A Few Thoughts About Education

Last week the Obama administration handed down from on high a transgender bathroom decree directing schools to allow transgendered students unrestrained access to restrooms (and locker rooms) of their choice. Last night the Omaha school board voted to approve a sweeping new sex education curriculum that adds gender identity, abortion, and emergency contraception to the list of topics students will learn about. In my opinion, these mandates place a crucial fork-in-the-road before Christian parents, Christian administrators, and Christian teachers.

Broadly speaking, education is a place where Christians have freedom of conscience. Parents are responsible before God to fulfill their God-given duty of training up a child in the way that he should go, and the Bible leaves them free to choose from various means of education. I’m thankful that within Coram Deo Church, we have families pursuing public school, private school, and homeschool options. We also have members who are educators and administrators in schools throughout the city.

However, the massive falsehoods being forced upon us in the area of human sexuality require us to ask some hard questions and to engage in some important debates about education. And that’s easier said than done. Education is an issue that many people have deep convictions about, and emotions run high. But because of the dramatic importance of the spiritual and moral formation of the next generation, I think it’s a conversation we need to wade into as graciously and courageously as possible. I have three questions I wish to put before my readers.

First, for Christian teachers and administrators: how will you steward your influence at this moment in history? If you’re a Christian teacher or administrator in the public school system, I know that mission is a driving motivation for you. You work against the grain in a system committed to secularism because you know the value of Christians serving in hard places, and you want to be “salt and light” as Jesus taught. My question is: will you see this moment as a chance for a different sort of mission? Will you see this as your Esther moment, your Daniel moment, your Moses moment? Will you use the platform, influence, and position God has given you to stand up against this dramatic, immoral, ungodly government overreach?

Second, for Christian parents who currently send their children to public schools: what is your tipping point? This is a question very helpfully posed by Andrew T Walker in an online editorial posted on May 13. Walker writes:

What actions taken by your local school will be sufficient for you to re-evaluate public education? Is having a teacher reprimand your child for his or her belief about marriage, sex, and gender acceptable? Will you allow them to be in schools where bathroom policies are based on gender identity rather than biological sex? Are you uncomfortable with a biological male having access to the restroom and locker room that your daughter uses? Not establishing a tipping point could leave your child over-exposed to environments they shouldn’t be in. Not thinking about a tipping point is irresponsible and will communicate carelessness about a child’s education and Christian formation. It is advisable that spouses have a candid conversation and establish a line in the sand.

Third, for all Christian parents: are you practicing wise financial stewardship? Christian families need to maintain freedom to change schools if necessary. As Andrew Walker points out, there may come a “tipping point” where Christians cannot in good conscience continue to send their children to local schools (and discerning that tipping point will be specific to family and school district). I fear that for many Christian parents, financial pragmatism is a driving force in educational decisions. “Well,” the logic goes, “I could spend thousands of dollars to send my kids to a Christian school, or I could send them to the local public school for free. In light of the financial strains I already have, I’ll send them to public school.” I understand the thinking. We all have limited financial resources, and private education isn’t cheap. But the education of our children is more important than the neighborhood we live in, the car we drive, and the retirement savings we accrue. Every Christian family needs to create the financial margin to make a different schooling decision if (or when) it comes to that. I have seen Christian parents skimp and save to buy a new house. I have seen Christian men start companies or switch industries to increase their earning potential. I have seen Christian moms start home-based businesses to provide additional income so they can stay home with their kids. Whatever solution you brainstorm… now, not later, is the time to figure it out. Kill debt. Increase earning. Trim expenses. Get yourself in a place of financial freedom so that your schooling decision can truly be a decision rather than a default.

Finally, for any jaded cynic out there who thinks this bathroom decree is “no big deal:” check your spiritual pulse. Maleness and femaleness are foundational to the image of God in humanity. Willful disregard of sex and gender distinctions is a massive offense against God and good sense. And a civilization that willingly misleads and confuses its children on these matters is committing cultural suicide (if you doubt that, check out this video of college students unable to explain the difference between male and female). Christian mission in these new dark ages will require a moral conviction and clarity that many of us seem reticent to display. May God awaken us from our moral slumber.


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  1. Bob, the hardest part about reading posts like these is that you’re an outsider. You’re not actually invested in public schools. How would you feel if a member of another church (that had never attended a service) showed up and started criticizing how we did things at Coram Deo? The vocal majority at our church home school their kids. It feels pretty unfair that people that opt out of public schools feel that they’re experts on the subject.

