Around 2011, as I was becoming increasingly engaged in the public education debate regarding vouchers and funding, I began to notice a shifting mindset related to public schools. Yes, it was part of the national conversation wrapped up in school choice, but what troubled me the most was the “pulling away” I saw among churchgoers. And as I began paying closer attention to the narrative, I sensed a growing trend among believers to keep their children out of the public schools.
Christian school vs public school
The decisions people make about education often aren’t cut and dry. I get it. People send their children to private school (or choose to homeschool) for a variety of reasons:
- the belief that their children will receive a better education
- to escape from economic diversity that reveals itself in standardized test scores
- the need for a specialized educational environment
- to participate in athletics…the list goes on and on.
Sometimes, the public school has only itself to blame when parents choose to leave, but often it’s a combination of factors combined with the desire for a Christian education. So what’s wrong with that? Why wouldn’t Christian parents want their children to receive a Christian education?
Intuitively, I get it. After all, I’m a Christian, and I, too, wanted my children to have a solid foundation in their faith. But I never saw that as a function of the school.
What I can’t get past is this:
Flaws and fear
How do we accomplish this if we cocoon ourselves in our churches, church-run schools and homes? Overall, I know this is a complicated topic intertwined with complex policies and issues related to politics, standardized testing, parenting and cultural change. So believe me, I don’t mean to oversimplify, but I do struggle with it.
Sadly, I think the importance we’ve placed on standardized test scores, coupled with a general lack of knowledge about what those scores reveal, has created a myth around the quality of our public schools.
And to be fully transparent, I don’t hold myself above the criticism.
While I never was the parent who overly scrutinized individual campus and district test scores as a litmus test for excellence, I certainly made assumptions, albeit incorrect, about quality based on these factors and others. However, the more I learned and the more familiar I became with the intricacies of the educational environment, the more I started to recognize the flaws in my thinking.
As I grew in my advocacy for public education and then became a trustee on my local school board, I had experiences that allowed me a closer look. And what I learned strengthened my resolve and support. Here is where I could easily wander off on a myriad of tangents, but I’m going to attempt to stay focused.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
As a Christian community, we rant about our nation’s moral decline, yet in so many ways, we’ve walked away from being a positive influence on the culture. And while I applaud the growing interest in volunteerism and missional activities — both extremely important — those activities never will replace the importance of actual relationships.
Bridging divides happens when you work alongside people, listen to their stories, and understand their history. In today’s world and culture, our greatest testimony rests within our sphere of influence, and it often requires going beyond the superficial.
However, influencing the culture for Christ will not happen if we don’t engage in meaningful ways. Dr. Jim Denison is my former pastor and someone I deeply admire. He writes a great deal about engaging the culture, and I encourage you to visit his website, The Denison Forum, where you will find many excellent resources.
In my opinion, our public schools remain an important mission field that many within the faith community seem to be abandoning both in supportive speech and physical presence. Ultimately, my point is this: God has not left our public schools, and as a Christian community, neither should we.
Various factors play into a parent’s decision about education, and sometimes an alternate course is needed. I’m not discounting the realities in some situations. However, I hope you will not let gossip, political soundbites and fear provide the basis for that decision.
Most importantly, please don’t hide. We need strong Christian parents, students, teachers and administrators in our public schools to be the light to an increasingly relativistic culture.
So here’s the question: Will that be you?
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”Isaiah 41:10, NIV