As mentioned on previous occasions, I am an education major, and even were that not my professed career choice, I would still have a great interest in the subject. Education, now more than ever, is a vital part of living in a world where information abounds, as does misinformation, and so our up-and-coming children must be prepared to live in such a world by knowing sound principles of reasoning and discernment. In some ways, the task of educating has grown more difficult; in others, much easier. Technology is both a blessing and a curse, and cultural changes pose new difficulties, although children are largely the same as they’ve always been. (As Topper Steinman says, “Kids are who they are; they know what they know; they bring what they bring.”)
What is always curious to me, though, is the underlying theme of one significant change to education in the past thirty years: parental interactions with teachers. Parents no longer work with teachers, trusting in their shared goal of making the child/student into a well-adjusted member of society, but instead work largely against teachers, fighting tooth and nail to get resources for their child, even to the detriment of other students. (This is stated most humorously and cogently in the book How to Handle Difficult Parents: A Teacher’s Survival Guide.) In many ways, unfortunately, Christians seem to exemplify much of what (in my opinion) is wrong with the thinking of parents today.
As a case in point, I was perusing my RSS feeds and came upon an article by Tim Challies called Public Schooling and Self-Fulfilling Prophecies. Now, I must come clean right up front that my interest in Challies is not always positive (I’ve argued against him here and to a degree here), as he and I seem to diverge on a number of different topics. Still, I keep his blog on my RSS reader because it introduces me to material that I wouldn’t otherwise, and I think it’s important to be exposed to a diversity of ideas. (I’ll come back to that point later.)
In this entry, Challies references a forthcoming book by Albert Mohler where he puts forth the notion that the public school systems have devolved so far that Christians are now obliged to start looking for alternatives for their children. Mohler opines, “The breakdown of the public-school system is a national tragedy,” but says that the public schools are now so caught up in diversity that they are now trying “to force a radically secular worldview”. Challies seems to concur with this assessment, even if he disagrees to some extent with Mohler’s contention that Christians need to seek an “exit strategy” from the public school system.
As a product of the public school system, I find this idea absurd. The examples given for the “downgrade of public education” (as Challies puts it) are the reading of a story called King & King that suggests the idea of gay marriage via a fairy tale to seven-year-olds, “diversity book bags” that “teach that there is no such thing as a ‘normal’ family and that all family structures are equal in value,” and support for the Day of Silence. First, this is a relatively small sample, but I’ll grant that the purpose of Mohler’s article was not to enumerate all the examples of the degradation of moral values in public schooling. Even so, the examples are not very strong, in my opinion. The controversy over “diversity book bags” (Google search) is odd, but I’ll skip it for the moment. King & King is actually somewhat related to the book bags in that the incident making the controversy was in the same school district, so it may also be the case that this is a more localized issue than is being let on.
Opposition to the Day of Silence, however, baffles me. This event, now observed annually, is not about promoting gay marriage or acceptance of homosexuality but rather about bringing awareness to discrimination and abuse that has occurred to students because of their sexual orientation. If schools support this, they are alone justified in the fact that they should want to create an atmosphere where students from any walk of life can have the right to learn without mistreatment. Why is this a bad thing or even a hallmark of diversity gone wrong?
I spoke earlier of a larger problem with parental attitudes, and here’s my theory: Parents now see education in a very capitalistic sense, where their child is a stock portfolio and they need to get the best funds into that portfolio to see the best return. (This capitalistic sense has crept into the church as well, unfortunately, but that’s a topic for another time.) Education has become so bloated in trying to fill in the gaps for children, and that is no clearer than in how teachers are obligated to act in loco parentis (“in the parent’s place”). This term itself is one of legal significance, but it seems to describe the whole situation aptly – parental involvement in education is dismally low, and so one aspect of education that parents should be undertaking, value education, is thrust upon teachers, and when teachers try to promote values that can appeal to a broad array of student backgrounds, parents can sometimes get up in arms and focus their disagreement on the school system.
Now, the idea of pulling children out of public schooling for other options sounds like parents being involved enough to care about the kind of education their children are receiving, so it’s not my contention that Mohler (and to a lesser degree Challies) is promoting this attitude. What I do think about this “exit strategy” approach is that it promotes Christian isolationism.
Yes, I’m invoking isolationism, that odd attitude the U.S. took pre-Pearl Harbor in regards to the fighting of WWII. Here, however, it’s not Humphrey Bogart suggesting, “Hey, that’s your problem; I’m staying out of it.” Instead, Christians are jumping ship at the thought of someone promoting values different than their own in a public setting. Imagine!
I have long promised myself and my wife that our children would be enrolled in public schools as long as I taught in them as a matter of personal integrity – if public schools are good enough for me to teach in, then they’re good enough for my kids to attend. (The only exception to this might be for a child with special needs, but that’s a different story.) More than that, though, exposure to different kinds of people is a valuable experience for children, and I don’t want to hide children away with little social exposure (as can happen with homeschooled children, if parents aren’t careful) or with exposure only to people that are of the same subset of society (as is sure to happen by enrolling a child in a Christian school). Public schools also tend to have more resources at their disposal for children, and they are taught by individuals with explicit experience in their fields. Parents that homeschool their children rarely have any in-depth knowledge of the topics (imagine a parent teaching cellular biology or – gasp! – evolution without any extensive scientific background), and teachers in private schools are not even held to the standards that public school educators are held to (including a minimal number of course hours in their content area and a teaching certificate).
So as much as I admire the idea of “pulling out the troops” (to continue Mohler’s military analogy) as a way of parents taking control of what their children learn, why not simply be more involved? If parents are worried about being taught “subversive values” about family structure or homosexuality, why not just reinforce the values you should have been instilling in your kids the whole time and trust in that (cf. Proverbs 22:6)? Stop playing the cultural victim and just do what you should be doing anyway: parenting.