January 16, 2021

Abandoning the Public Square….again

They are at it again. Their goal is simple: to get all children in the SBC out of public schools. To impose the teaching of creationism and Dobson-version approaches to moral issues on the entire SBC. Families can’t make the public school choice and be “good Christians.” Christians can’t minister in the public schools or send their kids to good ones. Churches can’t support all three options. There is no vision for education in America, just a vision for the withdrawal of Christian kids and the abandonment of the public square.

No issue has animated my intellectual journey more these past few months than this one. Let me tell you an experience, of which I could share many, that is typical of what I am feeling these days.

For two years now I have been spending Friday nights in the fall at high school football games. I am not a huge football fan in general, but I love the high school game and atmosphere. What I really love is the community I see on display. We attend a lot of games in Jackson, Ky, following the Breathitt County Bobcats. The whole town is there. The athletes are on the field, as well as a lot on non athletes who have worked hard just to be part of the team. (There is one kid so fat that they’ve made a special jersey for him. I can only imagine what committment that young man has shown to be on that team. I salute him.) The band kids play their hearts out. The community fills the stands. It’s wonderful. It’s not sheltered, there is a mix of people, and everyone is having a good time. I wish with all my heart my son could be on that field on in the band or just part of it.

Saturday we were at the state championships for AA football. We sat with the Owensboro Catholic fans. 3,000 of them. All ages and types, but cheering for the Aces. Across the way, Belfry fans from Pond Creek in Pike County. They were great. Tremendous spirit in the stands, great football on the field. Proud parents and grandparents. Lots of laughter. Life was good.

We have a bunch of Southern Baptists and other evangelicals saying that because the public schools don’t teach all their values, this community experience of education in the public square is not worthy of our support in any way. These people are saying- now get this- that it would be better to- under the banner of education- desert the public square in our communities in every way possible. Withdraw into homes, churches and schools of our own. These are the hostile dark ages, and the only viable Christian choice is to get out. What I see every Friday night is evil, because Christian pastors and parents can’t control every aspect of it as we can in our own homes and schools. So America, and our lives, would be better if those stadiums were closed, those lights were out, those teams were defunct, those stands were empty, that band was silent, and so on. Things would be better if we were either at church, or taking care of our own families.

If this is the way we are going, I am getting off the train. Something is wrong. Very, very, very wrong. How is it that these Southern Baptists can ONLY see the teaching of evolution and homosexuality and nothing else? How is it that all the other things that make the public square and the communities we live in worth supporting are invisible, and we must respond in fear?

If you have read my stuff, then you know that I am in favor of supporting every option of education, but I am certainly in favor of Christians being in that public square and making a positive difference. Call me worldly, but it feels good to be part of what I experience on Friday nights. Where am I wrong?

UPDATE: For those of you who are going to write me and say I am overboard, I have a quote for you, with my own boldfacing.

“A lot of conservatives are realizing they dont care much for the effect. It’s time to end all government involvement with the schools, at the state and local and federal levels.”

Policy leaders supporting the movement to abolish public education include U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, Texas Republican; Conservative Caucus President Howard Phillips; Ron Robinson, president of the conservative Young America’s Foundation; Lew Rockwell, president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute; and various senior analysts at conservative think tanks like the Hoover Institution.

“I think our movement is now as big as a zygote but not quite a fetus:’ said Marshall Fritz, president of the California-based Alliance for the Separation of School and State. “We don’t want vouchers; we want the whole system abolished.”

From the Exodus Mandate site, quoting a Washington Times article. Maybe we should call this the “let 42 million kids find their own schools” movement. Social irresponsibility of a high order. Thank God I can see what is wrong in my community, state and nation and still conceive of a solution other than shutting down the public schools.

Wonder if these experts ever thought of examining the public schools that work and see how it happens? How can more privitization help the public schools? How can the business community get involved? How can failing schools be put to rest and successful schools become a trend? What do private schools have to teach public schools? Who is sponsoring that conference? C’mon people. We can do better than “abolishing public education” and sentencing tens of millions of kids to the educational dumpster.


  1. R.J. Stevens says

    Michael, I couldn’t agree with you more on this. The Great Commission tells us to GO into all the world and preach the gospel, not to barricade ourselves amidst our Christian ghetto. If our churches were doing a better job of equipping our young people they wouldn’t be overwhelmed by what is certainly a pagan culture. Instead, they would be transforming it. What’s next for the SBC – are Christian employees to leave their secular occupations and go to work for Lifeway? We’re called to be in the world and yet not of it. Paul didn’t hunker down amongst the newly-formed churches but took Christ’s gospel to the Greeks and Romans. We should go and do likewise.

