Choosing Your Canaan


We’re thinking about putting our son in public school this August.

We homeschooled him via a public e-school this year and personally experienced the Achilles heel of homeschooling: lack of socialization. As an only child in an area where almost all the children go to public school, our son suffered from piecemeal contact with other kids and it showed. Yes, we have him in activities with other kids. It simply hasn’t been enough.

In addition, because he’s an only child, he needs to be in an environment where he’s not the center of attention all the time. Homeschooling works totally against that idea. Nearly every growth area he needs to improve in can best be met by hanging out with a large group of kids for long periods of time.

But when I mentioned this reality to a friend the other day, I received a rather pointed response:

“You’re handing him over to the Canaanites.”


What followed was the usual explanation of how anything but education in an exclusive private Christian school will permanently warp our son. We’ll be totally unable to counteract the brainwashing he’ll receive in public school. Welcome to Canaan!For our decision, we’ll end up with a child who grows up to be one part Bertrand Russell, one part Aleister Crowley, and one part Ted Bundy.

Thank you, NEA.

Or actually, thank you Baptists.

You see, two Baptist megachurches in our rural town control much of the public school district. Folks from their congregations make up a big chunk of the superintendents, principals, and teachers. Considering that these two churches try to outdo each in moral rectitude, I highly doubt first graders will be forced to read Heather Has Two Mommies.

But all this is beside the point.

No, some think the private Christian school education must be superior because it has better people in it. Along the road I live on, many families live in trailers, sectionals, and double-wides. They tend not to send their kids to private Christian schools for no other reason than they can’t pay the tuition.

Truth is, most people making a household income less than $100,000 a year can’t pay to send their children to private Christian schools.

Which leads to the heart of this post:

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the LORD your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the LORD your God.
—Leviticus 18:1-4

No matter what we do in the United States of America, we’re forced to choose our Canaan because we aren’t a theocracy like Israel was. As much as the Lord wants us to follow Him exclusively, we Christians aren’t called to bunker ourselves against the rest of the world. We’re called to shine our light amid the darkness. And where is the darkness? Everywhere we look.

And sometimes, it’s oh so disarmingly subtle.

Whatever my child may face in public school, I can assure you that none of it is subtle. On the other hand, the pernicious nature of the subconscious message of the exclusive private Christian school is the the message of upper-middle-class suburban Evangelicalism: materialism.

Fourth-graders putting condoms on bananas OR materialism. Which one damages the soul more? Which is harder to root out? When the Lexus SUVs pull up to drop the kids off at the private Christian school, are the kids aware of their privilege? When they’re all equipped with the latest iPod, the swankest TI graphing calculator, and the non-stop message that it’s all about them, how can they NOT be?

Worse still, how can they possibly see through that gray fog when their own parents can’t?

I’m no master of discernment, but I think I’m fairly capable of dealing with whatever the public school Canaanites can throw at me. The kids I truly worry about are those in the private Christian school who may very well be materialists at the core, yet surrounded by a highly polished veneer of Christianity or—in keeping with an age when truth is now truthiness— what I like to call Christ-iness.

We can’t drop out of Canaan because it’s all around us. We have to choose which Canaan we’ll dwell in. Some do so consciously, while other get sucked in by osmosis.

One of the reasons we moved to the country was to get away from the overt materialism we saw pummeling the suburbs. We want our son to see that not everyone garners merit by what they own. We want him to escape the dependence on others to provide for his every need. We don’t want him in the Canaan that’s so intractable that hardly anyone sees it.

The private Christian school parents forced to send their kid to public school may sit down with him or her and say, “Now be on your guard if they try to tell you that homosexuality and abortion are okay.” Meanwhile, the public school parents sending their child to the private Christian school may say, “Now be on your guard because many people there will define themselves by what they own or what they can buy.”

Choose your Canaan. We all must. No one gets a free pass. Every day each of us must fight evil.

But evil itself is not uniform. It bends the rules. Sometimes it comes as an angel of light and sometimes as a blackened beast from the pit of hell.

It’s the angel of light that troubles me.

79 thoughts on “Choosing Your Canaan

  1. You can take comfort in the story of Moses. He spent his first forty years living as the grandchild of Pharaoh and was subjected to the paganism and polytheism of the culture. His connection to his own people is recorded in his mother’s duty as a wet nurse, but the Bible does not say how much time his natural family had to instruct him. It does show that his lineage was not a big secret by the time he fled Egypt, but it is important to remember that the bulk of his teaching came from pagans.

    And he is forever instituted into the Faith Hall of Fame, if I may be so bold as to refer to scripture in such a way.

    Hebrews 11:24-27
    By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.

  2. We have always had our 3 kids in public schools. We are fortunate to lie in a school district with good educational standards. I have always wondered how we can consider ourselves to be living a missional lifestyle if we huddle to ourselves? Our job is to invest on their lives so as to affect them more with God than culture ever can. Some day will come when the must leave the nest. If they have never been out of the nest to see what a Caananite looks like, they will be easy pickin’s for the world.

    • Paul,

      Our district is merely average. The main reason comes from a lack of parental support. In some rural areas, parents just don’t see education as all that important, so neither do their kids. We have a very high drop-out rate as a result in our district. Almost a third of the kids who start here don’t finish.

  3. On the other hand, while I’m there with you, Dan (we are sending our first child to public school, see: “AJ and his first day in kindergarten – a podcast interview“), but some recent discussions with AJ have us very worried about what other children in his class might be exposing him to.

    Sure, we can try to reverse-brainwash our son, and we intend to bring him up with our own worldview in contrast to what he is taught at school. But how do we trump the “secrets” that his classmates reveal to him when some of they may be coming from such mangled and dysfunctional homes that what they bring to school in their little backpacks and what comes out of their mouths might be best described as evil?


    • Rich,

      The country is a bit different from the city or suburbs. The kids are less “sophisticated” here. My interaction with kids in this town has shown me they’re a couple paces behind their suburban counterparts in “vice.”

      We’ll see.

