Many evangelicals were shocked last June when Dr. Albert Mohler, the Southern Baptist Convention’s leading theologian, wrote that it is now time for responsible Southern Baptists to develop an exit strategy from the public schools. But why should it have been shocking?
For years innumerable, journalists, activists and scholars have been chronicling the metastasizing pathologies of the public school system. Surely few today are wholly unaware that the government’s schools have become foundries of ignorance and bad character. Surely few are wholly unaware that the government’s schools are the nation’s largest pusher of psychotropic drugs. Surely few are wholly unaware that violent crime and sexual abuse of students in the government’s schools are far from uncommon. And surely few can be wholly unaware that the government’s schools now incorporate curricula and programs that both are a threat to our children’s physical and psychological health and are, in many instances, pornographic.
Moreover, our highly trained education professionals are not shy about informing any parent who questions, for example, the wisdom and necessity of teaching 6-year-olds about homosexual marriage that it is none of their business. And why should “educators” be reticent about making sure parents know their place? As the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals candidly stated in its recent Fields v. Palmdale decision, the power of the government schools has grown to the point that “parents have no constitutional right … to prevent a public school from providing its students with whatever information it wishes to provide, sexual, or otherwise, when and as the school determines that it is appropriate to do so.” In other words, a child placed in a government school will be trained up as the bureaucrats, judges and special-interest groups who control the government’s schools see fit.
If the parents of 1960 had been confronted with today’s government school system, they would have immediately recognized it as child abuse and shut it down. Most of us today, however, gratefully accept the yard signs and bumper stickers handed out by the local schools and determinedly try to ignore what the schools are actually doing. We find comfort in our delusional beliefs that “our schools are different” or that “my child is salt and light.” If we are forced to confront some of the uncomfortable facts about the government’s schools, we nervously shuffle our feet and try to change the subject. Why? The reason is our need for self-deception.
Self-deception is a form of self-indulgence. It substitutes a comforting, but false, version of reality for the truth, all in the service of a subliminal desire to avoid changes in our lives that an honest appraisal of reality would require. But self-deception also protects itself by building a fortress – it erects crenellated battlements, excavates moats, and raises up ravelins that protect our comforting faux-reality by rendering us nearly impervious to evidence and argument. While all of us have indulged this vice, how much harm it does depends upon which uncomfortable reality we are seeking to avoid.
Over the last 60 years, Christians, leaders and laity alike, have deluded themselves by believing that we can provide our children with more than 14,000 hours of “seat-time” receiving a secular education in the government’s schools during the course of 12 years, and that our children will be none the worse for it. And, like self-deceivers in all times and places, we refuse to notice the evidence to the contrary or respond to argument.
Recently George Barna reported that only 4 percent of our teens can be considered evangelical Christians, down from 10 percent in 1995. To be sure, an overwhelming majority of teens say they are “Christian,” but their responses to a few simple questions concerning biblical doctrine clearly demonstrate that, despite what our children say, they are not. These findings aren’t unique to Barna. The Nehemiah Institute’s worldview surveys of Christian children, for example, have resulted in similar findings.
Similarly, Dr. Christian Smith, the lead researcher for the National Study of Youth and Religion, a large sociological survey of the religious beliefs of teens between 13 and 17, reaches many of the same conclusions regarding the religious life of teens. According to Dr. Smith, no matter what religion the surveyed youth professed, in general their actual religious outlook was what Dr. Smith characterizes as “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” This is a religious worldview featuring an undemanding, distant god, whose only commandment is to be “nice,” and who doesn’t become involved in anyone’s life except when he is needed to take care of a problem. This religion, according to Smith, conceives of its god as “… a combination of a divine butler and a cosmic therapist.” Rather than being commanded to take up his cross and follow Christ, the Moralistic Therapeutic Deist believes that “… the central goal in life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.” Unfortunately, this is not merely a problem with teens – increasing numbers of ostensibly Christian adults and some pastors hold these views in whole or in part.
Awareness of our failure to raise our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord is only now beginning to percolate into the consciousness of pastors and the broad Christian public. With this growing awareness, of course, come the obvious questions: “How is this happening, and what should we do?”
The answers to these questions, however, are quite straight forward. There is no such thing as “neutral” education. All education is religious and imparts some worldview or other. It simply happens that for generations Christians have been educating their children in a non-Christian worldview in the public schools. Consequently, why should we be surprised to learn that our children really aren’t Christians when almost all of their education has been entrusted to the public school system? If we were to take a new computer and load it with just Windows and Excel, would you be surprised if it wouldn’t do word processing? Yet, we have the utterly anomalous expectation that we can educate our children in a secular institution with a secular curriculum for 12 years and more and then expect them to be something better than nominal Christians.
As Christ points out, “A disciple is not greater than his teacher, but everyone when fully trained will be like his teacher.” (Luke 6:40). We have unthinkingly made an aggressively anti-Christian public school system the teacher of our children, and we should not be surprised that our children emerge from the public schools “like their teacher.” If we want a different result, we must provide our children with a thoroughly Christian education – something that public schools are legally prohibited from providing.
But even if an emerging awareness of the truth manages to weaken the fortress of our collective self-deception – by casting down the ridiculous “but our schools are different” and “our children are salt and light” deceptions – the truth still faces a formidable battlement wall of irrelevant and ineffective proposed “solutions,” whose real purpose is to allow the status quo to continue.
