I tend to agree with the New York Times editorial board. There, I said it! You may not hear that again for awhile, but truth is truth. As Orin Kerr has noted, in this recent spate of Supreme Court decisions, Salinas v. Texas may be a “sleeper,” yet it may also powerfully influence criminal procedure going forward. In Salinas, Justice Alito, writing for Justice Kennedy and Chief Justice Roberts, held that in a pre-custodial, non-Miranda police interrogation, your silence in response to a police question can be used against you at trial unless you expressly invoke your Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination before the silence. What that means is, if the police invite someone down for a little chat at the station and he decides to go, he had better bone up on his Fifth Amendment jurisprudence before he gets under the hot lights, because his dumb silence can be turned against him.
How should one invoke her Fifth Amendment privilege? The Court does not quite know, stating that “no ritualistic formula is necessary in order to invoke the privilege.” 570 U.S. _____ *2 (2013). What the Court does know is you don’t get the privilege “by simply standing mute.” Id. Yet as Justice Breyer in dissent, and the Times editorial, argue – correctly, in my view – the average Joe does not know that he is required to officially invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege and likely also has no idea how he would go about invoking it. Justice Alito simply brushes this aside by saying that “forfeiture of the privilege against self-incrimination need not be knowing.” Id. at *10. In other words, the fact that you are not Perry Mason is no excuse.
Having said that, if we’re going to go down any constitutional path, I’m inclined to think we should follow Justice Thomas, in his concurring opinion. He argues that the Court’s rationale for its opinion does not square with “the Constitution’s text, history, or logic.” Id. at *1 (Thomas, J., concurring in the judgment). If we are going to abide by the Fifth Amendment, we may as well apply it as it was written and understood by its authors. For Justice Thomas (and Scalia) this would mean that one’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination does not even come into it where silence is concerned. Id. at *2. The Fifth Amendment only protects one’s right not to testify against himself. Id.
I am all in favor of convicting the guilty, so the “law and order” part of me thinks there is something commendable about Alito’s opinion, and I’m sure there is. Yet I feel uneasy about the idea of the police having an even freer hand by which to exploit people’s ignorance of their rights. And I fear that we already have a criminal justice system where innocent people are put in too great a jeopardy of incurring criminal records, or even jail time, simply because they were at the mercy of a criminal procedure that is stacked against them from the start.
I want to address the strongest arguments in favor of public schools (find them here), but before I get into the merits of each argument, I think it most important to keep before us the central question in all of this: What is the purpose of educating one’s children? In answering this question, there’s an ultimate answer and many penultimate answers. In other words, “socializing my kid into American society” is a penultimate reason for educating one’s child, for socialization can happen even if one never darkens the door of a schoolhouse. “Getting my kids out of the house for a few hours so I can have a break or work a job” is also a penultimate answer to the question. As anyone would agree, the ultimate purpose of education is not babysitting services.
For the Christian, the ultimate answer must come from God, and God has been quite clear that the purpose of our existence is to love and obey our Triune God with all of our heart, soul, strength and mind, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.” Education, to truly be education, must move toward this end, and indeed, living for God’s purposes will not be possible without educating one’s children, which is why the Bible commands it. (Eph. 6:4). Obeying this command must also keep in mind that we are human beings, bearers of the image of Christ, and thus, unique creatures in the universe. This is particularly important to have before us when our children are very young and their minds very impressionable and ripe for molding and shaping.
In order to keep this post brief and readable, I also want to engage the arguments one at a time. So let’s begin with the argument that the public schools essentially provide “free babysitting.” This allows a stay-at-home parent to get a break from the children, which is often a lifesaver, or it allows both spouses to work. Further, it keeps a family from having to foot the bill for a private education, something that is cost prohibitive for many families.
