Should Your Child Go to a Boarding School?
IMAGINE that you live in a small town in a developing country. You have several children in primary school, but at the age of 12, they will progress to secondary school. In your area, secondary schools are overcrowded, ill-equipped, and poorly staffed. Strikes sometimes close the schools for weeks and months at a time.
Someone hands you a glossy brochure that describes a boarding school in the city. You see pictures of happy, smartly dressed students, studying in well-equipped classrooms, laboratories, and libraries. The students peer into computers and relax in clean, attractive dormitory rooms. You read that one of the aims of the school is to help pupils “achieve the highest academic standard of which they are capable.” You further read: “All pupils are required to abide by a code of behaviour similar to that normally expected within a family where emphasis is given to courtesy, politeness, respect for parents and elders, co-operation, tolerance, kindness, honesty and integrity.”
A smiling young man is quoted as saying: “My parents gave me the privilege of a lifetime to attend the best school.” A girl says: “School is challenging and exciting. Here learning comes naturally.” Would you send your son or daughter to such a boarding school?
Education and Spirituality
All caring parents want to give their children a good start in life, and to that end a sound, balanced education is important. Often secular education opens doors to future employment opportunities and helps young people to develop into adults able to care for themselves and for their future families.
‘If a boarding school offers a good education along with some moral guidance, why not take advantage of it?’ you might ask. In answering that question, Christian parents should prayerfully consider a vitally important factor—the spiritual welfare of their children. Jesus Christ asked: “Really, of what benefit is it for a man to gain the whole world and to forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36) Of course, there is no benefit in this at all. Before deciding to send their children to a boarding school, therefore, Christian parents should consider the effect that this might have on their children’s prospects for everlasting life.
The Influence of Other Students
Certain boarding schools may have impressive academic standards. But what about the moral standards of those who attend or perhaps even of some operating such schools? Concerning the sort of people that would abound in these “last days,” the apostle Paul wrote: “In the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here. For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, self-assuming, haughty, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness, betrayers, headstrong, puffed up with pride, lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God, having a form of godly devotion but proving false to its power; and from these turn away.”—2 Timothy 3:1-5.
This moral and spiritual decline is global, presenting a challenge to Jehovah’s Witnesses in living by Bible principles. Students who come home every day find that even their limited association with worldly schoolmates can exert a powerful negative influence on their spirituality. Counteracting that influence can be quite a struggle for Witness children, even with daily support, counsel, and encouragement from their parents.
What, then, is the situation of children who are sent away from their homes to boarding schools? They are marooned, cut off from the regular spiritual support of loving parents. Since they live with their classmates 24 hours a day, pressure to conform to the crowd exerts a stronger influence on their young minds and hearts than it is likely to do on students who live at home. Said one student: “Morally, a boarder is living in danger from morning to night.”
Paul wrote: “Do not be misled. Bad associations spoil useful habits.” (1 Corinthians 15:33) Christian parents should not be misled into thinking that their children will suffer no spiritual harm if they are in constant association with those who do not serve God. Over a period of time, godly children can become desensitized to Christian values and can lose all appreciation for spiritual things. Sometimes this does not become evident to parents until after their children have left boarding school. Then it is often too late to correct matters.
The experience of Clement is typical. He relates: “Before going away to boarding school, I had a love for the truth and went out in field service with the brothers. I particularly enjoyed participating in our family Bible study and the Congregation Book Study. However, once I went into boarding school at the age of 14, I left the truth completely. Throughout the five years I spent in boarding school, I never attended meetings. As a result of bad company, I got involved with drugs, smoking, and heavy drinking.”
The Influence of Teachers
In any school there can be morally corrupt teachers who abuse their position of authority. Some are cruel and harsh, while others exploit their students sexually. In boarding schools the actions of such teachers are more likely to go unreported.
However, most teachers sincerely attempt to train children to become productive members of society, to fit into the world around them, to conform. But herein lies another problem for Witness children. The values of the world do not always coincide with Christian principles. While teachers encourage students to fit into this world, Jesus said that his followers would be “no part of the world.”—John 17:16.
What if problems arise when children are following Bible principles? If the children are attending a local school and are living at home, they can discuss such matters with their parents. In turn, the parents can guide their children and possibly speak to the teacher. As a result, problems and misunderstandings are usually resolved quickly.
In boarding schools it is a different matter. Such students are under the constant control of their teachers. If children take a stand for Christian principles, they must do so without the day-to-day support of their parents. At times, children manage to remain faithful to God under such circumstances. More often, however, they do not. A child is likely to bend to the will of a teacher.
Unlike universities, where students usually have the freedom to come and go as they please, boarding schools restrict the movement of children. Many of these schools do not allow pupils to leave the school compound except on Sunday, and some do not even permit that. An 11-year-old boarding-school student named Eru says: “The school authorities never allow us to go out to meetings, let alone in field service. Inside the school, there are services only for Catholics and Muslims. Every student must choose one of the two or face intense antagonism from both teachers and students. Students are also forced to sing the national anthem and church hymns.”
