Monday, July 13, 2009

Compartmentalized Education

I met my husband, Michael, during my first week in college at the Baptist Student Union (BSU). In one of our get-to-know-each-other conversations, we discussed our majors. He told me his was Spanish which piqued my interest since mine, at the time, was French. I had chosen a foreign language as my major because I had enjoyed my French studies in high school. I was unsure about how a degree in French would help me in the future. I asked him why he had chosen Spanish and what he planned to do with that degree, hoping for some insight that would help me with career planning. His answer left me dumbfounded.

"I am praying about being a tentmaker, like Paul, only in South America." he said.

Even though I had grown up in church, I had no idea what he was talking about. I smiled at him and nodded in agreement. I think I said something like "great" or "interesting". However, I secretly wondered if there was a Coleman factory in Caracas and why he needed a college degree for such work. For the next few weeks, I was on the constant lookout for this guy, Paul. Who was he? Was he a BSUer? Was he a Spanish major? I just had to find him.

A few weeks later, I did find him. During a Bible study on the book of Acts, there he was in chapter 9, on his way to Damascus. Thoughts from Sunday School of flannel board pieces depicting Priscilla, Aquila, Paul and their tents flashed in my mind. "Oh, thatPaul!" I thought. A number of facts I had learned sporadically over the years converged in my brain. Suddenly, Michael's statement made sense.

I don't think I misunderstood my future husband that day because of total ignorance. I did know who Paul was and had learned the stories in church. I think I misunderstood him because I had received what I call a "compartmentalized education". Church was the place for Bible instruction. School was the place for academic pursuits. Having been educated in a government-run school, I had been asked to leave my faith at the door each morning. I had willingly complied and as a result had never contemplated a life of total surrender to Christ in which academic pursuits fall under His Lordship and serve His purposes. This, I believe, is why I had thought of Michael's study of Spanish as something that would solely prepare him for a vocation and had not thought of it in terms of preparation for ministry.

Not wanting our children to experience a compartmentalized education is the driving force behind my husband's and my three essential goals for our homeschool. The first of these goals is that their education be distinctly Christian. I think many people equate a Christian education with having a daily Bible class. That is, in part, what we are implying. We believe "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." (2 Tim 3:16) For this reason, we want the Bible to be taught systematically to our children. This is why we have a time in our school day for a more thorough teaching of God's Word and times that we complete a read-through of the Bible as a family.

For us, a distinctly Christian education also involves the study of doctrine and theology, so we catechize our children. This sounds like something far more complicated than it is. It involves memorizing a series of questions and answers that teach doctrine. The Westminster Shorter Catechism sets a foundation for studying the Bible and discerning truth from error. The first question and answer teach that "man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever." From there, it establishes a basic understanding of God, sin, salvation, the Ten Commandments, prayer and more. 1 Pet 3:15 teaches us to be prepared to "give an answer to every man who asks" about our faith. Catechizing is one way we give them this preparation.

A third essential element of a distinctly Christian education is keeping Christ at the center of all our studies. No compartmentalizing is allowed. We study history to learn of God's providence. We study science to see Him as a magnificent Creator. We read books that build up our faith. We write with the hope of our pens being tools for God's glory. Even those subjects that don't seem to be distinctly Christian in and of themselves, like math, are built upon absolutes which point us to God. Moreover, all subjects can be completed with the understanding that God is preparing our children for the future work He has chosen for them to do and that being diligent students is their current calling.

Deuteronomy 6 commands us to teach God's commands "diligently" to our children throughout the day, each and everyday, at various places, through various means. In other words, God is instructing us to make our children's discipleship our priority. Though we should absolutely have our children in church, we should not rely on the church as the sole source of discipleship. Our children should be involved in learning to love and obey God with us at church but they should be learning those lessons at home and at school as well.

In my opinion, homeschooling facilitates this goal more easily than any other schooling option. We have the freedom to choose our curricula, and there is a wide selection of Christ-centered curricula available. Likewise, having our children with us all day everyday is an opportunity. It affords us the time to disciple our children well, addressing their spiritual needs throughout the day with Biblical instruction and discipline as situations arise.

For those of you reading who have chosen other schooling options for your children, I want you to know that I do not believe, nor am I trying to assert, that being a Christian and being a homeschooler are synonymous. I cannot speak against anyone who follows God's leading and I know godly people who are bringing their children up in the fear and admonition of the Lord without homeschooling them. I also acknowledge that I miss the mark often and that my family's standing with God is dependent upon His grace alone. It is not the result of anything we do, including homeschool our children.

However, I am compelled by Proverbs 29:19 (JKV) which states, "Where there is no vision, the people perish." Often we hear this verse being used to promote the need for a mission statement or an overarching purpose that will keep a team on the same page. John Gill, in his commentary on this verse, asserts that the word "vision" used in this context is not referring to something man sees, imagines, or dreams of accomplishing. He explains that it is "prophecy" or Biblical teaching. In fact, some Bible translations, such as the Revised Standard, use "prophecy" in place of "vision".

The Living Bible translation states it in a way that made me think. "Where there is ignorance of God, the people run wild; but what a wonderful thing it is for a nation to know and keep his laws." When I read this, I can't help but think of the United States of America. I mourn over the condition of my country. There is a lack of solid Biblical instruction in the U.S., and the people are running wild. I believe American Christians, including myself, need to be more faithful to the reading and teaching of the Bible. We need to faithfully attend a Bible-teaching church and we need to teach the Bible at home and as a part of educating our children as well. I believe that whatever schooling option we choose, we need to make sure it is not derailing our efforts to build our children up in our Christian faith. We need to be careful that we are not allowing them to compartmentalize and determine that they can have Christ here but do as they please there.

Some say a distinctly Christian education, particularly one completed at home, shelters children. To a certain extent it does, and to an extent, that is what we want. It is true that one day our children will have to face the challenges of living in a society that is currently growing more and more hostile to the Gospel. However, for my children, I pray that their education at home will root them in God's Word and set them on the path of obedience so that when that day comes they will not embrace that world or be confused by it. I pray instead that they will be prepared to stand at the gate of the enemy and give an account of what they believe. (Psalm 127:5) I pray that my children will not compartmentalize their faith but by His grace will learn to love God supremely and serve Him in all that they do.

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