I recently wrote an opinion piece (Why Are Conservative Christian Parents Watching So Many of Their Children Become "Left-Wingers"?) that focused on why conservative parents are so often seeing their children become indoctrinated by leftist thinking. The article was a response to a recent Dennis Prager article entitled “Conservative Parents, Left Wing Children.” I proposed that a major influence on these “left wing” children are our nation’s public schools, and I explained at something of an overview level why I believe that to be the case. I ended that article by noting that in my experience many Christian parents are often resistant to removing their children from public schools and, more, these same parents are often very unwilling to even discuss the fact that there might be something more than a mere decline in academics going on in our schools -- specifically, that something dark and, ultimately, spiritual in nature is at work.
Why? Why is there such reluctance?
If we as Christian parents understand that our public school institutions have been transformed from schoolrooms in which the “3 R’s” are taught in a simple and straightforward manner into what are effectively temples to the false gods who live inside such ideologies as atheism, socialism, evolutionism, and materialism, then how can we NOT want to talk about that? If there is even a possibility that when we send our children off to public schools today we are sending them to be seated at the feet of false teachings that are really just spiritual poison, then how can we NOT want to at least look very hard and seriously at that? How can we be alert to so many other forms of spiritual danger and diligently seek to protect our children from them, and yet remain so blind -- sometimes willfully so -- to this one?
Well, here’s the rub...
The question I’ve posed in the title to this article makes the rather significant assumption that most other Christian parents who read this article will agree with me that our schools are, in fact, dominated by leftist thinking...and, furthermore, that if this is true it is also bad. Yet, I am aware that some percentage of Christian parents reading this are already uncomfortable just with what I’ve said so far. Some may even be offended, suspecting that I’m headed toward conclusions about public schooling that they will likely consider to be terribly judgmental.
The lesson that I have learned from many conversations about public schooling with such Christian parents is that I should not assume that merely sharing a Christian identity with another parent will also mean that we share the same degree of conviction on this issue. I suppose this is common sense, isn’t it? After all, if we all departed the moment of our salvation suddenly possessing the same depths of spiritual wisdom and biblical discernment on all the issues of life, then we would all be equally united in our convictions and our conduct all the time. But our everyday experiences in living life alongside our fellow Christians illustrates this just isn’t true, and our observations of national trends in Christian behavior in both the political and social arenas confirms this. We are not all political or social conservatives, we are not all young earth Creationists, and we are not all on the same page about this issue of exactly what is corrupting our public schools and the importance of getting our children. out. of. them.
So, while _I_ certainly believe it to be true that our school system has become a collection of local temples to false gods who wear names such as evolution, in my personal experience many Christians just don’t agree that things are that bad. These parents continue to not only send their children to these schools, but some will advocate doing so even to the point of rebuking fellow Christians who suggest there might be anything seriously wrong with our schools.
And, it should be noted that these public schooling advocates are not necessarily immature Christians or “lukewarm” Christians or fools. Those of us who have emerged from the public schools do those who are still in them an unkindness and an injustice when we fail to understand that and sweep broad brush strokes of judgment over their schooling decisions. At least some of these public school parents who are unwilling to engage the conversation about what has happened in our schools are really very decent “good folk”: In my experience, they may be solidly bible-teaching pastors...faithful and active members of their churches...returned missionaries...or just God-fearing, Jesus-loving, Scripture-living Christians who do their very best to train up their children in righteousness.
And yet these same parents keep their children in these schools, where the truth of what is happening seems to those of us who have left them to be so obviously dark and spiritually dangerous. Why? Why are these good people still entrusting their children to these places?
Of course, I can’t answer this from anything other than my own experience and perspective but at least in that effort I can do so as a parent who has been on both sides of the issue. I was a product of the public school system of the 70s and 80s, and so it's probably unsurprising that I was an advocate of them when my two oldest sons were younger. My oldest son attended public schools until 5th grade, went to a parochial school in junior high, and returned to public school for high school; my stepson, who is now in 11th grade, attended a private secular school until the end of 6th grade and has been homeschooling with me since then. Our 3 youngest children are homeschooled.
