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The Proper Christian Approach to Public Education

By P. Andrew Sandlin
Published May 1, 2008

It is almost self-evident that the approach of conscious Christians to modern public education in all its forms must be governed strictly by the guidelines of the Holy Scriptures. Most Christians recognize, in fact, that to assume the legitimacy of the status quo of public education in the United States is to compromise the message of Holy Scripture, devoted as public education is to the dogma of secularism and rife as it is with the baneful consequences of that secularism: declining academic standards; the prevalence of violence, illegal drugs, racial tensions, promiscuity, and abortion; and skepticism over its effectiveness. Christians have been alert to the deviation of the instruction and policies in public education from the pattern of education established in Holy Scripture. Perhaps, however, because of the institutionalization of public education over the last century in which dedication to public education has become almost synonymous with patriotism, many Christians have been reluctant to apply the message of the word of God to the question of the validity of public education itself.

No doubt one factor contributing to this reluctance is the persistence of the vague memory of schools as they were some half a century ago, influenced by the vestiges of the Christian faith which once dominated colonial America. Christians have not realized the radical shift not merely in policy, but in worldview and guiding presuppositions public education has undergone.

In the words of Francis Schaeffer:

They have very gradually become disturbed over permissiveness, pornography, the public schools, the breakdown of the family, and finally abortion. But they have not seen this as a totality-each thing being a part, a symptom, of a much larger problem. They have failed to see that all of this has come about due to a shift in world view-that is, through a fundamental change in the overall way people think and view the world and life as a whole. This shift has been away from a world view that was at least vaguely Christian in people’s memory (even if they were not individually Christian) toward something completely different-toward a world view based upon the idea that the final reality is impersonal matter or energy shaped into its present form by impersonal chance (Schaeffer 1982, 423).

They have acknowledged, therefore, the specific deviations from the Christian faith that have made serious inroads in public education, but not the possibility that the concept of public education itself is wrong. That Christianity and public education may constitute two mutually contradictory systems and philosophies they may not have considered. The conclusion of Van Til that

Godless education ignores or denies that man was created responsible to God. This implies that sin is not a transgression of God’s law. Hence Christ did not need to die in our stead. Godless or nontheistic education is therefore also non- or anti-Christian education. Godless, non-Christian education naturally becomes humanistic, i.e., man-centered. If man does not need to live for God, he may live for himself. If then we want a God-centered and truly Christian education, we will have to break away completely from the educational philosophy that surrounds us (Van Til 1990, 3)

they may deem an overreaction. Yet “[B]reak[ing] away completely from the educational philosophy that surrounds us” is just the logical step allegiance to the Holy Scriptures requires of the people of God. Two separate but related factors of necessity elicit this response from Christians: the structure of public education as a violation of the eighth commandment, and the content of public education as radically secular.

SOCIALISM, EDUCATION AND THE EIGHTH COMMANDMENT

One of the great ironies of the modern conservative Christian church is how staunchly-and justifiably-it opposes socialism while concurrently maintaining a diffidence toward public education, not to mention social security. Perhaps the “conservative” church has forgotten that it was Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels who urged that “Free education for all children in public schools” is an identifiable measure of subverting “the old social order… a means of entirely revolutionizing the mode of [economic] production” (Marx and Engels 1959, 28, 29). The role of “[f]ree education for all children in public schools” in Marxist economic philosophy is deserving of separate consideration, but it suffices here to note the inextricability of public education and socialism in Marx’s and Engels’s estimation. It is in fact difficult to conceive of the viability of “free” universal education apart from a socialistic scheme.

