Children are a blessing and reward from God (Psalm 127:3)! They are a joy, a challenge, and ultimately they are future God-beings—whom God Himself has blessed parents with the privilege of creating, raising and educating for a short period of time (Malachi 2:15). As Andreas Köstenberger notes in his excellent text God, Marriage and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation, “Parents ought to consider themselves entrusted with the (temporary) responsibility and stewardship of nurturing and cultivating a child’s heart and mind in light of the Scriptures and on behalf of God” (2010, p. 114).
During pregnancy, a woman is very cautious with her body—the food she eats, what she exposes her body to, and how much rest she gets. Frequently she searches for the best labor and delivery option, the healthiest diet, and the safest and healthiest environment for her baby. Loving, supportive and godly fathers also help and encourage their wives in this most important of human endeavors—preparing for the birth of their child.
This parental research and education process usually continues for the first several years of a child’s life, with parents working to maximize their child’s growth and development. As children approach the age of mandatory education in most nations, parents often search for the best schools and teachers, or explore the barriers to and benefits of home schooling—taking very seriously God’s instruction in the book of Proverbs: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (22:6). But, as children age, parents routinely become less engaged in their education and less aware of the world their children live in (Dauber & Epstein, 1993; Snow et al., 1991). A mistake parents often make is assuming that the society their children live in is “not that much different” than the world they grew up in themselves, decades earlier. Most parents also tend to believe that it is “the other kids” who are engaging in high risk behaviors or who are at risk, and not their own children (The Guardian, 2008). But, this naive assumption can have powerful and lasting negative effects on their children!
What do Christian parents need to know about educating their children in the 21st Century? What are the dangers, pitfalls, and challenges that most children face today? What are God’s expectations for parents regarding the education of their (and His) children? And what should parents do in order to protect their children’s minds, hearts and bodies from this Satan-inspired society, every facet of which is designed to motivate them to forfeit their opportunity for eternal life?
The World Our Children Live In
Parents cannot make truly godly educational choices for their children without understanding the world that their children live in and face every day. So, what perils do our children face today? Public education today is not like it was fifty, thirty, twenty or even ten years ago—regardless of one’s nation of residence. Western nations that once based many of their moral decisions on the Bible are now increasingly secular, as is witnessed by the growing number that have legalized same-sex marriage and abandoned belief in the Bible. Once taboo opinions and behaviors are now commonplace, and morals are declining. Across Europe in 2010, just 51 percent of EU citizens believe in God (“Religion in Europe, also in Crisis,” Globalpost.com, June 3, 2013). Although 70 percent of Spaniards still call themselves Catholic, only 12.5 percent attend weekly mass (ibid.). In the U.S., nearly a third of “millennials” (born between 1982 and 2000) report no religious affiliation (Barna Group, May 9, 2013). “In fact, between high school and turning 30, 43 percent of these once-active millennials drop out of regular church attendance…” One fifth of millennials with a “Christian” background say Christian beliefs no longer make sense to them (ibid.).
Out-of-wedlock birth rates and sexual promiscuity are skyrocketing in our children’s world. Between 1980 and 2009, babies born without legal fathers doubled and even quadrupled in many nations (Family Life Culture Watch, June 25, 2009). The percentage of out-of-wedlock births in 2009 was: 21 percent in Italy, 30 percent in Canada, 40 percent in the U.S., 44 percent in the UK, 50 percent in France and 66 percent in Iceland (ibid.)! In other regions of the world, the rates are even higher. For example, the 2007 out-of-wedlock birth rate in Jamaica was over 80 percent (Registrar General’s Department, 2013)!
In 2007, 61 percent of European school children reported drinking alcohol in the last month (more than just a “sip”), and 43 percent reported drinking to get drunk on more than five drinks at one time (Drugnet Europe, April-June, 2009). In 2011, U.S. teenagers were surveyed on a variety of health-related topics using the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, June 8, 2012). Thirty-two percent were in at least one physical fight at school in the last year and 20 percent had been bullied (ibid.). Nearly one fourth used tobacco daily, 20 percent reported drinking alcohol (other than a few sips) before age 13, 40 percent had tried marijuana and 20 percent were current users, nearly 50 percent had had sexual intercourse, 46 percent were dieting to lose weight while only 15 percent were actually overweight, and 16 percent had seriously considered attempting suicide (ibid.). In terms of morality, a 2008 study of U.S. 18–23 year-olds discovered that most had no concept of morals and had not even thought about them. Others believed that morals were completely relative—based solely on personal perception (The New York Times, September 12, 2011).