  4. Heather

    Dan –

    Althought I am a homeschooler and it is what we as a family have been called to, I am by no means a homeschool “nazi” 😉 … God calls each and every person to what He wants for them. He may even want your son in a public school for another reason not even related to socialization, ya know? Only He knows. That’s why we must follow the Spirit in everything.

    But more toward your point …. you made a great statement at the end: “The private Christian school parents forced to send their kid to public school may sit down with him or her and say, “Now be on your guard if they try to tell you that homosexuality and abortion are okay. Meanwhile, the public school parents sending their child to the private Christian school may say, “Now be on your guard because many people there will define themselves by what they own or what they can buy.” …. and I will add that the Public School parents may also say, “Be on your guard because many people there will think they are better than you.”

    I completely see where, as you said, “We don’t want him in the Canaan that’s so intractable that hardly anyone sees it.” … we live in the ‘burbs of a major metropolitan city and materialism abounds. And yet it is so tolerated and embraced by the people and the church here, to the point that I sometimes catch myself wanting more.

    Truly, I am edified by this post … thnk you fore writing these words and putting somethings back into perspective for me!



  5. Dan,

    I know you arrived at your decision led by the Spirit and through much prayer. I admire your family for making a difficult decision and the willingness to blog about it; I am surprised you have not been picked apart yet (the morning is young).

    You noted Baptists–and to be fair, I am one–but I hear where you are coming from about moral rectitude and the “holier than thou” sentiment. The Shortts, Pinckneys, and E. Ray Moores have done more to hinder the cause of homeschooling rather than help it.

    I assume your son is older than my children. We have four small ones and we homeschool. One of the reasons we do is one of the reasons you have decided to place your son in public school. Though I am not completely comfortable with every growth area he needs to improve in can best be met by hanging out with a large group of kids for long periods of time, I am confident you have equipped your son to stand against the ubiquitous peer pressure of the public school system.

    I recently heard a statistic and I’m sorry I do not know the source, but that 89% of all (public, homeschool, Christian school, whatever) kids defect from faith altogether by their sophomore year in college. The key therefore in my estimation, is not one’s schooling choice, but rather parents actively involved in their children’s lives, parents who hold their children’s hearts.

    Blessings for a great day in the Lord.

    • Tony,

      Kids simply don’t get a Christian worldview instilled in them. Instead, they get a Christian shellacking that encrusts them. In their heart of hearts they’re operating off a Darwinian, pragmatic, or self-centered worldview. Those are the kids that don’t make it out of college in one piece.

      When I went to Wheaton College back in the early 1990s, I repeatedly saw what happened when kids isolated within that Christian envelope for years suddenly had a chance to be on their own. Even in a supposedly Christian college, Junior went wild the second he got out from under the nose of mom and dad. Meanwhile, he kept up the “Christiness” and all appeared well. No one saw the rot underneath the veneer.

      • Cathy

        This is a very good point.

        As parents, we must realize that while we may teach our children and provide them with protective circumstances, the time comes when the rubber meets the road so to speak and the child must make a decision about what “he” believes…is it his personal belief, on any given issue, or is he parroting what he has been taught.

        So often children go wild when given “freedom” from the restrains.

        That is why it is of utmost importance to teach children how think as opposed to what to think…

        Also, they must have the liberty to express their belief if it differs from ours (as parents). Our children didn’t always agree with us, and we permitted this. However, they did have to respect and abide by our beliefs as long as they were our responsiblity. And they did so. Love is what makes it all work.

        Many times, when our children thought we were “wrong”, our answer was, perhaps we may be, and if we are, we’re sorry, but we’d rather err on the side of caution and be wrong, because “we love you” and want you to grow up and be happy. They understood that everything we did was for our love for them and on account of the God given responsiblity as their parents.

        They accepted this line of reasoning and it wasn’t always easy for them, because we’d taught them to think, and they held strongly to their personal belief. But they also knew the Scripture taught they must honor their parents…and thus they did.

        We have been blessed in that our children have mostly followed the Lord…not all do though. And it is not necessarily the fault of the parents. Even children have free will. Parents can do everything right, and still have a child who rejects the Lord.

  6. Having been homeschooled, public schooled, and private schooled (twice!), I can see where you’re coming from about choosing your Canaan. The second Christian school was so abysmal, both academically and socially, that my sister and I both insisted on switching to public school, where we found a better education, and a higher percentage of actively Christian students.

    On the other hand, I think your generalization about Christian schools is a little off. I can’t tell if you’re referring to some particular local Christian school like you’re referring to a particular public school, but it sounds like you’re conflating Christian schools with prep schools, and they’re just not the same. Both times that I went to Christian schools, my parents were making collectively under $40,000. My guess is that their income was a great deal less than that: they made a point of hiding our poverty from us, so we didn’t hear much about fears of financial collapse until after we grew up. I suppose, looking back, most of the other students were better off than we were, but I didn’t notice then, and certainly didn’t get any message of materialism.

    Socialization at the first Christian school was very beneficial to me – it made me very popular when I first went to public school. But I’m a bit of an introvert, so I learned to work against it.

  7. whew! this is a hard-hitting post. a timely, necessary reminder: why are we more concerned about the obvious, “big” sins of the public school world than with the deeper, more deceptive sins of our whitewashed hearts?

    thanks for making me think today.

    • Amy,

      I’ve found that almost all the hot-button issues within Christianity are smokescreens masking even bigger problems. It pains me to forever watch apt critiques get countered with “Oh yeah? Well you….” kinds of rhetoric that can only counterattack and never thoughtfully confront real issues.

      In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that I believe that 90% of culture war issues that engage Christians come home to roost in our own lack of preparedness, concern, or forethought. I can’t possibly shake my finger at someone else when I understand that my dropping the ball resulted in the problem.

      I wish the Church in this country would come to grips with the truth that most of the things we don’t like in our culture and society today are because the Evangelical Church dropped the ball. More often than not, the very thing that drives us crazy is our own fault. If we would just acknowledge this, perhaps we could move on. But we keep the blinders in place.

