A Case for Christian Withdrawal from Government Schools
In what follows we hope to make the case for a Christian exodus from government schools, showing that it is the wisest choice concerning the education of our children, and the most loving thing we can do for the culture and the schools themselves.
A rationale for exiting the school system is not difficult to establish. But, no matter how sound the reasoning, it is likely an idea too foreign to embrace quickly. Paradigms do not shift easily, and when the paradigm is the only way of life we’ve known, it may be easier to imagine ourselves walking on the ceiling than changing. Nevertheless, decisions are not optional – we must decide something, the question is: What are our options?
First, we can choose to do nothing. We can accept the government schools as they are, and keep sending our children to receive whatever education the states deems appropriate. One problem with this approach is that the interest of the state is decidedly secular and, as such, is necessarily antagonistic to religion that claims exclusivity and insists upon public manifestation. When personal religion is brought into the secular public square, it must be suppressed or the secular apple cart gets upset.
Another consequence of doing nothing is that it makes the statement that something other than an explicitly Christian education for our children is acceptable. Christians are called to do everything as unto the Lord, and it is wrong to think that educating our children falls outside the reach of this command. When Paul encourages fathers to bring up their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord it is not concerned with simply teaching them what they need to know to get heaven when they die, but how to live, work, think, love, spend, read, write, and engage the world in a way that is consistent with the new life they now live, i.e., life in Christ. This means that all their education must be explicitly Christian.
Christians have the joyful duty to understand the creation and their place within it with an orientation to the Creator. To live and learn as though Christ is not the one “from whom and through whom and to whom are all things” is to radically miss the mark. An explicitly Christian education doesn’t simply mean saying a prayer of thanks before a meal (although it does include that), or having the freedom to mention the name of Christ in a speech. It means that we educate our children in every subject – from mathematics to music, from language to literature, from spelling to sports – in light of Christ. That is, all education must have as its end relating everything in creation to the Creator, and understanding that all things fall under the Lordship of Christ. To understand the world outside this grid is to misunderstand the world. To teach our children outside of this grid is to teach them that God is irrelevant to understanding the world.
When the government school teaches biology and literature and art and mathematics, it must do so, by law, with the presupposition that God is completely irrelevant. With this approach we don’t need God to explain our existence; we don’t need God to understand right from wrong; we don’t need God to understand beauty; we don’t need God to understand truth. In a biblical/Christian worldview this is unthinkable. The mere suggestion that we can interpret creation or learn morality and ethics (or anything else) apart from Christ should cause us to recoil.
By doing nothing, which is to accept whatever the state determines is suitable, is to forfeit an explicitly Christian education and to remain in the position of having to undo (or go along with) education that is contrary to the Christian faith.
Another option is to fight to change the system. There is much that is initially appealing about this option. It is a good thing to try to fix broken things. But this raises two questions: Is it fixable? and For whom or what are we fighting?
As for the first question, Is it fixable? it is helpful to return to a point already made. The interest of the state is a secular education, which is best served by citizenry that is without exclusive religious claims. Tolerance and a flexible view of truth are necessary to the secular worldview. Individual citizens are perfectly free to hold to whatever “truth” they choose, but they may not insist on its exclusivity. When they do they are in conflict with the state. The government school system can’t be fixed because it is broken, not in its superstructure, but in its foundation.
To envision a reversal that would lead to a return of the government school system to its Christian moorings is to be thinking from a false premise. That is, it never had Christian moorings. The foundation was and remains secular and humanistic. Among the most influential thinkers in the world of American education was eighteenth century philosopher and education guru John Dewey. Dewey, who is still revered for his insights and educational philosophy, was a pragmatist whose philosophy came to be known as instrumentalism. Truth, according to Dewey, is an instrument used to solve problems. Problems change over time and according to circumstances, so truth must also change in order to deal with the problems. Since problems change, and truth changes with it, eternal reality simply cannot exist.
This philosophy is still foundational to the American approach to education. Clearly this is not the Christian view of reality and truth. So, to attempt to fix the system with the goal being to return it to its former glory is a fool’s errand.
The second question is, For what or whom are we fighting? It seems that for most there is an attachment to the notion that everything used to be great, but is only in recent years starting to come unraveled. In reality, however, this is not the case. As stated earlier, the public education system has never been “Christian” in its orientation. It has been influenced by Christians (from godly teachers to administrators to elected officials), and there have been schools and school districts that have operated according to the standards of the communities in which they were situated – in the Bible Belt this will clearly mean a Christian influence. But as the standards and laws which have been put into place over the past forty-plus years are implemented nationally, it is impossible for the schools which have held on to some sense of faithfulness to their religious commitments to continue. This is what’s happening in the Santa Rosa School District and Pace High School.
Think of the Christian influence in the schools as an island in the middle of the secular sea. Once, the island was large enough to give those on it a sense of security. Occasionally there would be a storm or a season of high waters and there would be erosion. Sometimes this would evoke concern, perhaps even panic. But once the erosion had stopped a new normal is established and people get used to the new size of the island. It’s not as big as it was before, but we’re still here. Hooray, us. Then comes another storm. And another. And another. These seasons are followed by new normal after new normal until what’s left is a couple of guys sitting under a lone coconut tree shoving a note into a bottle which reads, “You can’t take away our island!”
