Selected and Condensed from “Should Christians Prefer a Classroom School?,” Chapter Three of Teaching the Trivium by Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn. Copyright September 2001. All rights reserved.
We should all agree that Christian parents are to follow Biblical order by controlling and directing their children’s education (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Ephesians 6:4). But what is the best way to accomplish this? For most of us, because government schooling is ruled out for philosophical reasons (no jurisdiction, godlessness, etc.), and a privately hired tutor is ruled out for practical reasons (cost, availability, etc.), our choice is narrowed down to either a private classroom school or a homeschool. In Homeschooling, parents are the most directly involved in the education process. In the private classroom school, however, though parents choose which school the child will attend, after that, the parents are removed from the driver’s seat and become support for the school and its program.
Seven Problems with Classroom Schools
In addition to parents relinquishing the control and direction of their children’s education in the classroom school, there are a number of problems which classroom schools introduce to the educational process. Here are some of the problems which persist in large gender-mixed, age-segregated, day-long classroom schools.
1. Classroom schools create bonds which can easily cross and oppose the proper bonds of authority and affection.
The teacher-to-student bond may weaken the parent-to-child bond.
The school-to-student bond may weaken the family-to-child bond.
The student-to-student bond may weaken the sibling-to-sibling bond.
The parent-to-school bond may weaken the father-to-mother bond. The classroom has much potential for alienating appropriate lines of affections, and for engendering inappropriate lines of affections.
“Peer socialization breaks down family relationships. . . . [it] separates kids both from their siblings and their parents through time commitments, interests and emotional bonding.” — Rick Boyer, The Socialization Trap
The child’s heart, affections, and attentions - the very life of the child - is bound up with his peers, and parents lose the heart of their child.
2. Classroom schools can create an atmosphere of ungodly rivalry instead of godly challenge. When peers are put together in a graded context, the natural result is comparison - not against an absolute standard, but against each other. This breeds fleshly competition and rivalry. We illustrate this point from the book Marcaria; or, Altars of Sacrifice, a nineteenth century novel by Augusta Jane Evans. The main character of this book is Irene, who was sent off to a prestigious boarding school in New York.
“. . . the defects of Irene’s character swiftly strengthened and developed in the new atmosphere in which she found herself. All the fostering stimulus of a hot-bed seemed applied to them, and her nobler impulses were in imminent danger of being entirely subdued. . . . and the associations which surrounded Irene were well calculated to destroy the native purity and unselfishness of her nature. . . . As regarded educational advantages, the institution was unexceptionable . . . . But what a Babel reigned outside of the recitation-room. One hundred and forty girls to spend their recesses in envy, ridicule, malice, and detraction. The homely squad banded in implacable hatred against those whom nature had cast in moulds of beauty; the indolent and obtuse ever on the alert to decry the successful efforts of their superiors; the simply-clad children of parents in straightened circumstances feeding their discontent by gazing with undisguised envy at the richly-appareled darlings of fortune; and the favored ones sneering at these unfortunates, pluming themselves on wealth, beauty, intellect, as the case might be; growing more arrogant and insufferable day by day. . . . it is surprising how really fond parents, anxious to promote the improvement of their daughters in every respect, hasten to place them where poisonous vapors wreathe and curl about them. The principals of such institutions are doubtless often conscientious, and strive to discharge their duty faithfully; but the evils of human nature are obstinate, difficult to subdue under even the most favorable auspices . . . .”
3. Teaching the identical material to multiples of children who are at different learning levels is not an efficient use of the student’s nor of the teacher’s time. Compared to homeschool, a classroom school spends more time covering less material at a lower level of quality. Homeschooling allows more to be accomplished at a higher quality with less time and effort. That is the private-tutor and Homeschool advantage.
4. The age segregation of classroom schools encourages peer groupings as the proper way of segregating society. It creates an artificial and impractical one-size-fits-all standard within age segments, while it divides families and generations. It develops an appetite for being surrounded by one’s peers, and for shunning the presence of adults, while it creates a culture void of age-integrated relationships. It is frequently a formula for foolishness. William Cowper satirized it this way:
His intercourse with peers, and sons of peers -
There dawns the splendor of his future years.
— Tiriconium; or, A Review of Schools by William Cowper, 1785.
The age-segregated classroom originated in evolutionary and socialist philosophy, and it produces an artificial youth culture which is glamorized for breaking with cultural tradition. (Many of these problems also persist in other gender-mixed and age-segregated situations, such as Sunday schools and youth groups. Read Critique of Modern Youth Ministry by Christopher Schlect.)
