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

Displaying 1–10 of 43 comments


March 28, 2006  5:05pm

As a mom of grown kids who has now been able to see the fruits of what many people chose to do in the last 20 years in our church circle, I would have to say that more often than not, the homeschooled kids really were not prepared for college and far too many of the ones I knew DID NOT FINISH college. I thought about homeschooling my kids many times, but in the end they attended public schools. All of them walk with the Lord today. There are kids they went to school with who walk with the Lord partly because of my kids' testimony. My grown kids went to college and succeeded, and are on their own. To do it again I would not spend the time I did wondering about homeschooling - for those few kids for whom it was successful, that was great, but for all the others it seems to me that they were denied important parts of the education they needed to work and live in our culture. I can't put my finger on exactly what that was – but then, that's why I shouldn't be doing the schooling. Of course, that's all anecdotal – in the end, just like the decisions about breastfeeding vs. bottle, stay-at-home mom vs. working mom, family bed vs. crib, you've got to prayerfully decide what you should do with your children, and go forward! May God make your path plain!

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Sandy McCann

March 24, 2006  7:03pm

As a homeschooler since 1989 (and one who started homeschooling for for reasons not related to Christianity) we originally began under the *plan* to reasses for each child each year...until our oldest daughter was verbally abused by a student teacher in 4th grade...BUT it only takes ONE bad teacher to leave lasting scars on a child. It was one of those awesome school districts that was sought out by many in that metro area...our daughter was a honor student, in the gifted program, and well liked. She even used to make Bible studies to share with friends on the playground. Based on what we experienced that 4th grade year, we will not take that risk again with our other children.

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March 24, 2006  10:56am

I guess the REAL question isn't "How did these four groups interact with Roman society", but "How did these four groups educate their children....."

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March 22, 2006  4:33pm

What's a Christian parent to do? Looking at Jesus' model, I observed that He rarely did the same thing the same way every time. One time he healed someone and said tell no one, another time he said tell everyone. One time he left the area because he knew some were after him, another time he walked right into their hands. The only thing truly consistent about his life was that he lived day by day in dependence upon his father. And so as a Christian parent, I found the same model applied for my children and for school. Each of my children is the product of a combination of public education, Christian schools, high teacher-student ratio private schools, and lots of direction from home. Not a decision to be made once when a child is 4 or 5 but one that needs to be revisited every year for every child. And I believe one that the best results come from a balanced approach - each type of non-public education has strengths, but over the long term of life those strengths will be stronger if that segment was chosen for a period of one's life, maximum 4 years, and not for a lifelong lifestyle. All in all we are here to prepare our children to live out their lives as ambassadors of God. To know how to make wise decisions, to embrace opportunities to be salt and light in the transformation of society, to understand the purpose of the body of Christ and find one's place in it, to be exemplary citizes of the kingdom of heaven - is that not what we desire for all our children? To put the emphasis on the institution is to institutionalize the very thing that made it great and diminish its own effectiveneness. It's not about the method, it's about whether or not a particular system or the people within it can be part of the total development picture of a child's life - and how we are parents continue to encourage our children to either buy into the philoophy being taught or learn discernment at recognizing truth and falsehood as it comes thru as well.

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March 22, 2006  12:48pm

I am an "old mom" of three daughters (public schooled)with one at home in high school, one in private university and one teaching first grade in public school. I agree with these statements: "It just boils down to the fact that parents have to take a primary role in education of their children - spiritual and worldy - no matter what form of school they choose for their child." "You can have smart, well adjusted, social, and God-fearing children in any sort of educational context. But the most important thing is that they have parents who are live the Gospel as well as preach the Gospel." What truly has made the difference for me personally and for my family has been my involvement in a Moms In Touch International ( prayer group where I meet for one hour weekly with other Christian moms from my daughter's school to pray for their our children, their teachers, and their school. No conversation over coffee, just prayer. Moms In Touch groups exist (or can be easily started) for homeschool, Christian school or public school moms. No matter what system we choose for our children's education, we will be anxious. But I truly can say that "by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,... the peace of God that transcends all understanding (guards my) mind and heart in Christ Jesus." (Phil. 4:6-7)

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March 22, 2006  7:07am

Let's also acknowledge that our ability to send kids to all 4 options is merely a luxury of our culture and financial means. This is probably not much of a theological question for the majority of the world.

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John Adams

March 21, 2006  1:38pm

As a pastor for a decade, and parent for the same length of time, I've observed all 4 options closely based on their "product". I have seen Christian kids turn away from God with each option! And great successes from each of the options as well. About 50% of the teens in our youth ministry are in public school, and about 35% home schooled. Charter school and Christian school are teaching the rest. The standout successes from a spiritual perspective are those whose parents invest in their lives. These parents volunteer if their child attends school outside the home, they are on-campus each and every week, helping in some way. My wife and I describe our choice this way, "we will do what is best for each of our children, each year" - whatever that option is. Right now at 8 and 10, our children are thriving emotionally, spiritually and academically in a charter school, and have seen several of their peers become members of God's family each year! I know that the quality and culture of schools vary. We're in small-town Oregon, and our district has a high percentage of Christians who teach in public schools. Their presence is having a very healthy impact! In the same way, Christian students with involved Christian parents have far more influence they we give ourselves credit for. Small schools especially, are very responsive to the concerns of parents who are involved, thoughtful in their expression, and who gently make good suggestions. In many cases across America there are several viable options for raising godly and well prepared children.

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March 20, 2006  1:37pm

A young person in our church has been heavily into "goth" culture, obsessed with death, involved in Wicca, had an abortion at 16, educated k-12 in a Christian school. The children in my present pastorate who are recognized as the most undisciplined and disrespectful by most congregants are home schooled. In both of these situations, it's parental influences and not educational that have contributed to these situations. Whatever system you choose for your children, the message is Be Involved. Parental involvement and positive parenting makes the difference. And yes, we have done all three. One of our kids was home and private schooled, and the other all public. No noticeable character differences, because they were rooted in the same values at home.

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March 17, 2006  12:44pm

It just boils down to the fact that parents have to take a primary role in education of their children - spiritual and worldy - no matter what form of school they choose for their child. Amen to that.

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March 17, 2006  10:25am

But you cannot argue the fact that you have removed your family from the conversation of public and private education. Instead of placing yourselves in the middle as active participants, you are at best spectators, and at worst outside critics. You are not a participant, you have isolated yourself from ONE piece of culture, education. Actually, I would argue that homeschoolers are much more involved in the conversation of education as a whole and that a large percentage of public-school parents are not active participants in their children's education at all.

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