(Guest post by Greg Forster)
OCPA’s Perspective carries my latest, on the question of whether sending your children to public schools should be considered mandatory, forbidden or neither under Christian theology.
First I respond to a Presbyterian pastor who says Christians should feel obligated to send their kids to public schools, because hundreds of years ago churches created the schools that public schools were later modeled on:
Moore seems not to have asked why, if churches were so aggressive in creating schools, government stepped in and used its power of taxation to drive churches (mostly) out of the schooling business. One reason was because the church schools taught people to think for themselves and live independently. As industrialists grew more powerful in the 19th century, they enlisted government to create a new school system whose products would provide more submissive and narrow-minded cogs for the factory machine. (Big business and big government colluding to destroy freedom and oppress the poor—it all seems so familiar, almost as if we’ve seen it somewhere before.)
However, the more important reason was religious. Massachusetts created the first government school monopoly in America in the 1830s, partly out of submission to exploitative industrialists, but also because the Unitarian Boston Brahmins were horrified at the unreconstructed Calvinism of the Massachusetts countryside. The new public schools indoctrinated students in a religion of good works without the cross, tearing up the cultural roots of puritanism. (One would think this history would be of interest to a Presbyterian pastor.)
The tool created to destroy Calvinism in Massachusetts was soon deployed nationwide in hopes of destroying Catholicism…
Then I respond to an Anglican priest who says any school that isn’t explicitly Christian must be treated as atheistic and avoided:
It is true, as Fowler argues, that there is no such thing as religious neutrality. All human beings have some kind of cosmic worldview, and everything we do presupposes that worldview. Even to assert “2+2=4” presupposes the view that the human mind is rational, and its spontaneous intuitions about the relationships between numbers are sound (and, for that matter, that other minds exist and I can communicate meaningfully with them). All of these premises are religious, or at least metaphysical.
However, while there is no such thing as religious neutrality, there is religious ambiguity. To assert “2+2=4” is not a religiously neutral statement, but it does not settle all religious questions, either. A Christian, a Muslim, and a Hindu have three very different metaphysical accounts of what the human mind is, yet each can square “2+2=4” with their view.
Thus, a school that is not explicitly Christian need not become explicitly atheist. It need not even become implicitly atheist. It may be implicitly Christian! Or it may be a shared possession, offering an educational discourse that accommodates a diverse population without resolving their religious differences.
I argue we are neither compelled nor forbidden by Christian theology in the matter of sending children to public school:
Parents should evaluate local schools, public and private, and select the one that aligns best with their views and goals. My wife and I send our daughter to the local government school, because we are more satisfied with it on all counts—including spiritually—than the available alternatives. Others, facing other circumstances, may legitimately make other choices.
We live under neither a Babylonian captivity to public schools nor an Egyptian exodus from them. We live in the freedom of Pentecost, sent out into the nations to live in the tension of being in the world but not of it:
The problem with both Babylon and Exodus as social models for Christianity today is that they both come from the Old Testament, before Christ’s coming. With the Great Commission, Christ has sent his people out into the world; he wants disciples of every nation. Where the Jews were called out of Egypt, we are called into Egypt—our road is an eisodus, not an exodus. But we are not called to live passively, like the exiles in Babylon, merely marking time in a foreign land. The church has a mission to build godly ways of life wherever we go, and that means we can’t simply conform to the world around us or bunker down in Christian ghettos.
Whatever your faith and whatever you think of my theology, I welcome your feedback – and I promise not to lie about your views and then fire you!