Russell and Duenes

Archive for November 2012

The Public Schools in California

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davidbahnsenIn The Irreversible Decline of California, David Bahnsen presents his analysis for why the state is heading over a cliff. Much has been written about California’s demise over the years, and Bahnsen gives no timetable for it, but one of the central actors he points to in describing California’s sorry condition is the “teacher’s union.” He argues persuasively that the California schools are on death row, and the teacher’s union is a huge part of the problem. But the larger problem, as I see it, is that California is just the most egregious example of what’s wrong with the public school system in this country in general. California schools simply illustrate the problem writ large. Bahnsen writes,

One has to wonder what is being “taught” as California has slipped in to 48th or 49th place in nearly all quantifiable categories in public education rankings, but even beyond that, one has to wonder what advocacy for teachers the unions have exactly been providing. I digress. As teachers were being laid off in droves over the last several years, California’s spending on their public schools increased to over 50% of the entire state budget, not even counting the massive federal subsidies given from Washington D.C. for this debacle of a school system. California spends over $50 billion per year on her statist school system, the results are among the worst in the country, and the recommended remedy? Spend more money. Always and forever. “More money for the schools”. The unstoppable masses of people fleeing the state schools for private schools, parochial schools, charter schools, and even home-schooling would suggest that the consumer is voting with their feet. However, citizens still have to vote at the ballot box too, and the teacher’s unions are well aware of that. Consider these numbers, and then the meat will fall off the bone in my making of the case the California is unsalvageable: All told, California public employee unions spend $250 million per year on politics, with the benevolent teacher’s unions representing over $200 million of that. The unions exist to sustain their own existence, and Californians are paying the tab.

Doubtless, California schools, particularly in the Bay Area and Los Angeles area, are among the most secular and the most liberal in the country. They are the proof as to where government sponsored schools, which officially teach secular agnosticism, ultimately lead. They are public schools taken to their logical end point. More money, more statism, less education, more failure. Unfortunately, the “unstoppable masses” whom Bahnsen claims are leaving the government schools in droves are not quite enough. The cry is all too often heard, doubtless from many Christians, that if we abandon the public schools, “What will happen to all the poor people who cannot afford private schools? Won’t their education be even worse than it is now?” Rather than advocating an alternative in this post – and many alternatives there are – I would simply ask this: How much worse do you imagine it can get than Los Angeles Unified School District? How bad does it have to be before we say, “Enough!” Do you think that a totally different system than we have now would put the poorest children, living in, say, Boyle Heights or Watts or Compton or Pacoima, in a worse educational environment than they are now? What is the good of preserving a public education system, as currently constituted, which does not truly educate? And which drains billions of dollars to pay for unions, bureaucracy, and bloated administrative schemes?

Might it not be past time to stop tinkering around the edges of our current system and to head back to the drawing board?



Written by Michael Duenes

November 30, 2012 at 5:29 am

Things That Will Be Discussed in Public Schools, but Not Truthfully

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Human Origins. The public schools discuss this in biology classes, yet they will not discuss the following: “Blessed are You, O Lord our God, for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and are created.” (Rev. 4:11) “I praise you, [LORD], for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:14)

Knowledge. The public schools will assume that knowledge comes from somewhere, and that we are rational creatures. Yet they will not discuss the following: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Prov. 1:7) “In [Christ] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Col. 2:3) “In your light, we see light.” (Psalm 36:9)

Cosmology. The public schools may discuss cosmology in an astronomy class, or a physics class. Yet they will not discuss the following: “From God and to God and through God are all things.” (Rom. 11:36) “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth.” (Acts. 17:24) “Praise [the LORD], sun and moon. Praise Him all you shining stars. Praise Him you highest heavens and you waters above the skies. Let them praise the name of the Lord, for at His command they were created.” (Psalm 148:3-5) “[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Col. 1:15-17)

History. The public schools will discuss both world history and U.S. history, but they won’t be discussing the following: “And [God] made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us.” (Acts 17:26-27) “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matt. 24:14) “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; He removes kings and sets up kings.” (Dan. 2:20-21) “[God’s] dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation;all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and He does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, “What have you done?”” (Dan. 4:34-35)

Literature. The public schools will discuss literature, but they will not discuss the following: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Rom. 12:2) “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1) “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (Matt. 15:19) “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” (Col. 3:5)

Foreign Languages. They will teach foreign languages in the public schools, but to what end? An end they will not discuss is: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28:19-20) “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

The examples, and the applicable Scriptures, could be multiplied. Education has to do not just with “information,” or with “becoming productive citizens” or with “getting a good job.” It has to do with the nature and purpose of things, with proper ends and means, with wisdom, and with worship. These things will not be taught in the public schools. But that does not mean that the spiritual vacuum will be left empty. It will be filled, and what it is filled with will be something spiritual, and idolatrous.



