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Liberals and public education…

October 17, 2007


“The Liberals and public education proponents can teach all they want, but they will not fix the real problem of humans. If it is successful at all it will at best accomplish two things 1) It will cause people to turn their destructive behaviors to things that are less destructive or destructive in less widespread ways, and 2) Cause an action to stop or change, not a heart. You social educators, lecture all you want. Until you recognize the true condition of man which will become apparent with a brief study of human history, you will continue to manipulate a few peoples actions on the surface of an evil heart. Only true change comes from the heart. Only true change of the heart comes from Jesus.”

                                                                                Quote from Music of my life blogpost

In some Christian circles, it is not uncommon to hear public education or its proponents regarded with suspicion or even disdain.  The common charicature is of a mediocre system that at best provides a bare-bones education.  At worst, public schools are perceived to undermine the moral and ideological formation of children from Christian homes.  They are viewed as a distribution center for liberal propoganda–especially in certain areas of the curriculum. 

I agree that true change of heart comes from Jesus.  I also believe there will be areas of tension between the Christian framing story and the framing stories that are told in public schools.  Daniel and his three Hebrew friends found the dietary offerings in Babylon problematic.  They did not villify the “host” context or demand that the whole system be changed for their benefit.  Rather, they made their own choices at times and thus were able to be a healing presence–in a foreign culture that was at odds with the worldview and practices of the people who worshiped Yahweh.  Christians in contemporary American culture will be called upon to make similar choices–even as we too find ourselves living as aliens and strangers in our host country.   Leven is needed in the dough of culture speaking and living the hope of the Gospel–even in public schools. 

In a democratic society, however, where not every citizen is a Christian, I often wonder what some Christians expect of public schools.  If we hold to the separation of church and state, how is the state supposed to educate all citizens and even children of those who are not citizens? I wonder if some Christians expect public schools to uphold the worldview and teachings of Christianity exclusively.  That would seem more like the system that is in place in Muslim states under shiria law.  So yes, public schools try to provide a service that will hopefully help children develop into productive members of society.  Do they collaborate with Christian families and churches in the spiritual education of children?  No.  They are limited because of the way our society has established the separation of church and state.  Freedom of religion, means that a person of any faith, or no faith might also have the freedom to hold to and live out the tenets of their faith.

Why are public schools villified?  Why are they seen as such a force of evil by many right-wing evangelical Christians? 

We live in a country that allows parents to send their children to private schools.  Parochial schools have freedoms to incorporate religious education into the curriculum in ways that public schools do not.  This is a wonderful aspect of education in a Christian school. 

Others choose to go the home-schooling route.  For a variety of reasons, parents may choose to provide an education for their children in their own home rather than send them to public schools.  This is the prerogative of the parents which I don’t begrudge them. 

It is interesting that many proponents of home-schooling are also very patriotic.  The curriculum is often infused with a nostolgic look back to a framing story of America that fuses together elements of Christianity with the manifest destiny of our country.  A civil religion that worships both God and country and produces citizens who help uphold this founding vision and it’s values.  Yet, this patriotism does not translate into support for the educational system that is provided by the United States so that all who come to these shores will have an opportunity to learn.

Home-schooling requires a stable home situation and certain economic circumstances.  I can’t very well educate my children if I am trying to make ends meet by holding down two low-paying jobs.  Neither can I send my kids to private schools.  Yes, there may be scholarships for a few, but for many this is not an option. 

Some Christians view the options mentioned above as far more desirable to sending their children to public schools.  That is fine.  But, I think it is a good thing for a society to provide an education for those who are left.  Those who cannot afford to send their children to private schools.  Those whose circumstances don’t allow them to home-school their children. 

So our country has come up with the public school model.  It is not a perfect system.  Economics still play a major role in the quality of education provided to children (see Amazing Grace, Jonothan Kozol).  Wealthy communities will spend far more per student than communities that service the rural and urban poor.  But there is an attempt to provide a way out (albeit not an equal opportunity by any means) to every child who wants to learn.  Yes, this is an education without the underpinnings of the Christian story to frame the curriculum.  But does that mean that the education is of NO value or even worse–counterproductive?

 What would happen if Christians would embrace the exile status that comes with citizenship in the Kingdom of God?  What if we stopped complaining about the erosion of truth within the public square, and became a people who learned to live the good news redemptively from the margins?  Could we possibly live with the conviction, courage and grace of Daniel and his Hebrew friends? What would it mean to fast from the sumptuous diet of Babylon, to choose the discipline of a simpler way of life? 

3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 18, 2007 12:19 am

    Brian – I’m so nurtured and challenged by your blog posts that I don’t think I really need to attend church anymore. : )

  2. October 19, 2007 11:37 am

    brian – i hear the tension. i live it too. i used to take strong issue with private school. mainly because it seemed elitist. now as a youth pastor, i have been able to find a richness in both the public and private school. i am a product of the public scholl system and i turned out alright. some would argue otherwise.

    i think too, if parents understood that faith is taught in the home and re-enforced at church, that they would realize the role of the school is to educate.

    also, walking out the kingdom, may mean making tough choices. we are forced to live out the tension of being of god’s kingdom and being in this world. i don’t think we shelter our kids from it. we need to teach them and model for them how to walk out that tension.


  3. just an apprentice permalink
    October 19, 2007 4:48 pm

    Joe–thanks for your comments. My essay is not meant to criticize private schooling or home-schooling. Rather, I would suggest that it is possible to live as “exiles” in a public school context. My essay points out that some Christians do not take this tact in their view of how Christians might be present in and interact with public education.

    Your comments are right on. We need to see the home as a primary place for spiritual formation and discipleship training. The church then becomes a place to re-inforce this.

    We don’t then abandon the places of engagement with culture where the framing story and values of the Kingdom are not recognized–or are challenged by alternate framing stories and values.

    Thanks for your comments. I think we have a lot in common. You are a runner. You are a product of public schools. (I went to public schools for 11 out of 12 years…then went to Eastern Mennonite University). You are involved in church ministry.

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