everyone, of course. We have many godly friends , both sides of the Pond, sending their kids to schools for all your mentioned reasons. We applaud them, support their decision, pray for their kids, and choose to think the best for them. One must take a relativist stance in this thing.

    However we school, we must be humble. There are spiritual and practical struggles unique to all forms. We just have to choose our battles. God will resist us when we arrogantly say our way is the right way or the godlier way. God has given some of our dearest friends excellent backbone and personality abilities to deal with state schools and the struggles there. I’d never say they should be homeschooling or that their kids will not be godly or that mine will be because homeschooled — I know that is just the attitude God humbles right out of you in a very painful way, down the line.


    • I think it might be safe to say that homeschooled kids Brits hear about on the BBC news are the fringe. The ones I have known are all well-educated (some Ivy-leaguers, for what it is worth), social, respectful — this dysfunctional stereotype is completely foreign to me.

      We have so many opportunities to socialise with a wide variety of people and I have the added benefit of sifting through who my kids meet. We shop together. We meet up with neighbours. We meet up with other families — Christian and non-, homeschooling or state-schooling. My kids are exposed to babies, kids their age, teens, adults, and the elderly. We’ve international friends. I personally think it is beneficial to rub shoulders with people of all ages and walks of life, for optimum socialisation.


  30. This has been a very interesting discussion! Having been educated myself in the public school, albeit in the ’60’s and 70’s, having attended a Christian college and taught in Christian elementary school, then homeschooling my own children, (not for religious/dogmatic reasons, however) and now having four children enrolled in a K-12 Christian school, I can honestly say I’ve been all over the map on this one.
    Just today I was directed by Tim Challies to a new blog which I’d never read before, and this wise woman said it better than I could ever hope to:
    Thought you might likewise enjoy reading her thoughts.


  31. Pingback: What She Said | The Confessional Outhouse

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