Would you send your children to a Muslim school? I have yet to find a Christian parent who says yes to that question – and the reason is obvious. We don’t want our kids indoctrinated into Islam. We want them to become Christians.
Yet, currently in the United States, 84% of Christian parents send their children to schools teaching an alternate religion. These schools may be billed as religiously neutral, but make no mistake: public schools are religious institutions, enthusiastically promoting the religion of secular humanism.
Make no mistake: public schools are religious institutions, enthusiastically promoting the religion of secular humanism.
In recent years, my husband has had the unique privilege of visiting a comparative religions class at his school to explain Christianity. And, each time, he presents Christianity as a comprehensive worldview and contrasts it with what he perceives to be the prevailing religious worldview at his high school – secular humanism. Based on the framework described in Nancy Pearcey’s book, “Total Truth,” he explains that every worldview has three components – an origins narrative; a “fall” or explanation for the cause of suffering; and a redemption story, or way to end suffering.
He then argues that in his school, the origin narrative is evolution: you are the result of random processes and are no different than an animal. The cause of suffering is socially-constructed rules that inhibit your freedom, especially your sexual freedom. And, the way to end suffering is to reject these rules, which typically stem from Christianity. So, in essence, salvation is found by rejecting Christianity.
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“Yup, that’s right,” students typically respond. Interestingly, no student has ever objected to my husband’s description of his school’s religious worldview. In fact, when he describes it, most experience a sort of “Aha!” moment.
So, in light of this reality, I ask you: Should Christians send their kids to public schools? Last Saturday, I considered this question on my radio show, Up for Debate, as I have several times in the past. And every time, the question elicits strong opinions and emotion. And, I usually hear the argument that the education of our children is a very personal issue; it depends on the child; and no one way is better than another way. That, of course, sounds very reasonable and non-judgmental. But, is it really true?
I admit that as young parents, my husband and I didn’t understand this verse as a command to provide our children with a Christian education. We figured it would be enough to apply this verse to all our interactions with our children outside of school.
Other verses carry a similar message. In Ephesians 6:4, fathers are commanded to bring up their children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Proverbs 22:6 tells parents to “train up a child in the way he should go.” Scripture also warns about sitting under the influence of those who are hostile to God. Proverbs 13:20 says, “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” In Luke 6:39-40, Jesus says, “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.” Psalm 1 says, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked . . .”
How is placing our kids in a secular humanistic institution for their most formative years not a violation of these verses?
When I argue this case, though, I usually get a fair amount of push-back and hear some common defenses for sending kids to public school. But do these arguments actually hold up to scrutiny?
Common Reasons to Send Kids to Public School
“My School is Different.”
A veteran public school teacher from Las Vegas called in to my program Saturday, challenging the notion that all schools promote secular humanism. Sure, some do, she said. But for decades, she said she’s promoted Christianity in her classroom and has made a practice of praying with students, as well. She’s also made it a practice to tell her students that she’s praying to Jesus during the 30 seconds of silence that begin each day. And, during parent-teacher conferences, she said she often discusses family issues with parents and prays with them about those issues, as well. In fact, the influence of Christians is so strong at her school that the school once hosted a Christmas program where overtly-Christian, Christmas carols were sung. “So things can change in our public school system!” she said – if only more Christians would get involved.
The problem with what this teacher described, as one of my guests noted, is that it’s illegal! Ever since the landmark Supreme Court case in 1947 that erected a “wall of separation between church and state” – and the 1962 case, which outlawed school prayer – Christianity has been officially banned from public schools. The only way to introduce a Christian worldview back into the public schools would be either to change the law or to encourage Christian teachers to violate the law. Given that the latter would violate the admonition in Romans 13 to submit to authorities, I would not recommend it as a solution. And, given that our courts increasingly are ruling against Christian liberty, and the prevailing culture is hostile to Christianity, I don’t think there is any chance we will re-introduce Christianity into our schools any time soon.
“Christians Kids Need to Be Salt & Light.”
Yes, we need to teach our children to share Christ with unbelievers. But seriously, would any of us send an undeveloped, vulnerable child into a hostile mission field? Again, Scripture teaches parents to nurture and instruct their children, not send them as missionaries to a pagan culture. In 1 Timothy 3, we are told that leaders in the church should not be recent converts because they might fall into sin. Certainly, this same principle should apply to missionaries. Many children aren’t even converts, but they certainly are not mature believers. To me, sending children as missionaries is ludicrous. It’s also not working.
According to a study by Dr. Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute, 75% to 85% of public school children from Christian homes abandon their faith as adults. However, less than 10% of homeschooled children leave the faith as adults. Similarly, the Nehemiah Institute found that 80% to 85% of public school students from Christian homes have secular humanistic worldviews. But, only 3% of students attending schools that intentionally teach a Christian worldview have secular humanistic worldviews. Clearly, how we educate our children makes a difference.
“We Can’t Afford Christian School or Homeschool.”
Money, I believe, is the biggest impediment to Christian education. In fact, a Barna study found that public school is the first option for only 26% of the population. So, many send their kids to public schools out of necessity, and for no other reason. Economics is also likely a major reason why the homeschooling population is largely white. Surprisingly, though, the fastest growing segment of homeschoolers in the country is African-American. And, a significant proportion of these are single moms, showing that it can be done. But it takes an incredible amount of sacrifice, and increasingly, I believe the church needs to lend a helping hand.
However, educating our kids biblically is worth the sacrifice. Our family actually downsized several years ago, specifically so we could send our kids to Christian schools. And last year, we were actually paying twice our mortgage in our kids’ tuition each month! But, nurturing our children’s minds has been worth it. And, even though my husband and I are always teaching our kids at home, we have seen a huge difference in our children’s worldview formation since attending Christian schools.
So, given our experience and the clear teaching of Scripture, I would send my kids to public school only if there was absolutely no other option. But, I’m a believer that God normally provides options when we earnestly seek them.