Is Public School an Option for Christians?

In this short essay, we consider education from a biblical perspective.  We examine the significance and nature of a Christian education, weigh its prescriptions against the government school description, and briefly field a few objections.

Adiaphora?

God’s word does not present the education of our covenant children as a secondary matter, nor its methods a matter of indifference. As we  shall see, Scripture connects the education of our children to our love for Him, and marks it as a matter of covenant-keeping or covenant-breaking.

Christian School Prescriptions

The first sign of our love of God is whether we keep His commandments (John 14:15; 1 John 5:3), the greatest of which is to love Him with all our being (Matt 22:37-39).  This is identified as obsessively learning His law and teaching it to our children day and night (Deut. 6:6-9; cf. 4:9). To fail here is to fail to love God and to break covenant with Him for denying our children their heritage unto the Lord (Ps. 127:3).

Education is patently religious as it is primarily concerned with learning about God, His works, and all of His revelation. To teach God’s law is not only to convey the dogmatics and ethics therein, but also to teach the distinctive worldview of God’s revelation and to apply it to all of life and every subject matter, “casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5).

Because Christian education is set apart as holy unto the Lord, classroom application of the God’s word must be utterly separate from worldly philosophies which are antithetical to Christ (Col. 2:8; 1 Tim. 6:20). We must teach our children that God’s word is the foundation of all thought, that  fearing Him and not some false deity is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 1:7), all of which is deposited in Christ (Col. 2:3). It is to teach history not as brute facts but as God’s facts: the stories of His providential and covenantal dealings with men and nations. We evaluate the actions of political leaders, philosophers, and scientists  by the universal and invariant ethics of the absolute, personal God of the Bible, without whom there is no morality. We teach that the only way to bring together the particulars of the world—indeed to make sense of our use of language, math and logic—is to assume Trinitarian God of the Bible. No less that Christian doctrines of Creation and Providence can explain the uniformity of nature which is foundational to induction, the basis of the scientific model.

We must also consider the character of the teacher(s) under whom our children learn, and the peers with whom they study and interact.  Our Lord taught us that “A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). In general, then, we can expect our children to grow to be like their teacher(s). Please note that “student” (Greek: mathetes) means disciple, or follower, and in the corresponding Matthean text the Lord paralleled this student/teacher model with the slave/master model. The character of the education and the educator is the master of the learner. Moreover, we must remember that children are sponges and adopt the behavior of their morally inferior counterparts. Paul tells us that good character is corrupted by bad company (1 Cor. 15:33). We tend to think the opposite, but note Paul’s preface, “Do not be deceived…” Here we learn of the easily pliable constitution of children. Paul elsewhere says that bad doctrine tosses to and fro and blows around children (Eph 4:14), and the author of Hebrews says that young ones not skilled in the word of righteousness do not have their senses exercised to discern good and evil. As vulnerable olive shoots establishing their roots, our covenant children need especial protection from the world (1Cor. 6:14 ff.) because friendship with whom is enmity with God (Ja. 4:4). Christian parents know that it is righteousness, not dogmatics alone, that marks their difference with the world (1 John 3:1; Matt 21:28-31), and therefore see to it that their children “come out from among them” (2 Corinthians 6:17; Numbers 33:51-56; Isaiah 52:11; Revelation 18:4).

Government School Descriptions

We now examine the content and character of what some Christians think of as an option for their students: the government school.  In this system the main curriculum prescribed in the Hebrew Shema is forbidden. God’s word is banned as teaching material in honor of the so-called separation church and state, and the Source of knowledge (Gen. 1:28–29; John 1:9; John 1:1–2) itself  is treated at best as irrelevant in a K-12 education. One immediately wonders why Christians are not banning their kids from government education–Why they are they abolishing from their child’s education the very fountain of life in whose light we see light (Psalm 36:9).

We are told that government education is be neutral toward religion, but this neutrality Christ explicitly denied (Matt. 12:30); to be neutral toward God is to oppose him. In rejection of the content of God’s revelation as teaching material, government schools discard the neccessary Christian worldview as the gridwork through which real study can occur. Not only are the great Christian themes of Creation, Sin and Redemption denied and contradicted, but Christ is seen as immaterial to every aspect of study.  Yet, from cover to cover of the Bile, the rejection of God’s word is the hallmark of foolishness and ensuing judgment.

When God’s word is barred from an institution, it is no surprise to find a decline in character among that system’s constituents. From student body to faculty and staff we find that illicit sexual orientations and practices, paganism and occultism, violence, arrogance, plain meanness, etc, are practiced, promoted, and protected whether by classroom/school policy or merely unhampered peer influence. It goes without saying that by definition you do not find these things reigning freely in a Christan school governed by God’s word.

