Christian Parenting and the Peril of Public School Education

Author:

Matthew M. Kennedy

Article ID:

JAV4612

Updated: 

Dec 12, 2023

Published:

Nov 29, 2023

This article first appeared in the Viewpoint section of the  Christian Research Journal, volume 46, number 1/2  (2023).

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Christians have often viewed Horace Mann’s 19th-century vision of desacralized education with suspicion.1 Until the late 20th century, however, Christian parents could reasonably expect to send their children into a public school system that was at least not hostile toward Christianity.2 Nevertheless, a corner has been turned. Public school systems across the United States are adopting curricula and communicating ideas intrinsically antithetical to Christianity. As Becky Aniol writes, “Public school curricula no longer [follow] even the problematic postmodern agenda that says the truth is ‘whatever you want.’ The program moving forward is that accepted ‘truth’ is the opposite of God’s Word” (emphasis in original).3

A Tectonic Shift. This is but one symptom of a much broader and deeper cultural transformation that Carl R. Trueman describes in The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self.4 Over the course of the last three centuries, the West has jettisoned the Christian axioms that the human self is created, defined, and governed by God, and that the good society is that which is governed by divinely revealed principles. Within that framework, the purpose of education was to enable individuals to conform to and thrive within both the created order and the just society. In the place of that framework has arisen the now ubiquitous belief that the self is the ground of identity and the source of personal truth and happiness. Human flourishing requires one to be faithful toward one’s authentic self. That, in turn, means traditional ideas limiting self-expression must be deconstructed and new, more amenable ideals embraced.5

Bound up with this phenomenon is a reassessment of history, culture, and social institutions. The emerging view that traditional ideals impose harmful restrictions on individual self-expression has been wedded to ideological assertions that the structures enshrining these ideals are steeped in oppression. The family, the church, schools, and courts of law, in their traditional forms, according to this new narrative, have not been founded upon eternal verities or self-evident absolute truths. They are historical constructs, created to protect and empower a privileged elite, namely, the White Christian heterosexual male. The institutions and the historical, philosophical, and theological narratives that support them, therefore, must be dismantled and deconstructed.6

All this to say that when you consider public school for your child today, you should recognize that the ground has shifted dramatically. Teachers may well hold worldviews hostile to your own. The curricula may be designed to undermine your child’s faith.7 Myriad instances readily come to mind, from school sponsored drag shows and sexually explicit library books to the racialized reframing of American history.

Queer Theory for Kids. Consider the Gender Unicorn, a teaching device used throughout the United States to coax elementary students into identifying themselves on the gender spectrum.8 According to Keri D. Ingraham, “The character is designed to look endearing to young children, similar to the popular Barney or Boz. But this unicorn walks students through self-selecting their gender identity, their gender expression, the gender they’re physically attracted to, and the gender they’re emotionally attracted to. Each option includes not only categories such as women/men and feminine/masculine but also ‘other.’ Even their ‘sex assigned at birth’ is open to interpretation — it includes female and male, but also ‘other/intersex.’”9

A central tenet of biblical anthropology is that there is no distinction between sex and gender. Your sexual identity is given to you by God when He made you biologically male or female. Should your inner experience conflict with your biological sex, the Christian’s task is to humbly surrender to the objective gift of the body and seek help to conform the heart to the material reality of the flesh. This is no small matter. God made us male and female so that He might join us in marriage and in so doing portray the relationship between Christ and His church.10 A child who internalizes the Queer Theory notion that his or her sexual identity is a matter of personal choice — that there are not just two but an ever-widening spectrum of genders from which to choose11 — is a child who has been catechized into an anti-gospel.