Public education is, of course, not free. As I pointed out in a comment to my previous post, according to the Cato Institute, public education comprises approximately one-third (1/3) of state and local budgets. This means that the government spends, per pupil, roughly $12,000 in the Phoenix Metro Area to roughly $27,000 in the NYC Metro Area. Id. at 3. This also means that state and local governments are spending roughly $500 billion on public education. Id. at 2. This reality does not come home to us because, well, schools don’t allow for easy access to this information, nor do they have ticker-tape parades to celebrate it. Further, the tax burden gets spread around a bit, so we don’t feel it. Nevertheless, if one pays for a private school, then he or she is paying the private school tuition on top of the taxes that go to support the public schools. Now I think the long-term solution is to get the government out of the schooling business, and then we can all decide where we want our money to go when it comes to educating our children. But we’ll leave that aside for now, since it is not a likely scenario anytime soon.
For whatever reason, getting one’s children out of the house during the day is a key priority. Public schools provide this option, relatively cheaply. And many schools now have after-school programs that will allow both parents to work more easily. For Christian parents who have the means, private Christian education is always an option, and often Christian schools have scholarship programs for those who cannot afford full tuition themselves.
Yet I think this question has to be answered in separate parts. In other words, the answer is different for the stay-at-home-mom who wants to get her kids out of the house in order to preserve her sanity, versus the mom who wants to have a career outside the home. First, the sanity question.
I wonder if the Church has properly considered the emotional needs of stay-at-home-moms. We laud such women as faithful warriors who have sacrificed so much for their children, and we often hear or read the testimony’s of mom’s who wouldn’t have it any other way, and who consider the constant neediness of their children their “cross to bear” as Christians. There is truth in this, of course, and this women are properly praised. But I’m guessing we don’t invite the mom to get up in front of the congregation and give a testimony about how often she feels emotionally on the edge of panic and would truthfully like to throw Billy out the living room window. Gasp, gasp. Yet it’s true. It’s always been true. But before we decided that post-industrial, urbanized individualism was the way to go, stay-at-home-moms could get their kids out of the house by sending them over to grandma’s or Aunt Lillian’s place, or to the next-door neighbor. And they could do this without feeling guilty or as if they were “burdening” someone, or without fearing for their child’s safety and well-being. I was out of my parents house lots of the time as a child, but things were different then. We don’t know our neighbors anymore, people in our churches are as busy “making life work” as everyone else, and our economy has forced us to live far away from our parents, and usually in fast-paced, expensive urban areas. Thus, what has always been true is now closer to the surface and often unaddressed. Grandma can’t come over anymore.
So how could the church address this issue for moms who would stay at home and educate their own children? I don’t have some panacea, and the answer would likely be different for the 40 member First Presbyterian Church of St. Copious, pop. 2,348, than for the 3,000 member mega-church in suburban Los Angeles. Yet I think we could start by at least acknowledging the problem and determining to address it. Perhaps there are college students in the congregation who would be willing to volunteer tutoring time during the day, or even get paid a bit for it. Perhaps there are retired people in the church who could help meet this need. It might not be every day, but I know that my wife would do cartwheels just for 2 days a week right now, for a few hours. I think there are other possibilities as well, perhaps some of which you have already considered. If the church considered Christian education to be an enterprise worthy of more time and resources then just Sunday mornings, we might come up with some possibilities. We’ve put men on the moon.
As for the mother who wants to work outside the home and needs the “free babysitting,” I will address this in a subsequent post because I believe it encompasses several issues that are crucial to the education question. So I’ll leave it at this for now.
As I have said numerous times on this blog, I grant that there are vast numbers of Christians who have no inclination to see our public schools dismantled. Indeed, they positively affirm and support the continued existence of them. I do not find their reasons for doing so persuasive, but I acknowledge and value their arguments, and I try to engage such arguments. My hope is to persuade some of them to reconsider their support for the public schools, and to do so in a way that is winsome, though I have not always done this successfully. I believe there’s a great need at this time in our history to engage the arguments at their best, and we may begin doing so by making the positive case for continued Christian support for the public schools.
1. The public schools have many dedicated, gifted, bright, equipped and motivated teachers and staff. Teachers, counselors, and administrators are not equal across schools, of course, but this would be true in any kind of school system. The point here is, many Christians send their kids to public schools because those kids receive instruction from excellent teachers, many of whom are Christians themselves.
