Will the Christian Home School and Christian School disappear?
A question like this may come across as provocative or improbable in the minds of those involved in these movements, but the trending statistics should give us reasons for pause. Interest in Christian education has waned since the 1950s. While schools became increasingly anti-Christian and even pro-homosexual, American Christian parents became less and less interested in Christian education.
Although, a private Roman Catholic school and Christian school movement grew in the 1950s and 1960s, this has dropped off rapidly since the 1990s. By 1960, there were 5.2 million students attending Catholic schools in America. About half of these Catholic schools closed by 2010. More fall off continued in the 2000s. By AD 2000, there were about 4.3 million students attending Catholic, sectarian (e.g. Lutheran), and conservative Christian schools in America. This dropped to 3.4 million by 2010. Enrollment in “conservative, evangelical” Christian schools dropped from 900,000 to 614,000 between 1995 and 2011. The overall percentage of children enrolled in private schools dropped from 14% to 8% (between 1959 and 2011). As the world produced an increasingly secularized education, eliminating prayer and the Ten Commandments, and introducing various sexual perversions, American families increasingly turned away from privatized Christian education.
Meanwhile, the Christian influence in homeschooling also dropped by a large number during the same timeframe. Homeschooling was a movement defined more by a social setting for the education of a child. Although there were benefits to shifting a social setting from a state-run institution to a home, this did not automatically ensure a Christian education. There were Wiccan homeschools. There were also classical humanist homeschools. There were Muslims who homeschooled their children. The social setting of the homeschool does not dictate the philosophy of education and curriculum used.
Thus, homeschooling as it developed produced a mixed bag of philosophies, offering an extremely wide variety of approaches. It was difficult to pin down the movement during the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. According to the 2016 NCES survey, only 51% of homeschoolers chose this alternative for religious reasons. The majority were more concerned with the public school environment (80%) and poor academic offerings in other options (61%). When asked about the “most important reason” the family chose the homeschooling option, only 16% pointed to a “religious instruction.” The rest were more concerned with academics and social environments.
Interest in religious instruction among homeschooling families dropped from 83% in the/2007 survey to 64% in the 2012 survey, and then down to 51% in the 2016 survey. According to the NCES data then, within a period of nine years the commitment to religious instruction dropped by about 40%.
None of this should be a big surprise to those following the religious trends of the nation. American faith is shrinking. Secularism is on the rise. By 2010, 56% of the “Greatest Generation” (aged Americans in their 70s and 80s) attended church weekly, and only 18% of Millennials were weekly attenders. Only 8% of Millennials (18-29 years old) called themselves evangelicals, and half of those embraced homosexual “marriage”. This means that of the younger generation, only about 4% of Americans hold to the most rudimentary elements of the Christian faith. By the 2010s, America had entered a post-Christian age.
Certainly, there are still some concerned and committed Christians left in America — the last bastion of faith in the West. There are Christian leaders who continue to labor in the waning Christian school and Christian Homeschooling movements. What is the message for those who have dedicated their lives to communicating Christ and His kingdom to the next generations? There are parents who would like to see the faith communicated to their children. They are horrified by the 70-80% apostasy rate among the younger generations, and they pray fervently for something better for their children.
It is never easy to stand firm in what appears to be a losing battle. When the tide turns, and the flow runs against us, only those with true faith will stay in the battle and stem the flood. Flash-in-the-pan activists are of little value when the going gets tough. Only those leaders who are willing to stay the course come hell or high water, come ebb or flow, will accomplish anything significant in the long run. This is always the way leadership works.
During these years of decline, it seems that much of the Christian education movement has lost its North Star. It has lost its way. Christian thinkers of the 1950s and 1960s produced many articles and books on the subject. These are now mostly out of print, and few pastors and leaders give much thought to it.
It has come to the point that there is no distinctive philosophical approach for Christian education — nothing to rally around and nothing to work for. It would be good therefore to summarize the irreducible and essential elements that constitute a Christian education movement against secularism in our day.
1. Christian education leaders committed to Christ will never concede to neutrality in education. We cannot concede that a “secular” education is neutral, while Christian education is biased. Every education has a worldview (religious) foundation and only one worldview is the right worldview, and that is a Christian, Trinitarian worldview. All knowledge is formed on a certain worldview, a basic understanding of reality, origins, ethics, and truth. When our children are discipled in schools representing the wrong worldview, they will usually fail to carry on the faith of their parents and grandparents. Christian parents who hand their children over to Muslim madrassa schools would probably lose the next generation to Islam. The same thing applies to humanist schools. Christian parents who turn their children over to schools that hold to an anti-supernaturalistic, materialistic, and humanist worldview will generally lose their children to that worldview.
