Public Schools Aren’t the Enemy

It's time to repair the relationship between public education and the Christian community.

The first time I heard about the movie God’s Not Dead, I mistakenly guessed that it was a mainstream movie with a clever, potentially Christian title. The second time I heard about it, I realized it had a lot more to do with public education and its perpetually vexed relationship with Christianity and a lot less to do with the philosophical musings of God’s existence. The success of the movie exposed something interesting in America: the ongoing assumption on the part of some Christians that the education system is out to get them.

Christianity’s relationship with public education is complicated and fragile, and it’s something I never thought much about until I became a teacher in the public school system. Raised as a Christian in a suburban county lucky enough to have remarkably good public schools, I never considered the idea of public school as being harmful to my character or moral development (although, perhaps it crossed my parents’ minds.) And, when I left my public college to start teaching in a public high school, I rarely considered that my beliefs might come in conflict with my career.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from both attending public school and teaching in it, it’s that public school is far from godless. Sure, it may not allow for teacher-led prayer or morning devotional, but these schools are not soulless places. In fact, they’re typically buildings full of deeply passionate, committed adults and kids who are always in need of love—just like any Christian school might be.

Even the most homeschooled of homeschooled children will still have interactions with the outside world that will challenge his beliefs, raise doubts in his mind and question his understanding of God.

As public education reform surfaces more and more often, it’s important for us to consider our role in this realm. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with homeschooling or private school by any means—and there are valid reasons for families to consider them for their children—there are certain aspects of public education that can not only be beneficial to Christians, but can allow us to serve others in tremendous ways.

A Different Perspective

Despite the fact that I attended an incredibly homogenous public high school and college, once I began teaching, I encountered a much different vision of public school and way of life than I had ever been aware of. In just a few short years, I had a drastically different perspective of myself, my students, my community—my country—than I’d had for my entire life. Both perspectives were deeply rooted in God, but because this school had taken me outside of my comfort zone, led me into relationships with people who came from vastly different backgrounds and diversified my social circle, I found myself in a much different place with God.

While there are many ways to deepen our own understanding of people from diverse backgrounds—of which public school is not the only way—this is certainly one perk of public schooling. And, while not all public schools are diverse (in fact, our schools are still largely segregated), public schools do tend to have larger diversity than their private counterparts. And, as Christians, we are called to those who are different from us, to spread God’s Word to all people.

The Challenge of Schooling

Among some circles, there is a common myth that public school is a way to challenge traditionally held Christian beliefs and debunk Biblical teachings by replacing stories of faith with scientific theories and hammering away at understandings with philosophical questioning. As a lifelong public school attendee and teacher of many years, I can simply tell you that this was simply not my experience. Almost none of what is taught in school comes directly in conflict with the core teachings of the Christian faith, and most schools will welcome input from concerned parents.

Are we so rooted in fear of our child falling in with the “wrong” kids that we avoid having them even interact at all?

Because our society is not made up entirely of believers, it is nearly impossible for children to go through life with an entirely “Christian Education.” Even the most homeschooled of homeschooled children will still have interactions with the outside world that will challenge her or his beliefs, raise doubts and illuminate new mysteries.

The question is: How are we preparing ourselves for these moments? Are we shunning away from them or preparing ourselves for them? Are we avoiding the conversation because we aren’t sure how to answer or are we rising to the challenge because it deepens our beliefs, builds nuance in our understanding and further solidifies our relationship with God?

The Opportunity of Public School

For many, the choice of school is an entirely self-centered decision. We want to decide what is best for “us” or what will serve “our child” most completely. We want the best school for our kid in our neighborhood with our beliefs. But what about other people’s children? Are we so rooted in fear of our child falling in with the “wrong” kids that we avoid having them even interact at all?

Sadly, there is sin (and kids who fall deeply into it) within both Christian, private and public schools. And, regardless of schooling, all of our children will eventually grow up and engage—on a daily basis—with more and more people who do not share their beliefs. Will they be prepared for these interactions and relationships? That's up to us, and the culture we foster for them.

And, when we consider the children in public schools, it’s worth asking whether or not we are called to care for them too.

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What about the children without parents who can choose a school for them?

What about the poor children, whose only option is public school—and likely, one with fewer advantages than a school in a high income community?

What if we miss out on the opportunity to care for these children because we are more vested in our own needs?

What if, at the end of the day, it isn’t actually about us at all?

Top Comments

April Emery


April Emery commented…

Good points here, but I think it was written with the assumption that people homeschool out of fear of what public school will do to their children. There is a large portion of homeschooling families that choose to homeschool not out of fear, but out of the desire to do more of a life-on-life learning and discipling of their kids. The methods of institutionalized school cater to a certain type of learner, but homeschooling gives great freedom to help kids who don't quite fit the learning mold ... many homeschooling families homeschool for freedom rather than because of fear.

Karen Starr


Karen Starr commented…

I do not think this article makes much of a valid point if any; but rather it regurgitates a lot of the wrongly held assumptions about why someone would choose not to send their kids to public school. The "overly sheltered, can't talk to anybody but Christians, live under a rock child" is a stereotype that is convenient to use towards homeschoolers because it puts distance between people that don't understand it, are ignorant of what it is about, and are doing something different than most. Writing something off is easier than trying to see both sides of an issue. Homeschoolers are actually proven to be more civically minded and actively involved in their communities, socializing with all age groups. There is no age,race, or gender segregation when the world is your classroom. There is time to socialize in the best ways, not out of the Peking order of survival. We can be arrows for Christ in or out of public school, because we are in the world regardless. But a soldier needs TRAINING, and homeschooling is very conducive to building a strong foundation for making and impact. This conversation is good, but the article is definitely biased towards public education somehow offering an edge in evangelism. That's not always a reality, and at times, a very real detriment to faith-- just like trying to live under a rock would be.