  8. I used to work for ACSI, The Association of Christian Schools. The Executive Director when I was there was Paul Kienel. He believed that it was better for both parents to work and send their child to a Christian School, than for one parent to stay home and send their child to a Public School. I tended to disagree with him, and my reasons were numerous, but came down to this: Christians are to be salt and light to the world. If we are afraid to be in the world, then we are putting our light under a bushel basket. If a parent does not have the kind of relationship with their child that enables them to counter the things a child learns from others, then they need to look to their own Christian education.

    When our family came back from one year on the mission field in Africa, my parents gave me the choice of going to a Christian high school. I chose public school. Pragmatically, it’s where my friends were going. I knew several kids from my church who went to the local Christian School, but they were too clannish to be friendly with me, and I frankly didn’t like them too much. The stories I heard from them told me that the kids in Christian School had the morals of rabbits, and with their parents working 24/7 in order to maintain their hillside lifestyle, they couldn’t exactly train up their children in the way they should go. So, why would I want to enmesh myself in a pharisitical culture?

    We are meant to be salt and light to a dying world. I have never seen an age limit on that command. By sequestering our children, we teach the wrong message: “You are weak and unable to resist the temptations of the world, and so must be sheltered and protected.” That training results in immature adults who crave only the companionship of other believers, preferably of the same social and financial strata. These are weak Christians who are afraid of the world and the sin that infests it, judgemental and shallow. If we have trained our children well, then we can be confident in the Spirit to guide and protect our children. And our children have unparalleled access to the hearts of others. Rich Tatum was concerned about what other children might teach his kids. What about what his kids could teach unbelieving children? Do we believe that “greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world? If so, then why don’t we trust Him with our kids?

    • David,

      Yeah, that’s exactly what I got, too. “Both of you should work miles and miles from home in jobs that could be here today and gone tomorrow to Pakistan so you can put your child in our exclusive-to-those-making-six-figures school.

      Needless to say, none of the ramifications of this are explored past the first half inch of veneer.

      Would we like to put our son in a private Christian school? That would be very nice. But we’re not anywhere near one (necessitating logistical nightmares for transportation), the cost is still out of our league , the whole issue of salt and light you mentioned, the issue of all the kids at school living 50+ miles away (meaning no help with garnering playmates), the whole issue I mentioned in the post, and so on. I can tell you the response to a couple of those issues—”Why did you move so far away?”

      We still can’t get people to understand us. It always comes down to us being stupid for moving out to the country. Yes, I’m still waiting to get the last laugh on that one, but I know I will.

  9. Connie Reagan

    My children were in both settings-homeschool and public-and now that they are grown, two are committed strong Christians and one is a bit, well, wobbly. (She’s married to an unbeliever but still makes it to church most of the time.)

    So, I believe a lot of it depends on the kid.

    There is no one right choice for everyone. Which is why we need the Holy Spirit. 😉

    • Connie,

      Sometimes it seems like the choice is made for you by circumstance. I like to think that circumstance has little to do with how we Christians should live, but it still raises its ugly head and intrudes on how (and why) we do things. I know that if a lot of circumstantial things were different, so would some of my feelings about all this.

  10. Dan, I really think that with the spiritual climate of your household, he is going to be fine. I’m guessing he has dad’s discernment and something tells me mom and dad will watch what he is taught pretty clearly. I think teaching them to walk in caanan without becoming one of them is one of the most valuable lessons you can teach them. A friend of mine sent her son to public school for the first time this year and he is not liking it, but he is learning so much.

    I’ve also known kids who were homeschooled their entire lives flounder when they hit the “real world” and I think its awesome that you’ve identified a need and are willing to do what it takes to fulfill that need. Your son will be a better man for it.

    • Ronni,

      I wish all you said were the case, but we’re not superhuman people. Anymore, I’m so pressed for time that my own discernment is suffering. That’s not the way life should be, yet look at my post on the Joshua Bell experiment in DC and ask how many people are on fast-forward all the time? A pebble on the tracks is no big deal for a freight train, but a bullet train’s another story.

  11. Wonkyhead

    My problem with both private Christian and public schools is that they, for the most part, have established a learning envirnoment almost wholly suited to the way females (with some exceptions, of course) absorb, process and retain information. Boys, on the other hand, are often left behind, allowed to fail or labeled as learning disabled or worse, simply because they are hard-wired to learn differently.

    I have seen this story unfold countless times; I watched it unfold in the lives of my boys, and I see my brother now struggling to understand why his 6 year old son cannot read AT ALL. If a child is not an auditory learner (and most boys are not), chances are he or she will have a very difficult time in most classroom environments. My children, who are visual and kinesthetic learners, had a tough time simply taking in and regurgitating facts, despite the fact that they are both very bright. The school district in which my brother lives has already labeled my nephew ADHD and has suggested his parents take him to a psychiatrist! And he’s 6! There is no mistaking where THAT path is leading…

    I’m sure Dan is aware of all this, but for those who may not be, it is extremely important to know your child’s learning style, and to INSIST that teachers and school officials make an effort to deliver curriculum accordingly. Don’t let them off the hook! Beware of efforts to label your child, be informed about your rights and don’t think that you are obligated to go along with a course of action designed to make the teacher’s job “easier.” Don’t take the path of least resistance.

    I know the original post cited spiritual concerns some have about public/private schools, but there is an equally pernicious problem with both trying to shoe horn everyone into the same learning mold – a situation that has proven devastating to some children, especially boys.


    • Holly,

      David Fitch has some enlightening things to say about all manner of school choice in his book The Great Givewaway.

      And yes, I agree that school is geared against boys today. My son’s perpetually in motion and I suspect the hardest trial he’ll face in school is just sitting still for five minutes.

  12. Peter Smythe

    Dan, personally, I had more qualms about putting my son in a Christian school than in public school. (He’s in public school). My brother went to a Christian high school and, although the faculty was supposed to be top-notch, everything they did had some kind of spiritual component to it. The faculty was also very doctrinaire in what they “preached” and in the manner they carried it out. Eating at a Taco Cabana with him in his twenties, we talked about how that school “really messed him up” about life and his walk with the Lord.

