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Michael Craven Christian Blog and Commentary

What to Do About Public Education?

  • Michael Craven
    S. Michael Craven is the President of H.I.S. BridgeBuilders and the author of Uncompromised Faith: Overcoming Our Culturalized Christianity (Navpress, 2009). H.I.S. BridgeBuilders is an urban missionary ministry that works to bring the redemptive power of God’s kingdom to bear upon the poverty-ravaged areas of our city, restoring people, families, and communities through spiritual, educational and economic development to the glory of God. To learn more, visit: www.hisbridgebuilders.org
  • 2005 Jun 22
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On June 15th the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) voted to receive a personal resolution encouraging Christian parents to remove their children from the public schools and see to it that they receive a thoroughly Christian education. The Southern Baptist Convention, which met last week in Nashville, considered a resolution "to investigate homosexuality in Public Schools." In both, instances the advocates of these resolutions argue that, ideologically speaking, the teachings and values of Christianity and those of the secularized public education system are diametrically opposed to one another. On this point I must agree. Luther wrote almost 500 years ago, “I am much afraid that schools will prove to be great gates of Hell unless they diligently labor in explaining the Holy Scriptures, engraving them in the hearts of youth. I advise no one to place his child where the Scriptures do not reign paramount. Every institution in which men are not increasingly occupied with the Word of God must become corrupt.” Clearly the Scriptures do not reign paramount in today’s public educational system and true to Luther’s prediction the institution has become corrupt. The issue among many Christians is that of either remaining in and reforming the public school system or abandoning it altogether. There are legitimate arguments to be made on both sides and this is clearly a very sensitive issue given its implications and potential impact upon Christians who may feel challenged to opt for alternative educational arrangements. Dr. Albert Mohler in his recent article, Needed: An Exit Strategy, exposes quite clearly the secularist roots and its ongoing influence of the public education system. I would only expand on his foundation to reinforce the veracity of his claims. F.W. Parker, the so-called “father of progressive education” and inspiration for John Dewey, told the 1895 convention of the National Education Association (NEA) that “The child is not in school for knowledge. He is there to live, and put his life, nurtured in the school, into the community.” According to this view, the family home and religious faith simply must give way to a “grander vision.” “From the very beginning, public school advocates aimed at undermining and displacing the family as the center of children’s lives. The most important claim for public education was [and continues to be] that only a compulsory system of this sort could unify a scattered and diverse people: the parochial ideas of families obviously stood in the way.”[1] This is the fundamental and often overlooked problem with the public education system; it is its role in supplanting the family as the principal influence and primary means for preparing the nation’s children to be “good citizens.” Where do we get this idea that upon age six [at the latest] we should send our children away for six to seven hours a day to be trained by others? The fact is, prior to government funded schools Americans were better educated. My argument with public education is directed toward both its disintegrating effect upon the family and its role in elevating the State to supreme moral authority as over and against religion. Norman Ryder of Princeton University writes in The Population Bulletin of the United Nations, “Education of the junior generation is a subversive influence. Boys who go to schools distinguish between what they learn there and what their father can teach them. The family structure is undermined when the young are trained outside the family.” Ryder adds that “there is a struggle between the families and the State for the minds of the young.” In this struggle, the State serves as “the chief instrument for teaching [a new] citizenship, in a direct appeal to the children over the heads of their parents. The school also serves as the medium for communicating “state morality.”[2] Lesslie Newbigin stated it this way, “The transmission of traditional wisdom in families from the old to the young is replaced by systems of education organized by the State and designed to shape young minds toward the future that is being planned.” Of course this “planned future” is profoundly utopian in its worldview denying the biblical concepts of sin, the fall, and mankind made in the image of God. The very notion that education is the responsibility of the State originates directly from atheistic, enlightenment thinking which perceives the State as “savior.” Throughout Scripture it is parents who are charged with the responsibility to raise and train their children and the nature and scope of that training is made quite explicit for those who profess faith in Christ. Unfortunately too many Christians consider education as something outside their faith that pertains to nothing more than preparation for a job. In thinking this way Christians are making the same distinction between the world “facts” and the world of “values” that Enlightenment writers made. The Bible makes no such distinction; as the world of facts, all of God’s creation including the society of man (facts), can only be properly understood by the biblical view of life and reality (values). It is the abandonment of this truth by many professing Christians that has subsequently empowered the public school system. Couple this form of education with the diminished emphasis upon theology, doctrine, and discipleship by most churches and it is no wonder that Christianity has become marginalized in American culture. So, do we fold up our tents and run or do we stay and work to affect change from within? I say it may be a little of both. One possible solution which has not been advanced is the idea of returning to a de-centralized education system. It is the concentration of bureaucratic power that has rendered public schools incapable of localized reform and enabled the influence of special interest groups and union organizations such as the NEA. In 1932, there were 127,531 independent school districts in the U.S.; many of them operating a single school. By 1990 there were only 17,995 school districts left.[3] This consolidation of control into bureaucratic structures only further undermined parental influence and input. Allan Carlson of the Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society suggests “a radical deconsolidation of the public system, down to even the single-school level.” He goes on to say that this “would weaken bureaucratic and union strangleholds on the schools and so return them to real community control, where parental and neighborhood moral judgments could again play a role.” This structure would certainly afford active Christians a much greater opportunity for positive influence over the institutions which they allow to educate their children. This is one reason why private education is so much more successful and to an even greater extent, homeschooling. Parents are more involved and affect far greater influence over curriculum, activities, etc. Lastly, there are those who argue in defense of their children attending public schools that “our children will serve as ‘salt & light.’” However, this argument really doesn’t come close to correcting the institutional and ideological problems related to public education. Frankly, I would add that this approach must be carefully weighed against Psalm 1:1. At the very least it is encouraging to see major denominations taking on this important issue and I pray that we, as Christians, would participate in reasonable discussion and debate in a way that honors all sides and seeks a truly biblical remedy. Footnotes: 1. Allan Carlson, Reinventing the Schoolroom: Education as Homecoming, The Family in America, January 2005, Volume 19, Number 1, p. 2 2. Norman Ryder, Fertility and Family Structure, Population Bulletin of the United Nations 15, 1983, p. 29 3. Carlson, p. 4