2. The public schools have the vast majority of students across our land, and so for Christians to remove their children from the public schools would be a major abdication of our calling to be “salt and light” in this world. How can we expect to win people to Christ and disciple them if we leave the public schools, which would also mean leaving the social connections that come from being involved in public schools, such as PTA meetings, field trips, athletic events, and numerous other extra-curricular activities. In other words, putting one’s children in a public school opens up all sorts of relational networks – both for student and parent – that would seem to be closed if one opts for private education or homeschooling.
3. Speaking of athletic events, the public schools provide great opportunities for students to be involved in sports. They typically have excellent facilities, and at the upper levels, have gyms, stadiums, weight rooms, swimming pools, tennis courts, etc. This is something that homeschooling simply cannot offer, and private schools are often lacking as well.
4. If we do not support the public schools, we essentially abandon poor and minority families who cannot afford private schools and who do not have parents who can afford the time to homeschool. What will these indigent poor do without a public school system?
5. Public schools provide a primary and necessary context for our children to be socialized into American society. Kids need to learn how to relate to others, to practice the give-and-take compromises that will be so valuable as they mature. And where better to get this training than in public schools? Further, this will prevent children from becoming insular, sheltered, or just plain awkward and out-of-touch. If we want them to participate meaningful in American life, then we need to give our children the opportunity to be socialized in a community where most Americans will be socialized. This will allow them to be relevant to others as adolescents and adults. Christians seriously risk being irrelevant and ghetto-ized if they do not educate their children in the public schools, and the last thing Christians need is further marginalization in our society.
6. The public schools are cost-effective in that the tax burden is spread around. They are not “free,” of course, but no one family feels the tax pinch too strongly, since all are shouldering the tab for public schools. Further, public schools provide an easy avenue for people to educate their children, without them having to research all sorts of private options.
7. Many public schools, frankly, provide an excellent education. Many of them have tremendous resources, particularly in the hard sciences, and thus, they can do a great job of teaching math and science, two subjects that are not so open to politicization. Further, they are the best pipeline into most colleges. Colleges respect the public school curriculum, and parents whose children attend public schools can be confident that the curriculum will meet state standards, which will be honored by colleges.
8. Public schools do the best job of providing quality assurance and accountability, for the government keeps a close eye on educational standards. Homeschooling can too easily devolve into laxity, and private schools may not be up to snuff; and since they are not really accountable to the state, kids can fall through the academic cracks in such schools.
9. Public schools continued vitality are crucial to the economic well-being of our nation. They may be considered “too-big-to-fail.” That is, the provide jobs for employees of the N.E.A., state teachers associations, private organizations that provide teacher training and supplies, curriculum workers, administrators, teachers and staff. Imagine if all of this infrastructure were to go away. The public schools benefit not only the students, but those who work at such schools. Thus, we have a vested interest in seeing them thrive.
10. Finally, and let’s be honest here, putting children in public schools allows parents to have a break. If a mom or dad stays at home, he or she would simply like to have a few hours during the day without having to attend to the kids and all that this entails. Public schools provide an easy way to make this happen.
If there are additional significant arguments in favor of the public schools, I am unaware of them (though I would love to have some one educate me).
Let’s take a crack at this. God famously says to Zechariah the prophet that his word to Zerubbabel is: “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit.” But exactly what is it that will be accomplished “by God’s Spirit?” Is this just a spiritual maxim for any and every situation? Certainly God’s people are to do all things by God’s Spirit, but too often this is seen in atomistic, individualistic terms. Yet perhaps God means it to be seen in the context of something He is doing in and through God’s people as a whole, both immediately and for generations. What God wants done in Zechariah’s day is the rebuilding of His temple in Jerusalem, and this is something that is to be done by His Spirit. But I think it points beyond the building of a mere building, to the work that God is doing in bringing about the message and power of redemption to all the nations of the earth. This, too, is by God’s Spirit, and it is a long-term project.
I begin with this because I see education as part and parcel of God’s kingdom purposes among the nations, something to be accomplished “not by might nor by power, but by God’s Spirit.” And this relates to a question that was put to me: What about homeschooling or private Christian schooling for those who require two incomes just to provide the basics, or for single-parent families?