    I understand Rich’s point of view, but I’ve actually welcome those kinds of things with my son. (We had some great talks about Greenday) As his father, like it or not, I am his ultimate role model and I want him to know what I think of those things and how they relate to faith. I want him to grow up to be a thinking Christian who knows what he believes and why he believes it. Plus, taking on the world is a whole lot more fun.

    • Peter,

      In a lot of ways you ultimately don’t know what you’re getting. In too many cases it comes down to an individual teacher. A lousy school can boast some good teachers and vice versa. Since no one looks at the micro level, the whole thing skews.

  13. Diane Roberts

    I applaud your choice. I wish Christians hadn’t abandoned the public school because when each Christian child leaves, light leaves. If they could only see into the spiritual realm they would see that. I believe the main reason the schools are so bad today is precisely because Christians have left. Out here in California we always had the best schools yet I cannot find anyone at any age including myself that had prayer or Bible reading in the public schools. Until the Christian Right arose, mainly ian the South, I had never heard of such a thing. It’s the Christians leaving that has ruined the public schools.

    But if we go back into them, then the churches and parents have to take the responsibility of learning how to correctly pray and to organize correct prayer meetings for the children. You cannot jsut send them in.

    Dan, you used to live out here in California and know how bad the schools can be – that is from the prespective of what they are getting there culturally. But I still believe in the public school, whether it is where you are in the Midwest or out here in CA where I am as the market place for kids to be able to share the gospel, as they are able to, with other students.

    I have taught in, sold to, and trained/visited teachers in Christian schools and beleive me, they aren’t what churches want you to think they are. They are the lowest paid private schools in our country. Yet we are told these schools have superior teachers. Some are, some aren’t. Everyone knows it’s a housewife’s job. There are almost no men as they couldn’t support themselves let alone a famly.
    And single teachers either have many roomates or have to live with dad and mom. It’s a national shame-since a “worker is worth his (or her) hire.”

    And I am not a big fan of homeschooling either for the reasons you stated above. For heaven’s sake people – your kids will have to face the world sometime. Wouldn’t it be better if they could do it while still at home with mom and dad and hopefully the church community supporting and praying for them?

    • Diane,

      I wish I was applauding my own choice here. In some ways, we’re extremely limited in our options. No parochial schools of any denomination exist in our area. The nearest private Christian school is 42 minutes away. The school I mention in the post is nearly an hour away. The public elementary school is about six minutes from our house.

      Cost, time, and values. They all add up and mix in incongruous ways. Requires some faith, doesn’t it?

      My son may be a lousy candidate for public school. He’s six and reads at about a sixth grade reading level now. He picked up a copy of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe out of our bookshelf the other day and read through the whole thing in about two hours. He’s reading The Incredible Journey now (though the vocabulary in that book is tougher than I thought it was. Even I had to look up a word!) How’s a kid like that going to work in a public school? I don’t know. We’ll see how the year goes and re-evaluate then.

  14. Suzanne

    Excellent post! My children went to a “Christian” school, and I know they will never send their own children to one. The only thing Christian about the school was that they did have religion classes. There was a definite mold everyone was expected to fit into, and pity the poor kid that didn’t. Those kids were relegated to the fringes of the school society and pummeled by a blame the victim mentality. There was quite a bit of teasing and bulllying. This was not an expensive prep-type school, but nontheless, the mentality was that as it was Christian, it was automatically much better than the evil public school, where kids supposedly participated in every sort of sinful, vile, and disgusting behavior. “Thank God we don’t have to dirty our hands with THOSE people!”
    The sports program ruled everything (as God is obviously a fan), and being competative seen as the highest of virtues. Love, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness,self-control? Those never won a ball-game or got anyone an award. Any attempt to correct the mentality hit the wall of “We are better because we are Christian”.
    You are dead on with this post, Dan.

  15. Suzanne

    And to add one more thing to my previous post. When we did send the children to a public school, they came home with amazing stories of how the teachers DID mention attending church services (shock!), shared their faith, and, as our daughter pointed out, treated the students with much more respect than most of the teachers at their former school. In short, the children were so impressed to see Christians among the Canaanites actually being salt and light in the world, not just paying lip service to it.

  16. Hey Dan:

    Homeschool parents are not really the best judge of what you’re choosing to do here. “handing him over to the Canaanites” is a little much.

    Here’s what I think: this is a great chance for your family to be a witness for Christ to the culture. Not your son, of course, because he’s just a child: you and your wife. Be at the PTA/PTO/whatever they call it; volunteer and show up; demonstrate that you value your child’s education and that you value those who are in it with him.

    Image of God stuff. Son of God lifted up stuff.

    Don’t live in a bunker. All things work together for good for those who love God, and that means that public school will be for your good, your wife’s good, and if God is willing, your son’s good.

    This is a very marginal risk. It’s not tlike you’re moving to the 10/40 corridor. Your life and your son’s life will probably not be at risk. In that relative safety, it’s up to you to be what God has called you to be.

    … since the comment thread was still open …

    • Frank,

      Thanks for stopping by.

      I agree with you about the salt and light as my wife and I take it in. Again, this school district has a lot of Christians already involved in it. In some ways, it’s a bit of a throwback to what I remember when I was a kid in public school.

      My degree is in Christian Education, so I’m not stupid about these things. I got a full basket of theory and practice when I was at Wheaton. Even then, that makes sorting all this out no easier.

  17. Heather

    ‘Nearly every growth area he needs to improve in can best be met by hanging out with a large group of kids for long periods of time.’

    Can you take some time to elaborate on this statement? Like what growth areas are important to you and your wife and how do you see large-group socialization contributing to solutions? Thanks!

    I appreciate you sharing your thought processes in regards to family decisions, and I really wish more parents would…in real life. : )

    Heather in Ohio

    • Heather,

      I try to maintain some level of privacy concerning my son and would prefer not to answer those questions. This is not to say they aren’t good questions. Nor do I question your sincerity in wanting to know more. But the Internet has big eyes and ears. For that reason, I prefer to keep some things to my family.