Oppression Narratives as Curriculum. Then, there is The 1619 Project. Originating with an essay by Nikole Hannah-Jones in the New York Times Magazine, The 1619 Project identifies slavery and the slave trade as the heart and soul of American history.12 It has since burgeoned into a movement complete with a widely disseminated public school curriculum. Naomi Schaefer Riley writes, “The 1619 Project was, and is, sprawling and ambitious. It takes its name from the year of arrival in Virginia of a ship carrying African slaves.”13 According to Jake Silverstein, editor-in-chief of the New York Times Magazine, “The goal of The 1619 Project is to reframe American history by considering what it would mean to regard 1619 as our nation’s birth year. Doing so requires us to place the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are as a country.”14

If the American story might be accurately told by this reframing, there would be no problem. But as Columbia University’s John McWhorter notes, “The New York Times’ 1619 Project is founded on empirical sand. The fundamental claim that the Revolutionary War was fought to preserve slavery simply does not correspond with the facts, too conclusively for the point to be dismissed as mere hairsplitting. The issue is not differing interpretations of history, but an outright misinterpretation of it.”15 That should come as no surprise since the purpose of the Project is not to tell the American story but to “reframe” it around a narrative of oppression.

Elementary children nurtured on such narratives will be taught to read history through the radical dialectic of oppressor/victim, flattening out the complexity of the past in service to revolutionary politics. The Bible, by contrast, teaches that both the powerful and the powerless can be perpetrators of injustice. The measure of history for Christians is the Bible, and it demands that truth and evidence prevail over partiality and party.

Essential Christian Education in the Home and in Church. While not every school district has succumbed, the trajectory does not bode well. Barring a nation-wide Christian re-awakening, as the culture goes, so will go our public schools. So what does the Christian parent do?

To begin with, we must not be deceived. Some portray sending Christian children into public school as a missionary endeavor. Christian children shine the light of Christ into the darkness. This is naive. While God can protect children from harm and empower them as His witnesses, we must not send them purposefully into harm’s way. Children do not generally have the intellectual, spiritual, or emotional resources to critically assess and adequately respond to the daily catechetical training they receive from teachers and peers. Unless you are sure that your school district stands firmly against the flood of cultural devolution, the wisest course is to homeschool or to enroll your children in a private Christian school.

But not every parent has the financial resources to afford private school or homeschooling. For some, public school is the only recourse. The Christian in such circumstances need not despair, despite the truth of the previous paragraph. The Lord Jesus Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father. He is the helper of the helpless and the defender of the poor. The Father has given Him power and dominion over all things and people. If public school is truly your only recourse, you have every reason to trust that the Good Shepherd will guard and protect your children.

The primary way He does that is through the spiritual power of the Christian home. While we are surrounded by an increasingly hostile culture, the home remains the divinely instituted bulwark, refuge, and incubator for godly children. Cultivating a family life that exudes the love and joy of Christ will do much to expose the barren ugliness of conflicting ideals. There is no mathematical formula for this. From the earliest ages, introduce your children to the Good Shepherd who loves and cares for His sheep and lays down His life for them. By careful and just discipline, communicate the objective nature of sin and righteousness. With tender words, explain the sacrifice of Jesus and His blood shed for our sins. By forgiveness and mercy, display the fruit of that sacrifice. Teach them the vastly compelling Scriptural narrative of the Light prevailing over the darkness, of the Savior coming into the world and making all things new. They must be taught the story and must be encouraged to work out for themselves its implications. They must be given freedom at home to think about what the gospel means, and what it means for them.

Introduce your children to books that awaken the mind to beauty, truth, and goodness. We have used, for example, C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, Malory’s Tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, and Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. Good literature captivates the Christian imagination and breaks the spell of self-exaltation and revolutionary cynicism, teaching the glory and nobility of self-denial and self-sacrifice as opposed to self-discovery and self-expression. To these, add regular meals together and conversations and walks. Dispelling the catechetical influence of a corrupting culture, in other words, has less to do with reacting to its faults, than it does building a beautiful Christian counter-culture home. This cannot, of course, be done in isolation. The church is the pillar and bulwark of the truth, the household of the living God (1 Tim. 3:15). Despite her sins and the power of hell that rages against her, she will never fall because the Lord has promised to keep her (Matt. 16:18). A solid, faithful, biblically grounded, Jesus-exalting church, quickened and nourished by the sacraments, is essential for your family. Building a Christian culture at home apart from the local church is to journey through the wilderness without taking up the Manna to eat or dipping your ladle into the water flowing from the Rock to drink. It cannot be done. If you are a believer, you are already bound in the very depths of your being to other believers by the Spirit of Christ. If you do not make this spiritual reality manifest in your daily life, you cut yourself off from the means of grace Jesus pours out for you through His Word and sacrament and people. Your children, therefore, should be raised not simply attending church but with the church interwoven into the fabric of their lives so that they might grow up knowing from the earliest age, these are my people and my eternal family. The New Covenant promise is, after all, for you and for your children (Acts 2:39).

