FIRST-PERSON: Teaching our children

DALLAS (BP)--Training our children is one of our most important tasks. The lives we impact through our ministries and careers are a legacy of those who taught us; the impact of our children's lives will be part of our own legacy.

Our duty in this area is a whole. It is not limited to the lessons stereotypically associated with our homes. Forming a child's character is usually the focus of Christian messages on the subject, and this is important. It is part, not the whole of what we must teach our kids. All the things our children need to know are our responsibility, whether we teach them or someone designated by us does the work. We will answer for our stewardship over our children's education.

Well-known passages in Deuteronomy 4 and 6 and Proverbs 22 highlight our duty to teach our children the ways of the Lord. Tammi and I have always considered this to include walking and talking and discernment and reading as well as spiritual growth. The words "teach" in Deuteronomy and "train" in Proverbs render two different words in Hebrew. The first describes the impartation of knowledge, in this context the ways of the Lord. The second calls us to show and demonstrate what our kids should be. In both words, parents superintend the work. The ways of the Lord can rightly describe an endless variety of true things. Our curriculum is thus enormously broad.

Look at it another way. Our children depend on us for critical knowledge starting well before we hear our first barrage of "whys." Almost all of what they know and know how to do comes directly from us for their first few years. It should not be a given that at age 6 or 7 we send our children to learn from others and assume that things will turn out right. Neither common sense nor Scripture give us sound reasons to expect that will happen without our close involvement.

Make a knowledgeable choice, one that takes into account the unique nature of each child. The use of the singular "child" in Proverbs 22 ("train up a child...") implies that you train each one in the way he should go, not adopt some cookie cutter solution.

When Tammi and I started homeschooling, we had friends and family members who would often ask how long we planned to teach our children at home. They asked hopefully as if we might have repented of our choice. Our answer was honest and probably disconcerting. "This year, we've not decided what's best for next year yet." That has been our process from the beginning. At one time we had one child in private school, one in home school and one in public school. Three appropriate solutions for three different people. At one point or another, each of our kids has tasted of each option. Understand that the choice you make, whether you make it by default or intentionally, is one you will be held accountable for. The outcome and the process must be of interest to parents.

For more than a decade, homeschooling was our method of preference. We weren't mad at anyone but believed the attention we could give our kids would allow them to flourish according to the gifts God had given them. Our experience tells us that the outcome more than justified the sacrifices we made in that work. Friends have had great experiences in private and public schools. The academic performance of some of these kids has compared well with that of our children -- way above the norm. This is primarily because of the part, the primary part that each set of parents has played in educating their kids, not because of the method chosen or the inherent intelligence of the children.

Maybe this is the secret we've sought for years in the face of poor performance by our nation's students. If I hear public school teachers cry out for one thing most consistently, it is parents who care about the education of their children enough to get involved. They don't usually ask for the things we give them instead, not more pay or smaller classes or more extensive bureaucracy above them or more guidance counselors or computers in each classroom.

If this is the answer, our churches have something our nation's families need. We must equip and encourage our families to do their spiritual duty. Churches must assist single-parent homes to do alone work that is more than enough for two. Public school teachers must be encouraged in their work and trained to incorporate their faith into what they teach and how they relate to children and parents. It is difficult and vital work they do. Christian public school teachers are the true missionaries in our government institutions, not our children.

Christian schools, if we start them, must be different and not just separate. Spiritual discernment and maturity should be a more basic qualification for Christian school teachers than an education degree. Our Christian schools must be something more than a poorly equipped public school plus a chapel hour. The university model is a good and effective model. We chose our current home partly to be close to such a school. Nothing this side of homeschooling has invited and required parental involvement to the degree we've seen in the university model.

What many describe as the fragmentation of the family challenges our efforts to lead the process of our children's maturity in all areas. Parents have too many opportunities that war with their first human duty. Children have too many opportunities to be raised by those mostly unknown to their parents. We make choices; mostly we should say "no" to good things that conflict with better things. We have a charge from our God and a heavy responsibility. If we expend ourselves and miss out on some things in doing that duty, it's one sign we're doing it right. The job requires it. As a 20-year veteran, I also say it's worth it.

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Ledbetter, editor of the Southern Baptist Texan, and his wife, Tammi, reside in Dallas. The Texan is the newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

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