As we'll see, in dealing with Christian ethics (that is, Christian living applied to any area of life), there is much to be said for not only the conclusions you draw, but also the questions you ask - and the assumptions upon which those questions are based.
Dave starts the article with the assumption that parents have to choose between sending their kids to private or public schools. Right at that point it is unfortunate that he leaves out the very viable option of homeschooling.(1)
For the sake of argument though, let us assume that these really are the only two options and consider his arguments even on that premise. As we will see, there are several false assumptions on which he bases his arguments and conclusions.
False Assumptions on the Priorities of Education
Dave says that there are three major factors that parents consider in deciding whether to send their children to private or public schools.(2) In the order listed:
Whether this list is in order of priority or if all three are considered equal priority, it is still interesting to note that even right here there is much to be said concerning the Christian worldview when it comes to Christian education. Let us examine.
Probably the main passage of Christian education in Scripture is Deuteronomy 6:4-9:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
This passage of Scripture is very different from the three standards that Dave assumes to be good guidance for educating your children.
First of all, the spiritual environment (which clearly has the priority) has much to do with the children's parents' spiritual condition first: "these words that I command you today shall be on your heart." (Deut. 6:6). From there it moves to them (the parents) being the primary agent in providing the proper spiritual environment to their children (Deut. 6:7ff).
To Dave's credit, he does state: "You can’t depend on the school to be your child’s only model of a spiritual walk." But what he fails to realize is that based on the Scriptures - this spiritual environment is to be fostered throughout the entire day - not just at the home before and after school, but everywhere the child goes, including at school if he or she is there.
It is clear, nonetheless, that the spiritual environment is the first and foremost priority in the command. Also notice that it is assumed that when education is done throughout the day by the parents, safety is not a concern because the children are continually under the watchful eye of those who love them most.
As far as academics is concerned, the Bible has much to say (see Prv. 3:13-18 for just a sampling). But notice even then, academics starts at the home: "My son, do not forget my teaching..." (Prv. 3:1ff). And it starts with the fear of the Lord (Prv. 1:7), not the as-yet-to-be-proven-existence-of-God attitude that so many state-sponsored (that is to say, "public") schools advocate (Ps. 14:1).
So while safety and academics are certainly something to take into consideration, the Bible clearly places emphasis on the spiritual environment and spiritual growth, i.e. the discipleship of children.
But there is more to the article...
False Assumptions on the Goal of Education
Dave seems to assume that the goal of education has more to do with academic success and "winning in life" rather than discipleship of your children to love the Lord. This is why he argues that no one can prove that private schools have a better success rate than public schools, etc.
But the assumption that your duty as a parent in raising your children is to give your child the education option that will make him or her more successful in life is completely unbiblical.
Remember the passage above from Deuteronomy. The main point of the parent-child relationship is to teach them to love their Lord their God (to disciple them). As summarized by the Apostle Paul, parents (especially fathers) are to "bring your children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4). There is no mention of academic success being the primary focus, but discipleship to the Lord.
Are academics important? Absolutely!
"Take knowledge rather than choice gold" (Prv. 8:10)
"By [wisdom] kings reign, and rulers decree what is just" (Prv. 8:15)
As a matter of fact, take some time to read throughout the book of Proverbs (see especially Proverbs 8:1-9:12). Academics are extremely important in the eyes of God.
But what is the foundation of academics? Is it not the fear of the Lord (Prv. 1:7)? And how is that best accomplished in children? By sending them to a state-sponsored agnostic/atheistic school where the Lord Jesus Christ is at best irrelevant and at worst outright denied?
Although academics are extremely important, there is something much more important in the eyes of God - especially as it relates to the parent-child relationship: discipling your children and bringing them up to love Him.
Remember, it is not the one who is in the best educational system, or the one who is best at "winning in life" - but the one who meditates on the Word of God day and night (Ps. 1:2), who is like a tree planted by streams of waters, that bears fruit in it season and whose leaf does not wither (Ps. 1:3). It is that person of whom it is said in all that he does he prospers.(3)
While academics are very important as a good and necessary goal to be successful in life - they have their very foundation in the instruction of the Lord and in His Word (Prv. 1:1-7; Ps. 1:2-3). Academic and material success surely can be an outflow from good discipleship (although they are by no means necessary indicators of a true disciple - see Acts 4:13; Rom. 8:36; 2 Cor. 4:8-11).
