Sunday, January 15, 2006

Should Christians Dump the Public Schools? Nope.

American parents have many choices about education. The easiest and cheapest is to send your kids to public school, as all the Gruntled kids do. It is part of the social compact that everyone, whether they have kids in school or not, will pay for public education for all. Harder and more expensive is to send your kids to private school, where roughly 10% of children go. The hardest alternative, if you do it right, is homeschooling. It is also the most expensive in opportunity costs, though the cash outlay may be the lowest. Homeschooling is a minority of the minority of kids not in public school, but it is clearly growing, especially among families who are religiously dissatisfied with the public schools.

In recent years, though, there has been the beginnings of a movement to get Christians to withdraw from public schools altogether. It is, to be sure, a very small movement now, but, like homeschooling itself, it is likely to grow. The movement is fueled by the widespread and official effort to make the public schools religiously neutral, and the annual crop of foolish “Johnny got detention for bringing his Bible to school” errors. There are plenty of reasons for families of all kinds, especially religious conservatives, to conclude that their local schools are not the right place for their own children. Members of my own extended family have made that choice.

It is a big leap from concluding that the public schools aren’t right for me, to the decision that the public schools aren’t right for any Christians, or indeed for any religious people.

In 2004 two Southern Baptist laymen, lawyer Bruce Shortt and retired General T.C. Pinckney, brought a resolution to the Southern Baptist Convention calling for all Southern Baptists to withdraw from the public schools. The convention’s Resolutions committee refused to report the proposal out, so Shortt and Pinckney made a similar proposal from the floor. It was defeated on a voice vote. Shortt, who is making a career of anti-public school activism, returned last year with a new partner to propose that the SBC investigate all public schools for a pro-homosexual agenda.

Every denomination has its hot-under-the-collar agitators of the left and the right. When a prominent seminary president weighs in on an issue, though, the stakes get higher. Al Mohler, of the Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, took the occasion of the 2005 Shortt proposal to proclaim, “I believe that now is the time for responsible Southern Baptists to develop an exit strategy from the public schools.”

I think it very unlikely that most Southern Baptists would leave the public schools, any more than they boycotted Disney when the SBC issued that call a few years ago. I do think, though, that there is unease among religious people that public schools are in danger of crossing a line from neutrality to hostility. The current “intelligent design” debate is making things worse, polarizing the science/religion distinction far more than the facts require.

Public schools are democratic institutions. The people who work in them are pretty ordinary members of their communities. Most schools accommodate the faith and practice of the people in them. The schools are governed by elected officials and paid for with taxes levied by elected officials. If the schools get too far out of line with community standards, the democratic remedy is available.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am a part time Sociology teacher and have been enjoying your blog since the ASA "caught" you on the web. I appreciate your upbeat views : )

Today's topic was of particular interest to me since I also homeschool two children. Ironically, my husband and I are perfectly happy with the separation of state and church. Perhaps we are more interested in a separation of state and education!

Terri in CA

Gruntled said...

I knew "upbeat sociologist" wasn't an oxymoron :)

ken mcintyre said...

I believe that it is unlikely that Southern Baptists will abandon public schools in areas in which there is a predominantly low Protestant culture, like in south-central Kentucky. On the other hand, it is a great deal more likely that self-described orthodox Christians will continue to leave public schools both in urban areas where the education establishment is often hostile to religion and in areas in which there exists a very small population of their particular sect/denomination (e.g. Catholics or Mormons homeschooling in the rural South).

Gruntled said...

Agreed. I think we will see more homeschooling from the more counter-cultural wing of all denominations, even those, like mine (Presbyterians) who are most identified with the public school movement.

Anonymous said...

We are to be the salt and the light of this earth.How can we be one if we avoid sending our children to the public schools?
I do not for one minute think that the public schools "train up a child" however as a public school teacher for many years I have personally lead students to the Lord. I have become a light in a dark and dismal world for my students. They know by my life and views that God does exist, He is real, He gave them their brains and they are to do what is right even when no one is watching. There are ways as a public school teacher to influence the lost and dying world of children that are being neglected by their parents. Churches and Christians where are you in helping the public schools? Are your children there to bring in the nativity story to be read? Are your children ther to tell the real reason for Christmas and Easter? Are you helping to set the standard for curriculum? Are you involved in the decisions beign made? Well if you are not then where is your Jeruselem? Mine and my childrens' was and is the public school. One daughter is now a missionary teacher in Asia, the other is a leader in her church and a full time mom. Both of my girls knwo how to stand up for their beliefs and are both stronger in their Christian faith. By the way they also led a studey led Bible study in their MI high school for all 4 year. WOW. Friends were saved and many thing swere accomplished in that high school. By the way it still has a Bible study each week. Let's take the public schools back instead of running to our homes and ignoring the msiion field right here in our backyard.
Queenie

Living in Memphis said...

