Russell and Duenes

Wondering About the Schools

with 9 comments

Math OlympicsTo none of my readers’ surprise, I spend a lot of time thinking about education, and about Christian education in particular. Such thoughts lead me to wonder.

I wonder how many of my Christian friends whose kids are in public schools genuinely desire an explicitly Christian education for their children, but are unable to provide it. That is, they cannot afford a private Christian school, and homeschooling is not feasible, given our current economy. To these friends, the words of Supreme Court justice Robert Jackson hit home: “I have sympathy . . . with Catholic citizens who are compelled by law to pay taxes for public schools, and also feel constrained by conscience and discipline to support other schools for their own children.” Everson v. Board of Ed. of Ewing Tp., 330 U.S. 1, 18 (1947).

Then I wonder how many of my Christian friends and acquaintances have their children in public schools because they genuinely believe that a public school education will be a better education than the private Christian educations available to them, whether at a Christian school or by homeschooling. In other words, these Christians would send their kids to a private Christian school, or would homeschool them, if they thought doing so would provide a superior overall education for their children. Undoubtedly there are many mediocre or worse Christian schools open for business, and some parents simply do not have the wherewithal to successfully carry off the homeschooling enterprise. Yet I wonder how sub-standard the Christian education has to be before it becomes a larger detriment to a Christian student than are the public schools with their official agnosticism, their politicized historicism, their overt sexualization, and their unwarranted scientism, to name just a few of the larger public school deficiencies.

I further wonder how many Christian parents have their children in public schools because it is simply the least hassle. Don’t get me wrong, I do not discount this. I have three healthy, energetic (sometimes hyper) boys. I know what it would mean for them to be out of the house during the middle of the day. In my mind I picture a Christian family that is really pressed to the limit. The stresses coming from jobs, from children, from bills to pay, from laundry to do, from housework and yardwork, from extracurricular commitments, from church commitments, from relationships in general, simply cause some Christians to reason: “You know, I just want my kids out of the house for a few hours where I don’t have to worry about them. They’re at school, they’re learning, they have responsible and competent teachers, they’re making friends, and they are ‘out of my hair’ during the day so that I can simply get some things done and not be overwhelmed. And we’ll work out the spiritual kinks at home.” I just wonder for how many Christians this is truly what is going on.

Finally, I wonder how many Christian parents keep their kids in public schools for almost entirely non-academic reasons. That is, they intentionally want their kids in public schools because they believe that their children are meant to be “salt and light” in the schools, because they want to befriend non-Christians and be a Christian light to other parents who they will come to know through the public school relational network, because they fear that Christians will be ghetto-ized, irrelevant and unable to effectively reach others for Christ if Christians abandon the public schools, because they don’t want their kid to end up “weird,” or simply because their kid is a great athlete and they want him or her to play public school sports. Other non-academic motivations could be adduced. But I wonder.

And I wonder, if we’re being honest with ourselves, how much Christian conversion is going on because Christians remain in the public schools, and if the number of converts to Christ outweighs the number of Christian kids who have abandoned their parents’ faith because they were “converted” to secular agnosticism or some kind of non-biblical “spirituality” through the influence of the public schools. I wonder how many Christian parents believe that it’s a crap-shoot as to whether their child will grow up to be a believer, no matter what they do as parents. I wonder what the effect on people, on our institutions, on our culture and society would be if Christians, on a large scale, pulled their kids out of public schools, and educated them, with great rigor, with an explicitly Christian education, so that they might learn to think and act in more robustly Christian ways. I wonder if we’d actually “ghetto-ize” ourselves, if we’d become “irrelevant,” or if we’d be abandoning God’s saving purposes. Or I wonder if we might, as Talbot School of Theology is doing, train and equip Christian men and women to think faithfully, excellently, Christianly and rigorously, such that these men and women go out, as they are doing even now, and influence not only individuals, but institutions, for Christ. I wonder, on balance, which one will lead to more conversions to Christ.

I just wonder.

-D

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Written by Michael Duenes

February 19, 2013 at 6:24 pm

Posted in Duenes, Education

9 Responses

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  1. My wife went to private christian school, K-12. She went to college unprepared for the science courses because she was taught in a certain way. While I value all good schooling, I think the quality of education should play a big part in the decision just as anyone’s religious beliefs do.

    Language Arts Teacher

    February 19, 2013 at 6:58 pm

    • Lang. Arts Teacher – I couldn’t agree more. I would no more want to put my boys in a mediocre Christian school than a public school. There is no excuse for Christian schools which do not provide a quality education, nor for homeschooling that likewise fails to educate. But I think the solution is to improve Christian education, which is certainly something that can be done. I appreciate your thoughts on this.

      -D

      russell and duenes

      February 19, 2013 at 8:37 pm

  2. Growing up in a Christian education system I can honestly say that some of the biggest frustrations and roadblocks to the development of my own christian faith have been when earnest attempts to live like we were being taught were met with the harsh reality of politics and bottom-line thinking. Over the years I’d say it has taught me that no institution can secure the work that Christ and Christ alone can do in someone’s heart. That being said, I do believe there is hope in the optimistic wonderings you mentioned so long as that change of heart is happening between a husband and wife first – the essential family unit. And if more Christian Schools would appeal to this unit more often, instead of taking it upon themselves to become that unit, I think there could be much hope indeed.