We were relatively satisfied with our public and private secular choices for the first few years that our older boys were in school. We had some good teachers and some bad ones, but for the first few years things were generally “okay.” However, by the time my oldest son was entering the public high school as a freshman and my next oldest, my stepson, was in his 5th year at a secular private elementary school, we had become deeply frustrated and completely disillusioned by the system. Over the course of years, our eyes had been gradually opened to the reality that things were changing right in front of us and that something disturbing was happening.
It was easy to identify that a decline in academic standards, accompanied by the coming and going of various trendy but ultimately terrible “experiments” in education methods, played a role. We had come to see that the quality of the academics the schools were spoon-feeding our children was essentially the intellectual equivalent of baby food. After years of battling in vain against dumbed down readers and history books, whole language “interpretive spelling” methods (Rebecca Sitton, anyone?), so-called “new” math, and the gradual gutting of all meaningful content from classes such as handwriting, civics, and geography...we were just completely disgusted.
But there were other less easily-defined things that we saw and experienced which left us uneasy or, just as often, angry but with no clear target to direct it toward. For example, we gradually became aware of a steady and distinct erosion of the moral environment in the schools. Certainly, we saw this in terms of the students, who were being corrupted by a variety of cultural influences beyond the schools and who were bringing that into the schools in their language, music, clothing, and attitudes. But also, and to our surprise, we saw this on many occasions in terms of what some of the teachers themselves were also bringing into their classrooms -- especially in the form of inappropriately mature jokes, music, language, or movies that were shared in class usually in the name of being “cool” or making “friends” with students.
In addition to the decline in expectations for student conduct and increased tolerance for teachers acting like buddies to their students, we also witnessed a lowering of standards and expectations for student performance that manifested itself in a variety of ways, ranging from a lowering of the bar for such things as honor roll and other academic incentive programs, to reduced grading standards on assignments, to an appalling watering down and weakening of consequences for misconduct or for failure to do homework.
We also found ourselves on the receiving end of a disturbing inversion of authority in the traditional relationships between parents and teachers and students; in teacher conference after teacher conference, and in countless abortive attempts on our part to communicate with our children’s various teachers over the years, we developed a creeping sense that teachers no longer saw themselves as our allies and partners -- accountable to us as parents -- but rather that they were first and foremost advocates for, or “friends” of, our children. We realized that parents were increasingly (and condescendingly) being placed in a secondary tier of communication and priority. We were concerned to observe the increasing trend in our children’s teachers directly befriending our children on social media -- especially via text messaging, Twitter, and Facebook.
Further, we were disturbed by the number and kinds of federal intrusions into every level of school operations and policies; these intrusions and manipulations of everything ranging from individual student performance expectations to testing schedules to curriculum content to school policies to nutrition -- in which district compliance was guaranteed by attaching performance to federal funding -- felt increasingly Orwellian.
Eventually, I became aware that other people were talking about these things, too. Over the next 2 years, as my oldest son moved deeper into high school, I continued to observe what was happening and I began processing our experiences alongside things that I was reading and hearing. But while I was able to readily agree that the symptoms of systemic illness that so many people were talking and writing about were real and troubling, I found that I really did not want to consider that what was happening was connected to a larger picture that went beyond mere academics.” I never in my lifetime expected to see words like “socialism”, “atheism”, and “evolutionism” be used to characterize our nation’s schools -- at the expense of words like “patriotism”, “democracy”, “Christianity”, and “traditional values.” It was upsetting and, frankly, I just didn’t want to see some of the dark things I was coming to see. I didn’t want to hear some of the things I was hearing, and I didn’t want to follow through on what my heart and my mind were leading me to conclude. I just didn’t want to deal with the truths that were pressing in on the edges of my awareness with annoying persistence.
Well, first, by the time I began to really see and hear what was happening in the schools...it had already happened, past tense, to my oldest son. His schooling journey had been difficult but it was nearly complete. I wanted to believe that I had given the very best to my firstborn. I didn’t want to see the truth about the nation’s school system because I felt guilty that I hadn’t seen it sooner. How could I have kept my child in the way of such poor academics; why hadn’t I done better for him? Further, how could I have exposed him to years in an instructional environment that I was beginning to realize, to my dismay, was godless and possibly even...well, evil...in the intents of its heart? Had I really missed that? Surely not?