It isn’t that the Christian influence is bad –we should thank God for those teachers and administrators who have struggled to be a witness to the truth of the gospel – it’s just that it has become illegal. The system never actually had room for it, but it had to permit it until, over time, it was able to make it irrelevant and to move it to the margins. And to the margins it has been quite successfully moved. Now the battles are not primarily over curricula, prayer, or any of the other weighty issues, but over whether a student is permitted to say the name of Jesus in a speech. When that is the issue, it should be clear to all that the fight is over. The government school system has won the right through the courts and legislation to be what it has always intended to be – the primary indoctrination vehicle for the secular state.
The stay-and-fight approach is possibly the worst approach of all because it gives us a feeling of doing something while in reality nothing really changes.
This leads us to the third option: withdrawal from the government school system. If it is true that the education our children receive should be explicitly Christian, the idea of educating our children in private Christian schools or at home should be an easy one to embrace. Of course in our culture it is not that easy to embrace – for many reasons.
Most people, it seems safe to assert, don’t really think much about the purpose of education. And, since so few rightly consider the purpose of education, the methods matter very little. As someone said once, if you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time. Education, rather, schooling, is something we do as a matter of course. Kids are supposed to go to school, so we send our kids to school. Conservative author, Rod Dreher, writes, “ For many of us, it’s about no more than making sure our kids get into the right college, meet the right people, and go on to have a good (read ‘lucrative’) career.” But education is about much more than maximizing one’s earnings potential. As Jesus asks rhetorically, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” The purpose of education, as we said earlier, is to teach our children to understand the creation with an orientation to its Creator.
Again, Paul exhorts fathers to bring up children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. This means far more than taking them to church on Sundays (although it doesn’t mean less than that). It means that they have the responsibility to see to it that the children are educated, nurtured, in the ways and will of the Lord. This is an explicitly Christian education. As we read in Deuteronomy 6:4-9:
Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
What this doesn’t mean is that religion is another subject taught when other things aren’t being taught. What it does mean is that all things are to be taught with reference to God. We are inclined in our culture to think of education as academics – that is, the learning of facts and data as morally and spiritually neutral things. This assumption of neutrality in academics is unwarranted and unbiblical. Nothing is neutral. “Two plus two equals four” has cosmic implications. For the Christian, all things are to be understood biblically and Christologically. To paraphrase Deuteronomy 6, “What I’m commanding you shall be on your heart, and you must instill them in your children’s hearts.” This cannot be done in the government school where, despite the efforts of godly teachers, the underlying presupposition is that God is irrelevant.
The impulse to reject the trajectory of the government schools is probably a right impulse, but merely fighting against the momentum is to fail to answer the challenge. Only a refusal to participate in the bad, and then to pursue the good, will do. At the May 26th rally at Pace Assembly of God there was a lot of talk about the rights of two students to speak at a graduation ceremony. (While it may have been appropriate for the students to speak, it not a right guaranteed by the Constitution. The Constitution does guarantee free speech, but it doesn’t guarantee that everybody everywhere can say anything all the time.) In the end, it seemed that there was a fighting for rights that we don’t have, but not taking stock of the rights we do have – rights that have been hard-fought-for – including the right to withdraw our children from an environment hostile to our faith, and educate them in a way that is consistent with it.
Do we not dishonor those who have fallen in service to our freedom when we accept whatever the state chooses to give us, and refuse to be truly free? Let us not confuse freedom with ease and comfort. True freedom requires taking responsibility and work and sacrifice. This is why making the choice to home-school or send our children to private, Christian schools is hardly on the radar for most. It is not the easy road – in fact, it is often the very hard road. It means risking relationships, comfort, luxuries, money. It may mean that Mom has to quit working outside the home to stay home and teach the children. It may mean that Dad and Mom have to spend a lot of time with their children. It may mean that Dad and Mom have to read and learn in order to teach. It may mean that we have to turn off our televisions (do we really need to watch 127 hours of television a month – the national average per person?), so that families can actually engage with each other in meaningful and substantive ways. Is it hard? Yes. But is it as hard as what those who gave their lives to protect our freedoms endured?
We must learn to think of freedom beyond having multiple choices of movies to rent or multiple ways of renting them. Freedom is more than picking what neighborhood you want to live in. Being free means being educated with an orientation to Christ, the One who truly makes us free. To shrug off our duty for the sake of thirty one flavors, or convenience, is to not be free, but to be in the worst kind of bondage – the kind of bondage that imagines itself to be freedom.
In the end the most loving thing we can do for our culture is to withdraw from government schools. To blithely participate in the system which is teaching contrary to Truth is to participate in the demise of the culture. For Christians to protect the system that sets itself against the God of the Bible is to practice idolatry. To love the world is to often say, “No,” to the world. No, we do not accept lies that pretend to be truth. No, we do not say it is okay for our children to be taught that God is not central in all things. We say that only through Christ is reality known, and in him all things hold together. To love the world is to insist on these things.
If we are to ever be a Christian nation, a nation that loves righteousness, we must be strong and have courage – the strength and courage to be obedient to the Word, the strength to stand against the enemies of righteousness. Let our churches and our homes embrace explicitly Christian education for our children, and let us truly be salt and light to a world without savor and in darkness.
So we extend this call to Christians, a call to exodus. Your chains have fallen off. Rise up and move out from your dark prison into the light of wisdom and truth. What we’re fighting for is not the schools, but for our children and our children’s children. Come out from the bondage of the one who would have you set aside your faith in the One True God. Come out from the bondage of the one who would have you believe that you come from nowhere and that you’re going nowhere. Come out from the bondage of the one who would teach your children to deny what you would have them die for.