      • Heather


        After I submitted the question, the thought came to me that it would be nearly impossible for you to reply in a way that wasn’t too personal. I forgot where I was — not in Dan’s private Internet living room. Forgive me, and thanks for your gracious reply.

        After reading through the comments and your replies, I can see how much of a struggle this decision could feel like, and I will pray that the Lord will direct each step. We do homeschool, but many large group socialization skills are honed every day here, as the Lord gave us five children in 4 1/2 years. We have a few only children who go to public school whose parents still want them to come here for their friendships. Anyway, I’m sure you and your wife will handle wisely the balance between the benefits of institutional education and still encouraging the freedom to learn.

        On a only slightly related note, I thought you and your readers would appreciate this story. It’s very well written and I thought it was a good example of handling the salt and light thing with our children.

  18. JH

    I was homeschooled for all but half of 6th grade. (My family was in the middle of a major move, and my mom decided that she couldn’t handle homeschooling 4 kids – so my brother & I went to school for half a year).

    During high school, one of my best friends was the girl next door to us . . . who was in to everything that parents don’t want their kids (or their kid’s friends) in to. My mom knew about a lot of that stuff . . . and didn’t mind me hanging out with her.

    There were some benefits to being homeschooled . . . but I can also see how some of our family issues didn’t mix very well with that – and the two probably helped make both worse.

    I’ve had friends who tried homeschooling, and after a year decided it wasn’t working for anybody.

    I worked at a Christian school & daycare for a summer + a little. After that job, I could have sworn to never again apply for a job to anywhere “Christian”.

    I’ve known Christian school brats, and Christian schoolers who were anything but. Same with public school and homeschool.

    I’ve got 8 more weeks and then I graduate college. A secular enough college that I had people at church ask me what I was doing going there. None of the major faith challenges over the past 4 years have been related to what I’ve been taught at school. I’ve had some friends who have definitely asked questions that I didn’t know the answers to, and stuff like that . . . but honestly, I have an easier time being friends with many of the non-Christians in my class, than most of the Christians.

    If I ever have kids, I’d definitely consider homeschooling them – but I’m also not set on it.

    So I’m glad that you’re not a die-hard supporter of any one way . . . and thank you so much for realizing that there are dangers in all of them. For me, at least at this point in my life, I do better with knowing what I’m up against – which is part of why I didn’t apply to Christian colleges ($ was another issue, and I got into the school I’m at amazingly easy) – and why I tell high schoolers that I know, who want to go to a Christian school because they’re worried about their faith, that going to a Christian college might not be the best idea.

    • JH,

      No matter how good a parent you are, you can’t keep everything away from your child unless you lock them in the cellar their entire lives. Some parents do that on some level (physical, emotional, spiritual), but it only results in problems.

      Growing up, my father used to compare us to the boys across the street whose dad worked them really hard. Those boys made my brothers and me look like lazy bums. But years later, all those boys suffered one problem after another. The shine tarnished.

      I never forgot that lesson. Sometimes just being average in some things is better than becoming a Todd Marinovich.

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  20. bpb

    oh my, do I ever agree with you on this post!!

    I went to a private Christian school through the 9th grade. I was determined that my children would not go to the same school. There are more of the people I went to the Christian school with that are divorced and so messed up (drugs, alcohol, etc.) than the public county school I attended. I also attended THE church where so many of the private school kids attended. After I left the private school for the public school, these kids were too good for me – I had no friends. People have to learn to live in the real world eventually. The earlier they learn how to do it, the safer they’ll be.

  21. I had no idea.:^(

    I can’t begin to understand the pressure you are under by religious homeschool/private school advocates. What your neighbours/friends have said to you chills to the bone. Sounds like Mormans, Jehovah Witnesses or Scientologists.

    I had an intern who went to a private evangelical high school. While she excelled there academically she was so ill-equipped for the news room placement in her first year of college she cracked up. It was awful.

    She had few reference points to even cope with what your friends call ‘Canaan.’ She isn’t okay. Last I heard she was living in a trailer (not a good home in our winters) working a part time job way below her intellect and socially unable to deal with the rest of us.

    I get that her parents meant well, they were poor, distracted by work and church activities and thought they were doing right by her in accepting the scholarship the pastor handed them.

    She deserved so much better, but life is not fair.

    I really had no idea polarizations have reached this level in the US, guess we’re next.
    This is the first time one of your posts has actually scared me.

  22. Very interesting post. We’ve thought a lot about the best way to educate our children. We’ve had them in public school for the most part, and the teacher’s, principal and vice-principal have been great at the schools they’ve been at while living in both Australia and America. The main thing I worry about with public schools is violence, particularly from middle school on.

  23. Donna Lear

    I never heard of homeschooling most of my life the few times it was mentioned in the rural area I call home the homeschooler were what we termed “weird folks” who all wore funny clothes and earth shoes and ate pine nuts. I was educated very biased in certain areas and like most children I repeated what I learned from adults.
    Then one day I grew up and moved away and when my oldest was in 6th grade he came home to announce he made an “F”. He received the grade because he refused to recite the 5 pillars of Islam. To make a long story relatively short I had a problem with cirriuculum. I was lead by the very hand of God during that time to pull my children out of public school and began to be a homeschool advocate. I truly learned more during those two years than the children and the education process for me continues.

    Train them up in the Way they should go……….The way being the Word of God and whether they find themselves in Canaan, Egypt or Babylon nothing separates a child from God’s love if we as parents can inspire just “breath into” our children a true Love for the Word… will sustain them.

    The oldest has now bought into the wordly system and the two younger girls are both serving the Lord, pure and chaste in mind, spirit and body…one finishing college, one in high school and witnessing in yes a public school.

    Don’t really know why this post really touched me. Sometimes just having another open up himself reminds me what’s really important.
    Thanks from the bottom of my heart. Today this post was like an ancient boundary for me…matters of parenting require one to ask the One who really knows and from your words in the posts I’ve read you have a direct line to the Father who answers right! Thanks again.