  2. Michael – I’ve been reading your blog for only a couple of weeks or so now and find it interesting. I’m sympathetic to your topics (rants?) more often than not.

    I have to differ with you on this one, however. As believers, taking our kids out of public schools is not abandoning the public arena. We homeschool our kids in part to equip them to deal with the realities of an increasingly secular society, but
    more so to ensure that they develop a Christian world view. Would subjecting them to an environment that is designed to be a spiritual vacuum (but is more often antagonistic) for the better part of each day somehow help them to develop a Christian world view? I believe not.

    I believe that our primary task as parents is to teach our children the things of God and ultimately to send them out into the world to be salt and light. This requires that we actively teach them while, yes, sheltering them from some things. I say “C’mon Christian parents. You can do better than sentencing your kids to the educational dumpster. Put your faith to work where you kids are and take responsibility for educating them in the privacy of your home so that they can be equiped for the service that Christ has prepared for them.

  3. Tom,

    >You can do better than sentencing your kids to the educational dumpster.

    I have to tell you that statements like the above really sound odd to those of us in places where the PSs are filled with our Christian brothers and sisters, and the schools reflect the values of our communities.

    I’ve been around the country. I know there are some terrible public schools. ANd there are some wonderful public schools. Mischaracterizing PSs with hot rhetoric is my biggest problem with the HS movement right now. I could take anyone here to ten PS that are terrible and to ten that are awesome in every way.

    The simplistic diagnosis of the “abolish and withdraw” movement is amazing. If your PS choices were bad, I’m glad you were able to HS. Many of us don’t have that problem. Many of us are glad for Christian teachers and good people in the PSs. Our neighbor sends her autistic daughter to a PS program for special needs kids. It’s a gift of God for that family. HSing that child would drain that home and marriage beyond their ability to cope.

    Support all the good choices out there: PS, HS and Private. And save the rhetoric of the “dumpster” for the schools that deserve it. I get the kids whose HS and Church based school experiences were utter failures, so there are several dumpsters out there. Any education effort has them….as well as those that we can support.

    Thousands of Christians in PSs need our support, not our contempt.

  4. Can I join the rant? 🙂

    I don’t really care if a parent homeschools or public/private schools. If they’ve looked at all the options and have honestly decided what’s best for their kid then more power to them.

    The issue I have is for people to suggest that one option is more “Christian” or “spiritual” than another. It becomes an issue of pride to say “We’ve decided to be missionaries.” or “We’re not subjecting our kids to pagan influences”. (both said in that oh-so-meek spiritual tone)

    Scripture simply doesn’t state(explicitly or implicitly) that one is preferrable over the other. And for the SBC(or whoever) to say that God is somehow on a certain side of the issue is to speak out of turn.

  5. Isn’t there some middle ground here? Public schools are a mess, with teachers unions and tenure and leftism run amok. But homeschooling can harm the community. Imagine a community where everyone homeschooled and kids only saw each other at church: no high school football/basketball/baseball/softball, no prom, no drama club, no school newspaper. It’s a bad idea. I think private/charter schools are a much better idea. I don’t give a whit if Christians are involved in “public” (i.e. government) schools; I’m concerned with a sense of community, however it is achieved.

    One point to remember, and I’ve no doubt that Michael believes this: Public schools will never, ever get better without an end to the bureaucracy. We needn’t let our support for them blind us from the realities.

  6. Michael,

    Why does a child have to be in PS to be on a community teen football team?

    Why does a school have to be government-run and government-funded to be a public school?

    And most importantly, why should I send my daughter into “spiritual warfare” of this type before she is spiritually mature enough for it? And why are you assuming that you’re a better judge of her spiritually maturity than is the body of SBC pastors?

    We have a bunch of Southern Baptists and other evangelicals saying that because the public schools don’t teach all their values, this community experience of education in the public square is not worthy of our support in any way. These people are saying- now get this- that it would be better to- under the banner of education- desert the public square in our communities in every way possible.

    No, they’re saying, “this community experience of [government-funded] education in the public square is not worthy of our support in any way.”

