“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.”
“I am as sure as I am of Christ’s reign that a comprehensive and centralized system of national education, separated from religion, as is now commonly proposed, will prove the most appalling enginery for the propagation of anti-Christian and atheistic unbelief, and of anti-social nihilistic ethics, individual, social and political, which this sin-rent world has ever seen.”
–A.A. Hodge, Princeton University, 1887
To put my cards on the table, the article will list out the top 10 reasons why Christians shouldn’t be supporting public schools. First, some background:
In his 1936 book, “A Common Faith” Secularist John Dewey, sometimes referred to as the “Father of Modern Education” (along with Unitarian, Horace Mann) and co-author of the “Humanist Manifesto” wrote of secular humanism the following:
“Here are all the elements for a religious faith that shall not be confined to sect, class, or race. Such a faith has always been the common faith of mankind. It remains for us to make it explicit and militant.”
Secular humanism, which arose out of the 18th century so called “enlightenment”, is the belief that humanity is capable of morality and fulfillment without God. Essentially, the belief that collectively, we as humans are the center of the universe and that only humanity can be the savior of humanity. This is the prevailing view of our age in the West. It’s everywhere. It’s in the books we read, the movies we watch (Interstellar anyone?) and yes, our schools.
It frequently cloaks itself in the veneer of science and “non religiosity” which is what makes it so insidious and effective. It is a religion as Dewey admits. But many Christians today are totally unaware of just how pervasive the dominance of Secular Humanism is in our culture. Still worse, because many sincere Christians don’t realize how Secular Humanism manifests itself in society, they end up supporting and advocating such institutions which are opposed to their Lord.
John Dewey and others like him sought to make sure that this “religious faith” of Secular Humanism was disseminated to the population through the mechanism of state run schooling. It’s not a conspiracy theory. It’s just a fact. The success of Secular humanists in this regard has been monumental. As an institution, these schools have become a bedrock of our modern society, seen as absolutely indispensable by non-Christians and Christians alike. For a deeper look into the history of public education in America, refer to chapter 1 of Joel McDurmon’s excellent book.
Fast forward to 2012, and my wife and I were planning on sending our children to public school with my wife as a public school teacher. Though by 2016, our perspective had changed drastically. What was the catalyst for this change?
A number of things. We realized we had been ignorant and naive regarding the history of public education in the United States as a tool in the hands of Satan. We realized we had bought into the myth of neutrality in education. We realized our thinking was motivated by pragmatism. But primarily, we realized that we were not allowing Biblical principles to inform our thinking and our decision making in every area of our lives. We had been compartmentalizing our faith.
I don’t approach this topic from a standpoint of judgmentalism. I sympathize with close friends and family who are involved in teaching at the public schools and have sent their children to public schools – we love them (and always will), though we disagree. But we do want to win them!
Frequently it’s articles like these that usually cause people who read them to throw their guns up in self defense. Especially because this article isn’t trying to argue only about what we think is “best for our kids” but constitutes an exhortation for all Christian parents to consider, regardless of circumstance. I also recognize there are so many emotions involved in a topic like this because it surrounds choices we’ve made for our children. Long held convictions and opinions. The whole discussion can be fraught with guilt, uncertainty, and regret. For some, their involvement in public schools may mean income streams that affect their very ability to provide for their family. Some aspects involve the prospect of making major life changes. Or even admitting we were wrong.
So I hope the following points are received in the Spirit of loving exhortation in which they were written. The point isn’t to dwell on past choices but to seek to chart a course for Christians to take forward. These are responses that I wish someone would have communicated to me a few years ago. So with that said, here are the top 10 arguments that Christians commonly make in favor of public schooling, and why they fall short.
1. “The public school may not be a “Christian school”, but that doesn’t mean my child will receive a pagan or non-Christian education. The school is religiously neutral and seeks to train a child in non-religious matters. It’s not supposed to be a Bible study. We provide them with Christian teaching at home and at Sunday School.”
“All the treasures of knowledge and wisdom are hidden in Christ.”
The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”
“O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.”
