A couple of months ago I read a brief news column in WORLD Magazine by Joy Pullman about the variety of online educational opportunities available today, and how homeschooling families are utilizing these opportunities to provide classes for their children that either they are not qualified or capable of teaching or their local public schools do not offer, classes like logic, Latin and church history. I should state here and now that I am a huge proponent of teaching Latin and logic, so I have no qualms at all with this idea. I also agree that there are an abundance of educational opportunities made available through the Internet that would have been unthinkable not all that long ago, and I support families utilizing whatever options they believe will best meet the needs of their children and will be consistent with their worldview.
That said, Pullman includes a few things in her column with which I take issue. Pullman includes several quotes from Angelika Weiss, a pastor’s wife from southern Minnesota who utilizes online courses for at least one of her four homeschooled children. First, Pullman quotes Weiss’s assessment that “online high school is a lot cheaper than private school.” That is true, and it is no wonder. An online class does not require classroom space or the costs associated with heating/cooling and lighting the classrooms, the cost of insurance, and the various other expenses involved in operating a “real school” within four walls (not least of which is the cost of teachers). Furthermore, online schools are able to enroll students from all over the country or the world, providing a much larger potential student body–which can both decrease expenses per student and maximize possible profit. Too, online schooling offers a lot of flexibility that cannot be found in a formal classroom setting.
Pullman also writes, though, that “many Christian families are also choosing tax-sponsored online education because it costs less than private schools without undermining their beliefs.” Maybe…but probably not. Not to the expense aspect–of course online schooling will cost less than private schools. After all, private schools do not accept government funding, meaning the full cost of operating the school must come from “paying customers” and any donations and grants received. Interestingly, though, private schools do cost less than public schools in most instances when you look at the cost-per-student. Since the private schools do not get government funding, however, the cost must be paid by the family of the student, and anything is more expensive than the “free” education in public schools.
No, my concern is with the statement that the online education does not undermine their beliefs. That depends on their beliefs, of course, and on which online school they utilize (there are a number of Christian ones), but given that Pullman is talking about “tax-sponsored online education” that does not seem to be the case here. Rather, Pullman is referring to public schooling offered online instead of in the local school. I have to respectfully challenge Mrs. Weiss and others who think this option does not undermine their beliefs. How does it not? There is no such thing as a neutral education; all instruction is informed and shaped by the worldview of the educator and the educational institution. If Mrs. Weiss would not send her children to the local public school, why does she feel it is okay to invite the local public school into her house through her computer? If her argument is solely the availability of courses not offered at the local school, fine; but she is deceiving herself if she thinks that by using the online public school instead of the brick-and-mortar public school that she is not undermining her beliefs.
Another important issue, of course, is the fact that the more people who utilize anything the more of it is going to be available. In other words, by utilizing the “free” (tax-sponsored) online schools instead of the Christian online schools requiring tuition payments or the local Christian schools requiring tuition payments Mrs. Weiss and others are contributing to the expansion of the former and the decline of the latter. If every Christian who claims to want to avoid having their children influenced by the worldview of the public education system in the United States would commit to an online Christian school option or a local Christian school the cost would become manageable and the Christian schools would flourish.
I am not suggesting, by the way, that all Christians are required by God to send their children to Christian schools. I believe that is a decision that must be made after prayerful consideration by the family, after seeking the Lord’s will for their children. My point is simply this: just as James says that someone who claims to be religious and does not bridle his own tongue is deceiving himself (James 1:26), so any parent who thinks that by utilizing the tax-funded online school is avoiding the influences of the tax-sponsored local public school is equally deceived.