I want to address this question in two ways: 1) With respect to immediacy, and 2) with the long view. In the near term, I think there are a number of ways that two-income families or single parents can be helped to choose a Christian education for their children. First, one of my commentors is surely correct is saying that “many, maybe even most families that say they ‘have’ to have two incomes could cut back and still live comfortably on one income. It’s all in where your priorities are.” I’ll have more to say about this under my “long view” answer, but Jesus’ words ring true here: “Where your heart is, there will your treasure be also.” Having said that, I know there are two-income families who truly must have both incomes, and there are still the single parents. The church could help here in the short-term, by providing scholarships and stipends to families that wanted a Christian education for their children. Our churches spend money on all sorts of other services and ministries, why not this one? More churches could also begin to establish and fund schools of their own, so as to help with the education of God’s people. Many private Christian schools already offer scholarships; I know the school I used to work at does. I wager there are more options for such parents than we think. I wonder how many have truly researched the options available in their local communities.
These questions are, however, more importantly answered by taking the long view, and this is what makes me think of God’s word to Zechariah. We need to start with what God is doing among His people, “by His Spirit.” This means we have to walk things back several steps and start thinking about the question: What is education for? Not “Christian” education, but education. It is for “making disciples of all the nations.” It is for “training up your children in the discipline and admonition of the Lord.” It is for “loving the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, with all of your strength, and with all of your mind.” That’s what education is for, and that’s what government schools are ill-equipped to do.
And when we walk it back like this, we should think of John Piper’s word to us: “I’m tired of American priorities.” It’s American priorities that keep the government schools running, not biblical priorities. If we stopped thinking of the words, “not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit” in radically individualistic, short-term ways, we might say to the single parent: “Right now, there is no way that you can provide a private education for your child. But by gum, you can surely think differently about your child’s education. You can begin to see the bankruptcy of the public schools. You can begin to ‘keep the conversation live’ about alternatives to the government schools, you can act politically to see the current system dismantled, you can begin to talk with others in your churches and spheres of influence about your newfound thoughts on education, you and others can begin to pray together about this, and on down the line.” This may lead to others similarly having a change of heart, and this may lead, over generations, to a re-thinking and re-vamping of our educational institutions. This takes patience. This is the long view. This requires God’s Spirit to be the driving and motivating power.
This change of priorities might also mean that Christians will begin to think differently about the economic level they think they need for their families. It may lead to a questioning of our careerism, which in turn may lead to changes over time in how our professional lives are structured. It may lead to a more practical application of “love thy neighbor as thyself” when it comes to schooling. Thus, we may find that the single parent and the two-income family has options for giving his of her children an explicitly Christian education. May the Lord help us to keep the ball rolling in this direction.
1. You are already paying for public schools, so why pay for public schools and then pay to send your kids to private schools on top of that?
This is my argument for getting government out of the education business altogether. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 had the right idea when it said that “religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” ‘Encouraged’ being the operative word. What all levels of government should do is get out of the business of providing education, give us all the tax money back, and allow education to flourish through private means. It sounds radical, but I would argue that it only sounds that way because we have been thoroughly inundated by the tropes of the public school agenda. Privatization would allow all sorts of capital to flow to education, without the heavy-handed ‘one-size-fits-all’ curriculum and top-heavy bureaucrats that govern government schools.
2. Public schools are fine because “education is what you make of it.”
To some degree this is true, particularly as the student climbs higher in education. But I do not believe this is true overall. God is quite specific about the need for good things to be going into our hearts and minds, not a continual barrage of curriculum that official denies God and Christ any place in any area of learning. What kids “make of it” in public schools is that Jesus has nothing to do with anything that is properly called “knowledge.” They imbibe, from 12 years of officially excluding God, that Jesus is a nice friend, if that, for weekends and calling on in a pinch, but He most certainly does not know everything there is to know about calculus, physics, string theory, geography, history, literature and everything else. That is, he is not the smartest person who ever lived. What students make of their secular education is that Jesus is mostly irrelevant to the things that matter most in life. They also make of their education a rather utilitarian view of education and the life of the mind. This does not mean that every Christian kid from a Christian home who went through public schools came out an unbeliever. I didn’t, and I went to public schools all the way through college. But that’s no argument for it. Some people go to war and don’t get killed. But that’s no argument for going to war. If “education is what you make of it,” this would be a splendid argument for home-schooling. That is, teach your kids the basics of reading and math, and then let them “go make of it what they will.” But I suspect this is not what you mean.
