We’re Christians. We love our children; we know that the Bible instructs us to raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Yet many of us send them to an institution from which all vestiges of Christianity were driven out long ago — an institution that is also awash in secular humanist and neo-pagan theologies. That institution, of course, is a government school.
We all know the routine: wake our children, give them breakfast, and help them wash their faces, brush their teeth, get dressed, and collect their schoolbooks. We then deliver them by car, bus, or foot to that seemingly benign, ubiquitous, and familiar institution. Today this ritual seems unexceptionable. Most of us, after all, went through it as children. The vast majority of parents do it, and, in the public’s mind, attending government schools is virtually synonymous with getting an education.
This has not always been so. For most of America’s history, families and the church provided education. To those earlier Americans, the notion of entrusting their children’s education to strangers in a secular or pagan institution would have been unthinkable. When the government school movement began in the middle part of the 19th century, many parents and clergy strongly resisted it, enough so that government schools did not fully triumph over America’s original educational traditions until the early part of the 20th century. We are several generations removed from that controversy, and unfortunately very few of us even know it existed or why.
This transformation of American education has had profoundly destructive consequences.
The most obvious has been the epidemic spread of ignorance and semi-literacy. Contrary to the happy-talk from the education industry and media, few public school children today can read or write proficiently, let alone do mathematics or science at an advanced level. Indeed, many schoolchildren would have trouble finding Chicago on a map, and by the 12th grade, American children are math and science dunces by international standards.
For us as Christian parents, this is far from the most serious problem with government schools. American education is now aggressively anti-Christian, spiritually and morally. Government schools have become parochial schools for secular humanism and many varieties of New Age spirituality.
For decades the unacknowledged moral code of government schools has been moral relativism. While the general cultural toll inflicted by the social and moral values of government schools is reflected in levels of violence, drug use, and sexual immorality that would have been almost unthinkable before the 1960s, the damage to American Christianity has been far more profound.
That damage has occurred because the vast majority of us have permitted government schools to “educate” our children. Research by the Nehemiah Institute shows that children from Christian homes who attend government schools are five times more likely to adopt such anti-Christian dogmas as moral relativism than those who attend Christian schools, and Barna Research has found that only 9% of evangelical teens believe that there is any such thing as absolute moral truth. The damage is also painfully evident from the fact that a substantial majority of children from Christian homes no longer attend church within two years after graduating from public high school.
Government schools are killing our children spiritually, morally, and intellectually. But most of us don’t even see the problem; we simply assume that all is well with our children’s education as long as they seem untroubled and bring home “My Child is on the Honor Roll” bumper stickers.
We have abdicated our responsibility to educate our children. As a consequence, we have simultaneously put our children in harm’s way and have failed to notice that the “little red schoolhouse” has effectively become a pagan seminary nurturing our children in alien creeds. This, in turn, is transforming our families, our churches, our culture, and our society.
Why Do We Do It?
Are we doing this on purpose? Not really. Government schools are what we know, and because they are familiar we tend not to think much about them, let alone closely scrutinize what they do. Giving our children to “experts” for their education seems to be a reasonable division of labor — an arrangement we are also not prone to question because it is convenient.
Frankly, we have been led to think that the education of our children is someone else’s responsibility and that we ourselves aren’t quite up to the task. If we are willing to be completely honest, many of us shy away from asking awkward questions about what government schools are doing because we fear the responsibility that knowing more would force upon us.
To some of us this picture may seem too dark. After all, aren’t there still Christian teachers and administrators in government schools? Of course. But the mere presence of some Christian teachers and administrators doesn’t mean that our children get a Christian education. For those who care to look carefully, it is plain that the curricula, the institutional rules, and many of those working within government schools aggressively promote anti-Christian values and an anti-Christian worldview. In fact, government schools have become so hostile institutionally to Christianity that Christian teachers and administrators who actively profess their faith are dismissed or disciplined if they are “caught.”
The number of good teachers and administrators, whether Christian or not, has been dwindling as a result of retirement, frustration, and an institutional structure that protects incompetence. The problem we face is not undue pessimism, but complacency and misplaced trust. Christian parents and grandparents need to see government schools for what they really are, not for what they claim to be or for what they once were.
Over 100 years ago R. L. Dabney — preacher, theologian, poet, essayist, and soldier — put our responsibility as Christian parents in perspective:
The education of children for God is the most important business done on earth. It is the one business for which the earth exists. To it all politics, all war, all literature, all money-making, ought to be subordinated; and every parent especially ought to feel every hour of the day, that, next to making his own calling and election sure, this is the end for which he is kept alive by God — this is his task on earth.1
Nevertheless, we still send the overwhelming majority of our children off, day after day, year after year, on foot, by bus, or by car to that local pagan seminary known as the “public” school. There they are increasingly alienated from Christian values, their parents, and Christianity itself.
Often, the effects on our children of the government schools’ systematic anti-Christian evangelism are dismissed as normal youthful rebellion, or aren’t even noticed. Parents are shocked and brokenhearted when their child graduates from high school and shortly afterward ceases to attend church and begins to conform to our anti-Christian secular culture. Many of them never return to their faith. Others do, but only after damaging themselves, their futures, and others through experimentation with drugs, broken marriages, illegitimate children, abortion, and all the other harms that can befall us when we succumb to the enticements prepared for us by the Prince of this World.
New Agers, secular humanists, and other anti-Christian forces are working to eliminate Christian influence from society by gradually eliminating Christianity. Not by extermination or forcibly shutting our churches, but by gradually euthanizing Christianity through their influence over the education of our children. We have inadvertently been accomplices in the destruction of our children, our culture, and our faith.
This can all be changed in the “twinkling of an eye.” We are still free to lead our children out of the Egypt of government schools and into the Promised Land of Christian schools and homeschooling. All that is required is obedience. Will we be found to have been good and faithful servants or wicked and slothful servants? We have a decision to make.
1. Robert Louis Dabney, On Secular Education, Douglas Wilson, ed. (Moscow, Idaho: Canon Press, 1996).
- Bruce N. Shortt
Bruce N. Shortt is a graduate of Harvard Law School, has a Ph.D. from Stanford University, was a Fulbright Scholar, and serves on the boards of directors of the Houston Ebony Music Society and the Exodus Mandate. Mr. Shortt and T.C. Pinckney were co-sponsors of the Christian Education Resolution that was submitted for consideration at the 2004 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. He’s the author of The Harsh Truth About Public Schools.