    Another hard pill to swallow is that the Gospel isn’t really a part of this conversation. The bathroom controversy is a surface issue that doesn’t have eternal ramifications. Who cares? I’d rather talk to people about their hearts than their external body parts. Our children aren’t in danger from this new policy. Actual reported problems from this issue are very minimal. I guess I choose to live in the real world and engage it. Your thoughts seem to be an attempt to white wash reality.

    • Here via my brother, at Challies.com,

      As a public-school parent, I appreciate this article. I truly do not think Bob is seeking to state that Christians should withdraw from the school system. But, he is raising the valid issue of indirect consequences to the bathroom legislation. There are grave safety concerns which bear exploring. I contacted our county school board and was immediately encouraged by their quick and honest response, and their assurance that safety and privacy are top priorities for all students in all schools. I am praying for prayer warriors to step up, rally in prayer together and storm the heavens on behalf of the public schools we are invested in and love. Glad to know you are in the trenches with us!

      • I appreciate that Maryanne, I really do, but I also want to provide the perspective that for many of us safety and privacy are not our primary concerns.

        I’m not going to deny safety issues, but for me the primary issue is those in authority affirming gender fluidity. Rules are by their nature instructive. Rules teach. So for many of us, our primary concern is submitting our children to be instructed under a system in which the rules teach lies about the nature of humanity.

        Teachers and administrators are to be respected and obeyed. It’s troubling to me that we would put children in situations where they will be forced to defy their authority figures, if other options are available. As an adult I can knowingly place myself in such a situation (say, as I choose to work at a particular business or attend a particle college). But children don’t get to make that choice, and I find it difficult to justify choosing for them to place them under rules that defy God’s goodness.

    • When you have a non-believer criticizes Christianity, do you also tell them that it’s unfair for an outsider to make their claims? Or do you seek to understand what they are saying, what they see, and humbly consider their question/accusation?

    • “Who cares? I’d rather talk to people about their hearts than their external body parts.”

      What we do with our external body parts…and where we do it…speaks volumes about the condition and content of our hearts.

    • Michael,
      I respectfully disagree with your statement, “Our children aren’t in danger from this new policy.” Setting aside the greater opportunity for sexual abuse, there are indeed other ways that our children are endangered and harmed by these guidelines.

      We have just had our second child – a daughter. Biblically, the first male genitalia that she should see is her husband’s, on her wedding night. If these guidelines are put into place in our local school district, then she may be exposed to sights and feelings that should be reserved for much later in life when she has the emotional and spiritual framework properly in place to process them.

    • Without presenting a good theological argument about the two different ways “judge” is used in English translations, your quip is fairly unhelpful.

  2. Mike, it is a fallacy to say that only “insiders” can critique something. I am a product of public schools myself, and I’m “invested” in them to the tune of thousands of property-tax dollars every year. I have nothing against public schools in and of themselves. I do have something against a Department of Education that rams a postmodern sexual ethic down the throat of every public-school student in America. As I said, this conversation will require charity and nuance, and setting it up as a “pro” vs. “anti” public school conversation lacks appropriate charity and nuance.

    The assertion that “the Gospel isn’t really part of this conversation” makes me concerned that perhaps we suffer from a too-shallow understanding of the Gospel. The Gospel includes God’s restoration of all things (new heavens / new earth), which includes our physical bodies and their body parts. Those who mutilate the body are saying something about the Gospel, and those of us who believe the Gospel must care about both people’s souls and their bodies. A view of human personhood that separates “hearts” from “body parts” is Gnostic, not Christian.

    Finally, to say that “our children aren’t in danger from this new policy” is naive. It’s not “our children,” it’s ALL children that are in danger from an errant sexual ideology. Christians have worked hard to serve ALL children by teaching a traditional moral vision for sexuality within the public schools for years. But the powers that be have effectively slammed the door on that. As Christian parents, we must at least care for our own children’s moral and spiritual development, in hopes that we may preserve moral sanity for the next generation.

    As a teacher, you may EMBODY a Christian sexual ethic, but you are barred from teaching it. Seems an odd conundrum, don’t you think?

  3. I’m not barred from modeling Christ. Where do I train my children to be missionaries? In a test tube or on the battle field? That’s why I intend to have my kids go to public school. I don’t want to shelter them from the world. I want to train them in it.

