Russell and Duenes

The Strongest Arguments for Christians Sending Their Kids to Public Schools

with 13 comments

school busAs 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).


Written by Michael Duenes

June 15, 2013 at 11:56 am

Posted in Duenes, Education

13 Responses

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  1. #10 is the best. Free babysitting. And I’m not joking. My husband and I are both public school products – he was old for his grade, school was extremely easy, and the in-depth things he learned at home. I’m so tired of constant needs/home educating, I just want the free babysitting and I couldn’t care less about the education at this point.

    BTW not sure if you have made this point in any of your school posts yet, but parents should decide their ultimate goal for their children first – Reach 18 unscathed? Admission to a good college? Solid character and deep love for God? Until you prioritize your ultimate desire for your children you cannot make a good decision for their education.


    June 15, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    • Kimberly – No. 10 is far and away the best reason in our house. Of course, the babysitting isn’t free, since, according to the Cato Institute, we spend anywhere from $12,000 per pupil (Phoenix area) to $27,000 per pupil (NYC area). It’s kind of like our income taxes. We pay the level we do because our taxes are withheld. But if Americans had to write a check and mail it to the IRS every month, we’d have anarchy in the streets.

      I myself am a public school product, and I don’t doubt that getting me out of the house for several hours each day was a perk for my mom (It would have been a perk for any mother). My response would be that no parent should do the exclusive educating. I do think that kids need to get out of their homes for several hours each day, and parents need breaks. Unfortunately, our culture has prized individualism so much that parents do not get a lot of help from their local communities, even their churches. (This is a much larger topic). As I have said, I’m not a died-in-the-wool “homeschooling only” advocate. I think kids still need brick and mortal institutions with teachers who are equipped to give kids certain things and provide interaction for the children. Many of the things I taught my students at Redwood, 98% of parents could not have taught their kids. It’s not because they’re stupid, they just are not equipped to do so. And there’s a place for that.

      Yes, my central point in all this is: What is the purpose of education? What does God think it’s purpose is? Answer this question, and I think we know what to do about public schools.


      russell and duenes

      June 15, 2013 at 2:51 pm

    • Regarding #10 I think you’ve mentioned elsewhere that for many families this doesn’t just allow a break, it allows both parents to work (which for some is nec. to survive, for others nec. so they can afford a lifestyle, save for colllege or whatever). #2 has some pull for me – not necessarily as an argument, but it’s definitely a tool to get into others’ lives. Honestly for us it’s that the alternatives don’t work logistically/financially, so though our theoretical order of preference would probably be (1) homeschooling, (2) private school, (3) public school, we just can’t see how the first two would work. Private school in a way is saying, now both parents can work, so you can send the 2nd income our way. Great. I think in some theoretical place in my mind, I envision it taking a village to educate our kids, but it feels like there’s too much individualism in our time and place to overcome.

      Andy M

      June 15, 2013 at 3:11 pm

      • Andy – I imagine that there are tons of Christian families in your shoes. There’s theory and there’s reality, and I grant this. I also make no judgments upon families in your shoes, for I’m largely in those shoes. The individualism is a huge root problem. It certainly takes a “village,” at least of the Christian sort; but we seem to have little imagination or stomach for the endeavor. New sanctuaries = good. Schools planted for our member’s children = Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?


        russell and duenes

        June 15, 2013 at 7:46 pm

  2. Speaking as an atheist who was among other pursuits a public school teacher for a while.

    As you know, I believe there is no basis for believing that is such a being as “God,” exists, and little reason for believing that such a being would justifiably regarded as “Good” if it existed.

    That said, most people at an early age become believers or non-believers, though there are, of course, exceptions. I suspect genetic predisposition has much to do with which way people end up aligning themselves, though the matter is not a simple, digital, “on-off” matter. As far as nurture can influence the matter, the earlier “indoctrination” (for lack of a better, more neutral word) is applied, the more chance believers have of getting their children to go the way you want them to go. To put it another way, the older children are when they begin to contemplate religious belief, the more likely they are to regard it with considerable skepticism. That’s a very unscientific conclusion I’ve come to from observing believers and non-believers I’ve known. Christian believers seem to feel a strong urge to tell children about Jesus and God from a very young and (my point of view) vulnerable and impressionable age. Non-believers are much more inclined to teach their children to think and observe and are much more relaxed about letting their children come to their own conclusions.