3. With the proper motivation, kids will do just fine in the public schools.
I don’t doubt it, but what you did on a micro-level by offering your pupils soda pop is not really possible on the macro level. Plus, there are plenty of teachers who try various short-term rewards to motivate kids, with little long-term success. I would argue that this is because education, by its nature, requires a motivation of the type that satisfies the sum total of our being. That is, it must accord with the truth of the gospel in Jesus Christ to properly motivate people. Sure, some, motivated by ambition, will do well, but their education will be truncated. Others will be motivated by spiritual truth, even though they do not consciously affirm it. The image of God in us will not be ultimately tamped down. Yet I believe the reason so many kids are utterly bored with school and see it as a time-waster is because, to a significant degree, that’s largely what it is. The public schools try to motivate people with utilitarian notions of “getting a good job” or “succeeding in life.” But these things all lack definition and texture, and the public schools are ill-equipped to provide any definitions because that would require the schools to talk about better or worse ways to live that have to do with the kind of beings we are, namely, spiritual beings who, as Mario Savio so powerfully stated on the steps of UC Berkeley, “don’t mean to be—have any process upon us. Don’t mean to be made into any product. Don’t mean… Don’t mean to end up being bought by some clients of the University, be they the government, be they industry, be they organized labor, be they anyone! We’re human beings!” But the government schools don’t know what it means to be a human being, and even if they did, they couldn’t tell their students. The Supreme Court says so.
4. Homeschooling is not optimal because most people are not educationally or pedagogically equipped to teach their own children, and the co-op option does not provide the breadth of teachers with expertise that is needed to teach one’s children.
I think there are a number of problems here, on the historical, practical and educational level. First, the historical problem. Education has been carried on quite nicely without government-administered schooling for most of humanity’s history. One of the failings of public education is that public school students are not taught much of anything about the history of education itself. They cannot imagine anything really different than the system we’ve got now, and unfortunately, they still cannot imagine it upon reaching adulthood. We have been seduced into thinking that all of our technological gadgetry has made us somehow smarter. Yet our online libraries are full but our minds are empty. One of the best kept secrets out there is how little time children actually need from instructors before they can begin teaching themselves.
A second problem is practical. We don’t really have a good idea of what homeschooling has been and is now. It has reached quite a level of sophistication, with a lot more “co-oping” going on, if you will, than the average person outside of it thinks. Further, tutors really can provide a lot of specialized attention where that is needed. You provided this yourself. Why not think that it could be done on a much wider scale? It was historically. Further, how is it better for a kid to be sitting in a classroom with 35 other kids, so that he or she is not getting any individualized attention, than to be one who could be getting attention from a tutor like yourself, or another college student who would be happy to work with my kid in trigonometry twice a week for 12-15 bucks an hour?
Finally, you yourself say that most adults cannot perform on anything higher than an 8th grade level. Yet most of these low-performers are products of public schools, like you and me. So I don’t see how this is an advertisement for more of the same. We can hardly do worse than the public schools are currently doing, particularly among the poor. The fact is, most parents can do all of the basic teaching their children will ever need, and they can do it very well, if it is their aim to do it. It takes work and it’s exhausting, and it cannot be done in isolation. It is not perfect. No education is. I’ve seen people I consider “the best” have to give up on it. Indeed, I’m not a “died in the wool, homeschool only” advocate. I do think that children need to get input from other sources than their parents, and they do need exposure to those who are relative experts in certain fields, particularly as their minds expand. But there are far better ways of addressing this than public schooling, which ways I should like to develop, but space does not permit in this post.
Much more could be said, but we’ll leave it at this for now.