    Besides, the main purpose of schooling is education, not socialization. You’re ignoring whether or not these schools are properly educating. If, as spiritual leaders and parents themselves, the folks over in the SBC decide their children aren’t being properly trained in that environment, they *should* pull them out and encourage others to do the same.

    Public schools are like Internet Explorer: they’ve got the popular vote, but the quality is horrendous and it’s time to pursue a better alternative (in this case, homeschooling and Mozilla Firefox, respectively). We’ve tried to get improvements in both for years, but the Powers that Be aren’t listening, so we’re taking matters into our own hands.

  7. If you don’t have any goals beyond education, please homeschool or find a church school that does what you desire. The fact is that most Americans value public school as one of the prime experiences of democratic society that allow us to keep this open, diverse, tolerant society up and running.

    But the Christians who don’t want to share the public square with non-Christians or to have to be around pagans should withdraw. Please. You have my full support. If you believe there is no value in PSs, then I hope you will do the honest thing and oppose them.

    I hope that those of us who were blessed by God to attend a public school won’t be ashamed to stand up against the caricatures, though. My school was not a leftist commie camp, but a great PS full of Christians and dedicated teachers. I probably should have stayed home with mom, but growing up in school really made me the person I am today, and I am proud to be a PS grad.

  8. I have finally been sucked into the debate Mike. I am writing as a homeschool parent of more than 9 years, with four children ages 5-14. We chose to homeschool for a number of reasons. We did not flee the public school system as some now advocate for “religious” reasons. We have come to enjoy this lifestyle choice. Our kids are completely in touch with the community on several different levels of sports activity and political involvement. We have found over the last few years that our church involvement has decreased as we have made a point to be a witness in our community and our kids have grown from this contact and served as a great influence with not only their peers, but adults they come into contact with.

    The one thing we have found that a large percentage of those withdrawing from the public school system to homeschool,(especially for “Religious” reasons), are ill prepared to complete the task and end up doing irreprable harm to their child/student. We do evaluate our decision on a regular basis and discuss whether our children would be better served to return to a PS classroom. As of today we are not convinced that our childrens best would be found in the PS. The arguement that the socialization issue is not met is a moot point if you provide the exposure to the “real” world on a regular basis.

  9. It seems like everyone is leaving out private schools. Private Schools often have the same extracuriccular activities going on, and there is still a sociel environment for kids to grow in. Yes, private schools cost money, but with vouchers and lower taxes, the tuition would be far easier to manage. I lean towards Michael’s view, but private schools – which may or may not be religious – strike me as a good middle ground.

    Three other quick things:
    – The actual convention leaders of the SBC haven’t made a full-tilt call for abandoning public schools
    – Not to sound like a legalist, but how is it a good thing to become less involved with church?
    – Community sports, great as they are, simply are not the same thing as school sports.

  10. Hooray for you Michael. Preach it on! I have been saying exactly what you said for the past 25 years. I just do not understand why Chrisitans cannot seem to learn from history. They haven’t learned anything from Prophibition about legislating morals. And now, they are making the very same mistake their earlier counterparts, the fundamentalists, made at the dawn of the 20th century–withdrawing.

    It isn’t because prayer was taken out of the public schools that sank them (out here in So. California we never had any prayer or Bible reading in the public schools and we had the best schools in the country in the 1950’s, 60’s, and into the 70’s). The main reason our country is in a mess is precisely because of what the fundamentalists allowed to happen because of their withdrawal from the public square.

    Michael..don’t you dare refrain from saying these things over and over again..:)

    Diane R.

  11. Hi Jon. Flee this blog now, for the sake of your soul!

    Matt: I obviously like private schools, since I am starting year 13 at one. (I think I should have my diplomma by now.)

    OBI is the third least expensive boarding school of our kind in the US. Average cost of a boarding school: $22k. I don’t know what church schools and private schools charge, but I now what they look like in KY, one of the poorest states in America: RICH and WHITE. It is the suburban kids of scared white parents. They look racist. I know they are not, but they look racist. (I am proud that we are 37% non white non U.S.)

    We have to realize that public schools are not there primarily for the person who can afford private schools. We have to have working PSs for the poor, and they have to be COMMUNITY schools, not government schools, (and by that I mean locally controlled in every way possible, not run from the capital or Washington.) And we all must believe they can excell, and we all need to be involved in making them work.

    Matt: White evangelical private schoolers have a long way to go to prove to me that they care about the poor. I hear some good things, but I don’t see anything but white flight and white suburban evangelical culture, leaving the city and fleeing to the suburbs.