Second, I didn’t want to talk about or think deeply about what was really wrong with our school system because, honestly, who does? Who wakes up in the morning eager to see socialism and subversion and evil agendas at work everywhere? Does anyone in their right minds actually enjoy that sort of thing? I don’t. And, it’s especially difficult for Christians to contemplate these kinds of things because we often feel, and are even exhorted by other Christians, that dwelling overmuch on such things is not “Kingdom business.” Who wants to be that gloomy long-faced Christian, described so negatively sometimes from the pulpit, who is unable to make or take a joke anymore because they’ve spent too much time thinking about the headlines? That Christian that the majority of the world -- including many fellow Christians -- rolls their eyes at because they’re constantly seeing the devil in the details of the world and its workings. Who wants that?
Third, I didn’t want to really engage with the issue on a deep level because if I did so I knew that the Holy Spirit might prompt me to respond, and I was afraid of what that might require of me. After all, what are the possible responses? If we recognize that the problem goes far beyond academics, and that the remedy is far bigger than mere education reform and has much to do with the need for our society (indeed, our world) to repent and receive spiritual renewal through Christ Himself...then what responsible, God-honoring options does that leave us for educating our children? Any option that I could think of was frightening -- private Christian schooling would be comparatively expensive and homeschooling was not only associated with some negative social connotations but, also, I knew that taking it on would require major sacrifices and life-transforming, family-transforming, commitments that would require more of me than I was really sure I was equipped to handle.
There were powerful barriers in place as I resisted really seeing and hearing in a way that would allow me to connect the dots and see the larger picture of what was happening in our nations schools. But ultimately, and like many thousands of parents like me over the past few years, I did work my way through the issues and I found biblical answers to every one of my concerns and excuses. I didn’t like the process, and the truths that were revealed left me saddened, but I was determined to obediently follow through on the deep convictions that I received as a result. In the end, we did leave the system and 5 years ago we became a homeschool family -- although by then it was too late for my oldest son and he went on to graduate from public school in 2010.
Since we left the system, I believe that the state of affairs has grown even worse in the schools. Despite this, I continue to watch so many Christian friends and acquaintances trustingly send their precious children off to public school every morning. Many resist considering the bigger picture for all the same reasons that I did, and over the past 5 years I’ve heard many, many defenses and arguments for why public schooling is really “ok”...even though it so clearly isn’t. I can’t possibly cover all of these defenses and justifications, but I will at least share the four broad types of arguments that I find myself encountering on a regular basis.
First, there are the arguments that seem to arise from a basic denial of the reality of the issue or its severity. Despite what I consider to be an abundance of objective data on the performance of our schools and the ready availability of information that would allow parents to compare for themselves the quality of the content of today’s curriculum to that of past decades, I find to my surprise that many parents just don’t -- or perhaps won’t -- understand that our schools are truly in a state of advanced decline. I have been told many, many times that the problem just isn’t “that bad.”
Others at least see the decline, but deny that its remedy requires anything more than some educational reform. As a result, these parents often seem to receive with more enthusiasm than discernment various high-minded “reform” efforts and expensive or otherwise glossy new initiatives that their districts may put in place. For example “...My district has a great new technology program this year and all the kids are going to be getting their own iPads/laptops/notebooks. _This_ will really bring our schools up-to-date and improve our academic performance.” Or, “...I’m hearing a lot of great things from the district about this new federal standard called Common Core that’s supposed to really reform things. There’s more testing and accountability built into it, and I’m sure things will get better.” There are of course other examples of such initiatives; these are simply the two I’ve most recently encountered. Regardless of the details of the specific initiative, however, today’s education reform efforts are often just sweet placebos concealing the advancement of larger agendas, and many public school parents seem to be in denial about that truth.
