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Choosing a School, Part 2

In my last article I offered advice on evaluating your own expectations in order to make a reasonable decision regarding the best school for your child. But there are far more important considerations to address than a school’s dress code, or the kind of music they sing in chapel. You don’t really need for me to spell them out for you–you already know what the important things are; still, it never hurts to have a friendly reminder, so here goes!

Important questions to ask before enrolling your child in any school:

1. How does the school view the Word of God? If you’re a Christian, this question is of the utmost importance. Regardless of which school you choose for your child, it’s really important to know their approach to Scripture, especially if the school has the word “Christian” in its name. The reason? At a secular or public school, you expect there to be a certain degree of hostility to the Bible–you know it up front, and can explain this to your child and develop strategies for dealing with it. You aren’t shocked or disappointed by un-Christian words and attitudes, because you didn’t expect much in the first place. Not so with a “Christian” school; as a mother, when choosing a Christian school for my children, I looked for a place where everyone–administrators, faculty, and staff–all had a very high regard for Scripture, and made a heartfelt effort to live by it and teach it. Unfortunately this is not always the case.

2. Can Big Questions be asked? Are they being asked? Are secular viewpoints presented, fairly and seriously? When I say Big Questions, what I mean is the kinds of questions that may challenge our faith, the kinds that most of us have had from time to time, but may not quite have the answers to–questions about suffering, poverty, the appropriate attitude towards popular culture, or perhaps questions about the validity of scientific theories regarding how everything came into existence–are students encouraged to ask such questions, and are teachers prepared to answer thoughtfully and graciously, or even admit they don't have the answers?

3. Does the school have a fine arts requirement, and does this mean anything more than “self-expression?” While this may seem a minor consideration, the way beauty is defined and taught says a great deal about the school, and when you think of the degree to which young people immerse themselves in the music of the day, you can easily see the value of some kind of framework from which students can evaluate all forms of artistic expression.

4. What is required reading? Does it fall in the category of excellent literature (regardless of the age level), or is it silly or mindless? At many schools it doesn’t really matter what a student reads, just as long as reading is taking place; is this really the attitude we should embrace for our children? Conscientious parents would never regard food intake in the same way–“As long as they’re eating something, it really doesn’t matter what they eat!”–Can you imagine this attitude in today’s world of gluten-free, organic, soy-based, all natural, free-range, no-preservative food? This would never fly, so why would we have a less discerning mindset regarding food for the soul?

5. Are various denominational perspectives treated with respect? Or are students criticized or questioned based on the various perspectives held by their parents and church? Will a teacher suggest a child is not “saved” because of the way he/she was baptized, or came to faith? Even if a particular denominational perspective is emphasized, either by the school or by a teacher, differing denominational perspectives should be treated with respect.

6. What are students producing? Read an essay by an upper-level student–do you like it? Does it show critical thought, or any sophistication of ideas whatsoever? This is not a skill your child can stumble into, or should expect to learn at some time later in life. It reflects not only the proper use of grammar and spelling, or good sentence structure, but an understanding of ideas and how to connect them. The process of writing develops mature thinking, and should be a major component of any education.

The education of a child is not a hit-or-miss proposition (or at least it shouldn’t be), so make sure your approach is not hit-or-miss. Take the time to thoughtfully and prayerfully consider the answers to these questions, and any others that might come up, before signing the contract. If you’re careful in the process leading up to enrollment, you’ll be able to wholeheartedly support the school, more able to encourage your child, and ultimately get the most for your educational buck.

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