    If you have indoctrinated your children well in your belief system, they are likely to withstand the exposure to public schools. Thanks to our values of separation of church and state, most teachers strive (regardless of their personal beliefs) to teach objective, religiously neutral information. When I taught high school, in a public school I was surprised to discover that several of the biology teachers were closet creationists, though as far as I knew, they taught biology in a reasonably competent way. When I was myself a high school student, I was surprised and offended to discover (in school #6 of the six I attended because of my father’s defense contractor job) the principal read Bible verses over the school loud speakers in morning home room. As you can see, it did me no good. As did the brief time I spent in an orthodox synagogue when I was in grade school.


    June 16, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    • Modesty – Thanks again for the thoughts. My question to you is: How can a teacher provide “religiously neutral” information? If God exists, then nothing is religiously neutral. If He doesn’t, then the word “religion” is just jibberish, as are your words, since protons, neutrons, and electrons, by definition, don’t “think.” So how do you account for “religious neutrality?”


      russell and duenes

      June 16, 2013 at 5:38 pm

      • For one thing, the “law of gravity” is fairly neutral. There is no Biblical gravity vs. secular gravity.

        When we get into biology, neutrality gets tricky. We don’t understand heredity to the same degree as we do physics, but the way genes work are fairly well explained in terms of dominant traits vs. recessive traits, DNA, etc. Only a hypersensitive person (in my opinion) would try to explain these matters as having religious issues.

        Even empirical science is difficult and controversial much of the time. Scientists make mistakes and argue quite a bit. However, by a process of empirical examination, we get closer to something we can agree on regardless of religious position. The problem with religious argument is that the amount of subjectivity and opinion is so vast, there is (to me) so little basis for believing in one argument over the other is not much more than emotional and subjective preference. For example, for a long time, we (Americans) believed that skin color was a basis for enslaving people and then segregating them.

        We are reluctant to talk about it, because the subject is still so recent and raw, but in terms of DNA there is such a thing as “race,” (though skin color, eye shape, etc., are fairly inaccurate ways of identifying race). A person who looks “black” may have DNA that identifies him or her as “white”; a person who looks “black” to the eye may actually be “black” in terms of their DNA. Race does identify susceptibility to certain diseases. As far as I know, there is no racial characteristic that is so “fine-grained’ that it indicates anything about a person’s intelligence, character, etc.

        I appreciate your “defense” of secular education, but I fear you have very little understanding of how it works, and I would be uneasy about being a teacher in a public school district where you live.


        June 16, 2013 at 9:24 pm

      • Modesty – Making public school teachers uneasy is actually quite a compliment. If only it were true.

        Yet you called it the “law” of gravity. So to even talk about gravity you have employed religious terminology. There are no “laws” in a godless universe. To have laws, there must be a lawgiver or an intelligent being who has ordered things according to laws. We don’t get true “laws” from time and chance acting on matter. There is no spiritually neutral way to talk properly about gravity or DNA or anything else, for once we start looking at them, we must either explain away the obvious signs of design (as does Richard Dawkins, “The Blind Watchmaker”), which is not a spiritually neutral position by any stretch, or we must acknowledge that there is a Designer, also not neutral. We simply cannot avoid this, because, well, we live in a spiritual universe created by our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom and through whom and to whom are all things.


        russell and duenes

        June 18, 2013 at 7:06 pm

  3. I meant to say person who looks “black” to the eye may actually be “white” in terms of their DNA.


    June 16, 2013 at 9:26 pm

  4. If you say, “Everything is religious,” I am not sure what you are saying. Why not believe in any God that comes along, rather like the Unitarians seem to? Why not be a Muslim? Why not be a Buddhist?

    As far as I can tell, I exist. If I am having a fantasy in this regard, it’s a remarkably persistent one. As I have almost 70 years of memories. Of course, the memories may have all been planted yesterday.

