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Theology, philosophy & apologetics from Reformed marketing expert Dominic Bnonn Tennant


6 very strange reasons to send your child to school

By D Bnonn Tennant

Six exceedingly odd and equally common arguments for sending your child to a public school (instead of homeschooling). Refuted, obviously.

Note: This article may be updated occasionally, as I come across more strange reasons to send your child to school.

1. Children need a school environment to develop proper social skills

Another way of putting this—and it often is put this way—is that homeschooling creates a restricted, artificial social environment, hindering social development, and making it harder for children to integrate into the “real world” as adults.

But, assuming we should want “optimal integration” with the real world, how does school prepare children for this? Here are some of the more prominent rules of socialization children must conform to at school:

  1. Only socialize with people your exact age. This is built in to most schooling systems. Indeed, socializing with someone a grade below you is regarded as something we adults call a faux pas—in kids’ terminology, it makes you a loser. But where in the real world do we find this? I’m not aware of any examples. So rather than preparing children for integrating into the world, age segregation at best fails to prepare them at all in this respect, and at worst makes it more difficult for them to interact normally with people of different ages.
  2. Society is divided into castes. School is strongly segmented into various social castes—so much so that we have cliched names for them: jock, geek, cheerleader etc. Children are divided by an instinctive social pecking order, largely due to innate characteristics like physical appearance, intelligence, and interests. These groups seldom socialize with each other, and even more seldom do so amicably. In fact, the higher castes routinely victimize the lower castes. But where in the real world do we find this? India, perhaps, with their Unclean. But in Western egalitarian society, this is considered antisocial behavior. So school at best fails to prepare children for integrating into an egalitarian society, and at worst undermines their ability to do so by entrenching antisocial habits.
  3. People who are smart and work harder are worth less. In most cases, the more academic and studious a child is, the more he is ostracized and abused by the “ruling caste”. But where in the real world do we find this? Studious and academic people are generally well respected and earn the highest wages. So again, school seems to model the reverse of the real world—and does not prepare children for healthy socialization at all.
  4. People who are strong and beautiful are worth more. This is the corollary of #3. Social status in schools is largely determined by physical attributes. But where in the real world do we find this? Perhaps you’ll find it in some areas of the entertainment industry—but even then it is far more attenuated. More importantly, most of us would think it was a bad thing. The only other obvious example that comes to mind is prison. So if school is really preparing children to integrate into society, it seems to be preparing them to be image-obsessed personalities and/or criminals—not the kind of people their parents would prefer.
  5. Going to the authorities to redress a wrong is pointless and a sign of weakness. “Go cry to the teacher,” is a common taunt on school playgrounds. It’s a taunt of contempt because in the school caste system, having to rely on outside authority shows that you can’t stand up for yourself (regardless of how impossible that may be) and are therefore of less value as a person. It is also a taunt of mockery because bullies know very well that in most cases, abuse is dealt with inadequately by teachers, if at all. But where in the real world do we find this? Certainly authorities like the police are never perfect, but the only truly similar examples I can think of are, again, among the criminal element—in gangs or prisons. So school seems to be preparing children for antisocial roles in society, rather than for productive ones.

I think if you assess the social environment common to schools in a fair-minded way, you can’t help but conclude that it is not healthy, and in many cases is actively harmful. Just because school is considered a normal part of our society does not mean that its social environment is normal, or that it prepares us for normal social interaction.

But here’s something very interesting: despite all the social disadvantages of school, most people who went to school still manage to become normally-functioning members of society. So even if homeschooling has social disadvantages of its own, shouldn’t pro-schoolers expect homeschooled children to also adapt into society as easily as they did?

2. Bullying makes children stronger and teaches them to deal with adversity

People usually defend this by saying something like, “Well, bullying made me a better person, so while I would give my kids all the support I could, I wouldn’t want to remove them from that.” But even assuming you can know that bullying made you better—and how could you, not having access to the alternate reality in which you weren’t bullied?—here’s the same logic applied to other forms of abuse:

There’s no difference in principle between these analogies and wanting your child to be bullied. And recent findings show there’s no difference in practice either: bullying has almost identical effects to physical or sexual abuse (see “Inside the Bullied Brain”).

Would you tell Child Protective Services that you were beating or raping your child so he would build character? Do you think that would satisfy them? Do you think the judge would be right to let you off a jail sentence because you thought your child would be stronger if you abused him?

Fact: statistically speaking, bullying does not make children better

Indeed, studies show that bullying causes permanent psychological damage in many children. Here are some findings to consider:

What kind of parent would argue that the risk of these documented outcomes is worth the “character building” that bullying supposedly produces? What kind of parent would argue that his children should be abused? An abusive parent. I think actually, on some level, the people who make the “bullying builds character” argument realize this—which is why they support efforts to eradicate bullying in schools. If bullying were indeed a positive feature of school, like a rite of passage, then they would encourage it instead.

