Above, photo by Bob King, Duluth News Tribune
July 2019 – By the time Nolan O’Hara entered pre-school, his parents, Tom and Denise, had spent some time exploring education options in their hometown of Duluth, Minnesota: public schools, private schools, and homeschooling. “My husband and I both grew up in public school, so Christian school was not something we had given much thought,” Denise told AFA Journal. “But when I visited a Christian school, the whole atmosphere was different.”
A subcategory of private schools, Christian schools are distinct from public schools generally in two ways: they are funded by parents paying tuition, and they openly embrace a Christian worldview grounded in biblical truths.
“The real deciding factor was the worldview,” Denise said. “I saw how everything pointed back to the Lord. The students were taught love of God, love of family, and love of country.”
Making the choice
Worldview is key for many families who choose Christian education, according to the Association of Christian Schools International. ACSI is a non-profit assisting over 3,000 private schools in the U.S. with stringent accreditation standards and teacher certification.
In the 2015-2016 school year, the National Center for Education Statistics reported 34,576 private schools across the U.S., labeling 13.5% Conservative Christian, 21.8% Nonsectarian, and 38.8% Catholic. Some 5.8 million students in the U.S. (10.2% of all elementary and secondary students) were enrolled in private schools.
A common misconception concerning private schools, including Christian schools, is that they exist primarily for the wealthy. However, a 2015 U.S. Census Bureau study found that of 9.6 million families whose income equals or exceeds $75,000 annually and who have school aged children, only 11% send their kids to private schools. In fact, the majority of high-income families (87%) have their kids enrolled in public schools.
For many parents, choosing Christian education means a lifestyle choice – smaller homes, older vehicles, and cutting back on luxuries like expensive vacations.
“The majority of our parents sacrifice to send their children,” Denise O’Hara said. “It has been a sacrifice to send our son to Lakeview, but it’s one I will never, ever regret.”
For John and Jill Broman, Christian education was a commitment – and not always an easy one. A former Olympic athlete and the first American ever to win the World Cup in ski jump, John realized all three of his children had potential to compete on a much larger scale than their Christian school could offer.
Staying the course
“Our kids were blessed with some athletic ability,” Jill explained modestly. When their daughter Anna showed promise in fast-pitch softball, they faced a dilemma. Their tiny Christian school had no softball team. They did not even have a field for practice.
“We had coaches and friends from other schools say, ‘You’re crazy to stay at Lakeview. She needs to be at a bigger school with more opportunities,’” Jill recalled. However, she and John felt strongly about Christian education. So, they created a team and even agreed to coach it.
While Anna excelled on the pitcher’s mound, her two younger brothers, Anders and Bjorn, were both earning a reputation on the basketball court. But Lakeview did not have a gym either. To accommodate, the school team practiced in rented facilities.
John admits it was a challenge: “One struggle I had as a dad was when the kids were pressured to go to a bigger school. It was hard. There was a pull, but one thing about Christian schools that was so helpful, it was nice to have other adults chime in with the same things we were teaching at home. Christian school comes alongside us as parents. It’s like a three-legged stool – the church, the parents, and the school. The church and the school are reinforcing what they are learning at home.”
Enjoying the outcome
Todd Benson, Head of Schools for Shiloh Christian School, North Dakota’s largest independent Christian school, agreed with John Broman’s analogy. With 600 students ranging from pre-school to 12th grade, part of Shiloh’s mission is being “an interdenominational Christian school partnering with families of faith to raise their children to know, love, and serve God.”
“There are good Christian people laboring in public schools as well,” Benson said, “but in Christian schools, there is a common point of reference. We work together with the families to establish in them a foundation based on Christian principles. It all comes together as a neat picture of how the body of Christ is supposed to work. It’s a great alternative for families of faith.”
Jill Broman recalled one friend’s comment that their children should be in public schools to be a light for Christ. Jill gently pointed out, “Yes, we are to be a light in the darkness, but we feel it’s hard for adults to be a light in this dark world, let alone young kids. It is so vital for them to get well grounded in the faith.”
Sometimes John did wish for more opportunities. He confessed, “We used to sit in the gym when they were quite young, and I would think it would be nice for them to have larger crowds to play for.”
An injury ended Anna’s athletic career early, but both sons were recruited to play basketball at South Carolina’s Winthrop University.
“They played Division I for four years,” Jill explained, “In 2017, their team ended up winning their conference, and they were both blessed to be starters. To have both our boys on the court – it was overwhelming for us as parents to see that.”
John added, “The boys both ended up going to NCAA March Madness and playing in front of 19,000 people. Hindsight is 20/20.”
Anna completed a four-year nursing degree in only three years, and both Broman brothers graduated with master’s degrees in May.
John Broman realizes the importance of investing in eternity. “Athletics is such a small thing,” he said. “There is so much more to life. Their faith – that’s for a lifetime.”
Considering the options
Until recent decades of government overreach into citizens’ private affairs, it was common wisdom that educating children is the responsibility of their parents. Whether opting for homeschool, secular private schools, government schools, or parochial schools, the parental role is a reflection of scriptural admonitions. Public schools were considered a locally controlled aid in the process.
One of the most familiar relevant biblical teachings is, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6, NKJV). Other verses in Proverbs echo that teaching.
Deuteronomy also includes numerous instructions to God’s people to remember the truths of their history as a people and “teach them to your children and your grandchildren” (Deuteronomy 5:9, NKJV).
A recent Barna poll reveals that Protestant leaders (98%) and Catholic clergy (96%) rank parents among the strongest influences of faith development and formation in children, right alongside the church.
Conversely, respondents ranked schools as negative influences on children spiritually (65% Protestant, 50% Catholic), closely followed by friends/peers (61% Protestant, 65% Catholic).
The dilemma for today’s parents is how to achieve both the desired spiritual growth and academic accomplishment of their students. With public schools often advocating far-left moral values, e.g. abortion and LGBTQ special rights, the challenges can be overwhelming.
Learn more about Christian schools with local research, at acsi.org, or call 800-367-5391.