Curricular and School Trends
Beyond ungodly behaviors, what ungodly trends are occurring in schools? Religious and gender tolerance is abuzz in public schools in nearly all Western nations. High stakes testing is paramount, and Darwinian evolution is core to science curricula. Secular humanism (a rejection of morals and God) and atheism are so much a part of modern education that they are no longer noticed. Even witchcraft is popularly read and discussed (think “Harry Potter”). Schools are changing in many ways, and those changes are happening in schools near you. In Sweden, a preschool movement is removing gender references to students (e.g., he, she, his, her), in order to avoid biasing children regarding their future gender identity (BBC News, July 7, 2011). California and Oregon schools are creating unisex restrooms for homosexual and transgender students, and some schools also allow boys and girls to use the same restrooms (ABC News, March 15, 2013; World Magazine, October 17, 2013). California also aims to require state history textbooks to “include prominent gay people and gay rights’ milestones in the curriculum” (The Star, May 11, 2011). Public high schools and secondary schools around the globe are creating diversity clubs that include diverse religious groups (e.g., Muslims, witches, atheists) and also lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teens. School administrators are under increasing pressure to allow such clubs to exist.
Morality on university campuses is certainly in rapid decline too. And sadly, the immoral and anti-God atmosphere at universities today shapes the public school teachers of tomorrow. Where public education was once commissioned to reinforce the common morals of the community or state, public “education today is seen largely as an economic activity, not as a moral activity…” (Moral Intelligence, 2010). Some have described today’s children as “more lacking in decency, integrity, concern for others and morality” than all previous generations (Moral Agendas for Children’s Welfare, 2004). In a 2011 study, most young people did not believe in moral absolutes, were very tolerant, and felt uncomfortable identifying behaviors of others as wrong or right (The New York Times, September 12, 2011). Today, “waiting until marriage for a fulfilling sex life is considered not just quaint and outdated but quite possibly foolish… [while] the absence of relationship permanence” is valued. “The majority of young adults in America not only think they should explore different relationships, they believe it may be foolish and wrong not to” (Premarital Sex in America, pp. 170–171).
Another obvious casualty of our educational systems is the male student. “Like American boys, boys in Great Britain and Australia are markedly behind girls academically, notably in reading and writing. They, too, get most of the failing grades and are more likely to be alienated from school.” The British have now begun programs to assist boys in catching up with girls (The War Against Boys, 2000, p.15). A recent study on English state schools showed that nearly a million boys suffer from some form of learning disability—about twice the rate of girls. In addition, “almost a quarter of boys aged five to 19 had some form of difficulty that prevented them playing a full part in lessons”—again, nearly double the rate of girls (The Telegraph, October 23, 2013).
What About Home Schooling?
Because of the many factors just mentioned, homeschooling has grown rapidly in nations around the globe. In fact, a 2012 study by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) found that 91 percent of homeschooling families reported making that choice because of the poor environments of public schools; 77 percent felt schools were morally lacking and 74 percent were dissatisfied with the academic instruction (NCES, 2013). In the U.S., about 3.5 percent of the school-aged population is now homeschooled (ibid.). Home-based education is also growing in popularity around the globe, including in: Australia, Canada, Hungary, Japan, Kenya, and the UK (National Home Education Research Institute, 2011). But, despite the many clear benefits of homeschooling, this educational option also has some limitations.
Aside from the clear financial and time-commitments homeschooling parents must make, they also need to be very aware of curricular issues. Despite the excellent and thorough curricula commonly available, many are religiously based. Religiously based curricula pose doctrinal challenges that godly parents and children must navigate through (e.g., the Trinity and the nature of God, pagan holidays, and issues with God’s law), as well as issues with science and the Bible (many curricula, although they contain a strong anti-evolution component, make the mistake of following a “young earth” philosophy—attempting to support the false notion that the entire universe and earth were created at the time of Adam). Secular homeschool curricula can also pose challenges. These curricula are widely available and are even free in some locations, but they usually contain both the pro-evolution and secular humanistic ideas prevalent in most public school curricula.
Children in private schools are also not immune. Not only are private school curricula often religiously based (meaning that although they may place great emphasis on morals, they also focus on false-religious ideas like the Trinity, “cheap grace,” pagan holidays, and even “young earth theory”), but their pupils also engage in many of the same sinful behaviors that their public school counterparts do—just at a lower rate (AAP News, 1998).
Society is fleeing away from godly principles and is embracing increasingly Satan-inspired notions. And this is the world in which our children are growing up! So what are Christian parents to do with all of this information? Thankfully, God’s Word gives us some solid principles to follow.
As the ancient Israelites prepared to enter the Promised Land, God directed Moses to make several very strong statements about educating children. “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up… You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6–9). God’s point was two-fold: First, we are to look for opportunities to teach God’s way to our children (His children) “throughout” the day and all day long—not just in the early morning and evening. Second, God’s Way and His truth are to permeate our lives and our homes. Deuteronomy 4:9–10 makes this same basic point, but also includes grandparents in this spiritual education process.