Written by Michael Duenes

November 28, 2012 at 9:15 pm

Secularism is a Religion, but Christians Give It a Pass When It Comes to Education

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The more Supreme Court cases I read on the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment, the more certain I am that secularism is a religion in every way that Presbyterianism and Wahabism and Hinduism and Buddhism and Judaism are religions. Secularism is as totalizing a worldview as any named “religion.” It has creeds. It has high priests. It has ceremonies. It has magistrates that enforce its orthodoxies. It has punishments for dissenters. And it has evangelists, yea, fundamentalists. I could go on for dozens of pages about how this is so, and do it based solely on statements from Supreme Court justices over the last 50 years.

But what I don’t get, what I simply cannot get my mind around anymore, is why we in the church, particularly when it comes to the education of our children, are willing to give it a pass and, for all practical purposes, concede its claim to “neutrality.” We may claim that we are putting our children in public schools to be “salt and light,” but I’m just not sure what this means. It would be tantamount to the Israelites having said that they would let the Canaanites remain in the land so that the Israelites could be “salt and light” for them. I think we’ve seen how that went down. I think many Christians also imagine that, if we abandoned secular schools, we would just ghetto-ize ourselves and become totally irrelevant spiritually. I think a passing observation of where Christians stand in our culture today should pretty well answer that one.

I just don’t get it. But one thing I do get: Because Christian children are being educated in public schools, they don’t have to interact for one second with the kind of ideological force contained in the literature I’m reading. They don’t have to devote one brain cell to thinking about whether government-administered education can be spiritually neutral. And from the looks of things, most Christians in law schools don’t have to grapple with it either, because you can count the number of explicitly Christian law schools on one hand.


Written by Michael Duenes

November 26, 2012 at 6:44 pm

Thanksgiving: I Don’t Want There to be a God

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I happened across this blurb by that the atheist philosopher, Thomas Nagel, wrote back in 1997 (HT: Justin Taylor):

I am talking about something much deeper—namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. . . . It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.

I remember my pastor and I having a conversation with a college student in Hermosa Beach, CA, who said that he couldn’t believe in the gospel because of all the contradictions in the Bible and what not. My pastor, being wise and perceptive, asked the young man, “What if we could clear up all the biblical problems and other issues to your satisfaction, not our satisfaction, but yours…would you then want to have a relationship with Jesus?” “No,” he said. And there was this silence, for there was nothing more to say. The business about the biblical problems was a smokescreen, and now we all saw it clearly. He didn’t want Jesus to be Lord. His answer has always stuck with me, and in some ways has haunted me, for I know that I too, have all too often, wanted there to be no God over me. And this is the real test, isn’t it? Do I want God? And would I like the Bible to be true and to compel my allegiance? If not, wouldn’t I find heaven to be, as Daniel  Fuller put it, like attending a party to which I was never invited?

Yet something else strikes me about Nagel’s confession. He says he wants there to be no God, and he doesn’t want a universe with God in it, ruling over it. But I wonder if he means that he truly wants a godless universe, or whether he wants a universe where he doesn’t have to think about God, but he can still have all of the wonderful things that attend a universe suffused with God’s common graces. A truly godless universe cannot even be imagined, because it would be something different from our universe, not in degree, but in kind.

We cannot emotionally or intellectually come to grips with a universe where we are truly the accidents of some random material process, where love, justice, truth, goodness, and beauty are not real, where rational thought is not possible, and where we are genuinely no different and no more valuable than the common water flea. What we usually means when we say that we hope there’s no God is, “Give me a universe where life has meaning, where beauty and love are actually things to be enjoyed and known, where loyalty and friendship mean something, where work and vocation add value and bring fulfillment and goodness, where I can live as if what I do matters, as if sexual intercourse is not just some meaningless, good-feeling act, no different than shooting up on heroin, where my choices are real and consequential, and where I can even give thanks on a day like Thanksgiving…give me all this, and perhaps even life beyond the grave in some better place, but don’t give me a God over all of it to whom I shall have to give an account.” We want the Christian capital without the Christ.