When parents enroll their children in such a school, what message are they sending to their youngsters? The message could well be that secular education is more important than gathering for worship and sharing in the disciple-making work—even more important than integrity to God.—Matthew 24:14; 28:19, 20; 2 Corinthians 6:14-18; Hebrews 10:24, 25.
In some boarding schools, Witness students manage to study the Bible together, but even this is often difficult. A youth named Blessing, who is 16, says this about the boarding school she attends: “Every day the so-called Christians come out to pray. We Witnesses try pleading with them so that we can have our study, but the seniors tell us that our organization is not recognized. Then they try to force us to pray with them. If we refuse, they punish us. Appealing to teachers makes matters worse. They call us all sorts of names and tell the senior students to punish us.”
Standing Out as Different
When boarding-school students are clearly known as Jehovah’s Witnesses, this can work to their advantage. School authorities may excuse them from participation in compulsory false religious activities, which run counter to the Witnesses’ faith. Fellow students may refrain from trying to involve them in unwholesome activities and conversations. Doors may open to witness to fellow students and teachers. Furthermore, those who live by Christian principles are not likely to be suspected of gross wrongdoing, and they sometimes win the respect of teachers and fellow students.
However, things do not always work out that way. Standing out as different often makes a young person an object of persecution and ridicule from students and teachers alike. Yinka, a 15-year-old boy who attends a boarding school, says: “At school, if you are known as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, you become a target. Since they know our spiritual and moral stand, they set traps to catch us.”
No teacher, school, or college can rightly try to take on the work of molding children into dedicated servants of Jehovah. That is neither their job nor their responsibility. God’s Word directs that parents themselves are to care for the spiritual needs of their children. Paul wrote: “You, fathers, do not be irritating your children, but go on bringing them up in the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah.” (Ephesians 6:4) How can parents apply this divine counsel if their children are away in a boarding school where visiting may be restricted to once or twice a month?
Circumstances vary greatly, but Christian parents strive to act in harmony with this inspired statement: “Certainly if anyone does not provide for those who are his own, and especially for those who are members of his household, he has disowned the faith and is worse than a person without faith.”—1 Timothy 5:8.
Are There Alternatives?
What might parents do if they seem to have only two choices—boarding school or a poorly equipped local school? Some who have found themselves in this situation arrange for private lessons to supplement their children’s education at a local school. Other parents set aside time to tutor their children themselves.
Sometimes parents avoid problems by planning well in advance of the time when their children are old enough to enter secondary school. If you have young children or are planning to raise a family, you might check to see if there is an adequate secondary school in your area. If there is not, it may be possible to move closer to one.
As parents well know, it requires skill, patience, and much time to instill in a child a love for Jehovah. If this is difficult when a child is living at home, how much harder it is if the child is living far away! Since the everlasting life of a child is involved, parents must seriously and prayerfully decide whether handing their youngster over to a boarding school is worth the risk. How shortsighted it would be to sacrifice a child’s spiritual interests for the benefits of a boarding-school education! This would be like dashing into a burning house to rescue a trinket—only to be consumed by the flames.
God’s Word says: “Shrewd is the one that has seen the calamity and proceeds to conceal himself, but the inexperienced have passed along and must suffer the penalty.” (Proverbs 22:3) Better it is to prevent a bad situation than to correct one later. It would be wise to think of that if you ask yourself, ‘Should my child go to a boarding school?’
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Young Witnesses Reflect on Boarding School
“At boarding school, Witness children are cut off from spiritual association. It is a very hostile environment with great pressure to do wrong.”—Rotimi, who attended boarding school between the ages of 11 and 14.
“Attending Christian meetings was exceptionally difficult. I could attend only on Sunday, and to do that, I had to sneak off while the students queued up for church. I was never happy, for back home I had got used to attending all the congregation meetings, and I went out in the field ministry on Saturdays and Sundays. School wasn’t an upbuilding experience. I missed a lot.”—Esther, who was routinely caned by teachers because she would not participate in school church services.
“Witnessing to fellow students was not easy in boarding school. It’s not easy to stand out as different. I wanted to follow the group. Perhaps I would have been bolder if I had been able to go to the meetings and engage in field service. But I could do that only when I was on break, which was just three times a year. If you have a lamp that is not refilled with oil, the light grows dim. It was the same thing in school.”—Lara, who attended boarding school from 11 to 16 years of age.
“Now that I am no longer in boarding school, I am happy that I can attend all meetings, participate in field service, and enjoy the daily text with the rest of the family. Though staying in the school had some advantages, nothing is more important than my relationship with Jehovah.”—Naomi, who convinced her father to take her out of boarding school.