However, knowledge of the Lord and a relationship with Him are the parents' true responsibility to their children. That is their ultimate educational goal, one which starts when the child is young and ends only at the dying breath of the parents (Prv. 4:3-5; cf. 1 Kgs. 2:1-3, 10).
Finally, there is one more thing intrinsically wrong with the view presented by Dave Ramsey...
False Assumptions on the Provision of Education
Perhaps he does address it in his book but just not in this snippet, although I highly doubt it since so many Americans take it for granted. But a legitimate question to ask concerning Christian ethics is, who should be providing for the education of children?
We have the clear teaching in Scripture that it is the ultimate responsibility of parents to ensure that their children are being discipled (Deut. 6:4-9; Eph. 6:4). While parents must certainly do this themselves, when they want their children to learn anything else (whether in trade, science, liberal arts, or advanced theological training), they are clearly at liberty to entrust their children's education to another - one who will teach these things in accordance with the Biblical model of education (Prv. 1:7) rather than contrary to it (Ps. 14:1).
However, when they want their children to learn more, how and by whom should that be provided?
Should the education of children (above and beyond what is the normal duty of all parents - discipling their children to love the Lord) be provided for by the parents themselves and/or private benefactors through voluntary grants and scholarships?
Or should the education of children (regardless of the values that are taught in relation to the Lord) be provided for by state-coerced funds (i.e. taxes)?
While we as individuals certainly have Christian liberty in how we provide for our children's education (assuming it is still taught within the confines of a Christian worldview), does the state have liberty to tax for the purpose of state-sponsored education?
Perhaps that is best left for another post (although I've argued in opposition to that idea here, and here).
To summarize though, God has set certain limits on government - namely to punish wrongdoers and protect the innocent. Paul summarizes this in Romans 13:1-7. For those responsibilities, and those alone, the government is given the power of the sword. Likewise, for them alone should the government be using that power to collect taxes.
Education does not fall within that realm.
While the "Christian liberty" argument might come up, it is important to realize the difference between jurisdiction. As stated before, Christian individuals are at liberty in how they provide for their children's education (assuming the education is still taught in the framework of a Christian worldview).
Yet government is not given "liberty". To the contrary, government leaders are not to depart from using the power of the sword either to the right or to the left (Deut. 17:20). They are to use the power of the sword for the very limited task for which God has assigned it. To do more so would be to violate the jurisdiction God Himself has assigned to government.
While Dave is very well respected as a Christian financial adviser, his article on advocating public (state-sponsored) education is predicated on several seriously flawed assumptions.
Among other things, his article assumes that safety, academics, and spiritual environment are all, at best, on an even par concerning their priority in the education of children. However, the Bible is clear that the priority and main duty of educating children, for which parents have ultimate responsibility and must have an active role, is discipleship to love the Lord God.
Dave's article assumes that when it comes to education for your children, regardless of whether you send your children to public or private schools, the goal is to give them the best education available (within a budget of course). While being financially responsible is absolutely important in a Christian worldview, it in no way negates our responsibility to educate our children in a way that is consistent with, first and foremost, discipling them.(4) While academics certainly has its place, teaching our children to love the Lord their God is much more important than academic prowess or material success ("winning in life" as Dave calls it).
Dave's article assumes that tax supported government schools (that is, state-sponsored schools paid for through coerced funds from private citizens) is a legitimate use of the government's power of the sword. Even if, like Dave, you live in the "Bible belt" where "most of the [public] teachers are Christians," this in no way legitimizes the power of the sword for tax-supported schools.
The Lord holds both parents responsible for their proper or improper raising of their children and governments responsible for their proper or improper use of the sword. Each, however, have their own proper sphere of influence; and we would be wise to keep them as God Himself has assigned.
(1) I don't know if Dave mentions homeschooling at all in his book, and if he does, what he says about it. So at this point, since all I have access to is a "snippet" I'll not mention it again.
(2) If you read the article, you will notice he starts on the assumption that what parents do in this order truly is the standard - rather than what God's Word has to say on the subject being the standard.
(3) Will unbelievers sometimes be more successful in the eyes of the world? Without doubt. But one need only read Psalm 73:1-28 to find out how important that is and what the Lord Himself defines as success.
(4) I realize for some (or maybe even many) families, there is no other option and your children have to be sent to public schools. It's the situation we find ourselves in because of the time in which we are living. However, while this is the case, we must be sure to understand that it is not the standard God has set in His Word; and through prayer, Scripture, and discipleship we ought to be doing what we can to change the current system, put education back in the hands of the parents, and limit the government's power to that which God has assigned it.
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