Thursday, 26 August 2010

Back to School

There's a fierce discussion going on over on Simone's blog about choices in education and specifically whether you should choose a "Christian" education or engage with the State system.  I wanted to comment but it ended up too long so I've posted here instead. 

As usual, life is more complex than our theories and in fact schooling choice is a very complex thing.

In our schooling system there are five options, as opposed to the discussion which seems to mainly revolve around their being two. It’s actually more complex than this, because each school is different. This range is then doubled because parents will make at least two schooling choices, one for primary and one for high school – more if they move or if they make a mistake the first time. The high school choice usually involves some input from the kid too.

The five options
  1. A State school – either local, or a non-local school which has some feature particularly attractive to that parent or child (like a good music program).
  2. A local private school – these are mostly run by Catholic Education and have low fees and a general Christian orientation, but people don’t send their kids there just for religious reasons and often the parents aren’t Christians.
  3. An elite private school – these are mostly also church run but their primary selling point is status and a perception of excellence which comes about because they have lots of resources so can have good stuff and good programs.  Once again people don't send their kids here for religious reasons even though these are "christian" schools.
  4. A “Christian” school which has been formed with a very strong missional focus – this might be to educate the children of Christian families but they may also see their mission as educating other children.  For instance the Baptist Church here in Brisbane runs an alternative school for young people who have dropped out of mainstream schooling – most have suffered some form of abuse or trauma.  Now there's a mission field for you!
  5. Home schooling, where the parents decide to do the schooling themselves. They may choose this for religious reasons (to control the way their children are exposed to “non-christian” influences) or for educational ones like my friend who home-schooled two of her children because the schools were unable to respond appropriately to their learning difficulties. Most home-schoolers I know use the State Distance Education curriculum material and support, although some use other systems.
Each of these alternatives has an opportunity for mission attached to it, but the mission will be conceived a little differently in each case. When choosing between these alternatives, parents will take account of three main issues.
  • The child’s needs – their talents, interests, the way they socialize, any specific learning difficulties or gifts they have.
  • The parents’ beliefs, needs and resources. These include their religious beliefs, their beliefs about education, financial resources (not everyone can afford Brisbane Grammar or even the local Catholic school), time (a sole parent who works full time won’t be able to be actively involved in a school, so will take a lot of care that the child is in a happy environment where he or she doesn’t need to intervene) and their skills (a parent may be attracted to the idea of home schooling but not have the time or the teaching skills to do it, or ditto with involvement in their local State school).
  • The available alternatives in the locality – not all the five options are available everywhere, and in some places the local example of the option you prefer may be wrong for your child or even for any child.
If you wanted to you could turn this into a decision-tree which would be slightly less complex than Kim Beazley’s “knowledge nation” diagram.   Then in the end after working your way through the decision tree you would probably go with your heart, since that's usually the best way to parent.


Nathan said...

There may actually be a sixth, and possibly a seventh, option here.

6. Christian schools formed to indoctrinate children. They're not missional necessarily, sometimes they're borderline cultish, and at the very least they become parachurch organisations (sometimes they even replace the church). Sometimes they are schools started by churches, bearing the hallmarks of a parachurch organisation but operating under a church's umbrella. Other times they're non-denominational and end up eating up resources and placing extra-curricular demands on staff and parents.

7. Home School Collectives - networks of families who essentially run their own schools using home school programs.

Anonymous said...

Really helpful - thanks!
And in contrast to the original direction of Simone's post I gather that you aren't claiming that parents are making an 'odd' decision or failing to adhere to the great commission if they choose any one of those five options.

Jon said...

@ Nathan, yes and there are probably more. It gets more like Knowledge Nation the more you look at it. I read that the Exclusive Brethren have their own schools so that their children don't have to mix with "the world". Except that because they don't allow their kids to go to uni they have to hire non-Brethren teachers!

@ Anon, yes that's right. This is a complex decision with a lot of elements to it, so you can't really prescribe a single answer for everyone, although I think some of the considerations in the original post are certainly worth thinking about.