Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Debate Rages On: Evangelical Views of Education

Back on June 19, I wrote an article that addressed the debate among Christians concerning public vs. private education. The context surrounding that article was a resolution proposed by some Southern Baptist leaders that, if sent to the floor and approved, would have called upon parents to pull their children out of the nation's public schools. Thankfully, a milder version of the resolution passed. But wow, did I ever step into a hornet's nest when I spoke on this topic!

Since that article was published online, I have received much feedback, both positive and negative. Most recently, a group at Men for Modern Reformation, a Florida based ministry dedicated to Biblically based cultural engagement, decided to use my writing, among others with different viewpoints, to spur their readers to discernment concerning which choice--public school, Christian school, or home school-- was the most Biblically faithful and God honoring choice. While there were a number of contributors of far greater popularity and influence than myself (When seeing the web site at first, I felt like the "who's he" among the "who's who."), one pastor and Christian school administrator decided to address my article specifically, which prompted me to counter-respond. Needless to say, this debate is much more galvanizing than I thought!

Nevertheless, I remain more convinced than ever of a number of things. First of all, I believe this is a worthy debate. Unlike the almost totally abstract discussions about the minutae of the atonement (i.e. General vs. Particular) or the seemingly endless drone of trying to determine all the particulars of Christ's second coming, this issue holds much at stake, chiefly the development of our children.

Second, I remain convinced that the issue of Public vs. Private education is not simply a "black and white" issue that can be universally answered, because each public school system is different. While my original article could have been interpreted as an apologia for public education, this was not my intention. Instead, my goal was to state that public education should not be automatically jettisoned as an option simply because it is "public" education. Certainly I would agree that there are school districts that are beyond redemption, and in those circumstances, the best decision would be to home school, or enroll one's children in private school. But I would contend equally that this is not the case for every school district in America. Furthermore, I believe that parents are and must remain the final arbitors in this discussion, and that the church's role is to guide parents in understanding the particular educational context in their area, as well as the best ways to help their children develop.

Finally, I would stress more strongly than ever the "salt and light" factor when parents are struggling with how best to educate their children. This does not mean that we sacrifice our kids for the sake of a disingenous "evangelism." It does mean, however, that as we make educational decisions that affect our kids, we consider the question of how best to impact our communities. After all, the schools are the point at which culture is created. How can we impact culture apart from impacting the developers of culture? To the Christian parent struggling with where to send their kids, this is certainly not the only question to ask. Nevertheless, it is a question that is both essential, and unavoidable in light of the Great Commission.

As you will see from the link below, there are those who strongly disagree with me. Nevertheless, this is a discussion that needs to take place. If nothing else, the approach of fall, and with it the reality of a new school year should spur believers to greater discernment. Some parents will come to conclusions that mirror my own, while others will come to conclusions that are diametrically opposed to what I advocate. Neither of these groups is the problem. The problem rather, is parents who don't think at all! Those who send their children to Christian schools based solely on the "fear factor," as well as those who send their children to public schools merely for financial reasons are missing the point. The point is developing mighty men and women of God who will impact their culture in a maximum way.

What is the best way to accomplish this end? If you are a parent, God places the burden of arriving at a final answer to that question squarely on your shoulders! I encourage you to go to the link below. It contains my original article (published on this weblog June 19), as well as contributions from others, a response to my writing from Pastor David Bryant, and my counter-response. Read with discernment, and may God grant you wisdom as you raise your children to His glory!

To read more of this debate, visit First Blast, the online journal of Men for Modern Reformation. Click on the link below to access this material:

http://menformodernreformation.org/first_blast_newsletter_fall2005.htm

2 comments:

Ryan DeBarr said...

Joel,

Until last month I owned a bulletin board for recovering fundamentalists. Earlier this evening, a young woman posted something that echoed everything I've thought about Christian schools and the whole church culture that says we have to isolate our kids off in church youth groups, Christian schools, and Christian colleges. She said:


"One thing I've noticed about the kids who grow up in that church (myself included) is how fragile their Christianity is. They go off to Bible college and they're on fire; they come home and fall back in with the old crowd. The standards and convictions they have really aren't there's. They have no foundation, no beliefs of their own. They're living a life they don't really believe in."

That's something I've seen for YEARS, having gone to a fundamentalist school. I didn't grow up in a "good Christian home"; I had great parents but it was not a "Christian family." I went to public schools and state colleges. And when I ended up at fundy college, I looked at all the people who were just doing it because that's the way they thought life was. They were never forced to internalize their Christianity and were thoroughly fake. A good many of these kids went completely off the deep end after they graduated from college and started living on their own.

That, to me, is reason enough to be very wary of withdrawing your kids from society.

DAO said...

Joel,
Thanks for your thoughts...I'm off to read the link.
We have started our 5 yr old girl in public school, under the conviction that the school system is great, her teacher is so well spoken of in the community and its an opportunity for us to be involved in her education...as well as the myriad of potential opportunities to get to know others in our community who may not dawn the doors of a church. I am big on engaging folks with grace, salt, light and truth. I want ot listen, really listen to others, and where led, speak and demonstrate the reality of God in our lives. So off we go...we shall see...
BTW, we are the vast minority in our church of homeschoolers...most of whom are really never around folks outside the church. I don't think this is good. Be that as it may.
Danny