  24. Dee

    Dan, as you know we have an only child, too. (Actually he has an older sibling who is so much older they might as well be only children.) We have him in public school for the very reasons you mention. My son is not as academic as your sounds, but he is athletic.

    Isn’t it great that we live in a society where we do have so many choices so that we can select the best option for each child? My son would do better academically if he had more personal attention as in home schooling, but I think he really needs the socialization that formal schooling provides. Thus our decision to place him there.

    Besides, you and I have a public school education and we turned out okay, didn’t we? ;0)

    Frankly, when I understood what today’s topic would be I expected you to get blasted by all the homeschoolers like you did before. Glad folks were easier on you this time!

    I will pray with you about this decision. I understand how heart-wrenching it can be.

  25. Cathy

    There are no perfect schools..public or private.

    It is the parents’ responsibility to educate the child entrusted to them by God. And it is a responsibility not to be taken lightly, as you well know.

    My children went to Chistian school most of their school life. We had very limited resources. My husband worked an extra part-time job and I worked also to pay the tuition. We were what you might call lower middle class. But we felt the expense was worth any sacrifice we might make, because we were concerned we could not counter all the subtleties of the philosophy/religion of humanism. That was the crux of our issue with public school. And that issue is as valid as ever today.

    (The humanist have their “Sunday School”…it meets Monday-Friday for several hours per day. It is very hard to undo the “damage”.)

    We are in a spiritual battle…and there is a battle going on for the mind. Ours is not a flesh and blood battle…but against principalities, powers of the air, spritual wickedness in high places…(Eph. 6). The apostle Paul says we are to be transformed by the renewing of our mind….another New Testament epsitle warns not to be destroyed by the “rudimentts” (KJV) of this world (rudiment: the elements or first principles of a subject).

    We must equip our children with consideration being given to these warnings.

    I was not a Christian until I was 20 and it took me years to get the “junk” out of my head that I received from my government/humanist education…things like “there is no black and white, only shades of gray”….and “everything is realtive”….I was clueless in the 60’s and accepted what I was told. The humanistic philosophy is so subtle it is difficult to detect .

    Perhaps you should consider continuing the home schooling. I wonder if your socialization concerns are valid in light of the fact that I recently heard (from my husband) that a study done by Cornell showed that home schoolers beat public shoolers and private schoolers in every area they examined, one of them being socialization…

    One important consideration is the age of your child/children and their character. If a well laid spiritual foundation is in place, then a child may “weather” being taken out of the “hothouse” so to speak and the protections it offers. At some point the child must be able to “stand”…knowing if and when he is ready is key. We are “in this world” and it is here we must live….

    You have a difficult decision to make. The year my children both spent in public school (high school, the late 80’s) was “great” in their eyes…few rules, etc….lots of freedom….and after getting a taste of public school they resented us for having put them in Christian school all those years…they felt like they’d been cheated…like they’d missed out is how they put it.

    And it was a test of their faith…what they “belived” was tested (was it their personal belief, or mom and dad’s?)….so there was some good in it…but their resentment remained for many years because they believed they’d missed out, that public school offered so much more (so it seemed to them at the time).

    But now they are both in their late 30’s, and their education is coming home to roost so to speak….they now understand why we chose private Christian school over public school…and they now appreciate us for choosing the education they received and understand why we did such.

    But had they not had the benefit of all those years of Christian education, that is the Christian rudiments of history, geography, math, English, etc., they would not be capable of the critical thinking they exercise today.

    You have a difficult decision. The crux of your decision appears to me to be this: the socilization of your child. My question to you is this: are your concerns valid? Have you thoroughly checked into this?

    The bottom line is, the decision is yours to make. Ask God for wisdom in this decision…he will guide you and give you perfect peace. Therein, act and rest.

    • Cathy,

      I think you missed the point of my point. It doesn’t matter where you send your kids, we’re all in Canaan. Your Canaan may be sllightly different from mine, or someone else’s, but it’s still Canaan.

      You can’t get away from it in a private Christian school. You may for 18 years, but then the prefect Christian kid goes off to college where mom and dad aren’t and the next thing you know, twelve years of Christian school goes up in a puff of smoke. I know. I went to Wheaton and saw this firsthand.

  26. Kathy


    We sent our daughter to a mixture of schools: Montessori, public, and Christian. She started in Montessori but I thought it was goofy. We were unable to pay for Christian school for 1st grade so she went to public school. Our parents paid her tuition from grades 2 -5.

    At grade 6, we had to make a decision (middle school in our area started in grade 6). I looked at her Christian school classmates and saw our mirror image: Caucasian, employed, conservative Christians. While it was comforting to know what she was being taught, I was uncomfortable with the idea that the only people she interacted with daily looked and thought exactly alike.

    We also looked at the economics — we could save for college or pay tuition for jr. high/high school ($6,000 per year). So, we prayed, took a deep breath and put her back into public school. I will say I took a LOT of criticism from the homeschooling moms in my church — really made to feel we were throwing her to the wolves and were uncaring parents. I was never interested in homeschooling, esp with an only child.

    It’s been fine but I’m a parent who volunteered. I wanted to know what she was taught from inside the system. It was one day a week in the office or library and I made friends with the staff.

    Our district is not cutting-edge plus I discovered that many of the educators were Christians. Overall, it was a good experience (she started college at 16) but I would have been nervous if I hadn’t been self-employed and able to be an insider in the school.

  27. jettybetty

    What a refreshing post Dan! All 3 of ours went through public school–and I totally believe that was God’s plan. (We live in a Baptist dominated area, too–and although I am not Baptist–I think it improved the quality of the schools.) Like so many of your commenters have said–I believe it’s God’s grace that makes the difference–not what kind of school your child is in. BTW, our son was reading encyclopedias before first grade–he did great in PS–but we stayed extremely involved–and gave him lots of enrichment activities at home.

    • jettybetty,

      Teachers vary. Grade levels vary. Schools vary. Administrators vary. The number of variables make any “sure thing” impossible. The best Christian school with one lousy teacher can mess up every kid that goes through that teacher’s class. And given that Christian schools don’t always pay what other schools do, your chance of getting a lesser teacher may actually increase. I don’t have exact figures on that, but I haven’t met a teacher from a Christian school who didn’t tell me in confidence that they made less than their counterparts in other types of schools.

