March 14, 2006
Really Old School: What 1st Century Judaism Says About the Public/Private/Home School Dilemma
Some congregations experience doctrinal divides. Others wage worship wars. But an increasing number are experiencing schooling squalls. Public school, private school, or home school - how should followers of Christ educate their children? And what does the answer reveal about our belief in mission, culture, and the nature of the gospel? Dave Terpstra, pastor of The Next Level Church in Denver and the father of young children, has been wrestling with these questions and looking to an unlikely source for clarity - first century Judaism.
My oldest child is only two and half, but already my wife and I are having conversations about where we will send our kids to school. The more we discuss the issue the more I realize that where followers of Christ send their children to school says more about their perspective on the interaction of Christianity and culture than any other issue I've encountered.
Where I live, the Denver metro area, there is a full spectrum of educational options for my family: public, private, charter, homeschool, Protestant, Catholic, etc. There are certainly varying degrees of excellence among the teachers and administrations of these schools; but for the sake of argument, let's say all things are equal as far as talent is concerned. How is a Christian parent to choose?
I'm not sure our school choices today are all that different than the religious options of 1st century Jews. I'd like to draw some parallels. There were four major sects in 1st century Judaism: the Essenes, the Sadducees, the Zealots, and the Pharisees. Each of these sects interacted with the Roman culture differently. I see a similar pattern in how families interact with the educational options of metropolitan America.
The Essenes lived in communes away from the influence of the Roman occupiers. Their philosophy of cultural interaction was to stay as far away from the surrounding culture as they could. They simply didn't like what they saw. The parallel I see is with parents who choose to homeschool their children. They have looked at the options, and they have chosen to exclude their families from that aspect of cultural interaction.
The Sadducees seemed similar to the Essenes in that they didn't try to change the culture. However, they chose to live right in the middle of it. They embraced their Roman occupiers (for the most part) and were rewarded for their loyalty. The parallel for the Christian parent is of those who choose to send their kids off to public school without thinking twice. They don't interact with teachers, PTA meetings, or even inquire about what's in the textbooks their kids read. After all, it's a government approved curriculum.
The Zealots were similar to the Sadducees in that they existed right in the middle of the Roman culture, but unbeknownst to the Romans, they were trying to take down their government from the inside. The parallel I see is to the Christian parents who use their children's presence in public schools to affect change on the system. While the Zealots of the 1st century used guerrilla tactics, these parents quote scripture at PTA meetings and try to get evolution out of the classroom (or at least intelligent design in).
The Pharisees shared the Zealots disdain for the culture, but not their hostile attitudes. They wanted to separate themselves, but not to the same extreme degree as the Essenes. The Pharisees tried a balancing act and they almost succeeded. They embraced some realities of the Roman culture, but they really were living in a subculture of their own. I see a parallel to parents who send their kids to private Christian schools. There is some separation, but not as much as the home schoolers. There is some embrace of "the system" since their kids still attend the same grades, learn the same subjects, and play the same sports. Yet having attended private Christian schools my whole life, I can attest to its sub-culture nature.
So my problem is this: Jesus was born into a four sect system in the 1st century world. And instead of embracing any of the systems that already existed, he rejected them all. As a parent I am equally discontent with each of my education options, even in an affluent metropolitan area like Denver. So what's a Christian parent to do?