  12. Michael:

    Fair points, all. I share your concerns about the poor and minorities. I am simply concerned with over-reliance on government and the lack of competition among schools as they currently exist. I believe that’s your concern, as well. So I suppose I’ve chased my tail all this way just to say I agree with you. Ha!

    As far as what to do, I’m not sure at all. The “ran away! run away!” mentality won’t cut it, but the thin line between over-sanctification of public schools and local, community control with little red tape and lower taxes (as budgets allow) is a very difficult one to talk.

  13. Michael –

    >Matt: White evangelical private schoolers have a >long way to go to prove to me that they care >about the poor.

    Is it possible to care about the poor in ways other than sending my kids to inner city (even rural) schools?

    A more fair observation could be that white evangelical church goers might need to think about how their “ministries” reflect on their care for the poor.

    Michael, I agree with what I understand you to be saying concerning our involvement with the community at large (regardless of race, creed, or lifestyle). If we are to be salt and light in our communities, we must, in fact, be in them. I beleive that homeschooling (under the best circumstances) is the best vehicle to prepare our children for this. I recognize also that until the Chruch starts to do a better job of caring for the needy, that public schools will be the only available option for many.

    Thanks for the opportunity to “chat” about this issue. I enjoy seeing the diverse opinions. It would be a lot more fun in person 🙂


  14. >Is it possible to care about the poor in ways other than sending my kids to inner city (even rural) schools?

    Tom, it is fascinating to me that in the various times I have discussed this, HSers continually say that I am recommending they

    1) stop HSing
    2) enroll in PSs

    This is totally bizarre! I never ever say or suggest this.

    Asking evangelicals to build private schools in the city rather than retreat to the suburbs is NOT asking anyone to stop HSing. (Please read my IM piece: Is School Out For Baptists?)

    And I am well aware that HSers are as committed to their view as I am to mine. My ONLY criticisms of HSers:

    1) Lose the broad brush propraganda descriptions of PSs
    2) Don’t be so defensive when someone objects to the rhetoric of extremists who want to abolish PSs.

    thanks for your comments.

  15. As a homeschooler, I did not abandon the pub(l)ic square, I took my children out of it. Here’s a nice intelligent rant about government schools:


  16. Public schools have their problems. They are far too big. I agree with that. That’s why we need more than one option, and why all communities ought to work hard to make schools better.

    Folks who call schools prisons, and staff wardens aren’t fighting the same battle I am fighting. I wish the author of that piece good luck fighting his/hers.

    The social jungle is there in schools. Large and small. Christian and not. (Watch Saved) It’s there at work. It’s part of all social groupings of humans. Even your youth group. Even your church. Want to talk about a useless waste of time where the popular kids terrorize the unpopular? It’s easy to point at PSs, sure. But I’m a youth professional…I know why most kids don’t have the social hell described: the PARENTS do their job and don’t just abandon them to their school experience.

    Frankly, many of those negative experiences make us into normal human beings. We need to deal with them to become people who can cope. One of the problems I have with some of my exhomeschoolers in our school is they don’t have some of those skills. They acquire them, but it is often harder for them to deal with rejection, diversity and being in group dynamics. That’s not a critique. That’s an observation, which means I am, of course, wrong in lots of instances.

    Caricaturing all PSs as a social hell of ridicule and suicidal tendencies is another example of too broad a brush. Yeah….lots of large groups suck and therefore it is sometimes better to do our own thing. If that is your operating principle in dealing with the issue of education in the public square…fine. Enjoy. If the public square, and particularly public ed in your community doesn’t interest you, then find a cause that does. There is a lot that needs to be done in the world.

    Thanks for the link.

  17. I identify with your viewpoint. My life experience is in rural southern Arkansas. Were it not for federal government intervention, I think “separate but equal” would still be the catch phrase where I live. A preponderance of Christian churches didn’t seem to make a difference when it came to correcting well-funded white schools and poorly funded black schools as the status quo.

    My two sons attend public school, even if we wanted to, my family could not afford the two private Christian schools in our small town. These two schools are without exception white, their curriculums are accredited, as they pay low wages and have essentially no certified teachers.

    My wife works as a teachers aide in the public elementary school where we live. Her job is to work with special needs children; these are children with autism, fetal alcohol syndrome, and other developmental problems. These children would not have a place at either Christian school in this small town, for those schools have no means to deal with them.