    • You train your children to be missionaries by teaching them the Gospel, not by throwing them unprotected into an ocean of moral sludge that hates everything you want them to love. As a Christian father, you are responsible for the spiritual well being of your children first and foremost. All other so-called ministry opportunities are secondary.

    • Michael,
      I can appreciate that you want to train your children to be missionaries. I can appreciate that homeschooling seems antithetical to that; when will a homeschooled kid who spends all his time with identical homeschooled kids ever come into contact with those who need the gospel, right?

      But I would argue that training never actually takes place on the battlefield. Soldiers go to basic training in a controlled environment. Pastors go to seminary before they’re sent onto churches. To borrow an analogy, you don’t teach your children to swim by dropping them off at the pool and leaving for eight hours. It’s not about a test tube; it’s about doing proper preparation.

      No matter how much I may want to shelter my children, they’re going to grow up in a different world than I did. They’re going to experience things that I will have an incredibly difficult time foreseeing and preparing them to handle. One day they will be adults and will have to face these things on their own, but it’s my job as a parent to protect them from much of this when they’re children. My four year old is no more equipped to handle false teaching about human sexuality than he is to handle actual combat. I have a duty to get my kids ready for the world in their childhood years, to limit their exposure to it until such time as they’re ready to face it correctly.

      I’m curious as to your reaction to Bob’s second exhortation. What would be the “tipping point” that would bring you to the conclusion that public school wasn’t a place your children needed to be?

    • Mike, you *train* in a test tube, yes. It’s called practice, which is equivalent to ‘train’. They hit the battlefield when they are ready.
      Also, Bob didn’t say you were barred from modeling Christ(“embody”), he said you were barred from teaching Christ. Your rebuttal was to a point Bob didn’t say.

    • So I’m to offer my children up to them in the name of sharing the Gospel? The opportunity to share the Gospel does not stand over the principled application of the rest of Scripture. You really think Christ who told his disciples to send the little children unto me is now telling us to send them into a transgender bathroom because then at least someone will hear the Gospel? Wow.

    • Because leaving public schools leaves us no other points of intersection with transgenders….
      Mike, come on, you know full well that we will encounter transgenders (and many other ways of life dishonoring to God) in our workplaces, our hobbies, and our families.

  4. I keep hearing from so many, gospel believers and not, that this bathroom policy is silly and won’t effect them. We should all just use common sense when using a restroom. One of my best friends faced horrific sexual abuse in her childhood and she is terrified of what this means for her child because she knows how predators operate (adult and adolescent). When it was just Target, fine, you can choose to shop there or not. But now, she, a single mother literally has no other options in schooling because she can’t afford private and has no way to home school. In reading this blog, I would hope those in the public school or with kids in it, don’t take it as an attack but as a chance to stand up against this policy. And for those who have the means, support alternative options. Donate to private schools, sponsor a child if you can. Sacrifice things you didn’t think we’re on the table to sacrifice for the sake of our children.

  5. Thank you for an insightful and well constructed response to the transgender and sex ed curriculum decisions.

  6. Michael,
    You aren’t training them by sending them to public school. You are allowing someone else to train them. That is literally the entire point.
    Also, I wish this article made mention of home schooling as another alternative. This is usually more cost effective than private christian schools.

  7. I appreciate the article. Christians need to be prepared if they put their kids in public schools. I still see this as a preference issue. I don’t agree with the missionary argument for putting kids in schools. How much can kids even talk about Christ anymore in schools? We are called to be salt and light where ever we are so whether kids are homeschooled and public schooled they are to be light to the world. We can be salt and light in our neighborhood and even in our churches (we should not assume everyone at church is a Christian). For us, we are using to homeschool because it is a conscience issue but there is freedom – glad we have a choice for us to educate our kids…for now!

  8. For many the “bathroom issue” may be the tipping point. However, I see it as simply another manifestation of the worldview present in our public education system. True, there are many committed Christians serving in public schools, local school boards, and elsewhere. That does not change the fact that curriculum and policies are thoroughly steeped in an atheistic secular humanistic worldview. Christian parents do have the liberty to choose how and where their children will be educated. Christian parents do not have the liberty to choose the worldview God expects them to teach their children.

    I agree that all people everywhere regardless of their most prominent sin need to hear the Gospel. The question is this: does God expect parents to make that the job of their children? To follow up on the battlefield imagery, no commander in his right mind would ever put an untrained or partly trained recruit on the battlefield. He knows they will not only be at risk themselves, they will put all around them at risk. Soldiers are seasoned, not trained, in battle.