–1st Timothy 6:20-21
If this is what you believe – that there can be neutrality in the pursuit of knowledge – you may have already adopted a secular humanist perspective, and not even know it. I had bought into this concept myself so I know how cunning it can be. And Satan is cunning. If you’ll remember in the Garden of Eden, this is exactly what he tempted Adam and Eve with. Satan wanted them to set aside what God said, and tempted them to pursue knowledge independently. Satan was advocating the secular humanist approach to the attainment of knowledge.
We must understand that in school (whether home school, private school or public school), our children are not only taught “facts” (which may or may not contradict God’s word), they will also be taught how to to approach knowledge and learning itself. We must understand that in terms of an overall approach to education there is no neutrality, and there is no subject which is not informed by our presuppositions about God and about the world.
The comprehensive approach to education that the Public schools have adopted is to teach children to first set aside the word of God and pursue knowledge independently of it. The idea is that school is the place for “facts” and that notions of God and the Bible should be relegated to one’s “private religion”. If they can convince Christian parents into believing this lie, they have already won the battle. Public schools completely marginalize God and the authority of scripture from the conversation and seek to have the children pursue knowledge “independently”. Irrespective of what is being taught in school, this very approach to learning is a very dangerous practice to teach a child to engage in.
Once the child graduates from elementary school and high school having been trained to think in this manner, he or she will continue to evaluate the world based on criterion other than what scripture lays out – to one degree or another. The child will have been well trained in secular humanism. It is no accident that the vast majority of children of Christian parents who are trained up in the public schools abandon Christianity soon after graduating, if not before. Frequently, during the later years of high school or the first year living away from mom and dad. The statistics are exactly what you would expect. The minority of Christian students who do retain their Christianity frequently do so with a worldview compromised by secularism.
In reality, no one is neutral in their approach to knowledge. Christian parents should seek to ensure that the education they provide for their children is conducted under the authority of scripture while applying biblical principles as they go along. For more on the “Myth of Neutrality” I highly recommend listening to Dr. Greg Bahnsen’s lecture on the subject.
Don’t be co-opted by the lie of secular humanism. Be assured that the public schools are teaching your child a worldview that not only isn’t “neutral”, but which seeks to destroy the Christian worldview
2. “My child can be a missionary in the school while learning to relate to unbelievers. It’s also a way for parents to build relationships with unbelieving parents. Christians shouldn’t be isolationists or sheltered in a Christian bubble. This produces socially awkward children. We can counteract what they learn at school at home. Jesus ate with sinners. etc”
“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
“Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” –1 Corinthians 15:33
“Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. Disaster pursues sinners, but the righteous are rewarded with good.”
On the positive side, this common argument in favor of Christian parents sending their children to public schools comes from a desire to proclaim Christ in dark places. A Godly desire. Also the argument displays awareness that there is at least something wrong with public schools. That said, this argument ultimately fails for a variety of reasons.
First, it presents a false either / or scenario. The notion that either Christians send their kids to public school or their children will be “isolated” is a false dichotomy and a non sequitur. Isolationism is a possibility for Christian parents who don’t seek out other contexts to evangelistically engage the world along with their children. But this is by no means a necessary consequence. There is a plethora of options for Christian parents to take advantage of along these lines. Another article could be written on this topic alone, but that’s for another time.
Secondly, it is a parent’s duty to sometimes shield and protect their children from the corrupting influence of worldliness. This does not automatically equate to “isolationism”. We must understand that the education of a child is not conducted in a vacuum. There are actual people involved (both teachers and classmates), and vast amounts of “informal education” is going on between classes, at recess and after school. As Dr. Voddie Baucham reminds us, “We should not be surprised when we send our children to Egypt, and they come back Egyptians”. Can a parent really be adequately protecting their child from corrupting influences while inserting their child into such an environment for 15,000+ hours throughout their formative years? Christians need to cast aside how well they think their little Johnny or Jill will fare, and remember what the scriptures explicitly teach us. “Do not be deceived. Bad company corrupts good morals.” The goal is not to isolate our children from the unbelieving world, but to train up our children in a vibrant community of believers so that when they go out into the world to live and work, having been trained in the truth, they can identify the lies of the enemy and not be co-opted by them.