    As to the government getting out of schools, I still remember my daddyÂ’s stories of school in the 1920Â’s in Arkansas. He was one child of six in a sharecropping family that moved frequently and was of course poor. He had to borrow books from those children who could afford to purchase them; this meant he did not have books to study at home. His school year was shortened due to working in the cotton fields. I still think that the Hispanic children here, and other poor might find a very similar plight if all education was privatized.

    We Christians assume that we will do better than our “horrible” government at providing basic services to the least, the last, the lost and the lonely, but our track record in much of this country does not bear that view point out. So, as for me, my children will remain in public schools, and I’ll support them with my taxes and when possible my time.

  18. Great letter John. You’ve made a tremendous case for why Christians need to support PS. (NOT NOT NOT at the exclusion of HSs or Private Schools!) We need public education, imperfect as it is. Especially the overlooked. How many evangelicals even THINK of special needs kids? We have special needs kids on the OBI faculty who go to PSs because we don’t have a program for them.

  19. As a former homeschooled child, I disagree with the person who said that Schooling is for Education only. That is so totally bogus!! I know many different types of HS’s and many of them are of that mindset. Family’s that HS and beleive that way are very messed up (beleive me I have met TONS of them) they dont know how to relate socially with anyone other than more HSers that beleive like they do, their children are rude, annoying, obnoxious, dress like GEEKs, Have absolutely no social skills (i.e. talking with others in a non judgemental tone, or pricking their nose in front of people, or they dont have the ability to even talk to anyone but their family.) They are not well adjusted human beings! They are awkward, judgemental, rude, selfish, prideful humans. And seeing as how their parents are probably the same way and they wanted to HS because they thought that all PS’s were evil, and that God only advocates HSing, and they wanted their kids to be able to “serve God” and to be a “testimony” … they are FAILING Miseribly!!!

    But then on the other hand we have the “healthy” HSing families who are genuinly liked by the people around them, they are polite, they are sociable, they are gracious and genuinly nice people. AND you can usually tell that they are christians. The reason is because they dont have ulterior motives behind their HSing… they let their children be around other “non-christians” or other “non-homeschoolers” etc… They are a true wittness to the HSers out there!

    I personally believe that I should have gone to some sort of “school” be it Private or Public in my junior/senior years as a HSer. I did not learn they way my mother wanted me to learn. She wasnt creative or patient with me anymore like she was in grade school. So that resulted in me not being ready to graduate but they let me anyway so that I could to to a community college in the area! And Lo and Behold I actually learned all the stuff that I couldnt in my HSing!
    My parents are now letting my younger brother go to a christian school! It has been GREAT for him!
    Anyways… that is my rant on the HSing movement!
    I personally think that all forms of education should be accepted! Not just one or the other!

  20. It appears I’m a little late to the party, but hope this adds something to the discussion.

    As a grad of a private high school that was far more secular and liberal (and more anti-evangelical) than anything the local PSs had to offer, I thought I’d throw in my $.02-worth. My school taught Genesis as mythology to the freshmen and held mandatory all-school forums for the Asian guy in his orange robe but wouldn’t allow my youth pastor to set foot on campus. Honestly, it was the best education I think I could have hoped for, specifically because it was NOT a Christian worldview. I worry that many home schooled (or Christian private school) kids get a steller academic education but don’t learn how to deal with the vast diversity of views out there.

    This is why I think Michael is right on – the benefits of diversity of thought in an education is invaluable. I don’t have to agree with the teachers who say evolution is anything more than naturalistic philosophy, but I do need to be able to interact with them in a meaningful way, especially if I expect to have an effect on the culture.

  21. Allow me to interject a quote from Stephen Mansfield, “…when one generation teaches another, the older generation transmits to the next generation what it thinks is of ultimate importance for life. The older generation must have first answered the question, “What are the things our children need to know to live successfully?” Clearly, the answer to this question is a matter of faith, and that is why we can say that education is the transmission of religion to the next generation.”
    I trust that as Christian parents we would certainly argue that for a “school” to help our students to live a ‘successful life’, it must teach salvation in Jesus Christ, a right fear of the Lord, and the study of all reality as a creation of God. Yet, I know of private, Christian schools in my geographical region that are not doing this very well. Our public schools would not and could not even consider this as an option.How are the good PS you refer to able to pass on that kind of belief?

Speak Your Mind