Tony Jones stirred up quite a hornet's nest among the home school community by criticizing Christians who home school as failing to be "salt and light" to the community by withdrawing from the public schools. Jones declares them to not be missional.
This controversy has been picked up by local newspapers such as the St. Louis Dispatch in their article, Homeschooling and the Social Contract. As the article notes, the homeschooling movement has grown and become much more mainstream, with nearly 2 million homeschooled children in the United States.
Jones has a specific point about how all Christians ought to participate in public schools as part of a social contract, just as all Christians must pay taxes. To fail to be a participant in public schools, both by failing to be present and be salt and light, and through the removal of funding from failing public schools, is the breaking of a Christian family's social contract with their community.
(As to the issue of funding, many public school supporters object to the creation of charter schools based on much the same ground--it robs failing public schools of funding and involved families that flee. Advocates of charter schools believe strongly, however, that charter schools are the savior for many kids and the solution to the problems that exist in many of the public schools.)
So, should Christians homeschool? I will say upfront that I believe that this is a very personal decision which many people have strong feelings about. As the father of three young girls, two of which are school age, this is a decision that we had to weigh. And we have several friends who have made the decision to home school their children.
Christian families that homeschool may do so for many reasons. They may have special needs children, a desire to be close to their children, a job that requires travel, or other reasons. For Christian homeschoolers, however, probably one of the biggest motivating factors for doing so is fear of the world unduely influencing their children. Many even have their children go with them to adult Bible classes at church, rather than have them off by themselves in children's classes.
I went to a Christian college--Oklahoma Christian University. My father taught there, and I met my wife in the choir at OC. I had a great experience, and I believe that the Christian students and teachers that I met there profoundly shaped my faith. In many ways, this type of school is a sheltered environment. However, one can find any type of trouble at a Christian school if he or she wants to do so, and parents are not around to filter or prevent these influences.
Despite meeting at a Christian college, my wife and I both wanted to place our children in public schools for their primary and secondary education. For us, this was a very intentional decision, for we did indeed feel that our children's participation in public schools would allow us to reach out and be "salt and light." By sending our children to public schools, we have been able to be well connected to the community, he in contact with non-Christians that we could reach out to, and teach our children how to deal with non-Christians and non-Christian situations.
To be fair, the public schools in the communities in which we have lived have been excellent. And we have lived in fairly conservative states that are generally not blatantly anti-Christian. Some of our friends who live in the NE live in communities that have public schools that are very anti-Christian, with a strong pro-homosexual agenda, the pushing of contraceptives onto teens or younger, many New Age influences, and more. If we lived in a community with public schools such as this, or if we lived in an area where violence was prevalent in the public schools, we might reconsider our decision. Certainly, we do not want our children hurt or drawn down a bad path.
If there is a desire to raise kids well in a home environment so that they are well prepared to be salt and light, that is a good motivation. But if there is an attempt to shelter kids from all influences until they are 18, that is not a good idea. I would much rather have my kids encounter something that my wife and I help them work through than for them to go off to college and leave the home and encounter these things for the first time away from us.
Those that do home school hopefully find ways to regularly serve in the community, including the public schools. The public schools--and all the rest of our communities--desperately need the influence of godly children, parents, and families. And if we were all to withdraw from the public schools, they would definitely be in trouble without that daily salt and light influence that so many of our Christian families provide in that context.
In the end, I believe that each family must decide for themselves whether to home school, go to a public school, go to a charter school, or go to a Christian school. Hopefully this is a decision that is made very intentionally, keeping in mind both the spiritual formation of our children and their need and our need to be salt and light and share the gospel with our community. We may reach different conclusions, but these are the questions that we ought to be asking regardless of the context.
What are your thoughts about homeschooling? Does it prepare kids? Shelter them? Help them be salt and light or prevent them from being salt and light?