2. Christ must be presented as the source of all wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3). Christ must be preeminent in all things — in science and history (Col. 1:18). There cannot be two distinct forms of knowledge - the secular and the sacred in the Christian mind. While there are two revelations of knowledge (natural revelation and special revelation), there is only one knowledge. The two revelations are complementary of one and the same knowledge concerning God, man, and the world. To ignore Christ in discussions on epistemology (the theory of truth) or metaphysics (the theory of reality) is to ignore the ultimate Truth and Reality. It is the ultimate apostasy for Christians who purport to teach knowledge in the schools or the textbooks.
3. The fear of God and humility must serve as the foundation of knowledge and learning for the Christian. The world appeals to pride, and rejects the fear of God, the significance of God, the glory of God, and even the existence of God in education. For Christians, academic pride is the destruction of knowledge. The atheist who refuses to acknowledge God in the schools is the real fool. If Proverbs 1:7 is not foremost in the perspective and communication of the homeschool leaders or Christian school leaders, Christian families must avoid attending their conferences or schools. If the most fundamental principle in all of Christian education isn’t even mentioned in the keynote presentations of homeschool conferences, Christians would do well to stay away from these organizations. We wouldn’t advise our young boys to attend a basketball camp that refuses to teach basketball and the fundamentals of basketball. Such camps would be a ridiculous waste of time for anybody wanting to learn to play basketball. Any Christian school or Christian homeschool organization that refuses to acknowledge and to emphasize the fundamental principle of knowledge in education (which is the fear of God) is not worth supporting.
4. The Word of God must be integrated throughout a Christian education. The secular-sacred divide does not exist in a Christian education. Deuteronomy 6:7 presents the Word of God as a “frontlet” before our eyes, on the posts and gates of the house. This obliterates a “secular” education as a separate kind of knowledge. There is nothing to which the Word of God does not tie in.
5. The purpose of the Christian education is not to glorify man, but to glorify God. Thus, competitions and awards will not be as important for Christians as for non-Christians. The worship and praise of God should not appear strange in the history textbook and the science classroom. Teachers and speakers in our conferences and classrooms should break out in praise and worship to the Father and to His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ who must be preeminent in all things. The integration of worship of Christ in a classroom seems odd, only because Christian education has been replaced by secular man-centered education in public and private schools and home schools over the last 150 years.
6. Faith and prayer are essential for the success of a Christian education. We do not encourage self-confidence, but instead God-confidence in a Christian education and training. While the disciples were busy rowing all night and making little progress at that, Jesus was in the mountains praying. Then, He walked over the water, climbed into the boat, and “immediately they were on the shore.” His seminary occurred in a boat, and His approach to solving problems involved faith. He wanted them to exercise faith in all of their experiences.
7. Christ-like discipleship and education takes place in the context of life and always requires life-integration. The one who hears the Word but does not do the Word is like the man who sees himself in the mirror and quickly forgets what he looks like (Jas. 1:23-24). Christian teachers and disciplers will insist upon life application as an essential element of the learning itself. Education cannot be reduced to stuffing facts into the minds of the students. If the theory does not produce a life application, it is a waste and will serve only to produce a knowledge that puffs up (1 Cor. 8:1). If the knowledge learned does not produce love and works that edify and build up, the knowledge is worthless.
If our Christian homeschooling organizations and Christian schools only repeat the philosophy of education offered by the public schools, they might as well close up shop. If there is no substantial difference between philosophies and methods, then why put the time and money into reproducing the same model? However, if Christian parents, pastors, and educational leaders would realize the powerful effect these secular education and culture has had upon the younger generations, and the unprecedented force of the present apostate zeitgeist, perhaps they would insist on a distinctive Christian approach to the discipleship and education of their children. Perhaps they would insist upon a Christ-saturated, biblical-worldview based, Word of God-integrated education for their children.
Fifty years ago, the Christian homeschool movement began for Kevin Swanson when his mother began homeschooling him in Portland, Oregon. He began speaking at homeschooling conferences in 1986 and has served in a leadership capacity in the United States homeschooling movement for the last 20 years. Kevin Swanson has produced a Christ-saturated, biblical-worldview based, Word of God integrated curriculum available from Generations.org.