Stewarding our Children's Education

Editors' Note: This article is part of the Patheos Public Square on Homeschooling and Public Education. Read other perspectives here.

John Whitehead once wrote, "Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see." Christian parents understand that their children's education helps frame the "living message" they become, so many of them decide homeschooling is the best fit for their families. Homeschooling has now gone "mainstream," with celebrities joining millions of Americans who choose homeschool over public education. Surprising to many is the high rate of minority homeschooling and that 70 percent of survey respondents cite a nonreligious reason as the top motivator in their decision to homeschool.

For Christian parents however, there is an added facet when discussing homeschooling. As followers of Christ, we have a mandate to disciple our children, which includes stewardship of their education. For some parents, there are many options to consider including homeschooling, Christian or private education, and public education. Parents with many options are able to select any one of these forms of schooling knowing that they are making this choice based on the best family/schooling option fit. For other families, due to location or income or family constraints, public schooling may be the only available option. I would like to suggest that whether a family has multiple school options or only one, the greater call to disciple our children is still the primary mandate.

If a family has options to consider, as with all decision-making for believers, prayer is the best first step. God has designed every human being uniquely, and every family has its own special shape and calling which effectively should influence schooling decisions. Parents can rest assured that God goes with their child to whatever school environment they sense he has planned for them, both inside or outside the home. Trusting God's faithfulness, mothers and fathers can make an informed decision based on the Spirit's leading rather than fear. And they can also trust that God is guiding other parents just as faithfully to steward their own children's education. Just as our Father creates his children to each have different gifts, so he also places us in a variety of environments to equip and prune.

One factor that unites us, regardless of schooling options, is that all parents are responsible for their children's education. As such when parents sense public school is where the Lord is leading their children, then they are equally accountable to the Lord for their children's overall educational experience. As a former public school teacher, I can vouch for the eagerness of most teachers to partner with parents in the learning process. Parents who are involved in the academic life of their children, and the community life of their public school, are stewarding their children's education as much as their homeschool counterparts. The scenarios are different, but God goes with the students and empowers the parents in every situation.

When homeschooling is the best option for a family, parents have the opportunity to invest deeply in their own children's education. As homeschooling often affords flexibility in schedule, homeschooling families have a unique opportunity to respond to the Church's responsibility to love our neighbors as ourselves by continuing to be engaged on some level with public education in their local communities. Since 90 percent of all American students are educated in public schools, Christians (regardless of how their family schools) must be intentional in obeying the call to be light in their neighborhoods, to seek the good of their city, to love their neighbors as themselves. I'd like to offer a practical suggestion for pursuing this goal.

One of the hallmarks of the homeschooling movement has been the high level of student outcomes, with homeschoolers consistently scoring higher on standardized tests and college graduation rates about 10 percent higher than their public school peers. Public school parents have the same desires for student success, and many are working hard to raise the education standards for all schools in their states and communities. Now that No Child Left Behind has expired, old arguments over Common Core are moot, and local communities can unite around high academic expectations for all children.

If homeschool and public school parents stand together in support of academic excellence and accountability for public schools, they will become an unstoppable force. The Every Student Succeeds Act became law at the end of 2015, and individual states are in control of their school standards as well as systems of accountability. Parents have a unique opportunity to be involved in their state's process this fall, not just to project homeschool liberties, which are important, but to benefit the millions of students attending local public schools. Accountability systems are being developed for each state. The good news we can all celebrate is that parents and community leaders, such as pastors, have the opportunity to participate in that public process.

The imago dei in every student is honored when we hold them to high standards in all school environments. I encourage parents and church leaders to find out how they can get involved in their own state, to ensure the next generation of Americans have the best academic options possible. Regardless of your family's schooling choice, you can live out the gospel by loving your neighbors. We model how to be a "living message" for our children when we work for education equality for all in our communities. May we unite as local communities to create excellent education options for all God's children.