What Parents Do

Training our children is one of our most important tasks. The lives we impact through our ministries and careers are a legacy of those who taught us; our children’s life impact will be part of our own legacy. Our duty in this area is a whole. It is not limited to the lessons stereotypically associated with our homes. Forming a child’s character is usually the focus of Christian messages on the subject, and this is important. It is part, not the whole of what we must teach our kids. All the things our children need to know are our responsibility, whether we teach them or someone designated by us does the work. We will answer for our stewardship over our children’s education.

Well-known passages in Proverbs 22, and Deuteronomy 4 and 6 highlight our duty to teach our children the ways of the Lord. Tammi and I have always considered this to include walking and talking and discernment and reading as well as spiritual growth. The words “teach” in Deuteronomy and “train” in Proverbs render two different words in Hebrew. The first describes the impartation of knowledge, in this context the ways of the Lord. The second calls on us to show and demonstrate what our kids should be. In both words, parents superintend the work. The ways of the Lord can rightly describe an endless variety of true things. Our curriculum is thus enormously broad.

Look at it another way. Our children depend on us for critical knowledge starting well before we hear our first barrage of “whys.” Almost all of what they know and know how to do comes directly from us for their first few years. It should not be a given that at six or seven years we send our children to learn from others and assume that things will turn out right. Neither common sense nor Scripture give us sound reasons to expect that will happen without our close involvement.

Make a knowledgeable choice, one that takes into account the unique nature of each child. The use of the singular “child” in Pr. 22 (“train up a child?”) implies that you train each one in the way he should go, not adopt some cookie cutter solution. When we started home schooling, we had friends and family members who would often ask how long we planned to teach our children at home. They asked hopefully as if we might have repented our choice. Our answer was honest and probably disconcerting. “This year, we’ve not decided what’s best for next year yet.” That has been our practice from the beginning. One year, we had one child in private school, one in home school, and one in public school. Three appropriate solutions for three different people. At one point or another, each of our kids has tasted of each option. Understand that the choice you make, whether you make it by default or intentionally, is one you will be held accountable for. The outcome and the process must be of interest to parents.

For over a decade, home schooling was our method of preference. We weren’t mad at anyone but believed the attention we could give our kids would allow them to flourish according to the gifts God had given them. Our experience tells us that the outcome more than justified the sacrifices we made in that work. Friends have had great experiences in private and public schools. The academic performance of some of these kids has compared well with that of our children–way above the norm. This is primarily because of the part, the primary part that each set of parents has played in educating their kids, not because of the method chosen or the inherent intelligence of the children.

Maybe this is the secret we’ve sought for years in the face of poor performance by our nation’s students. If I hear public school teachers cry out for one thing most consistently, it is parents who care about the education of their children enough to get involved. They don’t usually ask for the things we give them instead, not more pay or smaller classes or more extensive bureaucracy above them or more guidance counselors or computers in each classroom.

If this is the answer, our churches have something our nation’s families need. We must equip and encourage our families to do their spiritual duty. Churches must also assist single parent homes to do alone work that is more than enough for two. Public school teachers must also be encouraged in their work and trained to incorporate their faith into what they teach and how they relate to children and parents. It is difficult and vital work they do. Christian public school teachers are the true missionaries in our government institutions, not our children.

Christian schools, if we start them, must be different and not just separate. Spiritual discernment and maturity should be a more basic qualification for Christian school teachers than an education degree. Our Christian schools must be something more than a poorly-equipped public school plus a chapel hour. The university model described in this issue is a good and effective model. We chose our current home partly to be close to such a school. Nothing this side of home schooling has invited and required parental involvement to the degree we’ve seen in the university model.

Our government also has a responsibility to help or at least not hinder parents as they take the lead in educating their own children. Any kind of voucher system would arrive too late to help my family so my motives are pure when I say that this is a common sense approach that deserves broad support. Vouchers are not government support for religion but rather fair treatment for families who want to make private educational choices. Giving parents this choice with the use of their own money will result in better education for our children–the stated goal of so many failed and expensive programs already.

Gary Ledbetter
Southern Baptist Texan
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