The chief defect of socialistic education-and, for that matter, all forms of socialism-is that it violates the eighth commandment (“Thou shalt not steal” [Ex. 20:15]). Scripture recognizes the necessity of exacting taxation for the purpose of maintaining civil government (Rom. 13:6, 7). Jehovah warns Israel that should he grant her desire for a king, the king would of necessity confiscate as much as a tenth of their children, servants, and possessions for the maintenance of his regal position. (Interestingly enough, Jehovah depicts 10% rate of taxation as oppressive). Taxation for this purpose, therefore, is not illegitimate. It is crucial to recognize, however, that taxation as a mechanism of the redistribution of wealth for the purpose of providing universal societal services is far beyond the purview of valid taxation as displayed in Scripture. It constitutes, in fact, legalized theft. For individuals to coerce other individuals to fund the education (or retirement program or medical care) of others in society is readily identified as robbery; nevertheless, such robbery gains an aura of legitimacy and respectability when actuated by government bureaucracy and implemented by universal taxation. The fact, however, that the robbery occurs in broad daylight by a tax collector rather than in the dark of evening by a seedy thug renders the robbery no less culpable.

The argument that taxation is a justifiable source of revenue for socialistic, i.e public, education inasmuch as the education of a citizenry is within the purview of the interest of the state can find no Biblical warrant. Biblically the role of the state is limited to the protection of its citizenry and the punishment of evildoers (Rom. 13:1-4). It does not extend to the provision of education, employment, health care, and retirement programs for its citizens.

Most recently the dismal failure of public education has stimulated calls for vouchers, state payments or tax breaks to parents who wish to enroll their children in private or parochial schools or teach them at home. The rationale behind vouchers is that mandatory public education for children constitutes not only a state monopoly but also an infringement on the parents’ choice of their children’s education and that the tax revenue employed to fund public education can just as readily and more fairly fund the education of the parents’ choice.

Aside from the compelling charge by some that vouchers presuppose prospective or actual intrusion into private or homeschooling education just as state funds do in public education (“where state money goes, there goes state control”), the most obvious and potent objection to vouchers is that that they are as vulnerable to the criticism of state-sanctioned theft as public education is. Whether taxation redistributing wealth funds public education, private education, or home education, it is nothing more than legalized theft. The fact that vouchers break the socialistic monopoly of public education is unrelated to the issue of educational socialism. The most logical mechanism by which to dissolve the government educational monopoly is to return the responsibility for the education of children to its rightful human source, parents, and allow any schools that wish to offer educational services to compete in the free market like other service providers.

As Rushdoony observes:

… a free and pluralistic society requires the abolition of the public school and the tax support of the school in favor of a pluralistic education. The competitive aspect will ensure the quality of education, and the cultural implications of various faiths, philosophies, and opinions can be given freedom to develop and make their contribution. Our society today, despite its pretensions, is not pluralistic except with regard to religion, which it considers a matter of indifference. In all else, it is monolithic. The orthodox Christian can face a pluralistic society in the confidence that his faith can, given such freedom, establish its power culturally and religiously. He must realize that today agnosticism has secured the status of an established church by means of the institution of the public school, and this new religion must be disestablished (Rushdoony 1961, 50).

COVENANT SEED

It follows naturally that if the arrangement of a socialistic public education is Biblically illegitimate, Christians may not educate their children in public schools. But the argument against enrolling Christian children in public schools is not principally derived from the fact that public education is a socialistic scheme that violates the eighth commandment. It flows directly from the Biblical commands to train one’s children in the Christian faith, according to the provisions of Holy Scripture (Dt. 6:6-9; Pr. 22:6; Is. 59:21; Eph. 6:4).

The children of Christian parents sustain a special providential and redemptive relation to God (1 Cor. 7:14) because of their inclusion in God’s covenant with his people (Gen. 17:7; cf. Gal. 3:29). They are therefore suited-and required-to be the recipients of a special training. The base of this training is the Holy Scriptures, whose chief and initial function in the education of covenant children is “to make [them] wise unto salvation” (2 Tim. 3:14-17). The relation they sustain to their covenant God requires just this covenantal education. It extends far beyond personal salvation, however, to embrace all of life. If all knowledge is God’s knowledge, every topic can-indeed, must- be addressed from the Christian point of view.