      My response to that is a whole ‘nother post!

  28. Dan, you wrote, “My son may be a lousy candidate for public school. He’s six and reads at about a sixth grade reading level now. He picked up a copy of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe out of our bookshelf the other day and read through the whole thing in about two hours.”
    Twenty years ago, our son was in that same situation. He read voraciously, and had a great imagination. Looking back at his life, I believe it would have been wrong for us to put him in ANY traditional school setting. I am glad we chose to homeschool.
    We live on a farm, six miles from both a good public school and from the same Christian school our daughters (11 and 14 years older than he is) attended. Effectively an only child, Peter was an early learner and was ready to read when be began to homeschool him at age 4 1/2.
    In the mid-1980’s homeschooling was legal in Wisconsin, so we decided to take it one year at a time. There were a few other homeschool families in our county, and we joined with them in providing some cooperative learning/socialization skills each week. The kids met for music, art, field trips, presented musical programs & plays. As the children got older (middle school-age) we did some cooperative teaching in literature, civics, economics and science with some of the families. Each year we were flexible in that area. One family who had 7 kids often included Peter in their family activities, too.
    Those were his best years. Three years (plus one at home) in a Christian high school blunted his love for learning and exposed him to peer cruelty that he did not have among his homeschool friends. I’d been disappointed in the “caste system” when our girls attend previously, but they were able to deal with it. That nearly broke him.
    And we were doing what we thought was best for him.
    One of the problems was the fact that chronologically he entered high school one year younger than his class. He also entered academically advanced, especially in literature, history and economics.
    You might want to explain your son’s precocious reading ability to the school so that they are aware of it, but don’t make him feel as though he has to hide his love for books in order to be accepted. If you are able to volunteer in his classroom at times, it might be good, too. You will miss out on knowing what he is actually learning and how he interacts with the other students if you are never there.
    Sorry this got to be so long. Your post really did bring up a lot of memories 🙂 BTW Peter & his wife are planning to homeschool their daughter next year.

  29. Kat,

    Financial issues are forcing part of this decision, too. Our economy is not good in this country and the middle class continues to lose ground. I know more and more homeschoolers who are facing the reality that they can no longer homeschool simply because the homeschooling parent must find permanent full-time work. That’s part of our dilemma, too.

    I work from home and am the primary homeschooling parent. However, in order for me to raise my income to match the ever-rising costs that are killing us middle-class folks, I need more time out of the home to meet clients face-to-face. That’s reality. I thought I could homeschool and do that and it just didn’t work like I hoped it would.

    I’ve tried to network without face-to-face meetings and it simply does not work. I’ve put out calls on this blog for work, but nothing came in. I have to get out where the business is and I can’t do that and homeschool.

    Now some may crucify me for this and tell me I’m pursuing materialism myself, but my response is to ask what those folks did to help bring business my way. If they’ve done nothing, then they have no room to judge me lest that judgment fall back on them for doing nothing.

    We can live in a dream world, or we can confront painful truths. Too many people prefer the former.

    As for my son, my greatest concern will be that he’ll be on the young side in his class. My wife and I wanted to avoid that issue and hold him back, but academically he’s way above grade. I was that kind of kid in elementary school and it was hard for me. I survived, but I wished they’d had a gifted program when I was a kid. I think that would have helped.

    • Dan-
      I certainly understand the need to provide for your family financially. Homeschooling is not cheap…either in terms of time or money, either. Good curriculae is expensive, and we found it important for our son to have learning opportunities in areas where I (principle teacher) am lacking. That meant music lessons and YMCA and youth soccer. In a larger family, some of those group activities might not be as important.
      That age and giftedness issue would be one of my greatest concerns, too.
      Even in a traditional (Christian or public) school setting, a Christian parent should NEVER rely on the school to be the sole teacher of their child. The parent is the one who is responsible to monitor what is being taught there and to model right living. Get involved in whatever school your child attends. Be visible. That’s the only way you can maintain a tell and show conversation with your son.
      Walk in God’s wisdom whichever path you take.

  30. Dan,

    Thank you for your post! I greatly appreciate it, first of all, because my wife and I have sent our two sons to public school since 1st grade (the eldest) and Kindergarten (the youngest). There was no way we could have afforded to send them to private school, and I’ve never earned enough that my wife could afford to stay at home. Neither boy, to date, has suffered from his experience of public school. Granted, my wife and I also try to diligently exercise our responsibility as parents to teach and train them, as well as set good examples before them (and acknowledge when we fail), and daily pray for them that they might truly come to know the Lord. By God’s grace, so far they are good, decent and respectful boys.

    But, I also appreciate your post because both my wife and I work in public high schools (my wife is in her 4th year of teaching, after leaving “corporate America”, and, for the time being, am a permanent substitute teacher, having spent most of the past 21 years working in public schools). From our perspective, public schools need the presence of teachers, administrators, guidance couselors, social workers, etc. who also happen to be Christians. Even the children of “Canaanites” need godly role models–adults in their lives who reflect the love of Christ. No, you can’t preach the gospel (it is a public school, after all), but you can try to instill godly principles in these young people who are so thoroughly immersed in “Canaan”, and who, often, just want to know that someone cares about them.

    Also, the students from Christian homes (like my sons) greatly appreciate and are encouraged when they discover that one of their teachers also believes in Christ (and their Christian parents appreciate that, too).

    Thanks, again.

    Wyeth Duncan

    • Wyeth,

      I appreciate your comment and your perspective. Again, salt and light. I sometimes wonder if the bunker mentality we enforce in some sectors of Christianity isn’t equivalent to hiding our light under a bushel. Lack of displaying it is one thing, but hording it in a place no one can see it doesn’t appear to me to be much different!

  31. Great discussion here. I am married, but my wife and I are not looking at having kids for a little while yet. However, we’re definitely thinking about what we want things to look like when we have to face this decision.

