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The Christian One-Room Schoolhouse: A Superior Alternative to Government Schools

By Dr. Bruce Shortt

"The education of children for God is the most important business done on earth. It is the one business for which the earth exists. To it all politics, all war, all literature, all money-making, ought to be subordinated; and every parent especially ought to feel every hour of the day, that, next to making his own calling and election sure, this is the end for which he is kept alive by God this is his task on earth." Robert Louis Dabney

From the establishment of the first American colonies until well into the 19th century, education in America was overwhelmingly Christian and primarily provided through a collaboration between parents and churches. In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville observed that education in America was almost everywhere in the hands of Protestant clergy.

Today, our government school habit is the single greatest threat to the future of Christianity in America. Between 80% and 90% of the children in Christian families attend government schools, and of those children roughly 70% will no longer attend church within two years after graduation from high school. Moreover, children who attend government schools are far more likely to embrace moral relativism and adopt a non-Christian worldview. Christians need to understand that, whatever else they may be, government schools are evangelistic institutions for secularism and various forms of New Age theologies.

Christian parents and churches are becoming increasingly aware of the harm inflicted on children by government schooling. Paradoxically, many Christian parents would like to remove their children from government schools, but don't. Similarly, many churches would like to offer an alternative to government schools, but don't. Why?

The "Box"

Despite their misgivings, many Christian parents leave their children in government schools because the available Christian schools are prohibitively costly or because there is no Christian school in their area. Others do not homeschool because they lack confidence in their ability to homeschool, because both parents work, or because there is only one parent in the family.

Churches, on the other hand, and particularly small to medium sized churches, are reluctant to provide educational alternatives to government schools because of the capital commitments, operating expenses, and marketing and management effort required. Against this background, the reluctance of most churches to provide schools for their members' children and children in the community is not only understandable, it is entirely rational. But what if education and the dominant model of schooling are not inextricably linked?

Climbing out of the "Box"

Unnoticed assumptions tend to govern our behavior in exceptionally powerful ways; they derive their power from the very fact that we are unconscious of them. With respect to education, one of the most pernicious unnoticed assumptions is the ingrained belief that the education of children takes place primarily in a school and that a proper school looks and operates like a government school. Consequently, when Christians set out to create a Christian school, they reflexively believe that they need to create an institution that has traditional classes, a faculty, administrators, counselors, special facilities, and a host of other things that are features of government schools as they exist today.

These assumptions about schools and education are the primary reason most churches do not provide schools. Why? Because this conception of schooling and education carries with it heavy fixed costs, a burdensome administrative apparatus, and a requirement for significant scale to spread fixed costs. These characteristics of our assumed model of education and schools make launching a school a very risky undertaking for a church, particularly in light of the fact that every private school must make its way in the face of competition from government schools that are tuition free.

The Christian One Room Schoolhouse is an alternative schooling method that provides churches and parents a way to climb out of the "box" by enabling any church to create a spiritually, morally, and academically superior alternative to government schools. At the same time, the Christian One Room Schoolhouse is inexpensive for parents, addresses the need of some parents for supervision of their children during weekdays, and does not impose on churches the heavy fixed costs and other burdens that normally accompany creating and operating a conventional Christian school.

What Is the Christian One Room Schoolhouse?

The Christian One Room Schoolhouse is a hybrid that combines characteristics of homeschooling, homeschool cooperatives, and conventional Christian schools. Moreover, the Christian One Room Schoolhouse model can be used to turn virtually any church into a school. Perhaps the best way to describe the Christian One Room Schoolhouse is to say that it combines the flexibility and power of homeschooling with the institutional sponsorship of a church. In a Christian One Room Schoolhouse the students are homeschoolers and use a homeschool curriculum selected by the sponsoring church. During weekdays the Christian One Room Schoolhouse students meet at their sponsoring church under the supervision of one or more coaches provided through the church. While at church, older children spend most of their time working on assignments and projects from their lesson plans. Younger children spend most of their time in structured play or being read to. Once a child has completed his schoolwork, he
is free to play, read, pursue musical interests, or any other constructive activity agreed upon by his parents and the sponsoring church. In the evenings and on weekends parents work with their children to provide them with individualized instruction, review their progress, and set learning goals.

From the standpoint of parents and students, a Christian One Room Schoolhouse differs from a traditional Christian school in several ways. First, the Christian One Room Schoolhouse relies on the homeschooling educational model — a self-paced tutorial form of instruction in which parents and students share the responsibility for the students' education. Second, attending a Christian One Room Schoolhouse will be significantly less expensive than a conventional Christian school, perhaps costing as little as the homeschool curriculum. Finally, a Christian One Room Schoolhouse, like a traditional one room schoolhouse, will provide a more intimate learning environment in which children interact in small groups and are not strictly segregated by age.

From the perspective of a typical church, sponsoring a Christian One Room Schoolhouse has several advantages over attempting to create and maintain a conventional Christian school. Conventional Christian schools follow the institutional schooling model. Consequently, there is a substantial investment in bricks and mortar, students are segregated by age in classes, a teaching faculty must be hired and maintained, certain levels of enrollment must be maintained to spread fixed costs, and a significant administrative apparatus is required to manage the plant, employees, finances, and student recruiting efforts of the school. For a church, this represents substantial time and energy, high level of fixed cost, and both financial and institutional risk. Most churches in the United States are relatively small and either do not have the resources to establish and maintain a traditional Christian school or are unwilling to assume the risk of such a project.

