Over the course of the past three-quarters of a century, the United States has undergone a process of intense secularization. This is not to say that most Americans have become atheists or that most Americans do not have religious views. Instead, it is to say that Christianity has been displaced from the default position, and is now viewed as merely one option amid myriad worldviews, philosophies, and “takes” on life.
This secularization process has had serious repercussions in every sphere of culture, and nowhere more so than primary and secondary education. It has been made clear that a child’s education is never merely the inculcation of facts into the minds of young people. It is always and necessarily also an interpretation of the facts, and the predominant trend these days is toward interpretations that run averse to the Christian worldview.
In a situation such as this, the Christian community must once again focus clearly on God’s design for the cultivation of young hearts and minds: his calling is for parents to play the primary role in the education of their children. One will search in vain to find biblical teaching that parents should be pawns of the state in their child’s education. One will find, instead, that God calls parents to be the principals of their child’s education, partnering with the church and, if they so choose or are coerced, with outside agents such as state-sponsored schools.
But what does it mean for the parent to be the principal, or primary agent, of their child’s education?
First and foremost, it means that God calls parents to instruct their children in the faith. Consider the Lord’s words to Israel:
4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.
6 “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. 7 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. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
From this passage, and the many others in both the Old Testament and New Testament, it is crystal clear that God calls parents to teach their children the ways of the Lord.
Second, parents’ primary role requires that they must partner with the church, so that pastoral leaders and the church community as a whole can reinforce the faith-based education children receive at home. The Bible’s teaching about the local church’s centrality applies to children as much as it does to adults. For that reason, we must not only take our children to corporate worship, but also involve them with the church community in broader manners.
Third, parental primacy means that parents have the option of outsourcing aspects of their child’s education, but are responsible to oversee the outsourcing in light of Christian teaching. For instance, many parents find it necessary or wise to send their children to schools, but they must be involved with the process, especially being aware of educational influences adverse to the Christian faith. When and where their child is being instructed wrongly, the parent is responsible to provide correctives.
The upshot is this: no parent should allow governments or professional educators to take the reins in their child’s education. To do so is to surrender their divine calling and squander the invaluable opportunity to cultivate their child’s heart and mind. Conversely, to take seriously one’s divine calling is to invest in an irreplaceable opportunity to bring out the hidden potentials—spiritual, moral, intellectual, emotional, and physical—of their children. Christians must champion the culture-shaping vocation of parenting.