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Public Schooling and Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

I spent some time this weekend reading Al Mohler’s forthcoming book, Culture Shift (set for a mid-January release). In an endorsement of this book, John Piper writes, “Albert Mohler is a steady guide, unremittingly clear-headed.” This is a fair assessment. Anyone who reads and enjoys Mohler’s blog, will find this book is more of the same—commentary from the junction of faith and culture. In fact, many of the book’s twenty chapters are based upon Mohler’s previous commentary at his blog. It is a good book and one I benefited from reading. It has given me a lot to think about and, as you’ll see today, plenty to write about.

In June of 2005, Mohler wrote an article titled “Needed: An Exit Strategy” and discussed the issue of public education and the Southern Baptist Convention. At that time, for the second year in a row, a resolution was “submitted to the denomination’s Committee on Resolutions, calling for Christians to reconsider support for the nation’s public school system.” Dr. Mohler begins with this article and adapts it in the ninth chapter of Culture Shift. Here he says “Christians parents are increasingly aware that the public schools are prime battlegrounds for cultural conflict. Given the deep ideological chasm that separates the worldviews and expectations of many educators from those held by many parents, we should not be surprised by the vitriolic nature of this conflict.” He believes that the near future of public education will prove increasingly hostile to Christians and traditional values.

Examples of the downgrade of public education abound. He provides several examples. For example, he writes about King & King, a parable of homosexual marriage in which a young price decides he wishes to marry his true love, which in this case is another prince. This book has been read to seven year-olds in Massachusetts. He writes also of children who were sent home with “diversity book bags” to help teach that there is no such thing as a “normal” family and that all family structures are equal in value. And he writes of the national “Day of Silence” now supported in many high schools—a day organized by homosexual activists. These are not just extreme and isolated examples but are, more and more, becoming common.

The breakdown of the public-school system is a national tragedy,” he writes. “An honest assessment of any history of public education in America must acknowledge the success of the common school vision in breaking down ethnic, economic, and racial barriers. The schools have brought hundreds of millions of American children into a democracy of common citizenship. Tragically, that vision was displaced by an ideologically driven attempt to force a radically secular worldview.” What was once one of America’s great strengths is now beginning to lead to her moral breakdown.

Because of these factors, Mohler believes that it is time for Christians to leave the public school system and that homeschooling and Christian schooling are alternatives all Christian parents should consider. Those who are not yet ready to make the move should, at the very least, have an exit strategy in place. In his original article, Mohler writes this:

I believe that now is the time for responsible Southern Baptists to develop an exit strategy from the public schools. This strategy would affirm the basic and ultimate responsibility of Christian parents to take charge of the education of their own children. The strategy would also affirm the responsibility of churches to equip parents, support families, and offer alternatives. At the same time, this strategy must acknowledge that Southern Baptist churches, families, and parents do not yet see the same realities, the same threats, and the same challenges in every context. Sadly, this is almost certainly just a matter of time.

In the book he changes the statement only to increase the scope from Southern Baptists to all Christians. It is time, he believes, to leave the schools. Or at the very least, it is time for parents to consider the alternatives and what factors would drive them to these alternatives.

As I’ve indicated in the past, Aileen and I choose to place our children in public schools. We do not do so lightly and certainly not without some trepidation. Yet, because of factors I’ve outlined elsewhere, we feel this is the best thing we can do right now. Every year we re-evaluate. While we do not have a firm exit strategy, one that says “precisely under these conditions we will withdraw from the public schools,” we do keep a close eye on what our children are being taught and do not take for granted that they will remain in the public system indefinitely. We benefit, I believe, from our province’s highly-regulated system where the curricula are consistent throughout the entire system. We benefit also from knowing teachers and from pressing them to understand what children are being taught and what ideology is behind it. We have been very pleased with almost all of the teachers we’ve met so far.

If the time comes that we feel it would be right to take our children out of the public education system, I will be left with two great and related concerns I would need to reconcile. The first is this. If all of the Christians withdraw from the public schooling system, it seems to me that we lose our ability and even our right to speak to that system and to influence it. Though the political system is terribly corrupt, Christians continue to be involved and continue to vote, knowing that only in this way will we have any influence. Yet in the schooling system many wish to withdraw. But when we do so, I fear, we lose any right we might have to correct or influence. As Christians we look to better not only our own lives, but the lives of those around us. We look to be a transformative influence. If schools truly are “prime battlegrounds for cultural conflicts,” as Dr. Mohler states, why would we purposely remove ourselves from them? Why would we give up and retreat from this battleground? If this is where the hearts and minds of generations of citizens will be formed, why would we take no interest in it? If we retreat, we lose our voice.

And from there I think we will see as well that the downfall of the public education system becomes almost a self-fulfilling prophecy. When I look at the examples Dr. Mohler provides—examples of all kinds of ugly things that happen in the public schools, I realize that things in Canada do not seem so bad. Canada is a very liberal nation and, by rights, it should be in worse shape than in America. Yet I do not see that this is the case. Yes, there are occasional stories that strike fear in this parent’s heart, but it seems that our education system is less corrupt than that of our neighbors to the south. And I can’t help but wonder if this owes to the fact that fewer Canadian Christians have exited the public schools. While the homeschool movement, following the American trend, is beginning to catch on in Canada, and while it seems that homeschooling is fast becoming the favored or even the default option for conservative Christians, this is largely a recent development. With Christian schools notoriously underfunded and overpriced, and with homeschooling not an option many believers have even considered, most Canadian Christians have kept their children in public schools. They have maintained their voice and their influence. When all the Christians leave, we would expect the schools to decline. And perhaps this is what we are seeing in the United States. Perhaps Christians are inadvertently contributing to the decline.

I wonder sometimes about a “Genesis 18” principle. In Genesis 18 we read of Abraham interceding for Sodom and for his people in that city. “Then Abraham drew near and said, ‘Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?’” Abraham asks God, pesters God even, whether God will preserve the city for the sake of the righteous. Will God preserve the city because His people are in it? God answers in the affirmative. And is it possible, I wonder, that the Canadian system has been preserved more than its American counterpart because God’s people have remained there? Perhaps this is a long shot; perhaps I am abusing the text and the principle it teaches; but I can’t help but wonder. Would we not expect God to preserve an institution where His people are present and are attempting to make inroads for His glory?

At any rate, Aileen and I continue to keep our children in public schools and continue to wonder if the day will come when this is no longer something we can do in good conscience. I believe that Dr. Mohler is right and that we will need to arrive at an exit strategy. Yet I hope this is never a strategy we need to put into action. I hope and pray that Canadian Christians will find that they can continue to place their children in public schools and that, as parents, they can continue to serve within the schools, to make their voices heard, and to positively influence this prime cultural battleground for the glory of God.