  9. A few quick thoughts for Michael Garrett.

    Why does “public school” = “the world”? This mindset doesn’t make sense. For most of human history children have not been educated in anything that looks like our current public schools. Currently most non-Christian cultural elites do not educate their children in places that look anything like most public schools. I don’t understand why this one particular, and by many measures failing, system is equated with “the world.”

    In as much as Christ would clearly not go along with gender insanity, all Christians under these “edicts” are or soon will be barred from fully modeling Christ. Not in all ways, but in significant ways that matter. As Christians we don’t expect agreement from the world, but to be silenced from proclaiming Christ’s reign in critical areas of life is not acceptable or strategic when participating in that environment is optional.

    The “who will share the Gospel with them” argument is nonsense. We will share the gospel, when we meet them in the real world, which does not equal “public school.” Of course one of our strongest witnesses is that we don’t go along with everything “the world” does (And again, public school is not “the world” anyways. The elites driving the culture don’t seem concerned that their lack of presence in the public school will keep them from influencing the people there).

    But in addition to that, the question of whether to participate in government education needs to stand or fall on its own merits. If there are worldview / Christian parenting commitments that make public schools undesirable, we don’t have the option to ignore that. Forcing yourself to participate in things that you know are unhelpful for Christian discipleship and maturity for the sake of “mission” has many troubling implications. “Where is the line?” is a good question indeed. What wouldn’t we be willing to expose our children to for the sake of “mission,” and why? There has to be a line, and it’s getting harder and harder to not think the line just keeps getting moved due primarily to Bob’s point number 3.

  10. Greetings by way of Challies…

    I am very encouraged by this article and many of the comments regarding the nature of public education. I would like to add this:

    “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” – Deut 6:4-9 (ESV)

    Jesus identified verse 4 as the most important commandment that God ever gave. Look at what flows out of it as application #1: the need for a thoroughly Christian, Bible-centered education. Note all the words God uses regarding the extent of this Bible-based education. The Lord couldn’t make it any clearer that we are to be in the Word 24-7 with our kids. And since He used the word “teach”, how can we possibly find an exemption for all the teaching that we delegate to professional teachers? Are we to believe that this commandment has fallen by the wayside in the New Covenant era, that Christ came so we can lighten up on teaching our kids His word?

    Despite God’s warning that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Prov 1:7), many of us have assumed that we can send kids off to learn math, history, reading, etc. without it needing to be explicitly Christian. Where did that idea come from? I believe it came not from the Lord, but from the public schooling many of us received, where we were told implicitly and perhaps explicitly that the Word of God might have meaning to us in our hearts, but when it comes to disciplines in the real world, it has no bearing on what we’re learning or doing.

    I believe this understanding is at the root of our educational problems, and where we must lay the axe. Public education has been committed from the beginning to humanism and secularism, under the guise of pretend neutrality. Yet there is no neutrality; no place where one can go to learn about the world as it is apart from God. He made it all for His good purposes. Whoever is not for Christ is against Him, and whoever does not gather with Him scatters (Matt 12:30). I hope Christian parents will consider these matters as foundational to their discipling of their little ones, with as much thought as they consider the latest foolishness foisted upon us from on high.

    • “Public education has been committed from the beginning to humanism and secularism, under the guise of pretend neutrality.”

      Public education in USA was started by the churches. Now it is entirely possible that even in that age the church was ruined by humanism, but I’m guessing not.
      I’m not claiming to be an expert on this in any way, I may be wrong, but I’m pretty sure about the start of USA schools.

    • Am I in sin if I send my kids to public school? Are you saying that if I do not believe that Deut. 6:4-9 states I should homeschool my children that I am sinning against a CLEAR and IRREFUTABLE commandment from the Lord?

  11. Brad,

    Maybe you didn’t speak with the clarity you intended to, but saying someone isn’t training their children by sending them to public schools is not accurate. Yes, by sending children to public schools parents have allowed other influences into their children’s lives. And yes, some of these influences will have a great impact for good or for bad, but to say someone isn’t training their children because they allow other influences in their lives is unfounded.

    Unless a family lives under a rock and does not allow their children to consume any media or have relationships with other people, the children will be influenced by people and things other than their parents. If a family homeschools, they will be influenced by their friends and the friends’ parents. If a family goes to private school, they will be influenced by their peers and their teachers. If a family participates in sports teams they will be influenced by coaches and teammates. I will grant that public schools have a greater chance for negative or even harmful influences over the other examples, but the risk is still there. Not to mention the numerous children who led sheltered lives with parents doing their best to keep them from negative influences who went off the deep end when they experienced the real world.

