This year marked a milestone in my oldest son’s academic career and well as my thinking about public education. We enrolled our Jr High age son in 8th grade of a virtual school, choosing to rebuff the traditional brick and mortar school. Virtual school is distinct from homeschooling in many ways. Virtual school provides teachers, curriculum, and the learning platform for the student. The parents provide support and accountability that the student is progressing in the content at an appropriate pace. The synergy between the parents and teachers creates a good learning situation for most students. Another distinction from traditional homeschooling is the accountability of the student to the public school system. Virtual school is an extension of the state public education system. Therefore the students are required to take the math and writing skills tests along with the brick and mortar students throughout the state public school system. The virtual school, same as many homeschoolers, provide opportunities for students to participate in group science lab projects and field trips.
One might ask why not a Christian school? First, as a product of a Christian school, I am very sensitive to the bubble mentality that can develop in Christian education. Many Christian schools fool themselves by thinking they are delivering a quality educational product in providing a Christian environment in which to learn. However, many of these schools fail to understand that the word “school” in their name assumes that necessary steps have been taken to assure quality education is happening. This is not the case in many places, a cursory glance at many Christian school websites reveal teachers teaching outside their discipline and without the minimum qualifications to teach in a public school. This handicaps the students from getting the best math, science and other disciplines that prepare them for the next level of their education. The lack of quality education can be remedied, but the more dangerous part for me was the bubble created by the Christian school movement. I believe that the lack of exposure to the world, has created a fear of the world for many graduates of Christian education. The Christian school environment’s bubble shields students from objections to Christianity such as atheism and evolutionary naturalism. In thinking this is a positive move, parents may be inhibiting their children’s ability interact with opposing views prevalent in culture. I trust firmly in I John 4:4 which states, “Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.” In believing this verse, I am willing to place my children in an environment where questions are asked on them and by extension they ask questions to me. The process enhances faith; it does not debilitate it. There are answers to the skeptic’s questions and assertions, we as believers, must do to hard work to answer them and provide answers for our children’s questions. I recognize that there are fine Christian schools that do not fit the characterization above in neither the bubble mentality nor the educational deficiencies. I applaud your endeavors to bear Christ’s name in a way that illustrates his excellence. Second, let’s be honest, the cost of educating three children in a quality Christian school environment cannot happen on a Christian college professor’s salary.
The virtual school seemed to be the right fit to allow interaction with evolutionary naturalism and worldviews hostile to Christian thought while increasing the quality of education that is receding from the brick and mortar public school system. Since the curriculum requires the same learning objectives as the brick and mortar public school, most of the content remains similar. Because of this, most of our conversations about worldviews and propositions asserted in the curriculum remain in tact. However, the educational environment or setting changed dramatically. In my son’s case, the middle school became more about managing the problem children than educating the ones willing to learn. The learning environment had truly become hostile to learning mainly because of classroom distractions. Virtual school takes place in our home and in my office at the college. This quiet environment is conducive to learning. When learning new concepts that require assistance, help remains within reach. He can ask a parent or phone the teacher at any time. With the virtual school, conversations still take place about issues and proposals that oppose Christian thinking, but my son isn’t taking tests with paper projectiles flying across the room or trying to listen with an iPod is playing the latest from Hopsin.
There are other reasons for considering if the brick and mortar public school is the best educational option, but they wait for the next pause in my day…