This post is a follow-up to the one below, which generated some really healthy discussion in the comment thread. It’s good to see you guys getting fired up about something!! When people in CD are posting blog comments complete with research footnotes, we’ve hit a whole new level of dialogue. Nice work.
The common problem in debates of this nature is that emotions get stirred up and egos get involved, and then the main thread of discussion can get lost in a flurry of subpoints. So it’s worth another post to 1) bring us back to the original question, 2) summarize the salient points made by commenters, and 3) set the stage for another round of discussion.
In the original post, I asked two questions: 1) what is the role of Christians in bringing reform to a failing public school system, and 2) does public education have anything to offer Christian parents who desire their kids to be taught well so they can make an impact for the kingdom of God?
Comments surfaced multiple answers to these questions, notwithstanding some tangential rants along the way.
In answer to question 1, we all agree that godly teachers, working from within the current system, can do much to bring reform and to really teach kids well in spite of the limitations of the system. And may I add: if it weren’t for the valiant efforts of missional Christian teachers, public education would be much worse off than it is. Those of you who give your lives each day for the education of kids deserve utmost thanks, respect, and affirmation. You are doing kingdom work!
In answer to question 2, it was pointed out by some commenters that public education can offer at least one thing to Christian parents: opportunity for mission. By educating our kids in the public schools, by being involved in the classroom, by interacting with families at school, we have a tremendous opportunity to be salt and light. With this point I absolutely agree, and I hope that all parents in Coram Deo who are pursuing public education are doing so from this motivation! It has been noted and even footnoted that kids’ success in education is directly tied to the home. So the primary responsibility for education falls on the shoulders of Christian parents, regardless of which educational method we choose. It’s pretty clear that a kid with a good and godly home can get a decent education almost anywhere.
Having said all that, we used to say when I worked in politics that “the numbers don’t lie.” The truths above don’t erase the fact that one-third of publicly educated students don’t graduate high school. The Titanic is sinking, folks! I got the sense from some commenters that the only way to really care about poor kids is to work within the system. I am suggesting, however, that this might be the very thing we must not do. The system is what’s broken. The system is the thing that’s not working. That’s not my opinion. That’s research data and graduation statistics and Time Magazine.
And if I may be so bold as to go a little further: the system isn’t broken because rich kids do better than poor kids. The system isn’t broken because Christian parents are pulling their kids out and choosing other options. And the system isn’t broken because Millard kids are better off than downtown kids. The system is broken because it’s a bad system. It’s a valueless system. It pretends that education can be pursued separately from God and morality. In the same schools where we teach kids that 2+2=4, we are teaching them that God may or may not exist and morals may or may not be absolute and that they have a right to do whatever they want.
I am not so simplistic as to lay the blame at the door of the school system. Most of these kids aren’t getting taught any values at home, either. So it’s a bigger problem, and you commenters who noted that are to be commended for your insight. But those of you who are quick to defend the current public school system might be wise to consider how strongly you want to defend a system that is attempting to educate kids apart from a knowledge of their Creator. Education is not value-less. It is holistic. And when Truth is removed, failure is to be expected.
Some commenters spoke passionately about being advocates for minority and low-income children. And that’s exactly what’s driving my questions regarding this issue. If we really care to educate underprivileged kids, it might be time to consider starting a holistic charter school for inner-city kids. Or an after-school program to supplement their classroom learning. Or a host of other initiatives. I am asking: for the good of the underprivileged and for the glory of God and for the passionate pursuit of mission, are public schools the best we can do? Or could we dream of a better way – not for the sake of separating ourselves from the neediest kids, but for the sake of serving them? Let’s not make this a public vs. private or public vs. homeschool debate. Let’s simply ask: how can we give kids – ours or someone else’s – the best education possible?
Finally, may I urge a note of humility in the whole conversation. Some of the responses seemed overly sharp, and others seemed to exude a sort of ‘missional righteousness’ unbecoming of Christ-centered people. It would do well for all of us to remember that our first and most important responsibility in mission is to our own children. If we are not teaching them to love the Lord their God with all their heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, and to love their neighbor as themselves, then it doesn’t matter how we might be succeeding in other aspects of mission. Those of us who are parents must be driven by that calling first and foremost. This certainly means exposing them to all sorts of poverty and messiness and tension; but it does not necessarily mean exposing them to those things in math class.