The Real World

I have one other issue with the column I addressed yesterday by Joy Pullman on the topic of online education. At the conclusion of the column Pullman quotes Angelika Weiss, the pastor’s wife and homeschooling mother of four from southern Minnesota who provided most of the material for Pullman’s column, saying this: “With online education, there is so much time not wasted in the classroom. My son can be out in the community volunteering or working. Let’s face it: The inside of a classroom isn’t the real world.”

That’s true, Mrs. Weiss, the inside of a classroom is not the real world. But then neither is the inside of a church. Should we all skip church on Sunday morning so we can spend more time working or maybe volunteering in the community? After all, we can read the Bible on our own, listen to Christian radio and watch or listen to sermons from respected pastors on our computers, so why go to church? Going somewhere where everyone either professes to be a Christian or to be open to the gospel, where we sit in classrooms to study the Bible together and in pews or padded chairs to sing hymns and praise songs before listening to someone teach the Bible…none of those things are anything like “the real world.” Given that Mrs. Weiss’s husband is a pastor, though, I suspect it would be safe to assume that neither she nor her husband would agree that we should all skip church in order to avoid “wasted time.”

Now I can already hear Mrs. Weiss and others responding with utter shock that I would suggest such a thing. “That’s not the same,” I can hear. Really? And why not, may I ask? Why do we go to church anyway? I mean sure, the Bible says we should not forsake the assembling of ourselves together but why not? What do we get by going to church with fellow believers that we cannot get by staying at home and tapping into the multitude of resources available online, on TV, on radio and in print? We get interaction with other human beings. We get the accountability. We get the fellowship. We get to talk and question and wrestle with how to deal with “the real world” when we leave the church. With all due respect to my pastor and yours, I could find “better sermons” from “better preachers” than I am going to get when I go to church (and the people who sit and listen to me when I preach surely could!) but that does not mean I should skip church.

Sitting in a classroom may not be “the real world,” but it does prepare students for the real world. As with church, the experience of being in a school with other students–and teachers–provides a much richer educational opportunity than does sitting in front of a computer screen and interacting through typed text. That kind of interaction has its place, don’t get me wrong–and the opportunity to interact with people from around the country and around the world makes that kind of interaction very valuable as an element of a well rounded education. But I would suggest to Mrs. Weiss and to anyone else who laments the “wasted time” in school classrooms that–at least in a good school with effective teachers–there is not really much time that is truly wasted…and even that which might be is probably far better than the multitude of other ways students waste time every day.

Undermining Beliefs

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.