But as Douglas Wilson says, if God doesn’t exist, there’s no one to thank, and too often it appears that we want it that way.


Written by Michael Duenes

November 21, 2012 at 6:20 pm

Posted in Duenes, Reflections

Public Schools and the State-Created Orthodoxy

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“No single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!'” – Abraham Kuyper

Is Kuyper right? If he is, do his words have anything to say to Christians about public school education? Can something as formative and life-shaping as the training of one’s mind and patterns of thought be “hermetically sealed off” from one’s spiritual development? Did not Paul command us to “be transformed by the renewing of our minds?” Wouldn’t this be an educative task?

Like many Christians, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, in his opinion in Lee v. Weisman, apparently does not see the absolutely spiritual nature of education, and therefore, he thinks the government schools can carve out some kind of religiously neutral truce with all religions in the way they conduct their educational task. But let’s look at some of Justice Kennedy’s words on this count.

In Lee v. Weisman, Kennedy writes:

“The explanation [of the difference between the free speech clause and the establishment clause] lies in the lesson of history that was and is the inspiration for the Establishment Clause, the lesson that in the hands of government what might begin as a tolerant expression of religious views may end in a policy to indoctrinate and coerce. A state-created orthodoxy puts at grave risk that freedom of belief and conscience which are the sole assurance that religious faith is real, not imposed.” (emphasis mine)

Education, properly understood, is a central part of teaching people to love God with all their heart, soul, strength and mind, and to love their neighbors as themselves. But the government schools don’t believe this. The public schools engage, whether intentionally or not, “in a policy to indoctrinate and coerce” adherence to secular agnosticism.

Don’t believe me; then consider a few items. Consider that the government forces me and every Christian to subsidize it’s officially secular schools, whether we want to or not, on pain of punishment for tax evasion. Further, if we cannot afford a private school education on top of the taxes we pay to support the government schools, or if we cannot homeschool, then our kids have no choice about going to public schools. This sounds a bit like coercion.

On the indoctrination front, consider briefly how the public school teaches biology: We came from primordial soup, we’re descended from apes, and our evolutionary process needs no God to have superintended it all. This theory is not open to serious question or discussion in the public schools, and it certainly is not religiously neutral. Consider how public schools teach English: There’s no story that underlies every story. There’s no meta-narrative above all other human-created narratives. Good literature does not point one to either humanity’s godwardness or godlessness. No, it’s about discreet narratives, and likely the older narratives come in for more criticism, unless we can dress them up in the themes of modern sexual license, so that Jane Austen becomes a sexually liberated 60s woman and Shakespeare a modern Don Juan.

Or how about history: Do public schools teach that God started history, is Lord of history, and has a purpose for history? Do public schools have anything to say about what God might think about certain historical developments? Will public school history be taught from the perspective that no one culture was really better than another, and that all human cultures stand under the unchanging justice of God, and so must all be critiqued? What about foreign languages? Why study them? What does God even have to do with languages and why we have so many different ones?

And Government and Economics classes? Will the public schools even broach the topic of what God might think about power and money? God talks about it quite a bit. Or is this all stuff left for the home? So what religious view of money and of human government will a kid imbibe at a public school? Maybe it’ll be a pretty good one, but you can be sure that he or she won’t imbibe the notion that God has any thoughts about it, and I’m guessing that thinking well about economics and government takes a good amount of effort and perseverance, the lack of which will not be remedied by the youth group at church or the various conversations when busy parents and busy students have time to chat. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

What I’m saying is: One cannot plausibly argue, like Justice Kennedy does, that a school’s forcing students to sit through graduation prayers amounts to “indoctrination and coercion,” but that forcing students to sit through 13 years of teaching that God has nothing to do with the basis and acquisition of knowledge, that His moral and spiritual rules are irrelevant to the educational process, and that evolution is the God’s-honest truth about how we got here is not “indoctrination and coercion.” The problem, however, is not the secular agnostics. It’s the Christians who accept the state-sponsored religion of the government schools as some kind of neutral activity that won’t significantly mold their children into its image. Were enough Christians to call the government’s bluff on this, we’d be done with public education in this country.


Written by Michael Duenes

November 18, 2012 at 9:04 pm