5. The gender mixing of classroom schools can create situations which are inappropriate. Boys and girls from different families should only mix together in controlled environments fully under the authority of their parents. Our girls have no business developing independent relationships with other boys, and our boys have no business developing independent relationships with other girls, apart from our knowledge, advise, and consent. (This also applies to boys with boys, and to girls with girls, though for somewhat different reasons.) “Co-education” breeds cultural disintegration by breaking down parental authority and by breeding the culturally idolatrous and emotionally fornicative “dating” mentality which prevails in our society. (Read The Pattern of Courtship by Natali Miller.)
6. Time at school away from home, after-school programs away from home, and schoolwork brought home from school - these all draw order and commitment to the school and away from the family. Conforming the family’s life to the daily schedule of an outside institution is an enormous imposition. The school becomes the center of life, replacing the home and the church. Children grow up with allegiances forged more strongly with the educational institution than with their own blood relatives and the people of God. Our concepts of “home” and “family” have become so fundamentally altered by the artificial culture created by socialized education that we have forgotten the true purposes of the family.
7. Classroom schools consume resources imprudently. Education in a classroom school is obtained at a premium rate - thousands of dollars per student. The student consumes time at a discount rate. Actual teaching and learning time, especially at the juvenile level, is only a fraction of the total time elapsed. Homeschool provides better quality time and consumes time at a dramatically more efficient rate. This leaves lots of time for other worthwhile activities. The family which homeschools has greater freedom of time and of movement in order to pursue special family activities such as academic research, specialized tutoring, ministry to others, extended travel, or even family emergencies. Such opportunities are greatly decreased when the family is tied to the schedule of the classroom school.
We could expand the list to include such issues as health and safety, conformity and uniformity, lines of communication, conflicts in academics, behavior, discipline, etc., and - no doubt - you’ve begun thinking up your own list.
Summary and Conclusion
Classroom schools often create an artificial microculture of age segregation, gender integration, reorientation of personal commitments, restructuring of time commitments, alterations of cultural and academic values, social peer pressures, and ungodly rivalry. Such things usurp the proper lines of parental authority. The long term effect of classroom schools is to take the children from their parents and to give them over to themselves, to their peers, to their teachers, and to their school. This necessarily leads to a cultural transformation. Socialists have promoted the classroom school as their model for cultural transformation - weakening the family bonds, separating children from their parents, and transforming the children into human resources for the state. Christians should stop mimicking the socialist culture. We should begin to transform culture through a Biblical model for education. The nature of the PRESENT CULTURAL EMERGENCY should move us away from the classroom school.
“The home education has so much more potential than that of the school, that the little modicum of training which a ‘common-school’ system can give to the average masses is utterly trivial and impotent . . .” — Discussions by Robert L. Dabney, Vol. IV. Secular, 1876. p. 197.
In the providence of God, private classroom schools have served as an intermediate launching pad for many of the materials which later lifted Homeschooling off of the ground, up, and into orbit. But now that Homeschooling is increasing, we believe it is time for classroom schools to decrease.
Those who have grown up in a world which knew nothing better than the classroom school, tend to think that classrooms must be better. When homeschoolers experience “burnout,” it is often because they have tried to put the new wine of home-tutoring into the old wineskin of the classroom school. They have tried to “bring school home.” Home-tutoring and classroom schools are two very different worlds. It is time to put the new wine into new wineskins (Luke 5:36-39).
The home should be the center for childhood education, and those who honor God’s order will receive the blessing. The future of godly education is not served by centralizing the process into classrooms, but by diversifying it into families.
We do not expect the classroom day-schools to largely disappear because of what we say here. We do suggest that they should be thoroughly restructured into a resource for Christian parents. School faculties and facilities could be greatly reduced and converted into think tanks to produce materials for Homeschooling parents, to provide specialized part-time classes for parents, and to provide specialized tutorial services where special help is needed. That would be a very efficient use of talents and resources within a Biblical framework for education.
Perhaps you think that we have overstated the case. We’ll allow you to be the judge. We are satisfied that every parent should prefer Homeschooling, but we are most sympathetic to the practical difficulty of pursuing this ideal within a culture which excludes normal family life from its agenda. We are not in the business of judging other Christians for their decisions. They understand best their own circumstances and the direction in which the Lord is leading them. We do not all see the same things at the same time. There may be many halfway measures which, in some ideal sense, seem out of order, but which, in a practical sense, are nevertheless necessary steps down the road to where we ought to be.
We believe God’s blessing today rests upon much of the modern Homeschooling movement because it conforms most closely to God’s order for families, which is His chosen way to restore godly foundations to society and to culture.