3. Children learn best when taught by a professional

On the face of it, this is actually quite reasonable. It is certainly the least strange of the six reasons in this article. But when you stop to consider how much direct tutelage children have under homeschooling, and how carefully and lovingly their education can be tailored to their learning style—and then compare this to school—you’ll realize it is quite a strange reason.

But don’t take my word for it. According to the many studies of how homeschooled children perform compared to “normally” schooled children, the evidence is decisive: academically, homeschooled students trounce publicly-schooled students. Here’s a sampling of the results:

Incidentally, many homeschoolers do receive at least some of their educations from professional teachers. Tuition is often “outsourced”, especially in subjects like music, or science and math at higher levels. And many homeschooled teenagers take night classes or attend university classes for some subjects.

4. Children can only grow up properly and learn independence away from the home

Or put more bluntly, homeschooled kids are likely to have an unhealthy dependence on their parents. If this is true, I know of no evidence to show it. Young children in general can be quite dependent, but that doesn’t strike me as unhealthy—it’s a normal part of the parent/child relationship at that age.

Anecdotally, of all the young children I’ve met, some of the clingiest have gone to school, and some of the least clingy have been homeschooled. But I don’t attribute those characteristics to the kind of schooling they’ve received, since I have no good evidence that it is a deciding factor.

I’ve also met a good number of homeschooled teenagers—I run a youth worldview study, and most of the people who come are (or were) homeschooled. They are all quite well adjusted. I haven’t noticed any of them being overly attached to their parents. Indeed, for the most part they seem very confident and assured for their age, and have unusually good relationship with their parents compared to many normally schooled teenagers. That is probably more to do with the fact that they are Christians; but surely there can be no denying that many publicly-schooled kids turn out pretty rebellious and undisciplined. If that is the kind of independence public schooling fosters, I would prefer my children to have no part of it. But again, I have no evidence to suggest it is the schooling specifically which accounts for these kinds of behavioral differences.

5. Children can only adequately learn to deal with opposing worldviews in a school environment

Why? In fact, I’d be interested to see a survey comparing apostasy among homeschooled teenagers and public schooled ones. I suspect the public schooled ones would be far higher. Again, I have no scientific evidence to back my position here—although neither does the person making this odd claim—but in my own experience homeschoolers are much better equipped to analyze and evaluate alternative viewpoints than publicly schooled teenagers.

Do they have less immediate experience with alternative worldviews? Probably. But why think that is anything except a good thing? They have their entire adult lives to rub up against unbelief in its various forms. Cultivating their own faith first, in their formative years, rather than being exposed to the gross immorality I know from experience characterizes public school, seems like the better course.

Notice I’m not suggesting isolation from the world. I strongly oppose overly strict discipline, “protecting” children from even knowing about “unapproved” practices like sex, drugs, alcohol and some music. What I’m suggesting is that homeschooling is a more controlled environment from which children can encounter the world, and see that the various promises it makes about the pleasures of sin are entirely without merit.

6. Children need to be missionaries to non-Christian students in schools

Tim Challies for example has given this as one reason they public school their kids.

Honestly, I do find this a very strange reason to send your kids to school.

The great commission is not directed at children. It is not even directed at adults. It is directed at the disciples. Unless you think your children should be baptizing and teaching people, you are inconsistently applying Matthew 28:18ff.

This is corroborated by the fact that Ephesians 4:11 speaks of “evangelist” as a kind of office, given to the church in the same way as apostles, prophets, shepherds and teachers.

The only thing the Bible seems to require of all Christians is that they be ready to give a response for the hope within them—not that they go out and evangelize to unbelievers. Of course I fully support Christians who do evangelize, and if, say, a teenager felt convicted that he should be witnessing in a school environment then perhaps that would be appropriate. But generally speaking, expecting young children to take on the task of a specific adult role in the church seems, at best, an unjust burden on them. At worst, a good way to damage them spiritually.

For one thing, it’s quite presumptuous to think your young children are saved at all. So why think they are qualified or called to be evangelists in the first place? For another, even if they are saved, putting them into an environment where their views will result in ridicule and bullying is not only pointless in terms of evangelism, but positively harmful to their own psychological and spiritual health.

Now, you can retort, “Imagine what schools would be like if there were no Christians there.” But this fails on at least two counts:

  1. I’m not suggesting the only Christian approach is to homeschool. I’m suggesting that being a missionary to other kids is not a good reason to public school
  2. What if public schools were to lack any Christian influence from students? How is that a problem, and how is the problem your responsibility to such an extent that you’re willing to place your child at risk to solve it? Bearing in mind all the harm I’ve shown is inherent in schools, let’s take this logic a bit further with another example: Should we encourage our kids to join gangs, so the gangsters can benefit from a Christian influence? If you think there is something wrong with this idea, then perhaps there is also something wrong with the idea that Christian children must be salt and light to schools. If you want to influence non-Christian kids with Christian values, start with their parents. Don’t send your children to do the job of the church.

