Note: I wrote this about a week or so before the Senate voted on President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, and published it a day before the scheduled vote. I believe what I’ve written is important and relevant regardless of the outcome of the vote.
The Shock of My Life
Once upon a time I was a Secondary Education major at Temple University. I can still remember participating a surreal debate in our Service Learning class. I had a conservative classmate who made it his business to agitate everyone else in the room. One evening he took it to a new level. He made it known that he believed public education shouldn’t exist.
Let me be clear, in case you think you misread that. This was an man perusing a degree and career in education. He was totally opposed to the idea of public K-12 education. The irony of ironies is that he took this stand as a student at a semi-public university.
My classmate believed that it is practically and ethically wrong to provide quality, government-funded education to anyone. If a family valued education, they would do whatever it took to get it. If they didn’t find a way to pay for it, they didn’t want and didn’t deserve it.
Views on Public Education
There is an approach towards education that views public schools as a societal evil and not as a tool to help children, families, and communities. Betsy DeVos – Donald Trump’s nominee to head the Department of Education – embodies this perspective.
Mrs. DeVos’ nomination as the Secretary of Education has struck me in a personal way. She, like me, has been described as a religious person. She likely shares my concern that public schools are becoming hostile towards religious families. I don’t know her but, based on what I’ve read, she likely shares some of my conservative religious (but not political) convictions.
Mrs. DeVos is an advocate of “school choice.” As a child, my parents made the choice to home-school me. I was a home-school kid from Kindergarten through sixth grade. Two of my three siblings were also home-schooled. I understand and respect parents’ right to choose non-public schooling for their children. I also attended public school in from seventh grade to twelfth grade. I’ve spent my entire adulthood working with public school students in professional and volunteer capacities. I am acquainted with some of the benefits and shortcomings of public schools.
I understand why others who share conservative Christian values take issue with public education. Many see a growing tendency in public education to portray religious people as intellectually inferior. Public schools do not teach – and sometime erode – biblical sexual ethics. Public schools accept all students. In a more pluralistic society, this means that public schools are becoming less Christian.
Why we Shouldn’t Join Betsy DeVos in Abandoning Public Schools
There’s a lot to say about how Christians should address these trends. However, I’d like to make one main point: it’s not our job as Christians to seek the destruction of public education. We are likely facing four to eight years of a Secretary of Education and President who are hostile to public education. In light of that reality, here are some things to consider:
- “School choice” policies create limited choices for a limited number of families. At the same time, they erode resources for and the quality of public education.
- Moving a child from a public school to a charter school by no means guarantees him or her a better education.
- Vouchers aren’t always enough to help low income families enroll their children in quality private schools.
- Private and charter schools can deny services to students with the greatest need.
- Scripture does not explicitly command us to home-school our children or send them to a private Christian school.
- There are steep disparities in quality education. These disparities break across suburban/urban, economic, and especially racial. This isn’t only a political issue. It’s a justice issue.
- Access to education influences a myriad of issues. These issues include employment, drug addiction, teen pregnancy (and, by extension, abortion), civic engagement, criminal activity, incarceration, and drug use.
- Public schools benefit the entire community, not only the children who attend them.
- All all children, regardless of geography, race, or family income are equally created in the image of God and of equal value.
- Public schools are an opportunity for Christian students, parents, and whole families to engage their community and share the love and gospel of Jesus Christ with those who do not know him.
As far as I know, there is no biblical rule for Christians when it comes to deciding if we send our children to public schools. God sends his people to be salt and light in all corners of the globe. This includes under-performing public schools. Still, each family must prayerfully make the decision that is wise for their own unique set of circumstances. My prayer is that, in the midst of those divergent decisions, we as a Christian community will not turn our backs on our community. That includes our public schools and the families they serve.
One thing I don’t want to communicate is that a parents should never send their kids to charter, private, or Christian schools or homeschool. If that is what’s best for your child and family, do it. I’ve worked with students from all of those backgrounds and they all have their benefit. Just want to be clear on that.