Don’t shun me, but I’m attempting to take a neutral, journalistic approach to the conundrum concerning Christian school education. Opinions and convictions on the topic of Christian school surge with undercurrents even stronger than those concerning my previously-debated topic of considering public education. But don’t take out your crucifix against me–this essay is merely about the pros and cons, not the would’s and should’s of considering Christian education. That decision is yours, not mine.
In 2006, America recorded 23,548 religious schools (including Catholic, Islam, Jewish, and all Protestant sects). Over 1/3 of those were Catholic schools. By using the term “Christian” in this blog, I will be referring to a more narrow type of religious education, that of a church-based or independent school with an evangelical ideology, because that is my background. Catholic and other religious schools share similarities to evangelical Christian schools in vision and concept, but would differ according to their own doctrine and the practical out-working of those beliefs. (Still, the following information will likely pertain to some extent.) Statistically, other types of religious/church schools also achieve slightly different results than the stereotypical Christian school. Private schools (even with some religious base) will be discussed in the next installment on considering private schools.
Now you’ve either stopped reading due to my lengthy disclaimer, or your interest has piqued!
Here are the PROS and CONS of Christian schools in general (obviously, not all will apply to every school):
- Subject material is taught by Christian teachers, from a Christian perspective (Biblical worldview).
- Textbooks and literature is appropriate to Christian beliefs and values, often published by Christian publishing companies.
- Character and moral standards are taught and/or upheld according to the Bible’s teachings.
- Students’ families are generally Christian or at least pro-Christian in their values and beliefs.
- School environment is safe and restricted.
- Class size is small, often with a ratio of 1:15 or less. Students generally receive individualized attention.
- Students enjoy many opportunities for leadership development, student government, and participation in all or most extra-curricular activities without tremendous competition from classmates or overlapping activitites.
- Sports are often no-cut, and students can play successive seasons without overlap.
- Sportsmanship and integrity are high values on the field of play.
- Teachers are committed to students personally, as well as professionally; they often make their personal information available to students (i.e. phone, email).
- School spirit is high; the size of the school makes it difficult to stay uninvolved or disinterested.
- School size is smaller than public school, allowing families the opportunity to know most children and their parents. A shared belief system, as well as school context, makes close relationships possible and likely.
- Usually, Bible classes and chapel are required curriculum, and students are systematically taught Biblical information and stories.
- Students with mild learning disabilities or emotional insecurities will likely feel loved and accepted.
- Most schools reside in 1 central location and offer grades K-12 (some with preschool), which is convenient for families.
- Dedicated Christian teachers, administrators, upperclassmen, pastors, and coaches are positive role models.
- Opportunities to learn and practice service to the community through service projects, trips, concerts, worship services, etc. are offered.
- Teachers experience the freedom of designing and adapting all curriculum, keeping requirements established for their particular school only (not county, state, or national).
- The Stanford Achievement Test shows that Christian/private school children score a full year ahead of the national public school norm.
- Christian/private schools consistently graduate a higher percentage of children from high school than public schools, with a higher percentage going on to college.
- Cost. Parents should expect to pay between $3,000-$10,000 per year (per student) for tuition. Books, uniforms, and fees will likely be additional. Often, schools offer sibling discounts, at least after a certain number of children from the same family. Tuition usually increases with each academic level (elementary, middle, and high school). Parents receive no tax break on their public school taxes.
- Transportation is the parents’ responsibility in most communities.
- School calendar may differ from the public school calendar, including holiday weeks.
- Some schools impose strict rules and/or discipline procedures, which may or may not be in agreement with the family’s value system.
- Students with social distress may feel more vulnerable and exposed in a small environment.
- Size of school affects the variety of core curriculum and elective classes. Often, small- to mid-sized Christian schools can only offer HS students 1-2 levels of math and science curricula, 1-2 foreign language choices, and 1-2 fine arts choices. Specialized electives are usually not an option.
- The school’s ideology or doctrine may differ from yours personally, but may require your support regardless.
- Except in large or accelerated schools, less assistance can be offered for learning-disabled, impaired, or gifted children. (However, if the school is accelerated as a whole, gifted opportunities might not be necessary.)
- In terms of long-term effects of Catholic-school attendance, studies show that a higher percentage of Catholic-educated high school students are accepted into prestigious colleges than their evangelical counterparts, and once graduated, Catholic-schooled graduates earn higher salaries as adults; however, they also discard their religious beliefs and Catholic values at a higher rate than evangelicals.
Types of “Christian” schools:
- church-based Christian school (denominational foundation)
- Classical Christian school (Classical education–focus on rhetoric & logic)
- private religion-based school (private school with religion classes & emphasis on character, but not a Biblical worldview)–to be discussed under “private schools”
- independent Christian school (Biblical in belief, but non-denominational)
- ACE Christian school (center for independent, accelerated Christian education)
And now for the soapbox. The following cautions are my observations from a lifetime of Christian school experience, as a faculty kid of a Christian college professor/parent, a Christian school student myself, and a Christian school teacher myself (all of which were good experiences for me). You can find good kids in public schools and rebellious kids in Christian schools, and vice versa. Schools don’t determine spirituality, but they both have potential to either develop or injure what’s already at work. Be sure to consider the larger, not the smaller, issues on the table.
Cautions for Christian School Advocates:
- The school is not your child’s primary spiritual example. You are. Don’t let them live one way at home and another way at school and expect your kid to grow up with spiritual perimeters in place.
- The school is not your church. Typically, if the Christian school culture replaces the church culture in a family’s life (as it often does for spiritual development & fellowship), the child may associate Christian fellowship, spiritual growth, and serving in the context of a school environment, rather than a church environment. Church can easily become recreational and optional (i.e. “The kids are already getting all this at school, so why do we really need church?”)
- The school’s teaching and Biblical worldview will not make your child a spiritual person. Godly teaching informs and lays a foundation of seeing the world through a Biblical perspective. Spiritual role models support and reinforce godly teaching. But the choice is ultimately the child’s.
- Godliness is a hard choice, wherever your child goes to school. Radical godliness could be as difficult in a Christian school as in a public school.
- Christian schools, teachers, and families are not perfect. They will make ungodly and unkind choices like anybody else. Good news is, they should know better.
- Hypocrites are as dangerous, probably even more dangerous, than rebels (see the New Testament).
- Choosing an education venue based on your fears may instill fear and insecurity in sensitive children and will nurture an urgency to explore and experience the “off-limit areas” in daring children. Fear-based decisions also drive parents toward the need to control everything and avoid having to initiate faith. Choose education after prayer and conviction, not because you’re afraid of the other options.
- Protection of your children’s safety, both physical, emotional, and sexual, is essential in any environment, including a Christian one. Be careful who you trust.
- Good kids come from good parenting, prayer, and grace. Mostly the last two.
Blog away. I know I’ve opened a hornet’s nest. Check out the many great websites for Christian education, then do your own study.