Unlike a traditional Christian school, a Christian One Room Schoolhouse has few fixed costs. There is no faculty, no additional bricks and mortar, and very few administrative costs. The lack of burdensome fixed costs permits a Christian One Room Schoolhouse to be small. In fact, each Christian One Room Schoolhouse should probably not exceed twenty-five to thirty students. Because a Christian One Room Schoolhouse's costs are primarily variable costs (expenses that vary with the number of students), it can function quite well with only a few students.

How to Create a Christian One Room Schoolhouse

Parents and a sponsoring church create a Christian One Room Schoolhouse. The sponsoring church provides the space for the Christian One Room Schoolhouse (typically in its Sunday school facilities), at least one television and VCR, at least one Pentium type computer, a computer printer, a dial-up Internet connection, and one or more coaches. The items of hardware do not need to be
either new or the latest models. Often members of congregations have items like these that can be donated, so under almost any scenario the cost of the hardware items should be less than $1,000. Additional non-capital costs would include supplemental insurance, modestly increased utility expenses, and additional dial-up Internet connection expenses. Given the small size of a Christian One Room Schoolhouse, these expenses should not be large.

The Christian One Room Schoolhouse coach or coaches can be drawn from members of the church and their participation would be a ministry, not a job. Parents would be responsible for the cost of the homeschool curriculum, transportation to and from the Christian One Room Schoolhouse, nutritious sack lunches, and school supplies. In addition, each parent would be expected to provide some agreed upon service to the Christian One Room Schoolhouse (e.g., coaching in an area of special expertise, maintenance work, etc.) and form or join a homeschool support group related to the Christian One Room Schoolhouse.

Whether a church fully absorbs the small capital costs and additional operating expenses incurred by sponsoring a Christian One Room Schoolhouse, whether financial assistance is provided to very low income students, and other details of the structure and functioning of any particular Christian One Room Schoolhouse are questions for the sponsoring church and parents.

What Is the Role of a Coach?

Coaches in a Christian One Room Schoolhouse primarily do two things. First, they assist with keeping the students safe and on task. With respect to the youngest students, a coach primarily engages in structured play with the children, reads aloud to them, and organizes and supervises other learning activities. With respect to older students, a coach monitors group activities and, if able, fields some questions relating to subject matter. It is not expected, however, that a coach functions as a teacher in a conventional sense with respect to older students, except in instances where a parent or a member of a homeschool support group with a special expertise serves as an academic coach (e.g., as when a parent who is fluent in Spanish provides instruction and conversational practice in Spanish).

What about Extracurricular Activities?

Like homeschool students generally, Christian One Room Schoolhouse students are able to participate in homeschool choirs, orchestras, sports leagues, debate teams, and other activities sponsored by local home-school support groups, churches, and other organizations.

The Superior Alternative to Government Schools

The Christian One Room Schoolhouse permits any church to sponsor an educational alternative to government schools that: (a) is affordable for nearly all families, (b) does not unduly burden the church, (c) allows the integration of Christianity and a superior academic education, (d) accommodates many levels of ability, and (e) draws parents, students, and the church closer together through a common educational enterprise. Unlike other alternatives to government schools, the Christian One Room Schoolhouse is not limited by geography or by considerations of the economics of scale. By being a low cost
alternative, more parents will find a Christian One Room Schoolhouse economically within their means than a conventional Christian school. To the extent that families cannot afford the full cost of a Christian One Room Schoolhouse, the low cost of a Christian One Room Schoolhouse makes it far easier for sponsoring churches and other organizations to provide meaningful scholarship aid. Because a Christian One Room Schoolhouse is independent of the government and does not require special facilities, a Christian One Room Schoolhouse can become operational in very little time.

Despite their benign image, government schools are destroying our children spiritually, morally, and academically. This is happening precisely because we have been neglecting our duty as Christians to ensure that our children receive a Christian education. Although the Christian One Room Schoolhouse is far from the only alternative to government schooling, it can be an important option for rescuing children from the spiritual, moral, and academic wastelands of government schools. Allowing our children to be educated in government schools is gross sin. A fresh obedience to God is required; we must begin turning our hearts toward our children.

Bruce Shortt is a homeschooling father of three sons who practices law in Houston, Texas.

Instead of excuses, pastors should get ‘er done like this pastor:

Christian school dream of Pastor Everett Palmer
“The Lord had laid it upon my heart that we needed a school here,”… So he went to the members of his church, a congregation of around 30. “They were scared, but we went for it,”… And last year, the Worthington Christian School was founded. They operate out of the basement of the church. The first year, they had nine students. This year, the school has grown to 16 students. The Palmers’ three children are among the students there. Only two of the students are members of the congregation…“We’re all volunteers here. This is not a business,” Palmer said. “The little tuition we charge, we try to keep the lights on.”… At its current location in the church basement, the teachers and students have to pack up the school and move all of the desks twice a week to make room for church activities.

(Highest = Level One)

Level One
Preaching and teaching the need to exit government schools.

Operating a school or home school co-op.

Willing to help other churches start a school or homeschool co-op.

Level Two
Preaching and teaching the need to exitgovernment schools.

Operating a school or home school co-op.

Level Three
Preaching and teaching the need to exit government schools.

Willing to start a school or co-op as the Lord provides.

Assisting another local Christian school or home schoolfamilies with financial donations or other assistance.

Level Four
Preaching and teaching the need to exit government schools.

Willing to start a school or co-op as the Lord provides.

Also see: Apprentices to learn to operate successful Christian schools, Why Christian Education Is Important and Can You Spare Some Change?.

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