We must also consider the difference between sending an impressionable child into such an environment versus a mature believing adult. Even the disciples were not immediately sent out, and they were adults. Jesus spent years with them preparing them for ministry. This is not to deny that God has done miraculous things in the context of Christians sharing their faith in the context of the public schools. In God’s providence, he can bring these kind of results. But that doesn’t mean that our actions are justified any more than Pharaoh’s actions were justified in sending Joseph to prison, though good things came from it.
Thirdly, and most importantly, we must be reminded that God is not honored by an “ends justify the means” approach. Essentially, many Christian parents are saying that their child gaining evangelism opportunities is a good end, so the means (sending them to receive a non-Christian education) justifies that end. But we can’t “out-spiritual” God. It is the Christian parent’s responsibility to provide a Christian education to their children, not a secular or pagan education. This can mean that parents provide such a Christian education directly to their children, or they might choose to oversee their education in the context of a Christian school or co-op. In any case, we are commanded to train up our children in the training and admonition of the Lord. Parents are commanded: “Train up a child in the way he should go…” Then they are given a promise “…and when he is old he will not depart from it.” As is the way of the book of Proverbs, we are given general principles regarding the paths of wisdom that God has laid out for us. Conversely we can deduce from this principle that allowing your children to be trained in unrighteousness will spur them on to embrace falsehood. As we shall explore next, it doesn’t mean that there are never exceptions to this proverb.
3. “I know homeschooled kids who left the faith, and many public schooled kids who are strong Christians. Homeschooling is a good option for some, public school is a good option for others, every family and child is different.”
From your own personal experience, you may have many examples of children who didn’t stray from the faith while receiving a secular education at a public school. But this argument doesn’t negate the danger which exists. There may be some parents who allow their children to play on the interstate, but that doesn’t mean that allowing your children the same freedom would be a wise parenting decision.
If one appeals to the fruit which secular education produces in Christian children, and the fruit of what Christian education produces in Christian children, overall, there is no comparison. The fruit of government education for Christian children is generally apostasy. The fruit of Christian education for Christian children is generally faithfulness. Of course there are exceptions, but we know from the clear and consistent teaching of scripture that training in Godliness produces Godliness. Training in wickedness produces wickedness.
Study after study show that the enormous rates of children from Christian homes who abandon their faith during their years at public school or shortly after. In contrast, children from Christian homes who are given Christian educations are far less likely to stray from their faith. But we shouldn’t need these statistics in order to make our decisions. These outcomes simply reflect the truth of God’s word and his promises.
4. “I know that salvation is of the Lord and I don’t think homeschooling or a Christian private school is what saves my child. God can save my child anyway he wants, even against the odds.”
Of course God can save whomever he wants however he wants, but is there any other area of parenting where you would employ this same kind of reasoning?
“Well, we know that church is a good thing, but we just let our kids sit at home and skip it every week, because if they’re elect, God’s going to save them whether they’re ever at church or not.”
“Well, we know that we should raise our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, but we don’t ‘push’ our religion on them; we just let them choose for themselves, because if they’re elect, God will save them whether we teach them the Word or not.”
“Well, we know we ought to discipline them, but we know God’s will is going to be done regardless, so we let them do whatever they want.”
Such thinking is actually actually Hyper-Calvinist. It denies the biblical truth that God operates through means. As Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” In His sovereignty, God is laying down a general principle here that makes clear that the consistent application of God’s word to a child’s life has the effect of protecting the child from departing from the way he should go. This is a relationship that God designed, and he designed it to operate within the context of family.
5. “All truth is God’s truth. I don’t care if a teacher is a Christian or not, if they can teach my child trigonometry better than a non-Christian, I’ll take the non-Christian teacher.”
In my interactions with those who bring this particular example up, I have to chuckle to myself a little bit. The example being brought up is seldom science, anthropology, social studies, world religions etc. It’s always something like trigonometry. The argument seeks to conveniently minimize (or flat out deny) that worldviews have anything to do with what is being taught. It also seeks to sideline any discussion about the morality of state funded education which we will address later in this article.
It is true of course that some people (whether Christian, secular or pagan) are more gifted in teaching than others. Furthermore, the teacher’s gifting can have a large effect on the student’s ability to grasp certain concepts. If I’m trying to learn how to tie a knot, play the clarinet, fix an engine, or become proficient in algebra I am hoping for a good teacher, and in that narrow sense I don’t much care what they believe. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that a Christian parent might cautiously allow a non-Christian to tutor their child on a narrow subject on a limited basis. Provided the parents know exactly what is being taught while being careful to ensure the Child understands the biblical applications. But there is a vast chasm between this and signing a Christian child up for a comprehensive, state-funded, all encompassing secular education.