Finally, children who know that you would rather be with them than to send them to school; that their going is a burden and a trial for you rather than a relief; that you enjoy their company and long for the summers, will not go to school with empty hearts, needy for affection. They will go with hearts filled with the warmth of home and the love of Christ. —Matthew M. Kennedy

The Reverend Matthew M. Kennedy (MDiv, VTS) is the rector of The Church of the Good Shepherd in Binghamton, New York.


 

NOTES

  1. Zachary Garris, “Horace Mann’s Utopian Vision for Public Education,” Teach Diligently, August 26, 2016, https://teachdiligently.com/articles/horace-mann-utopian-vision-for-public-education.
  2. Those who took part in the battles over prayer in school in the late 80s and 90s may, with good reason, disagree about the lack of hostility.
  3. Becky Aniol, “Thinking Through Public School: 7 Questions for Christian Parents,” G3 Blog, February 4, 2022, https://g3min.org/thinking-through-public-school-7-questions-for-christian-parents/.
  4. Carl R. Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020).
  5. Trueman, Rise and Triumph, 70–71.
  6. Trueman, Rise and Triumph, 193–97.
  7. Especially in the context of sex education. See Kathy Ruse, Sex Education in Public Schools: Sexualization of Children and LGBT Indoctrination (Washington, D.C.: Family Research Council, 2020), https://downloads.frc.org/EF/EF20E22.pdf.
  8. “Is School the Right Place for the Gender Unicorn?,” The Noah Webster Educational Foundation, June 27, 2022, https://noahwebstereducationalfoundation.org/school-gender-unicorn-research-transgenderism-children-transparency/. See page 15, Figure 02, in this issue.
  9. Keri D. Ingraham, “The Radical Reshaping of K-12 Public Education: Gender Redefinition and Self-Selection,” The American Spectator, June 1, 2021, https://spectator.org/public-schools-gender-radical-reshaping/ (thanks to the Noah Webster Educational Foundation, “Is School the Right Place for the Gender Unicorn?,” for this reference).
  10. See Matthew M. Kennedy, “Marriage Is about the Gospel: Clarifying the Boundaries of Christian Orthodoxy,” Christian Research Journal 45, 02/03 (2022):16–23. https://www.equip.org/articles/marriage-is-about-the-gospel-clarifying-the-boundaries-of-christian-orthodoxy/
  11. Evie Brown, “Queer Theory and Gender Norms,” Align, January 10, 2019, https://www.alignplatform.org/2-queer-theory-and-gender-norms.
  12. See “The 1619 Project,” New York Times Magazine, August 14, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/1619-america-slavery.html.
  13. Naomi Schaefer Riley, “The 1619 Project Enters American Classrooms,” Education Next 20, no. 4. (2022), https://www.educationnext.org/1619-project-enters-american-classrooms-adding-new-sizzle-slavery-significant-cost/.
  14. Jake Silverstein, “Why We Published The 1619 Project,” New York Times Magazine, December 20, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/12/20/magazine/1619-intro.html (thanks to Naomi Schaefer Riley, “The 1619 Project Enters American Classrooms,” for this reference).
  15. John H. McWhorter, “We Cannot Allow ‘1619’ to Dumb Down America in the Name of a Crusade,” 1776 Unites, July 1, 2020, https://1776unites.org/essays/
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