Really Old School: What 1st Century Judaism Says About the Public/Private/Home School Dilemma

Some congregations experience doctrinal divides. Others wage worship wars. But an increasing number are experiencing schooling squalls. Public school, private school, or home school - how should followers of Christ educate their children? And what does the answer reveal about our belief in mission, culture, and the nature of the gospel? Dave Terpstra, pastor of The Next Level Church in Denver and the father of young children, has been wrestling with these questions and looking to an unlikely source for clarity - first century Judaism.

My oldest child is only two and half, but already my wife and I are having conversations about where we will send our kids to school. The more we discuss the issue the more I realize that where followers of Christ send their children to school says more about their perspective on the interaction of Christianity and culture than any other issue I've encountered.

Where I live, the Denver metro area, there is a full spectrum of educational options for my family: public, private, charter, homeschool, Protestant, Catholic, etc. There are certainly varying degrees of excellence among the teachers and administrations of these schools; but for the sake of argument, let's say all things are equal as far as talent is concerned. How is a Christian parent to choose?

I'm not sure our school choices today are all that different than the religious options of 1st century Jews. I'd like to draw some parallels. There were four major sects in 1st century Judaism: the Essenes, the Sadducees, the Zealots, and the Pharisees. Each of these sects interacted with the Roman culture differently. I see a similar pattern in how families interact with the educational options of metropolitan America.

The Essenes lived in communes away from the influence of the Roman occupiers. Their philosophy of cultural interaction was to stay as far away from the surrounding culture as they could. They simply didn't like what they saw. The parallel I see is with parents who choose to homeschool their children. They have looked at the options, and they have chosen to exclude their families from that aspect of cultural interaction.

The Sadducees seemed similar to the Essenes in that they didn't try to change the culture. However, they chose to live right in the middle of it. They embraced their Roman occupiers (for the most part) and were rewarded for their loyalty. The parallel for the Christian parent is of those who choose to send their kids off to public school without thinking twice. They don't interact with teachers, PTA meetings, or even inquire about what's in the textbooks their kids read. After all, it's a government approved curriculum.

March 14, 2006