In Response to: “Public Schools Aren’t the Enemy”

Over the past number of days, a friend and I have had an engaging and fairly comprehensive email conversation about the following article: Public Schools Aren’t the Enemy.  Over the past week, I’ve thought that it would make a great blog posting.  So tonight, as I made myself a soothing, delicious cup of Creme Carmello tea (rooibos, hazelnut, calendula, and natural flavouring, in case you were wondering), I thought I would edit my emails into a blog posting.  If you haven’t yet read the article, I’d suggest popping over to Relevant Magazine (link above) and reading it before perusing my thoughts.

I’d like to start by admitting that I think the author has an interesting perspective.  Considering the title/content of the article, I think that it’s safe to say that the author is defending public schools, and presenting a different view of them because she assumes that “many Christians believe that the public school is out to get them.”  The author suggests that public schools are beneficial places where children can grow in their faith and be a light to unbelievers.  I’ve heard this type of argument for public schools before, and I think that it’s a valid point of view.  Public schools can be great places for kids to be.  I definitely do not think that public schools are an enemy.  However, I do think that the author missed some important points of discussion that pertain to this conversation.

First of all, I am not convinced that the majority of Christian families view public schools as an enemy.  Knowing whether or not this perspective is reflective of the “collective sentiment” (I’m borrowing my friend’s words) of Christians about the public education system is really critical to the discussion.  Personally, I think that there is a wide range of views within the Christian community regarding education.  I think that some Christians view the public system negatively, but I think that more Christians do not.  In fact, I would argue that some Christians don’t even know that there are any viable options other then public schools.  At the same time, there are others who feel very led by God to send their children to public schools.  Others believe for various ideological and pedagogical reasons that public school is not the right fit for their child and choose to home school.  In short, my guess is that like many things, there is a mixed bag of opinions that Christians hold about the public school system.  I think that the author chose to focus on the negative one for the purpose of sparking a conversation. However, if she truly believes that all (or even most) Christians share this “evil public school” sentiment, then I think that we have a problem.

Okay, now to move on to a few more specific critiques.  First of all, the author suggests that “even the most homeschooled of homeschooled children will still have interactions with the outside world that will challenge his beliefs, raise doubts in his mind and question his understanding of God.”  Of course this is true.  I believe that every Christian child (no matter how they are educated) will experience things that will challenge his/her beliefs.  I don’t think that any homeschooling parent would question this fact, and I don’t think that homeschooling parents home educate so that they can completely isolate their children from interaction with the outside world (which seems to be what the author is implying).  To me, this implication could be interpreted as somewhat offensive to some homeschooling families.  Further, the author seems to be suggesting that public school is the main way that we can prepare children for those types of faith-challenging interactions.  I believe that public school is perhaps one way to help children to think about their faith and to interact with non-Christians, but I would argue that homeschooling and private-schooling families can also prepare their children for faith-challenging experiences and encourage their children to interact with a variety of peers in other ways, too.

The author also encourages readers to think about others.  This is good.  Definitely.  She states, “but what  about other people’s children? Are we so rooted in fear of our child falling in with the “wrong” kids that we avoid having them even interact at all?”  That said, I think that many homeschooled and private schooled children interact with “wrong” kids (the author’s words) outside of school.  Before I address that, though, I wonder what the reference to “wrong kids” even means?  Does the author mean non-Christian kids, kids of a different socio-economic status, or kids of a different race?  She’s not clear, which I think is problematic.  Anyway, I think that children can interact with a variety of peers in different ways, such as on sports teams or other extra-curricular activities, etc. The author’s statement seems a bit like a blanket one to me.  I also think that the idea that kids should attend public schools to be “missionaries,” so to speak, can be somewhat dangerous because I believe that all missionaries need training to be effective.  My hope is that all Christian parents, whether they are public schooling, private schooling, or homeschooling, are taking an active role in training their children in God’s truth so that they are ready for faith-challenging experiences, wherever they experience them.

Next, I’d like to address the author’s statement that “for many, the choice of school is an entirely self-centered decision. We want to decide what is best for “us” or what will serve “our child” most completely. We want the best school for our kid in our neighborhood with our beliefs.”  The author almost makes it sound as if wanting the best for our children is somehow wrong, or at the very least, self-centered.  If that is her perspective, then I definitely disagree.  If someone believes that the best thing for their child is to attend a private school (or a public school, or a home school, for that matter), who are we to judge them for wanting/providing what they believe is the best for their child?  I think that this is even more true for parents who are prayerfully seeking God to help them to train up their children according to His will/ways.  I think we should be commending parents who are seeking to give the best to their children.  Further, if God has given someone the resources to send their child to a Christian school, or to homeschool, and they feel led by Him to do that, then I don’t think that’s a “self-centered” decision, as the author seems to suggest.

My personal perspective on Christian schools and homeschooling is that these educational options provide the teacher, and/or parent, with more time to train the child in the ways of the Lord.  While there are some pedagogical reasons that cause me to see benefits in these alternative forms of education (more about that another time), one of the reasons that pertains to this conversation is that faith and education can be intertwined.  Each subject can be taught from a Christian perspective and character education can be woven into everything throughout the day.  It’s important to note that I’m not saying that kids can’t learn morals in public schools, and I’m not saying that kids can’t grow in their faith in public schools.  They definitely can.  There are many amazing public school teachers who instill quality morals and foster important character traits in their students.  That said, the reality is that public school teachers cannot teach their students faith in the same way that private school teachers or homeschooling parents can, because they are constrained by a government that claims to take a strong stand against indoctrination.

My opinion is that ultimately, parents need to be informed about the options that are available to them, and then prayerfully consider what is best for their family, and potentially, each individual child.  I will never (ever) say that one type of education (whether it is public, private, or at home) is right for everyone.  The bottom line is that no matter what method of education parents choose for their child, I believe that they should know why they have made their choice.

I’d like to close by acknowledging that it is difficult to “hash out” various sides of a topic like education in a short article or blog posting.  Further, I don’t think that the author’s purpose was to fully discuss the topic.  I think that her purpose in writing the article was to get readers thinking and to challenge the way that some people view public schools.  In this, I think that she succeeded.  If articles like this one encourage us to “question assumptions and to reify the positions we take” (again, I’m borrowing my friend’s words), then they serve a valuable purpose.  My only concern is that if some points or misguided, or they are not based in research, then they could cause confusion for people who don’t read with a critical eye.   A discussion such as this one should challenge us to carefully consider what we read/hear no matter where it is coming from.