“Young people are strongly influenced by the examples they see in the media and among their peers to form their moral frameworks and worldviews… As children become socialized and enter schools, more and more of their moral character is open to the influence of peers and society” (Moral Intelligence, 2010). With this in mind, parents must keep in mind the sheer number of hours publically and privately educated children are in contact with worldly peers, socially acceptable curricula, and a worldly value system. When children spend 8–10 hours daily away from converted parents and family and around worldly teachers and peers, and when parents can only influence them for one or two hours a day at home, whose value system is most likely to win out—God’s or Satan’s? Godly parents must remember that children are “unconverted” and do not have God’s Holy Spirit dwelling in them to direct and protect them, as a baptized adult does. Children lack the wisdom and maturity to fend off the constant powerful, immoral and anti-God arguments from influential peers and teachers. As we consider the education of our children we must ask the hard question, “Who do we want to be the chief influence forming their character, their peers and unconverted teachers, or their converted parents?” (see Successful Parenting: God’s Way, p. 40).
Dr. Jeffrey Fall wisely advises the creation of a “God-centered family culture” in our homes (p. 37). “Every decision we make as parents should revolve around the question: ‘Will this increase or decrease the likelihood that my child will grow up in God’s image?’” (ibid.). And in this vein, parents must ask themselves “What type of educational situation and educational environment will maximize the teaching of God’s way of life and minimize my child’s exposure to Satan’s powerful deceptions?” The myth that “a child will eventually live in Satan’s world, so he or she might as well learn how to cope right now” is spiritually dangerous to follow, and can place God’s children at unnecessary spiritual risk. Parents need to protect their children and control the extent to which children are exposed to Satan’s world (pp. 42–43). And parents must cultivate in their children, the perspective that “we are different from the world” (p. 41). In fact, God commands us to be separate from the world around us (2 Corinthians 6:17; Revelation 18:4) and the way we live our lives should reflect this command.
This world’s educational system is crumbling and is jettisoning Christian-based values and practices as quickly as it can: right is now wrong, and evil is now good, just as Isaiah prophesied (Isaiah 5:20). The ungodly are growing in influence and are creating a system in their image. Our children are being exposed to more false knowledge and immorality than ever before. And they are also being pressured to develop worldly perspectives as never before.
Not everyone has the luxury of homeschooling due to: single-parent families needing to earn a living, extreme health situations, and even government bans on the practice. For this reason parents whose children are being educated in the world’s system (public or private) must put tremendous effort into knowing what their children are learning and being exposed to at school. They must also spend significant time teaching and educating their children not only in biblical truth, but also provide them with the answers to “why” we believe what we do and “why” we reject the ways of the world. In this way, parents can more effectively attempt to counteract the deceptions and social programming that Satan has built into his educational system, in order to destroy our children and their faith.
But homeschooled children are not completely safe either. For homeschooling to work well, there must be at least one parent (typically “mom”) dedicated to making sure children are truly learning their lessons. Although homeschooling children typically have significantly less influence from the world (ungodly teachers and peers), homeschooling parents must still be diligent to guide their children regarding choosing worldly friends, activities, media and music. Dr. Jeffery Fall recommends that parents allow their children to “mix with other children in regulated, supervised activities—not in unregulated and unsupervised ‘free time,’” for obvious reasons (p. 43). In addition, homeschooling parents cannot “relax” with their children’s educations either. They must be very aware of and look for biblical and factual errors in homeschool curricula that are also developed by carnal people, and must also be sure to include proper training in the Bible. Homeschooling parents must be sure to operate within local laws—rendering to Caesar what is his and to God what is His (Mark 12:17). Ultimately, for all “Christian parents, the goal is to lay a foundation in their children’s young impressionable years, so they will always desire to fully seek God as their father… The goal of godly parenting is to help our children want to walk in the footsteps of parents who are living God’s way of life… to have children in God’s image” (Fall, pp. 2, 7).
Raising “godly offspring” is a wonderful opportunity and also an incredible responsibility that parents must never take lightly. Christian parents must be fully aware of the real and Satan-inspired influences, pressures and lies that permeate not only society, but also the worldly educational system. And they must seriously “count the cost” of the educational decisions they make. Training up a child God’s way has never been more difficult or more important. Parenting and grandparenting is serious business! God directs parents to educate their children in His ways “throughout” the day. And godly parents must work to meet this directive to the fullest extent possible—which may require changing how things are typically done in and outside of the home. Christian parents must develop a God-centered family culture and must constantly work to assure that the environment children are exposed to throughout the day is as godly as possible.
For more information on and encouragement about godly parenting, be sure to read our free booklet Successful Parenting: God’s Way. All parents (and grandparents) should review this booklet annually as long as children are at home! In addition, Living University offers several helpful courses that address this topic, including: Christian Marriage and Family, Principles of Christian Living, Working with Christian Youth, Teaching in the Christian Home, and Early Childhood Education in the Church. Ultimately, the Bible is the foundation of knowledge, and Christian parents must do all they can to make sure that God’s living word is living in the lives of their children.