Russell and Duenes

Public Schools: Free Babysitting

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school busI 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 replace the government-administered school system with a private system, 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 testimonies of mom’s who wouldn’t have it any other way, and who consider the constant neediness of their children as their “cross to bear” as Christians. There is truth in this, of course, and these 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 for just two 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.



Written by Michael Duenes

June 16, 2013 at 12:17 pm

Posted in Duenes, Education

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