Are 70 percent or more of our children leaving church after they graduate from high school? The self-deceived Christian responds, “Let’s train 10-year-olds to be evangelists so that there is at least one in every government school classroom!” Does research clearly establish that fewer than 10 percent of our teens who claim to be Christians in fact really are? The self-deceived Christian responds, “Let’s start after-school Bible clubs!” Are our children successfully being indoctrinated with the view that homosexuality and promiscuity are acceptable behavior that can be pursued safely if you take the right precautions? The self-deceived Christian responds, “Let’s fight to get abstinence included in the curriculum!” Do a majority of Christian teens believe that Jesus was a sinner? The self-deceived Christian responds, “Let’s get a ‘Bible as literature’ course included as an elective in the high-school curriculum!”
None of this is new. The government schools’ destructive influence on Christian and other children has been evident for at least two generations. Throughout that time, when confronted with the harmful consequences of our disobedience in the education of our children, the self-deceived Christian has responded with conspicuously ineffective, silly ideas that range from praying around flagpoles to Christian “lock-ins.” Generation after generation of Christian parents and pastors have studiously averted their eyes as the government schools have become more antagonistic to Christianity and have more aggressively “defined deviance downward.” As a result, generation by generation our children, families, churches, and culture have slipped further and further into the muck of postmodern paganism.
What have we been trying to avoid? Responsibility and change. As parents we fear that if we acknowledge that we are obligated to provide our children with an education that imparts a thoroughly Christian worldview our “personal time” might be in jeopardy, not to mention the larger house, the longer vacation, and the newer car. Most pastors and Christian leaders fear conflict, possible unemployment, and reduced giving if they dare to question the wisdom of educating our children in the “little whited sepulcher” down the street.
Not surprisingly, because of our multi-generational failure to be faithful in the education of our children, we find that many of our churches are rapidly beginning to resemble one of three things: “Heaven’s waiting room,” a Sunday morning karaoke club with a 20-minute pep talk thrown in, or a spiritual Starbuck’s for the “uber-hip” 20- and 30-year-olds who have witlessly embraced the postmodernism fed to them by “educators” and the media.
On those rare occasions when our self-deception’s ravelin has been seized, its moat has been bridged, and its main battlements have given way, we find there remains a castle keep defended by a final deception – that how we educate our children doesn’t really matter all that much spiritually. Of course, this is obviously untrue. Not only does the Bible tell us that we are to train up our children in the way they should go all of the time, it also tells us why – we are what we think and that we will reflect what we have been taught. Not surprisingly, the “fruit” of our current educational habits also show that how we educate our children matters profoundly.
Years of research by the Nehemiah Institute demonstrate that children educated in Christian schools, for example, score higher on Christian worldview surveys than their government-school counterparts, and that children attending Christian schools with a Christian worldview emphasis do extremely well. Similarly, Dr. Brian Ray’s research shows that Christian homeschooled children retain their faith better than children whose parents have institutionalized them in government schools. Nevertheless, the self-deceived Christian refuses to hear and responds by claiming that the influence of their Christian home will somehow overcome the influence of the government’s schools.
Interestingly, a careful study by Orthodox Jews strongly confirms that how a child is educated clearly trumps all other factors with respect to whether a child retains his faith into adulthood.
The authors of the study, Anthony Gordon and Richard Horowitz, spent years researching the effects of educating Jewish children in Orthodox Jewish day-schools. Their findings demonstrate the pivotal role that parochial education plays in the religious formation of a child: “… multiple research studies have come to the same conclusion: Within three generations there will be almost no trace of young American Jews who are currently not being raised in Orthodox homes with a complete Jewish Day School education … the less time-intensive forms of Jewish education have almost no effect on intermarriage.” [emphasis added]
How is it that giving Jewish children an education based on the worldview of the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings has such a profound effect? Gordon and Horowitz find that the child so educated is equipped to answer the ultimate question, “Why be Jewish?”:
Orthodox parents and Orthodox day schools seem to give their children enough good reasons for staying Jewish that even when the children are grown and have the option to intermarry and disappear from Jewish life, virtually none of them do. Somehow, they reach adulthood with solid answers to the question of “Why be Jewish?”
Moreover, as Gordon and Horowitz point out, a less committed approach to the training up of children leads to catastrophe:
There is finally a dawning recognition that Jewish continuity and survival cannot be sustained in what has been an American lifestyle devoid of serious Jewish education and Jewish living. One might have believed in the 1950’s or 1960’s that it was sufficient to have minimal Jewish exposure. Examples of such exposure includes simply to be a member of a Temple, have Jewish friends, play basketball at the Jewish Center and live in a generally Jewish neighborhood to ensure that one’s children would be Jewish. However, we now have the data and studies to know that children who are left without an education leading to deep Jewish beliefs and practices have little chance of having Jewish descendants.
No less than Christians, Jews are enjoined to train up their children in the way they should go all of the time. But, also like Christians, relatively few do. Moreover, just as our disobedience in the education of our children has weakened Christianity, Jewish leaders are concerned about the loss of future Jewish generations as their children become more estranged from Judaism as a result of their parents’ failure to provide their children with a Jewish education and intermarriage.
Not surprisingly, then, at virtually every point in the Gordon-Horowitz study, we could substitute the word “Christian” for “Jew” and the result would be an accurate picture of the situation facing Christians today. As Christian Smith, George Barna and others have pointed out, our children neither know what Christianity is nor can they answer the question “Why be Christian?”
Gordon and Horowitz make their point poignantly to Jews by asking Jewish parents, “Will your grandchildren be Jews?” For Christians the relevant question is, “Will your children be Christians.” Unless parents and pastors decide to change their priorities, the data from Barna and others demonstrate that the answer is clearly “no” for 90 percent or more of Christian parents. Do you care? If you do, you and your church will follow Dr. Mohler’s advice and begin developing an exit strategy from the public schools today. Now.
Bruce Shortt is the author of “The Harsh Truth About Public Schools,” available from ShopNetDaily.