    Alex

    February 19, 2013 at 10:25 pm

    • A – I really do appreciate your insights. On a personal level, it was a joy to be one of your teachers and colleagues. And I was painfully aware of many of the institutional failings of the Christian school, many of which, no doubt, I contributed to. And you are right, no institution, in itself, can secure the work of Christ. But you mention the importance of the family unit, and I would submit to you that the family is itself an institution, and the most basic one. The church, like it or not, is an institution, and is central to one’s spiritual formation. I think your are right in saying that the education must be integrally tied to the family unit, first and foremost. There are lots of specifics that would go into a successful Christian education, and no education is going to be perfect, just as no family or church will be perfect. But I truly believe that God commands, not suggests, that His people train their children up explicitly in the discipline and admonition of the Lord, and that we ought to take His command seriously, and seek to obey it in our families and churches. I’m simply trying to lay the groundwork, to convince people that what God wants is good for God’s people, like strong marriages and strong churches, and then get into the specifics of what it looks like. Once again, I appreciate your words and your life.

      -D

      russell and duenes

      February 20, 2013 at 7:21 am

      • Thanks Mr. Duenes, I have and always will consider you one of the handful of people that God sovereign-ly used to protect the small flame that was my faith at that time in my life. Yes I agree that the family and the church are both divinely appointed institutions and as such we Christians need to do everything in our power to be faithful with protecting and investing in them because it truly is good. very good!

        Alex Flores

        February 20, 2013 at 9:25 am

  3. I grew up in a Christian school, and I have my kids in public school right now. It’s not because I want them to be a witness, I doubt very many parents do it for that reason.

    Just as there is variation in Christian schools, some good, some bad, there is variation in public schools. Not all public schools have the agnosticism and sexualization you describe. I know ours doesn’t. In fact, most of the teachers are Christians. Furthermore, my kids are getting a superior academic education in the public school than they had at a Christian school, and they have learned more about Biblical history in the public school than they have at church.

    Homeschooling would never work for us, either. It would be too tempting to blow it off every day to avoid the battles and work involved. And that’s what I’ve seen all too often in home-schooled kids at my church. Many don’t learn very much, and they don’t realize it because they have no one to compare themselves to. That may be the fault of the parent, but I’m just being realistic in what I’ve seen.

    The answer is most certainly to improve Christian schools. But in the absence of that, sometimes public school is the best option for Christian parents.

    And now for my libertarian slant that everyone hates: school quality and innovation would improve, and prices would come down, if competition were increased by the government getting out of education altogether. Private schools can’t compete in terms of price, since public schools are “free”. So they end up filling the high price luxury market for rich kids. Public schools don’t have to compete with anyone at all, so expenses are high and quality is low.

    bates

    February 21, 2013 at 10:39 am

    • Bates, I like your libertarian slant best of all, and agree with it 100% and without reservation. I know we’re just labeled as cranks for holding such a view, but with all my heart, I think the government has no business being in the education business; for economic, educational, and constitutional reasons. May our tribe increase on that point.

      I also am well aware that not all public schools are the same. Doubtless some of my slant comes from having been in California. I don’t know whether your children’s school is an aberration, but either way, if Christian schools were educating as they should be, no public school would be able to compare in the subjects you’re talking about (e.g., biblical history). I would quibble with you as to whether all public schools have “agnosticism.” They can’t help but have it, unless they are willing and able to stand up in front of the students and say, “Jesus is Lord of everything and of this subject we’re going to be discussing today.” I don’t care how good or religiously open a public school your kids go to, I don’t believe the teachers there can explicitly and openly express that Jesus is Lord as they go about their teaching. Not only can they not mouth the words, they cannot teach as though it’s true either. They may be Christians, and they may be able to have spiritual conversations with your children, and they may do a good job of teaching biblical history, but they certainly cannot teach the students that biblical history is God’s truth, and that the students should trust Jesus as Lord over that history and all history. It’s just not possible, unless the teachers are intentionally violating the Constitution as it our Supreme Court currently misinterprets it.

      I think I implied, and I have said in other posts, that “sometimes public school is the best option for Christian parents.” I wish it weren’t so, but it is. And likely for you, whatever your circumstances happen to be, it IS the best option, and I do not fault you for taking it, particularly in light of our “libertarian” problem, which doesn’t give you the option of shopping around. But ultimately, the accountability belongs to the churches. God’s people are the ones who could do something about it, but we don’t. When was the last sermon or other kind of talk you heard at church about what God thinks about education? I meant at all? It’s never even a topic. Missions is a topic; evangelism is a topic, marriage and family are topics; but education?

      As always, I appreciate your comments and discussion.

      -D

      russell and duenes

      February 21, 2013 at 8:15 pm

      • D-

        Points well taken. I think you’re right.

        -Bates

        bates

        February 24, 2013 at 12:35 pm

  4. Our daughter Penny started kindergarten six weeks ago. At the end of her first day of school, she greeted me with, “Mom! I didn’t miss you!” She’s loved every moment since. I’m sure much of her experience is typical—she walks to school, she works …

    Ellen Burkowitz

    February 22, 2013 at 10:48 pm


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