    I know that my primary motivation in leaning away from sending kids to the public schools is that they get a shoddy education there. I’ve worked as a TA in various schools for about 5 years, and let me tell you, my experience has revealed a system that excels at treating children as robots, grinding them out the production line.

    My wife and I are starting to dream about living in community and cooperatively educating all the children in the community together, sharing the load amongst ourselves. This will allow us to still pursue work if we need it and it’ll prevent the children from not socializing with anyone beyond their nuclear family. It is of course not without problems, and as you say Dan, we’re always living in Canaan no matter what we do.

    • Matt,

      My wife and I share that dream of community, Matt. Let me say that it’s very hard to sell to anyone else. People think we’re nuts for choosing to live the way we do. Nearly everyone we know begs us to move back to the suburbs. But we simply can’t. We wish they’d join us out in the country and start a small community of believers that shares land and common spaces. I’ve written about that elsewhere on this blog, so I won’t rehash here. Just letting you know that I know what you’re talking about.

  32. Diego

    I agree with Kyle that this post seemed to conflate Christian schools too broadly with prep schools in general, beyond the immediate situation. Perhaps the “obvious ungodliness” vs “subtle materialism” is what Dan perceives at his local private Christian school, but the way he writes about “private Christian schools” in general seems to paint with too broad a brush, and make a false and simplistic opposition. In our town (Lexington, Mass.), the materialism is far bigger and more insidious in the public school, along with the elitism, cliques, drugs, =and= officially mandated anti-Christian ideology, so this simple choice just doesn’t hold. I’m not questioning Dan’s conclusions for his own situation, but his post seems to be meant far more broadly, as a comment on “private Christian schools” in general, and don’t resonate with our family’s experience.

    I grew up in a public school, and learned to own my own faith there, but I bear emotional scars every day from the brutality of the other students, and the inability of my parents and church to support me in that very lonely road. I had very few positive role models, and still struggle to be more than just reactive against the negative role models I’ve known.

    I see a great contrast with my son now going to a “private Christian school” in which values that are commonly celebrated in youth culture, such as cliques, are deliberately and explicitly challenged from a Biblical worldview, with discussions and roleplaying. I see my son coming home sharing how a teacher of his helped him and his friends understand how to better relate with the girls in their class, respecting the godly role models he sees lived out in daily situations. I see this Christian school (Lexington Christian Academy) helping me raise my children in a very responsible and sober way, shining light in blind spots, rather than reinforcing them. The parent community is far from “keeping up with the Joneses,” giving me instead spiritual food and help.

    I do struggle with wondering about =some= of the parents’ motives in how their money is spent (having lived myself abroad as a missionary and not even able to live in a “McMansion” that you mention), but that post seems to tack materialism too easily to that socioeconomic group. People can be just as materialistic in the lower middle class, just as subtly at heart, even if they don’t exercise the same apparently poor stewardship. I haven’t seen any public school where materialism isn’t a problem. My son has a better handle on critiquing materialism at his school than he would at his public equivalent. And this school does work to diversify its student body with scholarships, though they are limited.

    Perhaps the “private Christian school” there is so spiritually bankrupt, but the ones I know aren’t, and have thinking, confessing, responsive, adults working with the parents to raise their kids. I’m certainly not questioning that God will lead many to be in public schools, to be salt & light there, and others to be in home schooling, etc. But I am questioning this post’s odd and excessively easy rap on “private Christian schools” in general, when I see great and godly fruit in ones around us.

  33. Your child will do well; he’s been brought up in a caring, loving Christian family. My daughter sent her first 2 children to a Christian school until the 1st one finished 3rd grade. By then, she had lost her baby sitter (the teacher was retiring) and she worked 45 mins away – no way to pick them up. So, they entered public school. The oldest son is a SR this year, on his way to college next year. Her daughter is a JR and they both have done well in public school. They are both good kids, never been in trouble. And, they have 2 younger brothers who never had a chance to go to a Christian school, since she has been raising all 4 the past 7 years as a single Mom.

    As you said, money plays a big part in sending a child to a Christian school. Also, the only way public schools will get better is to have Christian students and teachers within them to teach values to the children of tomorrow.

  34. Terri

    Hi, I know this is an old post, but I just found your blog and wanted to say thanks! We are sending our kids to private school until first grade and get the same reaction from other parents when we say we will start public school then. Public school is viewed as unsafe, either physically or spiritually (or both?). While we could afford private Christian school, I am concerned about seriously considering the best use of our money, not just for our family but globally. I can’t help but think of the many children in the world who have no school, no roof over their head, no supper tonight. In light of this, can I spend tens of thousands of dollars on a private education for my children when there is an adequate, if not excellent, public school down the street? The challenge will be, as it always is because of the materialistic mindset so prevalent today, to remember that the money I’m not using on Christian school should be used to help others in need, not to buy more stuff for my own family.

    Thanks for your insights on this issue; it was great to hear your thoughts as we are in the middle of the same process and decisions.

  35. David wrote:

    Rich Tatum was concerned about what other children might teach his kids. What about what his kids could teach unbelieving children?

    I get that, and I understand it. And my son is still in public school and there’s not much chance of my children going to a private school.

    Nevertheless, whatever my level of faith, there is a real danger here. Without going into specifics, my son has shared something with my wife and me that makes it clear to us he’s overhead some explicit talk by a classmate he should never have heard. My little six year old now has knowledge of something he shouldn’t and no amount of faith on my part that he’ll do and say the right thing when confronted with sin will change what he’s been exposed to. The memories are there.



    • I’m not a parent, but I was a kid once. Christian school, or even home school, will not insulate a child from things they should not hear. And there is no way we can make sure that a child, no matter how well he or she is taught in those things that are good and true, will actually follow in those ways. God knows. And whether that child follows God is up to God. We can only be sure of this:

      “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.

      Believers are in the hands of Christ and guarded by the strength of God. Doubly protected! If their parents have done what is right and led them in the way by word and deed, then no matter what they hear, see, or experience in their life will pull them away from eternity with God. If your child is a believer any danger they face is limited to this life, not eternity.

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