Incidentally, I’d be most curious to hear from people like Tim Challies just how much evangelism their children actually do at schools.

Other reasons to send your child to school

These six reasons are not the only reasons you might have to send your children to school. They are just what I consider the oddest (and wrongest) of the common ones. There are other reasons, and sometimes they are very good. For example, it’s highly unreasonable to expect a couple to homeschool if they are struggling to make ends meet and have to work two jobs. But in most cases, I think homeschooling is at least a good option. So if you have children and are thinking about their education, I hope I’ve given you something to consider. Don’t be shy to share your opinion in the comments.

10 comments

  1. Sam Wilson

    Do you think that while teenagers might be less likely to become apostate during home schooling they might be more likely once they go to university and are suddenly thrown in the deep end without any time to adjust?

    Conversely, if isolation is the only thing that keeps faith safe, is faith a good thing?

    Finally, do you think this allows them to be “in the world but not of the world”?

  2. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Sam, the way I have seen homeschooling done, university would not be anything like a deep end. On the contrary, it would be a natural progression from what the student is already doing at that point.

    Homeschooled kids also tend to get a much better education in apologetics and comparative religion, so they are actually far less likely to be blindsided by the university environment. That’s certainly what I’m finding with the worldview study I run.

  3. Sarah Tennant

    “Conversely, if isolation is the only thing that keeps faith safe, is faith a good thing?”

    Homeschooling does not equal isolation. Homeschoolers typically attend homeschool social and academic groups, and academic and extracurricular classes with schooled and/or homeschooled children (or adults).

    Between me and my five sisters, all of whom were completely or partly homeschooled, we took classes in pottery, art, violin, piano, cello, cake decorating, Latin, swimming, pastels, speech and drama, Shakespeare, chemistry, writing, cooking, entymology, singing, worldview studies, pattern-drafting, quilting, French, horse-riding, and probably more that I forget. Not to mention a Christian Girl-Guides-type organisation, church, several choirs, and plenty of purely social occasions with the friends gained from all of the above.

    Isolated we were not. And we were typical for a homeschooling family, except that many would add more sports to that list. In fact, the complaint most homeschoolers have (especially with older children) is the difficulty in keeping the number of extracurricular activities down, in order to have enough time at home for sanity!

    The difference between socialising at school and at home is that homeschooling allows for mindful social interaction.

    At school, a child is placed with 30 or so kids who happen to be the same age and live in roughly the same area; beyond that, there’s no guarantee they’ll have anything in common. There’s certainly no guarantee they’ll be a beneficial influence on one’s child. Friendships are sometimes made due to true compatibility of interests, but that’s down to the luck of the draw; more often, kids pick the best of the bunch – friendships based on nothing but sheer proximity – and drop out of contact with them when school ends. And those are the friendships! Most child-to-child relationships in a classroom are neutral or even hostile. Having 30 children theoretically available to play with doesn’t mean the child will be friends with all 30 – especially given the taboo of cross-gender friendships in school.

    In homeschooling classes, which are interest-based, the children generally want to be there, and are thus more likely to share interests and therefore form genuine friendships. There are (often) fewer children, but as it’s not possible to form deep and lasting friendships with 30 other children at once anyway, that’s not a problem; it allows for and encourages closer interaction between the children who are there. It’s much closer to a real-world environment – as adults, we generally make friendships one or two at a time, based on interests.

    Now, obviously you’re talking about isolation from differing philosophies, not simply isolation from other people; but given the prevalence of the view that homeschoolers spend all day in their living room without catching sight of non-blood-relatives from one week to the next, it seemed worth clearing up.

    Philosophically speaking, even in a Christian-based homeschooling group, kids will come across differing philosophies. My younger sisters have had some cracking discussions with their fellow homeschoolers about Arminianism vs Calvinism, the evils or otherwise of Strong Drink, and similar topics. And of course, there are plenty of secular homeschooling groups one can join in order to be exposed to more worldviews.

    The real strength of homeschooling lies in having the time and opportunity to educate children to think critically about opposing worldviews from a solid base of family and friends with the correct one. Simply knowing or being surrounded by atheists, Moslems or secular humanists is not, in itself, going to teach children the flaws in those belief systems; they’ll have to do the philosophical training at some point. And it seems far better to do it ahead of time, while they’re not being constantly surrounded by the overt and implied ridicule of Christianity and philosophy-slinging that occurs at university (and indeed, high school). Forewarned is forearmed.

