Al Mohler begins his article “Is Public School An Option?” with this questions and statement: “Should Christian parents send their children to the public schools? This question has emerged as one of the most controversial debates of our times.” As I suggested in the previous post, I would have said “sure” if asked this question anytime prior to the early part of this century, and that was even after I had spent three years teaching in a Christian school. I felt that I had turned out just fine having attended public schools my whole life and, frankly, what I had heard and seen of some homeschooling and Christian school education made me cringe. I was convinced that public school education was usually more rigorous and better prepared students to be lifelong learners. Bottom line, I thought public school education was more legitimate.
Mohler writes, “Until fairly recently, exceptions to this rule [the expectation that parents would send their children to public schools] have been seen as profoundly un-democratic and practically un-American. Homeschoolers were seen as marginal eccentrics, Catholics were seen as hopelessly sectarian, and those who sent their children to private schools were seen as elitist snobs.” Perhaps not exactly, but that fit my way of thinking pretty well.
Of course, as Mohler also points out, public education in America was under the oversight and influence of parents and the local community for hundreds of years; “public schools were public in the sense that they were community schools maintained for and by the citizens of a community.” That way of thinking has certainly changed, and beginning with John Dewey the influence of the parents and local community members on the curriculum and policies of the local schools has significantly diminished.
As Mohler states, “decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court secularized schools in a way that separated the schools from their communities and families.” Of course I am not old enough to remember when there was prayer and Bible reading in school, so that removal happened before I came along. And in that small Midwestern town where I went to high school there was still release time once a week when students could leave the public school during the school day and go for an hour to the church of their choice for “religious instruction.” Students who did not wish to go could stay at school for a study hall. My public high school choir performed their year-end concert in a church and the performances included doctrinally-sound Christian hymns like “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” So maybe my experience had not been the norm… And maybe the decreasing influence of the local community had not become the reality in the Midwest yet by the time I graduated high school.
What eventually changed my mind about public schools as a viable option and the legitimacy of homeschooling and Christian schools was the realization that schools were not ideologically neutral, which I had deluded myself into thinking they could be. Mohler writes, “The ideological revolution has been even more damaging than the political change. Those who set educational policy are now overwhelmingly committed to a radically naturalistic and evolutionistic worldview that sees the schools as engines of social revolution. The classrooms are being transformed rapidly into laboratories for ideological experimentation and indoctrination.” If I may be so bold I would disagree with Mohler on that last part, because I am now convinced that classrooms have not been transformed into “laboratories for…indoctrination” but rather always have been. “Indoctrination” means “the act of indoctrinating, or teaching or inculcating a doctrine, principle, or ideology, especially one with a specific point of view.” Public schools have always done that because it is impossible to teach without doing it. Christian schools do it, too; in fact, that is the whole reason most parents who send their children to Christian schools do so!
Am I suggesting that it is not possible to take a non-ideological position on any subject or that a teacher cannot impartially present information to students? No; that can be done–though it often takes real intentionality to do. What I am suggesting is that every teacher has a belief system, a worldview, that influences their way of thinking about every subject, and that worldview comes through in their teaching.
What has happened is that the right and wrong that public schools used to teach have become various versions of right and debate over wrong because everything is relative. What has happened to the public schools is the removal of certainty and absolutes and facts and the substitution of questioning and relativism and opinion. This is what has led to the ridiculous stories we hear and read about graphic sex ed classes, infringement of student rights to gather or pray or express a minority viewpoint and the support by public education leaders for teaching an acceptance and even and embrace of sinful behavior.
What caused me to change my mind about public schools, and to pretty well determine that my own children will never attend a public school, was the realization that what the schools teach–even the decent ones–is almost always taught from a perspective and toward and end that is completely at odds with what I believe and what I want my children to believe; specifically, what the Bible says. Local control of public schools is increasingly rare. There is more local (and school-level) control than many of the loudest conservative voices claim there is, but it is not enough. The tidal wave of mental manipulation and cconvictionless character has crashed into the public school system and as the water settles the ruins are increasingly visible.
Paula Bolyard, blogging for PJ Lifestyle, has responded to Mohler’s article, too. She correctly writes, “This is one of the most difficult questions a Christian family must wrestle with as school curriculum and speech and behavior codes increasingly stand in opposition to Christian teachings.” I am not by any means attempting to make light of this issue or suggest that it is an easy decision. There are people I know well and respect (indeed, people I am related to) who have chosen to send their children to public schools, and I am not sitting in judgment of them. I personally think that many of their reasons are flawed, but that does not mean they do not hold them sincerely. I will address some of these arguments in a future post.
I think what it comes down to is this assertion by Bolyard: “The stakes are very high. Consider the effects of thirty or more hours a week in a government school where you have no control over what your children are taught — where your local teachers have little or no control over the content of their lessons. Where the federal bureaucrats — many of whom have antipathy toward your Christian values — dictate what your children learn, all day long. How much time are you willing to invest in debriefing your children?” That’s just it. Students will spend some fifteen thousand hours of their lives–their most formative years–in school. Does it make any sense for me to knowingly and willingly place my children for that length of time into an environment that I cannot control and that I increasingly am in opposition to? I don’t think so. If I do, I will have to deal with these candid questions Bolyard asks: “How will you convince them that you are the authority on any given subject — that what you’re teaching them is right — and not their teachers? Is it fair to put a young child in the position of choosing between what their teacher is telling them and what their parents and Sunday school teachers say?”
Nearing the end of his article Mohler asks and answers the question that is the basis for the entire article. “Is public school an option? For Christians who take the Christian worldview seriously and who understand the issues at stake, the answer is increasingly no.” I absolutely agree. In fact, I may well have left the word “increasingly.”