I often ask people, "Who in his right mind ever thought it made any sense whatever to entrust to the government the shaping of the minds of the people by whose consent it is supposed to govern?"
Rarely have they entertained that question before, but usually they get the point immediately: Government-run schooling is a sure path, however long or short, straight or winding, to tyranny. Let the government determine curriculum, and ultimately it will determine what citizens think and how they vote.
No wonder Marx and Engels included "free education for all children in public schools" as the capstone of the Ten Planks of their Communist Manifesto.
The implication of the obvious answer to my question is clear: We shouldn't subject our children to government schooling but should shoulder the responsibility ourselves — whether directly, through home schooling, or indirectly, by choosing the private school at which they study.
The justification for this should be clear to anyone who values liberty, but especially to those whose beliefs are at odds with the official stance of the government. In our day, in stark contrast to the situation at the founding of our country, this certainly includes all Christians who take their faith seriously and want to pass it on to their children.
As the late Dr. Robert L. Reymond, an outstanding theologian with whom I once taught in seminary and later served on pastoral staff, put it in a sermon one day, "Please, please! Don't send your children to Pharaoh's Academy!"
Yet even when my Christian friends grasp this, they almost invariably respond by defending government ("public") schooling anyway. Their reasons are pretty predictable.
1. "I was a Christian and attended public school and came through with my faith intact."
One who said this to me is a Christian apologist.
I replied, "There are exceptional people, and you're one of them: a Christian who attended a Secular Humanist school without serious damage to her faith. But good policy rests not on exceptions but on generalities. The evidence is strong that Christian students' attending schools in which anti-Christian worldviews dominate the curriculum are far more likely to have their faith undermined than strengthened."
2. "But I've met a bunch of Christian homeschooled kids up to all kinds of no good stuff, sexting other kids, etc. Is that a result of their education done by very devout and godly parents?"
True enough, some Christian home-schooled students are not significantly different from their public-schooled peers. But this again is a matter of comparing exceptions with routines. Would anyone really suggest that the public school environment is no more likely to generate degenerate (I like that coupling of terms!) behavior than home schooling?
3. "But my kids attend a Christian school, yet based on behavior they're positive that half their classmates aren't Christians."
Usually those who raise this objection think it's bad that non-Christian students attend Christian schools. Others would disagree. But in the end educational freedom makes that a moot point.
The wonderful thing about educational freedom — in which parents decide where they'll send their children and spend their dollars — is that this will result in variety on all kinds of measures, including this one.
Some Christian parents will prefer for their children to be educated at schools that try to ensure that only students with solid testimonies of personal Christian faith attend. (Good luck with that, especially with young children!) Others will prefer that they be educated in schools that evangelistically welcome non-believing students. Some will prefer that their children attend non-Christian schools. Some will prefer to educate their children themselves.
The one thing that won't be happening is for 90 percent to be funneled into government-run schools that are now overwhelmingly anti-Christian in curriculum, in educational philosophy, and in behavior.
4. "Home schooling isn't the solution for everyone, as if one-size-fits-all education works for every child."
Absolutely! Which is precisely why I oppose public education especially (even more so as it becomes increasingly centralized and homogenized in curriculum and evaluation), and large-classroom traditional private education as well. Mass-production education is quite out of keeping with the uniqueness of every human individual.
This doesn't mean education should be given exclusively by parents. There are good reasons for parents to enlist help, especially on subjects in which they themselves are not particularly proficient.
My wife and I would never have attempted to teach our kids even Algebra I, let alone calculus or differential equations! (Thank God for good curriculum and tutors!) But we did pretty well teaching them reading, writing, basic arithmetic, logic, Bible, theology, church and world and American history, philosophy, literature, economics, cooking, home economics, art, vocal music, and a variety of other subjects and skills.
5. "But if all the Christian students and teachers leave the public schools, what happens there?"
My bet? They quickly descend into utter chaos. Only the presence of Christian teachers and students keeps them from that now.
But would that be so bad? Many non-Christian parents would wake up and think, "I'm not keeping little Sophie in that cesspool!" So they'd look for private school options — and many of their children would wind up at Christian schools, Pharaoh's kids getting schooled at Christ's Academy.
An outstanding documentary film, IndoctriNation, demonstrates, among other things, that this common reason for Christians' teaching in and attending public schools — to witness — has little justification because the content of their "witness" is so severely restricted.
6. "Yes, but what about the single mom, working two jobs and living in the inner-city projects, who loves Jesus and wishes she could send her kids, who are hard working but not bright enough to garner a scholarship, to a private Christian school?"
That provides a true challenge to churches (and other private, voluntary associations).
Colonial and early post-colonial historical statistics show that the children of people too poor to pay tuition themselves were enrolled in schools, and attended, and achieved educational goals (especially literacy), equally with the children of parents who could afford tuition.
Why? Because the latter, especially through their churches, provided the financial assistance needed by the former, and they did so voluntarily. (For the statistics, see Samuel Blumenfeld's Is Public Education Necessary?) And they did that when their incomes and living standards were less than 1/100th ours (measured in purchasing power), i.e., when the sacrifice involved in their charity was much greater than what we face today.
Why then and not now?
Lots of reasons, I suppose, but here are a few: (a) People figure that since the public schools exist, the need isn't there. (b) People figure that since they're already taxed to support the public schools, they've done their fair share. (c) The increasing centralization of our governmental and social structures (in which responsibility for more and more activities has moved from neighborhood to city hall, from city hall to county council, from county council to regional planning commission [not even part of our Constitutional order], from regional planning commission to state government, and from state government to national government) has made us blind, or at least apathetic, to our neighbors' needs.
So Christians' repentance is the key. We must wake up to our neighbors' needs. We must make our needy brothers' and sisters' educational costs a higher priority than our luxury and comfort. We must expand our giving to Christian schools. Some of us should create non-profit trust funds to give scholarships to needy students.
The solution really is with Christian families and churches: to embrace our Biblical responsibility. Deuteronomy 6 and much of Proverbs and all of the Pastoral Epistles, among many other parts of Scripture, teach the importance of parents, pastors, and elders teaching church members, including children.
When by God's grace we do that, we'll take education customers away from the government, and we'll restore not only educational quality but also spiritual health and the religious and political liberty our forebears sacrificed to secure.