Should Christians dump the Public Schools? Yep! As a former 18 year veteran of public schools, I say a Christian cannot be involved in that system. There may be some "good" teachers in the system, but it is the system that is ruined and godless. There is no such thing as morally neutral, and schools certainly have an anti-God agenda. As for, "We are to be the salt and the light of this earth." Please tell me, Anonymous" what that means to you. Better yet look at the context and tell me what IT means.
I fear we have ignored Scripture in many places - for example Colossians 2:8 - "See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ." I would say government schools are directly involved in the "philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men" business. I agree few Southern Baptists or any others will heed the Word of God that mandates parents teach their children. Even IF schools were good, sound, righteous places, it would still fall upon parents to educate. You have to admit sending children to school clearly violates 2 Cor. 10:5 - "We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ."

Anonymous said...

A Christian exodus from the public school system will only make the system worse. If a boatful of children is sinking, do you take your children off and leave the rest to die? Or do you repair the damage and save all the children? Love your neighbor as yourself. Retreat is not the answer. Christians must involve themselves MORE in the school system. At every level, from top to bottom, Christians must be involed in ALL aspects of the school system in order to improve education for ALL children, not just our own. Homeschooling is selfish and retreating from a problem rather than working to fix it.

Anonymous said...

Living in Memphis contradicts himself/herself in back-to-back sentences. S/He berates Anonymous for looking at the context of Jesus' words and in the very next sentence, wrests the words of Paul out of their context.

The Colossians passage lists what the traditions of men, rudiments of the world are at the end of the chapter: legalistic values from within the church.

Maybe God has not called our kids to be missionaries to the public schools; maybe he has called US parents to be those missionaries.

I along with other Christian parents have started a Bible curriculum recognized by the state for elective credit in our local public school. We need others who will support us and make the Bible available to our kids. We don't need to be reprimanded for doing what God has called us to do.

anchorofhope said...

Yes Dump Dump Dump, my question is why can't private christian schools receive some tax funding to run the schools after all christians pays taxes too...
god says to seperate ourselves when we are unequally yoked ,,
he also says to stand and not run away. I think dumping is taking a stand, not running away. Its the only thing that would be noticed.

anchorofhope said...

Besides if we do not take care of our children they will not be in best standing to help others that are not christian, how can they reach out if all they see are battles from K and up. Hopefully God will raise up a mosses or joseph to drag us out of this mess. Schools are no longer a learning enviroment but a dictator enviroment. God never said we had to let dogs teach our children. Thats a medafor

Anonymous said...

When the Bible was taken out of public schools, God was taken out of public schools. At that time, Christians should have packed their bags and said, "If He goes, I go!"

Anonymous said...

That's hilarious!!! Is there a place God cannot go? When the school said "Get out" did the Good Shepherd decide not to seek His lost sheep? Since when do people call the shots instead of God? Besides, what kind of god do you believe in, who can be bossed around by a school system?! My God is all powerful and goes wherever he wants to go!

Anonymous said...

Did our God in His plan not have Moses grow up in an Egyptian household? Yes and yet He accomplish His purposes in his life and through his life. Nothing will stop Him. He is NOT limited by a school system.

musicman said...

I was with one of the anonymous comments regarding mission to the public schools until they railed against those who choose homeschooling as selfish....that is the stupidest most ignorant comment. Each parent is first responsible to their own children and I for one will run to hell and back daily to make sure they are protected and trained correctly. Some children are driven to suicide because of bullying in public schools. Should parents leave them there and sacrifice their first responsibility in order to avoid being called selfish? Shame on you for such abusive and manipulative intellectual laziness.

Anonymous said...

To anonymous

Can you not think of ways of being salt and light without attending public schools? I am glad your girls had a good experience, but most kids are brought down in the public school setting. Why not consult what the Bible has to say? Furthermore, home schoolers lead Bible studies too and become missionaries as well.