November 26, 2004

A popular Christian author and pastor says the overwhelming majority of Christians need a change of attitude regarding public schools. Meanwhile, leading education experts are trying to dispel some common myths about home schooling and let parents know why it may be a better choice for their families.

Dr. Tim LaHaye, co-author of the Left Behind novel series, says evangelical pastors who advocate sending their Christian youth to public schools are "philosophically out to lunch." He says those pastors and other Christian leaders who look favorably on public education "don't understand the worldview of the secular humanists that's being taught" in U.S. public schools, and they have a tendency to think that we just preach and pray and plug away, and we'll get our kids saved."

However, the author believes this attitude is a naïve and outdated one, inappropriate for life in postmodern and, as some have termed it, post-Christian America. He says Christian parents who want their children to grow up to know God as he reveals himself in scripture should not think for a moment that they can compensate for the philosophical and mental damage being done in public schools by sending their kids to Sunday school, youth group, or Bible study once a week.

"That used to be okay maybe a hundred years ago, maybe even 50 years ago," LaHaye says, "but there has surreptitiously been an over-exaggeration of secularism" in public education, and he contends that this is the prevailing philosophy and worldview being taught in today's public schools.

Kevin Cullinane, a longtime home school educator and the founder of Freedom Mountain Academy in Northeastern Tennessee, tends to agree with LaHaye's assessment and claims the advent of the U.S. public education system created a "nightmare situation." In his remarks earlier this week at the Alliance for the Separation of School and State Conference in Washington, D.C., the Christian education advocate said past champions of government schools have much in common with some of history's most infamous oppressors.

During his conference address, Cullinane quoted Aristotle's Politics, which says "education should be compulsory, free, and the same for everyone, because the purpose of schooling is to mold a child to be a good citizen of whatever state in which he lives." But the speaker went on to say that Hitler and Stalin would have agreed with that, and so did those who led America into state-run schooling in the 1840s.

The founder of Freedom Mountain Academy suggests that the proponents of government schooling are interested in uniformity and control in education because their objective is to indoctrinate students rather than to develop their character and ability to discern. His own educational philosophy is reflected in a quote from Mae Carden, which can be found on the academy's website. It says, "The purpose of education is to teach students how to think reflectively about what they read and hear, and to develop good judgment."

The Myth of the Essential Same-Age Peer Group

"I'm sure that you've run into this myth that children have to learn to get along with others their own age," Cullinane told the Alliance audience this week. Then he asked, "Why? When they go out in the world, are they going to live on 20th Street and move to 21st Street when they turn 21? Are they going to work in a corporation in a room with people their own age?"

In everyday life, the educator points out, most individuals are surrounded by and associated with people who are older and younger than themselves unless they are in the military or some other regimented institution. People need to realize what home schoolers already know about their students," he says, "that what they have to learn is how to get along with people who aren't their own age."

Cullinane once ran a one-room school house in Idaho that consisted of 21 students in a converted two-car garage. He says although it is the common practice in government schools to organize and separate students into grades according to how old they are, children actually learn much better when they are not segregated by age at school.

In fact, the education expert feels age-diversity is good for kids in general and should, whenever possible, begin at home. "The ideal family is not just a mother and a father and children," he says. "The ideal family is a three-generation family, where the grandparents are there and are able to be the day-care center when mom and dad are out having to work."

In any case, Cullinane assures home school parents and other non-traditional educators that school children do not need to be in a classroom with children their own age. In fact, he says there is evidence to indicate that children benefit academically from an age-diverse setting.

Such information may come as a surprise to the general public, which has often been exposed to myths about the social disadvantages of home education. However, the president of the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI), Dr. Brian Ray, says studies have been conducted which disprove many of the common misconceptions about home schooling outcomes.

The Myth of Socialization Problems