    As far as I can tell, the external world exists. I am hitting keys on a keyboard. I am looking out my window and see trees. They are pretty big and the ones I see are very close to our house, so if we have the big earthquake we talk about out here (Puget Sound), they might fall on our house. I know someone who is a religious believer who had a tree fall on his house. It barely missed falling on him in his bed because he had gotten up to walk his dog. Was that a miracle? Did God save him? Let’s see. This is the religious believers’ “Heads we win; tails you lose” argument. Something good happens; it’s God’s will. If something bad happens, it’s God’s will. I am not sure what this tells me, except that you believe in something for which there is no empirical evidence.

    How did the universe begin? I don’t know. (That’s a pretty good argument for agnosticism, I guess, but as I am quite lacking in spiritual faith, I declare myself an atheist. If you say, “That’s a kind of faith,” my answer is “so?”)

    The universe seems to follow laws we call science. People who study such topics such as astrophysics argue that matter pops in and out of existence for no reason. Does that make sense? No. Does an idea that some particular deity existed forever and created the universe make sense? No. That first “makes no sense idea” strikes me as simpler. So perhaps Occam’s razor makes it more likely. However, if God wants to write his name in the sky in letters of fire, I will reconsider. Can you afford to buy an airplane and the paraphernalia for skywriting just to convince me? I doubt it. Perhaps your entire church can pitch in.


    June 20, 2013 at 9:44 am

    • Gosh, Modesty, that’s quite a minimalist existence you’ve got going over there. Your agnosticism, er, atheism, plays like it’s a humble, “I don’t know.” But I suspect not. There are many things we know which we might prefer not to. I know that I am a selfish sinner. No doubt about it. But I sure as heck try to deny or ignore it quite often. It’s a rather uncomfortable reality. The idea that God will one day judge everyone according to what they have done while on earth, that’s pretty uncomfortable. Yet try as we might, we can’t get away from it. We can’t help but think that there really is evil and good in this world, and that the wicked will not “get away with it.” Indeed, I and you will not “get away with it.” Convincing you is not my job. God changes hearts. But you and I will stand before Him. We dare not do so by our own merits. Someone must plead for us. Someone whose testimony and offering God will accept.


      russell and duenes

      June 20, 2013 at 6:07 pm

  5. […] argument often given in favor of sending one’s children to public schools is that the teachers have […]

  6. I can’t help but wonder what the payoff for religious belief is.

    It strikes me as fairly obvious in regard to human beings, though there are lots of different opinions besides mine on it.

    For one thing, who wants to die? We (human beings) are the only animals with the abstract thinking to think, “Someday I am going to expire.” So it’s tempting to imagine that we have a “spirit” or “soul” that can’t be measured or detected but survives our physical death.

    Also, life is obviously unfair and unjust. So it’s tempting to imagine that there is some sort of cosmic “balancing of the books” that makes life more just, even if it has to happen after we die.

    Finally, we all like to be around people who believe as we do (or fairly closely). This is even more true if we believe ridiculous ideas like the above.

    Your comment brings up the “guilt” syndrome. Any sensible person (whether religious or not) realizes in one way or another, “I am less than perfect. I am less than perfect in my knowledge and decision-making; I am less than perfect in my behavior, ethics, and morality; I have done things I wish I had not done, and I will probably do bad things again in the future.”

    So it’s just very sweet (I guess) to imagine, “There is a perfect person, who is God and not-God at the same time, who sacrifices Himself for me and makes it all right.” Who can argue with that idea?

    Well, quite a few people, actually. As I mentioned, there are close to 7.1 Billion people in the world. If I were the only one who did not believe what you believe, the pressure to believe would be enormous. Fortunately, quite a few find your belief system absurd.

    However, the other question is, “What is the payoff for God?” Why does God (this “perfect being” need us to worship Him? If we weren’t talking about a (imaginary) Deity. This being would sound awful “needy” to me. Which takes us around to the payoff for human beings again.

    If believers identify themselves with a paternalistic God who must be obeyed, then men have a good call to demand that women obey men. Men who are appointed (or who appoint themselves) as spokespeople for God (who has been rather reticent about speaking to us for a couple of milenia) can a lot of goodies by bossing people around once they have appointed themselves as official spokespeople.


    June 20, 2013 at 9:20 pm

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