    Again, it’s about mindfulness. Mindfully choosing friends; mindfully introducing non-Christian philosophies; instead of working from the assumption that more is better and dealing reactively with the fallout amid the chaos of university study.

  4. Sam Hight

    This is a great article! Thanks for your thoughts.

    I am a high school teacher and am of the same mind. You might wonder why I am a teacher if I disagree with the system. One reason is that my consideration of this came to me after I had trained and begun teaching. It is very hard to get out of a system when you have your own family to provide for. However, I am also in the system to learn what I can and to minister however I can (while I slowly develop my “exit” strategy). There are also many young people in need of guidance and an example of Christian living for whom this is the only place they will see it.

    I think there is value in more mature Christian teenagers going to school. They would essentially be there to see what others grow up with so that they understand the cultures of the world better. “In it but not of it” is key to this.

  5. Christa Sterken

    I appreciate reading such a well thought out article! Thank you for your time and effort to present your information in a way that is logical and respectful

  6. Amy Seymour

    I read this article to my 4 homeschooled children and husband. We agree with 99%, and we appreciate your perspective. Thanks for articulating clearly for us what we know to be true!

  7. Shane Hokanson

    Wow ! Very good post/thoughts by the Blog writer! I was surprised to see that you are in New Zealand for the reasons and answers you posted are the same as I have encountered here in the U.S.A.. Secular/Statist “education” interests have obviously put forth those bogus ideas of what is good for children. They hate the idea that some children may be taught proper english and real history – even worse: They might actually read Bible verses sometimes. Your comments were linked via a Reformed discussion website that I sometimes post at. The Admin/Mod. Home schooled his son and liked your ” 6 strange reasons” , and so do I. I will post some links to it on other websites. The idea that throwing our children into the cesspool of the public (state) schools , to evangelize is flat out wrong – for all the reasons you mentioned. “Bad company corrupts good morals!”

    Had to pay the mortgage and car payment and groceries so I was unable to Home school my 3 kids ( and their mom was incapable of teaching ) so I had to put them in the public schools in So. Cal. ( ugh! ) . Each day after school I would ask them what they learned , or what their teachers told them. I would then correct the wrong information by getting an encyclopedia volume off the shelf and reading the actual facts to them. Often I would open up my Bible and read to them the words from Our Creator to counter the nonsense of the State approved textbooks. At least every 2 weeks we would visit the branch Library in our city and I made them check out at least one book per kid. That is something that most home schoolers do also. Is. 40:8, Shane H..

    BTW – Dominic -You attend the same church as myself and my 3 kids were Baptized in ( now grown-up ), but a few miles apart ;) Trinity Reformed Baptist Church in La Mirada, Ca. USA. A 1689 Church.

  8. Hannah Davis

    I’m a sophomore in a public school, and I have been both public-schooled and home-schooled. I started homeschooling in 2nd grade and started public school when I became a freshman in high school.

    Having experienced both sides of the debate, I can honestly say that it is a privilege to be home-schooled. When I was home-schooled, I had edifying and meaningful relationships (loads of them), I had a huge understanding of the various worldviews that people have, and I was independent. I learned to study and to teach myself, which is something that most of my public-schooled peers have not learned. I am confident that I can utilize my resources to learn anything that I need to. Socially, homeschooling benefited me by showing me how to develop a significant friendship.

    As for public school, it definitely has its downsides. During the two years that I’ve been in high school, I have seen many students lose their faith. For some it is still there, but it has certainly been weakened by the immoral influences of peers. When I was a freshman, I had plenty of friends who were Christians; and I have watched as they have slowly drifted away. Even my own faith is something that I sometimes struggle to hold onto.

    However, I have seen a few small perks to public school. The main one is that some teacher-student relationships are very beneficial because my teachers know a lot about their subject. Most are willing to work with me if I need help. Many of them have taught me concepts that have inspired me to learn more.

    Overall, I think it was beneficial for me to be home-schooled until high school, and then put into public school. I think that the bulk of my education was provided by my parents, and this gave me the work ethic that is helping me prosper during high school.

  9. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Hey Hannah, thanks for stopping by and sharing your perspective. I think your point about learning to teach yourself is really good — this is something I only learned around 17-18, as a result of having to use the internet to learn about the things that interested me (because I couldn’t learn them in school). So homeschooling is particularly important for the first few years, as you say.

  10. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Hrmm, having investigated this more, it looks like it is actually the later years of schooling in which homeschooling is the most important—at least if we’re measuring by academic performance. The Rudner study (PDF) indicates that while private and public schooled kids always lag behind homeschooled ones, the lag becomes greater and greater as they get older. Moreover, kids who are homeschooled for the first part of their education, but then go to public or private school in junior high and high school, also lag behind kids who are homeschooled all the way through. So homeschooling seems to make the most academic gains in high school, rather than elementary.

    HT: Jay Wile

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