Another form of the argument from denial comes from those who do not or will not see that the symptoms of decline in our schools reveal a deeper spiritual disease that is ultimately fatal in nature. I have been accused many times of seeing bogeymen and phantoms where there really aren’t any, and I have been guided to Scriptures that would presumably serve to chastise and correct my inappropriate focus on “worry” and “anxiousness.” I hear this from Christian parents, and I hear it in a particularly vigorous and defensive form from those who are themselves employed by the school system. I have many friends whose soft and kind hearts for children have led them to work as teachers, counselors, or special needs educators in these schools. Some of them are retired now, and they don’t see what has happened to the schools since their retirement. From some who are still working in the schools, I hear variations of “...Well, _I’m_ a teacher/counselor/mentor/special needs educator in the school district and _I’m_ a Christian...I know my own heart for these kids and I know there are still lots of other Christians like me who work for the district. Sure, we need some academic reform but in the meantime the children will be just fine. It’s just not as bad as you say it is.”
In addition to arguments from denial, there are what I have come to think of as “island of refuge” arguments. Some of these come from parents who acknowledge that the academics are dismal but who rationalize keeping their children in sub-par learning environments on the basis that something about their particular child, child’s teacher, or their unique choices in navigating the curriculum will somehow keep their children safely elevated above the muck and mire. From parents of elementary and middle-school students, for example, “...Yes, the classes for the average kids are pretty rotten, but our kids are bright and we’re blessed to have gotten them into the district’s gifted program. Gifted classes are much higher quality and so my kids will be fine.” In fact, this is a defensive path that my own family experimented with when my stepson was in middle school.
Another “island of refuge” argument that I also often hear from some parents is that while they are aware that the curriculum has really gone downhill, their own child’s teacher for that particular school year is “just wonderful and has been so great with my child” and, thus, the logic seems to follow that public schooling really is “ok” for their family. Another variation on this particular line of reasoning is that regardless of what muck might be swirling in the currents passing through their child’s school, “...I happen to know that my child’s teacher this year is a Christian. He/she is really great and won’t teach any of that stuff you’re worried about. I know my son/daughter will be fine.”
From parents of high school children, I often hear (and, in fact, I began my own son’s high school journey with this) “...My kids are bright and hard-workers so I’ve/we’ve decided they’ll be working toward the highest diploma level -- not the most basic or minimal one. To do that, they’ll have to take mostly honor classes and they won’t be in the regular classes...those are the ones that have really been dumbed down. The honor classes aren’t like that, and so I know my own kids will be just fine.” Thus, public schooling is really “ok” because there is the perception that really clever and discerning parents and students can operate within the system to find stepping stones across the mire and keep themselves “safe.”
Third, there is the “missionary” argument and -- closely related to it -- arguments in which I often find that parents conflate the strength of their own Christian witness as adults with that of their child’s. I find that these arguments come most often from public school parents who embrace the reality that the schools are filled with darkness, but who point to this very state of affairs as a sort of missionary justification for putting their children in them. After all, “...the Bible says we’re to be salt and light in the world, so my kids are really going to school as missionaries.” This reasoning is usually supported by the observation that “...My kids are good Christian kids. They’re saved. They have a strong witness. They’ll be fine.” And, furthermore, “I’ve taught my kids the Genesis creation account and they know their 10 commandments. When false or worldly teaching comes up, they’ll be able to recognize it and stand up to their teachers and their peers. They’ll be alright...”
Finally, there are those arguments that are couched in terms of the idea that public schooling is just a necessity. In other words, public schooling is ok because it just has to be. Public schooling is “free” -- in some districts, abundantly or extravagantly so -- and private school is not. There are parents who cannot see a clear financial path to affording private Christian schooling, and where less expensive Christian schools might be an option I find that what often takes over is fear that such schools might be inferior in some way because they are often smaller and less equipped with all the expensive technology and fancy extracurricular resources that the public schools freely offer. Homeschooling is always an alternative to the expense of private schooling, but for parents who work outside the home their work schedule seems, at least to them, to be an insurmountable barrier.
Still others who argue from necessity do so because they believe that the special needs of their children -- especially attention-challenged children -- can only be properly handled by educational experts employed by the district. For these children, public schools offer an array of free resources including counselors, special instructional plans (SIPs), customized learning environments, and other special services. The argument here seems to often be some variation of “...I can’t find a Christian school that can do all that, and how on earth could I provide all that at home if I tried to homeschool?”