To abandon Christian children to the relentless secular forces of public education is to subvert godly covenantal education. It is to inculcate in children not the law of God (Dt. 6:7-9), gratitude for his provision (vv 10-12), the necessity of exercising dominion for Christ (vv 18, 19), and knowledge of God’s providential dealings with his people in history (vv 21-23), but the law of autonomous man, gratitude for the state’s provision, the necessity of exercising dominion for one’s own or the state’s selfish interests, and knowledge of the course of history as little more than a series of human choices.

Nor must Christians’ rationale for abandoning public education be merely the specific violations of Biblical law pervasive there. Christians must recognize that public education constitutes an alien, aggressively atheistic and secular philosophy totally at odds with Biblical Christianity. It is not objectionable merely here and there. At root it is a repudiation of the Christian faith. Neither Biblical Christianity nor the philosophy governing the content of public education can be reshaped to render them compatible. Christians must conceive of public education as a rapacious enemy bent on the destruction of all they hold dear-and they must see in Christianity the religious philosophy whose impulse will not abate until it has destroyed the guiding principles of the secularism of public education.

DOMINION

The argument of supporters of enrolling Christian children in public education that to abandon those schools surrenders them to Satanic dominion is not cogent for the reasons provided above, but it does point to a crucial truism: if the earth is Lord’s and the fulness thereof (1 Cor. 10:26, 28) and if Christians are charged with exercising dominion in all spheres of life (Gen. 2:26-28), to abandon public education to Satan is to compromise our calling. The attitude and approach of Christians should be that they should never expose their children to public education, but that they should work increasingly to expose public education to the claims of Christ. Certain specially suited Christians, in fact, should pray and work tirelessly to obtain teaching and school board and even administrative posts within public education. The penultimate goal of these Christians should be the privatization of these larcenous institutions, and the ultimate aim the bringing of them under the authority of Christ and his Word. It is true that in the present aggressively secularistic climate they may find it necessary to proceed cautiously. But they may proceed nonetheless confidently, exercising the faith that their efforts will bear fruit. If it seems as though this participation entails complicity with the theft and secularism inherent in public education, it must be recalled that God often employes his people to accomplish his purposes by participating in hostile environments to overturn eventually those very environments (Joseph, Daniel).

In summary: Public education is a socialistic and therefore larcenous scheme. It is Biblically illegitimate for that reason. Christian parents should abandon public education for their children because they are under solemn obligation to train them in a manner befitting a covenant seed; the philosophy governing public education is directly antithetical to the philosophy governing the education the Scriptures require of the covenant seed. All Christians should not abandon public education, nonetheless, for they must take seriously the mandate to subdue the earth for the sake of Christ. Therefore, certain Christians should serve as teachers, administrators, and board members in public education in the effort eventually to purge its secularism and bring education under the crown rights of Jesus Christ.



BIBLIOGRAPHY AND SUGGESTED READING

Blumenfeld, Samuel. 1984. N. E. A.: Trojan Horse in American Education. Boise, ID.

Gentry, Kenneth. 1992. He Shall Have Dominion. Tyler, TX.

Marx, Karl and Engels, Friedrich. 1959. Basic Writings on Politics and Philosophy, ed. Lewis S. Feuer. New York.

Murray, Andrew. [1952] 1975. How To Raise Your Children for Christ. Minneapolis.

Perks, Stephen C. 1992. The Christian Philosophy of Education Explained. Whitby, England.

Rushdoony, Rousas John.

1961. Intellectual Schizophrenia. Phillipsburg, NJ.

1963. The Messianic Character of American Education. Phillipsburg, NJ.

1986. Christianity and the State. Vallecito, CA.

Schaeffer, Francis. 1982. The Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer. vol. 5, A Christian Manifesto. Westchester, IL.

Van Til. 1990. “Antithesis in Education.” In Foundations of Christian Education, ed. Dennis E. Johnson. Phillipsburg, NJ, 3-24.


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