Chandra Coats


Chandra Coats commented…

"For many, the choice of school is an entirely self-centered decision. We want to decide what is best for 'us' or what will serve 'our child' most completely. We want the best school for our kid in our neighborhood with our beliefs. But what about other people’s children? Are we so rooted in fear of our child falling in with the 'wrong' kids that we avoid having them even interact at all?"
I agree with a lot of other readers that this premise assumes homeschooling and private schooling parents only have motivation of fear.
There are SO many other motivations for not wanting kids in public school, some of which are pretty important, and some of which have nothing to do with being a Christian. Simply, I wish you had taken a more well-rounded approach to this issue. You had an opportunity to knock it out of the park and you didn't even come close.
Here are some reasons I wish had not been omitted:
- Inefficient or misuse of funding at parents' expense: Students in public schools are political pawns, caught up in ineffective teacher unions that worship their own tenure, pay and other selfish interests over meeting children's needs.
- Quality instruction at an individual pace:Teachers have to teach class at the level of the lowest-performing students. Those who are at or above grade level potentially suffer, as well as those with any special needs.
- Flexibility to pursue other opportunities such as Olympic sports or starting a business. One of my junior high students in my youth group had a full-fledged company with well-paid and benefited employees.
- Opportunities to learn outside the box of mainstream statist narrative: That faith and reason are not incongruous with one another, and that revisionists in fact are right to challenge popular American myth taught as "history."



Lauren commented…

I'm also a public school teacher and attended public school until I went to college, so I realize that I too am biased. However, in regards to all of the comments claiming this is a purely biased article that makes incorrect assumptions about homeschooling, I would say that the author is merely posing questions and they are important ones to ask. She makes the point that there are certainly valid reasons for homeschooling a child, but we have to consider what the ramifications of homeschooling could have not only on our children, but also the students in the public school system in our community. Supportive, intentional parents and Christian students can make a huge difference through public education in ways they simply can't through homeschooling and the opposite is also true. I don't think an attack on the author is warranted because she was only beginning a conversation.



Bobby commented…

I believe many parents choose homeschooling as a method for building a solid foundation of morals, beliefs, and non biased historical truths. The public education system has become an indoctrination seminary (at least here in CA) that focusses on white privilege, economic inequality, gay marriage, second generation segregation, sexism, and institutional racism. I am a teacher in the public education system and can attest to the political biases that exist within the public education. For example, a friend of mine with twelve years of teaching experience chooses to read a bible when students are testing or during silent reading and the school is attempting to transfer him to another school because he is to "outspoken" about his beliefs. Our school also sent out e-mails stating we must be politically correct and refrain from having any Christmas decor or saying Merry Christmas to anyone (despite it being a national holiday). In the government and economics courses liberals are depicted as the champions of the poor, progressive, pro marriage equality, pro women's rights, pro amnesty, pro free higher education and conservatives are depicted as racist, bigoted, anti gay people, for the rich and against the poor, suppressors of women, anti Mexican, sexist, intolerant, xenophobic, and anti-African American. American History is being rewritten from an anti American viewpoint and without vital historical context. In the classroom all you need to know is the founding fathers were Christian slave owners, hated Indians, capitalism is horrible, America is an Imperialist nation, Oil is bad, Global warming is going to kill us all, racism is just as prevalent today as the Civil War Era, the rich are evil, and capitalism is a horrible economic method for a country. Therefore, many parents are fed up with this method of teaching and pursue homeschooling as method for combating the public education system. Many parents homeschool their children to build a solid foundation of faith and historical truths through eight grade and place their child in the public education system during high school.



Elyse commented…

This is a very interesting perspective. I've written a response blog here: Feel free to check it out. :)

Robert AndAlicia-Lawrence BanahdeCristo


Robert AndAlicia-Lawrence BanahdeCristo commented…

Sorry but in truth...your view that "as a teacher" you were able to grow in your understanding is actually a support for why not to send KIDS who are NOT yet firm in what they believe, to go to a private Christian school.

I agree that Christians are NEEDED to TEACH and ADMIN in public schools, but a Christian parent, as has been said above should NOT be sending their kids to a school where the textbooks are refuting Scripture and the rules are endorsing and encouraging worldly conduct in our kids. The public schools have become a MISSION FIELD and unless you plan on taking your kid to school and "ministering" all day with them, they will not learn how to evangelize, they will learn to compromise. As one parent said above, at the end of the day, nobody wants to go home and spend all evening un-doctrinating our own children in what we have paid to have them taught all day. You can do missions in the community through public sports and events or even take them with you when your church does street ministry, visit orphanages and foster homes, or nursing homes. But unless you live in a rural town where the Principal is a believer and constantly battles to allow the other teachers to model Christianity, I am in agreement with Albert Mohler in who makes the best case for why that time has passed.

if you want your child to be raised in the kind of school we were raised in, take them to a private one where YOU THE PARENT are involved in the curriculum and material that they are told is "authoritative."

Robert AndAlicia-Lawrence BanahdeCristo


Robert AndAlicia-Lawrence BanahdeCristo replied to Robert AndAlicia-Lawrence BanahdeCristo's comment

I agree the end it is NOT all about is all about your child, first. Then theirs. Do good to all...but ESPECIALLY the household of faith.

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