Finally, I find that there are those who argue from necessity because it covers over a deeper and more difficult set of personal concerns revolving around convenience or self-doubt. For example, many of these parents acknowledge that they could homeschool because there really are no financial concerns or special needs or work issues to overcome, but public school remains the most reasonable and convenient choice because “...I don’t know how/I’m not smart enough/I’m just not that kind of person” or “...I’m afraid my kids and I would just kill each other.” I understand these concerns because I’ve had them myself, and I understand how overwhelming the thought of homeschool can be. A homeschool choice is life-transforming for both the child and the parent who stays home to do it. Fear of this transformation and self-doubt about being equipped to handle it is a very powerful barrier for a parent who is comfortably public schooling their children and who may have no prior experience at all with homeschooling.
Now, having said all that, it must also be said that regardless of the reasons given -- whether they take the form of basic denial, “island of refuge” rationalization, missionary justification, or arguments from necessity -- I have never encountered an argument for continuing to place Christian children in leftist, secularized, anti-God schools that doesn’t have a set of Scripture-based answers and encouragements toward removing children from the system. I know this from personal experience and I know this from the similar journeys that thousands upon thousands of other Christian parents have taken over the past several years. If we have all found our way out of the system, with the help of deep and challenging encounters with Scripture and the Holy Spirit, then other Christian parents can find those answers as well.
Before those answers can be found there is an important prerequisite. Before a public-schooling Christian parent can make the journey from observation to insight to conviction about what is truly at work in our nation’s schools, three things have to be true. First, there have to be eyes to see that there is indeed a problem; there must be eyes that are willing see the full extent of it, no matter how difficult the picture that emerges. Second, there have to be ears willing to hear the voices crying truth in the wilderness, even when their message calls us out of the world and into a place of challenge. There have to be ears willing to listen for the whisper of the Holy Spirit who leads us into truth -- even when the truth, and the personal response it might require, is difficult to hear. Third, there has to be a heart willing to follow. This last is of ultimate importance because every single rationale, argument, and defensive objection to removing Christian children from the public school system really begins in the heart of the parent...and it’s resolution will lie there as well.
Until those things are present, these words I have written and any others I might write in the future will fall upon blind eyes, deaf ears, and unresponsive hearts. Christian parents will continue trustingly or defiantly or deliberately -- whatever the case may be -- sending their children off into the darkness of the public school system. And, they will continue wondering why those same children continually come out on the other end squinting away from the Light.
Despite the reluctance of these parents to engage the issue -- or perhaps because of it -- in the meantime, we must press onward and speak out. The very souls of our children are at stake. Yes, I just said that. The consequences of leaving a Christian child in what constitutes public schooling today are just that serious. Where souls are at stake I believe that Scripture clearly and consistently calls us to stand up and speak Truth. Speaking Truth must take priority over any and all other concerns for self or reputation or self-preservation. It is the Truth that sets us free, nothing else -- especially not silence that is held for fear of offending others or of being personally mocked or scorned or rejected.
After all, how will ears that are ready to hear have anything to hear if those who have been given insight and Truth-full words are afraid to speak them? How will eyes that are ready to see be able to do so if those who have been led down the path of observation and discernment to conviction are afraid to show others how they got there? How will hearts that are willing to follow find the courage of their convictions if their comrades-in-Christ are too fearful, too busy, or are otherwise self-concerned and unwilling to share the convictions they themselves have received?
My prayer with this article, and those that follow, is that it will be a source of blessing in some way to those Christian parents who are still in the public schools but who are beginning to see and hear, and who are ready -- however reluctantly -- to connect those dots.
And, for fellow Christians who have ended this article in a state of offense at my words, my prayer is that you will work through it and come to see and hear Truth on this matter. I dislike causing offense but I have also come to learn that true words are sometimes offensive and that even offense itself can be fruitful and good. I pray that where offense is the result of truth being spoken, the truth will linger and become an irritating seed of thought that will hopefully and prayerfully one day lead to a softened heart and a willingness to ask further questions and find deeper answers. I pray that that process, even if begun in a state of irritation, will lead to a change of perspective and ultimately a change of heart about the appropriateness of leaving children in places of learning that are intentionally and willfully full of false idols and false teachings.
This issue is just that serious.