This argument ignores the overall approach to education which the public schools take – it seeks to pursue knowledge in complete isolation from the authority of scripture. We are commanded in 2nd Corinthians 10:5 to “take every thought captive to obey Christ”. The scripture doesn’t make exceptions for Trigonometry. Every-thought-captive-to-obey-Christ. History, astronomy, biology, social studies, math, literature, physics, anthropology, chemistry and on and on. Here’s a list of math curriculum books a friend of mine wrote which wonderfully underscores the beauty and importance of teaching all subjects (including math) from a Christian worldview perspective.
All truth is God’s truth, yes. Including the truth that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. When we buy into the lie that public schools are just providing our children with mere facts, and not teaching a worldview opposed to Christ’s Lordship, we have already lost the battle.
6. “If no education is neutral, do you watch secular movies, TV shows or sports? None of those things are explicitly Christian, yet you allow your children to watch those. What do you suggest? Christian fiction, Christian history, Christian movies, Christian music?”
This argument badly misses the point. A Christian education doesn’t avoid topics. It approaches topics from a Christian worldview rather than from a secular or pagan worldview. It does not engage in adopting a pretended “neutrality” when addressing any of these subjects.
For example, a Christian education could include examining the works of Homer or Plato for example. But in doing so, A Christian educator would be careful to critique any strain of thought, argument or pretext which defies the word of God. In fact, such works can be helpful in demonstrating the folly of paganism.
7. “The public school where I live has Christian teachers and they pray in class. So I send my children there.”
There is the incredibly rare public school which still has a veneer of Christianity associated with it to one degree or another (and they are dropping like flies). There may be some Christian teachers who permit prayer in their classroom, Christmas parties, and Christian after school clubs etc. Sometimes these schools can be just as dangerous a place to send a Christian child for an education as the typical public schools.
This is because, rather than the Christian teachers holding the scriptures as authoritative over each subject, and constantly working to refute lies which are present in the curriculum, the curriculum is being taught to the children as fact “separated from religion”. So the child begins to see Christianity as the realm of fairy tales and blind faith and the teaching of the school as the realm of facts and reason. Satan loves this dynamic. Some “Christian” teachers have become co-opted themselves, and join in the heralding of lies and opposition to Christian truth in their teaching. When a Christian teacher actually does teach explicitly Christian material as fact and formally teaches against the state selected curriculum, that teacher is dismissed faster than you can say common-core. See Colin Gunn’s excellent documentary Indoctrination for more on this here.
So while your public school may have a few Christian garnishments, do not be deceived. Know that the meat and potatoes which they are consuming are still rotten.
All this being said, the curriculum is not the only issue, even with Christian teachers and prayer in school being permitted. The whole institution of state run government schools is in opposition to God’s ordering of society from the get go. Which leads to the next objection.
8. “Society benefits from offering education to all children. People without children who own homes are contributing to public education too. If the Public Schools don’t get enough money then society will get even worse as a result. Public School funding is not funded through theft because not all taxation is theft. We are commanded to pay taxes in Scripture.”
Our ultimate standard of what is good for society cannot be rooted in humanistic, pragmatic arguments. On the contrary, we know objectively that what is good for society emanates from scripture. And conversely, to depart from scriptural principles will always be bad for society in the long run. It never pays to dishonor God.
Beyond all of the noble desires to “do good”, what lies beneath the surface of many arguments in favor of government schools, whether intended or not, is larceny. At no point does scripture command us to conscript the government to take (steal) property from others with the threat of force or imprisonment in order to redistribute it in the name of “charity”. This may sound stark, and we can dress it up all we want, but this is what is actually taking place. Disagree? See what happens when a homeowner refuse to pay their property taxes.
This is nothing more than the advocation and participation in a system built on an 8th commandment violation. We can have a serious discussion about the level of authority which government has to fund its legitimate functions through confiscatory taxation, but either way, we know very clearly that the God-ordained, prescriptive authority of Government is very limited. Romans 13 makes clear that God has delegated authority to Governments for the purpose of punishing evil doers. Any taxation that goes beyond this God ordained function must be said to be theft and tyranny.
