Debating Between ‘Public’ and ‘Private’ Education? Consider This First.

Shanxi Omoniyi | February 25, 2023

(The Lion) — Before Christian parents of school-aged children decide between Christian or public education, it’s essential to first settle the purpose of education, advises a Bible scholar and teacher.

“Education is not primarily about learning skills, job skills, or even learning self-expression or something like that,” said Dr. Jonathan Pennington, who recently debated the topic with Bible teacher and author Jen Wilkin on The Gospel Coalition.

“The point of education is very clear. It’s development of virtue, and the development of virtue is good for you and good for others as well.”

U.S. public education embraced this concept of education until the 20th century when the focus shifted primarily to cultivating job skills and self-expression, Pennington says.

“That kind of mindset [of self-expression] is rampant and really dominates education at every level now,” he said. “Add to that the difficulties of many moral issues that Christians face, and it really puts Christian parents in a huge dilemma.”

‘Paideia’ and education’s primary goal

Pennington, a professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky and father of six, links the goal of education to “paideia,” a Greek term without a clear English equivalent.

“Paideia, which comes from a Greek word relating to children, is used ubiquitously in Greek literature to refer to bringing children from childhood to mature adult life through education,” he wrote in a 2014 article, “Christ the Educator.”

It also involves learning to choose whatever is true, good, and beautiful, Pennington explained in the debate.

“The way to create people that flourish is the need to take people from childishness to maturity, or to wholeness through intentionally developing them to love what is true and good and beautiful,” he said. “And not just to know what is true and good and beautiful, but actually love it, because our emotions and our affections drive actually everything we do.”

While Wilkin, who made a case for public education, and Pennington disputed each other’s viewpoints in several areas, both agreed Christian parents can underestimate the importance of the home and family in their children’s upbringing.

“If you’re thinking, ‘Well, I’m going to outsource their education and their Christian formation,’ that’s a recipe for disaster,” Wilkin warned parents.

Enrollment in public education has dropped by more than 1.2 million students since the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of the students leaving public schools have since enrolled in homeschooling or private schools.

Meanwhile, an increasing number of parents show strong support for school choice initiatives which, in many cases, would make state funds available to their children for use in public school alternatives. More than six out of every 10 voters who have children under 18 would consider attending a school outside their local districts, according to a State Policy Network poll.