They are better served at home or on religious campuses

( [email protected] ) Jun 15, 2004 03:03 PM EDT

My response grows out of a deep appreciation for the heritage that has produced the freedoms and abundance we enjoy in America.

Yes, children and children from Christian homes, can be better served by home–schooling or a Christian school if the public school or private schools or religious school follows a non–Christian worldview philosophy, diminishes the parent's role or degrades God's role in creation and daily living.

Nashville is blessed with a number of exceptional Christian and public schools. School choice should be deliberate, not simply reactive.

Educators struggle with how to lead children to become productive, honest and capable adults. Christian schools seek to lead individuals to act on spiritual rather than material values, apply high personal standards, respect and love others, and build better communities. Obviously, education in any school doesn't prevent a person from making bad life decisions.

Traditional family values are replaced in many classrooms when teachings embrace new morality systems and safe–sex classes. Christian teachings are categorically avoided as a violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

Charles Haynes at the First Amendment Center recently stated, ''A few administrators may continue to wrongly apply the establishment clause of the First Amendment to public school students. But most administrators now know better.'' This is true related to student expressions, prayers and religious clubs.

However, a biblical worldview education cannot happen in public schools. Character education — teaching right from wrong — is taught in many schools then balanced with a secular philosophy.

An example: Values clarification teaching leads children through sets of values questions, reducing the voice of parents to one of many. Proponents argued that children brought up by moralizing adults are not prepared to make responsible choices. Their goal is not to create a virtuous adult with character, but to empower children to make their own decisions.

Children, frequently, do not understand biblical teachings well enough to recognize the non–Christian values or truths embedded in their studies. They, however, do have a huge reserve of values embedded in their minds and hearts by contemporary culture, television, entertainment and music that influence who they are and will become.

Parents face challenges of ensuring a complete education for their children. Our world changes rapidly, is complex, and values shift. Parents need help in teaching their children. That help comes from various sources, however, the ultimate responsibility remains with the parents.

Often parents delegate the critical educational experience to public or private school systems without being involved. They must take time to understand the full implications of the school's philosophy and activity.

Home-schooling offers the strongest parent involvement. Home-schooling demonstrates the value and effectiveness of parental involvement — one–to–one as opposed to one–to–20. Home school students perform very well in scholastic events and on achievement test.

Most Christians understand that God assigned parents the responsibility for educating their children. Psalm 127:3 speaks of children as being a ''gift'' and ''reward'' to parents: ''Behold, children are a gift of the Lord. The fruit of the womb is a reward.'' Their development is a God-given trust. Deuteronomy 6:4–7 instructs, ''You shall teach them diligently to your sons.''

Many Christian schools unite home, church and school to provide a complete education. Parents are involved in activities and administration. Parents can hold the school accountable through their tuition payments. Teachers are free to teach the Bible. Students perform school-sanctioned community service projects. Teachers and administrators are selected based on character and qualification.

Christian school families financially support public schools. The public schools system in Nashville does not have resources to absorb all students attending non–public schools. If they did, taxpayers would have to pick up the cost — $9,000+ per student. Still, Christian school families pay taxes that support public education along with their cost of Christian education.

Whatever school decision a parent makes, remember public, private and Christian schools vary substantially. Parents need to learn the school's philosophy, the quality of the staff, and signs of a healthy student body.

Should all Christian families abandon public schools? No, to do so would create another class of victims.

Should Christian churches establish Christian schools? Yes, when ready to organize to provide access to excellent scholarship and biblical worldview education for all children.

John R. Chandler of Nashville is the retired executive director of the Southern Baptist Association of Christian Schools.