And even more importantly, the scriptures do not command us to advocate that the government assume the role of the family or the church in its responsibilities. The consistent principle laid out in scripture is that charity is to be the realm of households, extended family and churches in that order. Passages like 1st Timothy 5:3-16 (and many others) make this Biblical principle clear.
9. “We don’t have a choice. Not everyone can afford to homeschool or go to a private Christian school. What about poor people or single mothers? Parents with special needs? As a parent, I don’t feel equipped to teach my children. Public schools are sometimes equipped with far better expertise and resources.”
We have to recognize that throughout most of history, it has been Christian parents who have taken ownership over their children’s education (and the education of those less fortunate). Either at home or in conjunction with others in the community banding together. So why should our era be any different? There is no doubt that the prospect of educating one’s children can be daunting. To some degree, this is because Christians in society have given up the education of their children to the state and as a result, the idea of taking responsibility over a child’s education seems foreign to us. Some of us have been subtly indoctrinated to think that parent’s aren’t qualified enough to teach and that only a specially trained teacher with a certification will suffice. Not only is this empirically false as this has no bearing on educational outcomes, but the argument itself fall flat. Would you rather have a student who is expertly trained with secular humanist worldview or a student who is trained less well but armed with a Christian worldview? The reality is that this whole objection is somewhat of a moot point as homeschooled students consistently outperform public schooled students by a long shot.
With the emergence of the internet, never in all history has there been more free or low-cost homeschooling materials readily available to parents. Curriculums, how-to-guides, video content – the options are seemingly endless. Just google “Free Christian Homeschool Curriculum”. This includes materials on working with under-performing or special needs children. Many times what is couched as “financial obstacles” are really obstacles in priority and lifestyle.
There are hard cases in very poor communities or in situations where there is the single mother who needs to work in order to support her children. Or a mother with a special needs child who requires 90% of her attention, yet has 3 other children that also need an education. Ideally, when there is a community of Christians engaged in schooling their children together (utilizing the unique giftings of those within the body) this is a wonderful opportunities to exhibit the one-anothers as a church body.
This leads to the next objection. What should we as the people of God be doing? Where should we be devoting our energies? To the propping up of the public school system? Or towards the building up of the church community towards these ends?
10. “Perhaps less demonization of public schools and more encouragement for parents to get involved in their children’s education is what is needed?”
As stated above, throughout the centuries Christians have been the educators in society, especially to those in need of charity. It is to our shame that we have ceded this ground to the state. We should seek to reverse course, not stay the course.
Rather than spending our energies trying to prop up an institution which seeks to usurp the legitimate roles of the family and church while indoctrinating our children with secular humanism, Christian households and communities need to instead model biblical solutions for society as a means of being salt and light to the world. We must not take part (or worse advocate for) a socialist system. We need to recognize that socialism is more than an inefficient system which produces bad results (though it is that). More importantly, it is a morally evil philosophy that seeks to assume authority for the civil government which belongs to the family, and to the church.
You’ll notice that none of these arguments directly address the increasing prevalence of celebrated sexual immorality, transgender bathrooms and an emboldened homosexual lobby advancing within the public school system. These are merely symptoms of the rotten core the secular humanist system. Many times Christians can be rallied to get “up in arms” over the latest example of debauchery in the public schools. But seldom do we actually examine the root of the problem. Christian parents need to take a principled and consistent stand against this usurping institution as a whole, and not merely be reactionaries to the latest manifestation of sin which it produces. The goal isn’t to get back to some idealized version of the 1950’s and 60s. The goal is to build every institution in society on the solid rock of God’s word and the Christian worldview it imparts to us as means of displaying to the world what a great God we serve.
If this article has given you pause to consider how you are currently educating your children, or question your own thought patterns, praise God. Make the change. Don’t agonize over the past. No child is a lost cause or too far in to recover. God is with you, and his word will not return void.
“All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children.”
Jesus said: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.”
–Luke 6:39, 40
“Learn not the way of the heathen.” –Jeremiah 10:2
“He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.”
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
“And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.”