    To all,

    I think Bob is right about there being a tipping point at which parents must decide for their children whether public school is an appropriate risk to take when training their children. And for many Christians, the bathroom issue may be that point, but let’s make sure we are making this decision wisely and without undue fear. My husband and I have talked about this at length, even though Jesus has not given us children to raise yet. And for us, the bathroom issue is close to the tipping point because it shows a cultural shift in public schools and cultural influences are harder to combat/override than intellectual influences (ie evolution in curriculum).

    I would also say that the tipping point for Christian teachers in public schools can be different from the tipping point for sending children to public schools. Adults have, hopefully, already been trained both intellectually and emotionally to handle conflict and have been formed spiritually so they are rooted in the Gospel. Children may not be at a place where being ridiculed because they believe gender distinction between men and women is important is something that they can handle well.

    Parents are called to protect their children, not necessarily shelter them from worldly influences. This is definitely a place where gracious discussion in Christian community is needed. This is a place where Christians need to be on their knees pleading for wisdom and discernment for the Christian response at large and for the individual responses of parents that we know.

  12. Bob, Michael, and the Rest,

    I have tremendous respect for you and the studies Coram Deo has created. I’ve worked through Gospel Centered Life with two separate small groups at my church. That curriculum is outstanding. You should also know I’m not a member of your church, so take this for what it’s worth.

    As a public high school teacher, I consistently reflect on how my faith intersects with what I teach. In my school there are many deeply committed followers of Jesus who work very hard to bring the Gospel to bear on their classrooms. Though it has to be in more subtle ways, the themes of redemption, forgiveness, and justice often are intentionally woven through my American History class. I would venture to say that the public schools in Omaha are also filled with Christian teachers. Please try not to forget that we are on mission together.

    Also, you need to understand that families in the community have much more power than the teachers within the district. They pay us and can fire us. You pay taxes in the district and they can’t force you to move. I would argue that the Christian families are the ones who have a true Esther and Daniel moment. Let me suggest a way to make a difference. Instead of running in fear of this change. Take a stand. Show up at school board meetings. Voice your concerns as a father, tax payer, and parent. If you are truly concerned about the redemption of all things, work not just to preserve the morality of your own children, but also the children of your neighbors and community. If families in your community are concerned about the values your children will be taught, would it be possible to work with the school district to respectfully ask they either revise their curriculum or provide an alternative course that does not require those new standards – especially if they aren’t state standards that will be assessed on state assessments. This sounds like a local change. I would also suggest you and other believers run for school board. Think of the change that type of leadership and service can provide!

    Finally, let’s not be so naive as to think that the transgender bathroom issue will stop at public schools. It’s already affecting businesses like Target. We are experiencing culture shift, not just a shift in public education. I understand protecting our daughters from possible sexual predators in public restrooms. I have two sons, but if I had a young daughter I certainly wouldn’t let her go into a public restroom without someone going with her. My oldest boy is almost 8, and I don’t even let him go into a bathroom alone. However, school restrooms are different. Everyone there are minors. Would it be possible to talk to our kids about visiting the restroom with another person – if we are concerned?

    I’m not sure these are the best solutions to all our fears, but I can say that I think Christians in America are reacting right now instead of prayerfully reflecting on how we can love our children and the world around us. Let’s keep having meaningful conversations about biblical perspectives on what it means to be godly men and women, but let’s not run in fear from changes in the culture.

    • Nate,

      Thank you for this:
      “Instead of running in fear of this change. Take a stand. Show up at school board meetings. Voice your concerns as a father, tax payer, and parent. If you are truly concerned about the redemption of all things, work not just to preserve the morality of your own children, but also the children of your neighbors and community.”

      My wife and I have many long conversations about our children attending a public school and you succinctly nailed what we sometimes fail to articulate. This isn’t just about our kids. This is about a vast majority of kids in Omaha. We wonder where the poor children come into all this. They don’t have a choice or voice in the matter and THAT’S what I can’t get past in the whole schooling debate. We can’t leave them behind.

      Finally, the whole Obama bathroom directive. Let’s remember that it didn’t directly come from the system of public education. Don’t blame the public schools on something they didn’t create. Many are fighting back and in process of figuring out what approach to take and parents DO have a voice in that.

    • @Nate… your post was absolutely fantastic. Thank you for what you said, and more importantly, how you said it.

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