Does the School Environment Really Matter?

If we want our children to have a moral foundation, we have to acknowledge that the environment in which they are educated academically has a significant effect on who they become.

I am regularly asked why my children attend a Christian school. Due to my profession, I can easily begin listing all of the vast concerns with the public school system. My experience and expertise with these populations in the Roanoke Valley over the past twenty years have made me intimately aware of each and every school in this region. There are some fabulous folks in the public schools, but the significant moral decay in the last ten years alone is enough to shock most parents.

The vast majority of teachers I have and continue to work with are overwhelmed. Contrary to what is regularly publicized, the only time I hear complaints related to pay is when a teacher comments that he or she is not paid enough given the environment in which they teach. But that is not why my kids are in a Christian school. It is not because of something from which we are running; rather it is because of what we are running toward. In the 25th chapter of the book of Matthew, we get a great parable of the return of Christ known familiarly as “The Sheep and the Goats.” In the parable, Christ separated us like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. Christ spoke first to the sheep about all of the wonderful types of service they provided Him: clothing Him when He was naked, feeding Him when He was hungry, and on and on. For this, they were rewarded and called to Him. Then Christ addressed the goats. He pointed out that they did not do these same things. They did not clothe the naked or feed the hungry. For this, He sent them away.

While I have often heard this parable used to illustrate our role of reaching out to others in His kingdom and meeting even the most basic needs of those around us, there is a bigger message. Both the sheep and the goats were surprised at what Christ told them. The sheep responded, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?” The goats responded, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?” The surprise of both groups demonstrated that neither was behaving with a specific purpose in mind; they were both acting out of what was ingrained in them: they were acting out of who they had become. The sheep had become people who sought the heart of Christ; the goats had not.

This passage, I believe, is the conclusion to the first instructions given by God to parents in Deuteronomy 6. Here we are told to impress upon the hearts of our children the commandments of God. “Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6: 7-9). I especially like the imagery of the last line – children should see God’s truth coming and going. When we as parents impress these things upon our children’s hearts, these truths become ingrained into our children. They become part of our children’s very natures; our children become sheep who seek the heart of Christ.

The decision of where our children go to school is truly a parenting issue. Our children, between the ages of six and eighteen, spend two-thirds of their lives, the overwhelming majority of their waking hours, in school and school-related activities. If we are going to weave the truth of God into our children’s lives, then we cannot ignore the environment in which much of their youth and young adult lives take place. If we want our children to have a moral foundation that goes well beyond memorizing character qualities we have to acknowledge that the environment in which they are educated academically has a significant effect on who they become.

School is not a time when we are to hope that our children will navigate a healthy path and steer clear of unhealthy things. It is a time when things will be “impressed” upon them. What they grow up and develop in, they will seek in life.

It is a great benefit that my children’s Christian school is an academic leader in the region, but the academic prowess of our children is rarely an indicator of their lives in twenty years, just like their present athletic ability. As I have come to know their Christian school community over the years that our children have been attending, I see wonderful teachers, administrators, staff, and coaches interested in the development in my child beyond just academics. What is impressed upon my children is to learn who they are and how they can use their gifts to be of service to others in a God-honoring way. That is why my children attend a Christian school.

By Keith McCurdy – Licensed Professional Counselor, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, President & CEO: Total Life Counseling, Inc


This article originally appeared in The RENEWANATION Review, Volume 5 Issue 1. If you would like to become a member and receive a print edition of the magazine, please click here. If you would like to learn about other ways you can get involved, please click here.