Aside from these manifestations of wickedness that typically mark public schools, we may apply a simple character test on a basic theological level. That is, regardless of the sins that permeate these schools, how does the Bible describe unbelievers (whom Christian children would be surrounded with and influenced by roughly 40 hours a week for 13 years)? Like this: pagans are godless, estranged, sinners at enmity with God (Rom 4:8-10); slaves to sin (Rom 6:17) who are unable to please God (Rom 8:4-8); sons of disobedience who live in the lusts of their flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and mind, who are by nature children of wrath (Eph 2:1-3). They are wayward (Isa 53; Rom 3:12), willfully blind (Eph 4:18; 1 Cor 2:14 ), ungrateful (Rom 1:21), condemned ( Rom 3:19) persons who with corrupt hearts (Jer 17:9; Mark 7:21-23; Matt 7:16-18; 15:18-20)  are hostile to God  (Rom 8:7). That is, public schools are run by and filled with Christ-haters who are under God’s  moral, spiritual, and intellectual judgments.

Burden of Proof

Often in the debate over whether public schools are an option for the Christan, it is assumed that he who takes the negative must prove his case. But given our analysis above, surely the tables are turned. We declare the burden of proof on the Christian father who thinks he may place his child in an institution that systematically and legislatively outlaws Gods word, replaces the Christian worldview with humanism (by default), and is permeated with pagan teachers and students–all of which invariably work to shape the child’s mind and character in a direction opposite and contradictory to the goal of Christian discipleship. Let these parents carry the burden of proof and make their defense, but in the absence of a seemingly overwhelming case, we presume on basis of the evidence above that such a decision is unlawful.

Objections

Let’s consider some stock objections.

  1. My child is an evangelist, and the public school system is a mission field opportunity.
    First, the decision of sending your child to these schools has been shown to be formally an principally wrong.  You may not choose against a universal, invariant ethic for the purpose of utility.  Second, your child is not an evangelist. Your child is a tender olive shoot with no roots, and he or she is the mission field. In general, bad company corrupts good character– not the reverse (1 Corinthians 15:33). As Matthew Henry wrote, “It is wrong for good people to join in affinity with the wicked and profane; these will draw different ways, and that will be galling and grievous. Those relations that are our choice must be chosen by rule; and it is good for those who are themselves the children of God to join with those who are so likewise; for there is more danger that the bad will damage the good than hope that the good will benefit the bad.” Third, we must learn to curb our evangelism. There are certainly times and places where we may not evangelize. We believe that public schooling your kids in order to be salt and light is akin to sharing the gospel with a murderer who has a gun to your face instead of fleeing. To pursue this further, consider this link which reveals such stats as 1) 88 percent of the children raised in evangelical homes leave church at the age of 18, and 2) that 83 percent of children from committed Christian families attending public schools adopt a Marxist-socialist worldview.
  2. I went to public school and I turned out okay.
    Again, your end doesn’t’ justify the means which have been proven faulty. We still need evidence why such is a lawful choice. Moreover, I would argue that you have not turned out okay. That you still affirm the Christian creed and have not overtly apostatized for a pagan religion is not the acid test by which to determine whether public school has negatively effected you. We believe that your very decision to even consider a humanist education methodology is proof positive that state school has beclouded your ethical judgment and altered your worldview. 
  3. Christian schooling is a retreat from culture.
    It’s actually a retreat from the world’s sinful ways. We are called to be in the world but not of it (John 17; Romans 12:2). Being in the world does not mean yoking unequally with it, which is precisely what is happening when our kids are under placed in an explicitly (and proud) anti-Christ system. We retreat from worldliness in order to discipline our children, who with us may win and build culture and gain the world for Christ.
  4. Aren’t you worried that your Christian child will not be properly socialized?
    First, we are talking about education methodology not socialization. Teaching the three Rs has nothing to do with peer socialization, per se. But since socialization is an unavoidable part of life, we must choose environments which encourage righteousness, not wickedness. As mentioned, public school is designed to de-socialize your child–to  strip and replace his worldview and character (see also John Taylor Gatto’s excellent work on this). One needs to demonstrate that public schools encourage Christian maturity in order to say that they constitute “proper” socialization. In short, such a question has a warped view of socialization, and asking it is the very sign that the inquirer has been de-socialized by the State.
  5. May not parents teach their kids the faith at home and use public schools to teach them the three Rs?
    No! Please reread the essay.
  6. But under common grace, pagans may do good things in the classroom, no?
    Not really. Because he is spiritually dead, the unregenerate always chooses evil. When he does do what is right he does it to his own glory because he is in darkness and in service to Satan (WCF XVI). Moreover, while we realize that under common grace pagans may be punctual, clean up their messes, and are overall not as bad as they might be, we must be reminded that theologically common grace has the goal of leading one to Christ. It is not a doctrine that can be used as a crutch to justify the legitimacy of a system that takes every effort to flee and oppose Christ.

In a forthcoming post we look the church’s decision to allow/advocate public schooling of their young, and practically what this means for clergy and laymen alike.

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