Public Schools Can’t Serve the Public

To be useful to the public, Christians must reject “public” education.

That’s the argument made recently by Stephen Richard Turley in the pages of The Imaginative Conservative.

As I’ve noted elsewhere, one of the fundamental questions of Christian-school advocates is whether or not to stay in public education.  Dr. Turley makes the case that real Christians must abandon so-called public education.  In doing so, Turley writes, Christians do not turn away from the public sphere, but rather embrace it.

Today’s public education, Turley argues, is by definition anti-public.  Today’s so-called public schools hope to squeeze religious life into the private margins.  By doing so, so-called public schools warp the public sphere, allowing only secular notions to flourish, Turley writes.

The only answer for Christians, Turley believes, is to remain dedicated to true public witness by embracing private schools.

Confused?  Read Turley’s entire essay.

As he concludes,

If Christians are to remain faithful to the biblical gospel, we must once again affirm the public witness of the church, particularly in the field of education. For such an affirmation not only awakens the soul to the True, the Good, and the Beautiful, but in embodying the Truth, it exposes the state-financed educational system which denies Truth as what it is: a lie. We cannot teach our students that Truth is relative and expect our politicians to be honest; we can’t claim that the Good has been replaced by situational ethics and expect Wall Street executives to ground their business decisions in anything other than profit, greed, and expediency; and we cannot relegate Beauty to personal preference and then feign shock when we encounter a urinal as part of an art exhibit.

Christians will never expose this lie as long as they support and fund it. Classical Christian education offers nothing less than a parallel public, a revelation of Truth that in its social splendor awakens wonder and awe in teacher and student alike, as together they fellowship in Him who is the divine renewal of all things.




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  1. mlshatto

     /  September 5, 2013

    It appears that two motivations converged in the middle of the last century to spur the proliferation of private Christian schools. One was the forced desegregation of the public schools, especially in the U.S. South. The other was the Christian Reconstruction movement, which was small in numbers but dreamed big. The following quote illustrates the goals of the latter.

    “Joseph Morecraft, who also runs a school, said in 1987: `I believe the children in the Christian schools of America are the Army that is going to take the future. Right now. . .the Christian Reconstruction movement is made up of a few preachers, teachers, writers, scholars, publishing houses, editors of magazines, and it’s growing quickly. But I expect a massive acceleration of this movement in about 25 or 30 years, when those kids that are now in Christian schools have graduated and taken their places in American society, and moved into places of influence and power.'”

    Source for quote:

    (Morecraft pastors Chalcedon Presbyterian Church, RPCUS, in Cumming, Georgia. The Reformed Presbyterian Church is hard-right Calvinist and not in any way to be confused with the mainline Presbyterian Church USA.)

    We are seeing part of his prediction being realized in the current push in many states for “school choice vouchers,” tax credits for corporations that donate scholarship funds for private religious schools, and other mechanisms for diverting public funds to religious education. Reconstructionism is still small and extreme, but “reconstructionism lite” thinking has filtered into many aspects of our public life. It is not uncommon in our area (south-central Pennsylvania) to find public school board members who are sending their own children to private Christian schools. In many cases they have sought election precisely in order to undermine the public schools.

  2. Patrick

     /  September 5, 2013

    While there may be some similarities between Christian Reconstruction movement and the classical Christian Education movement, there’s an important distinction in that the latter’s ambitions are more cultural than political. Classical Christian educators like Turley (and myself) want our culture to be influenced by Christianity, but believe it will only happen authentically from the bottom up, rather than the top down. The way to do this is to effectively educate students to internalize what is true, good, and beautiful, sending them out into their communities to lovingly and persuasively articulate and live out the Christian vision of reality.

    In Robert Littlejohn and Charles T. Evans’s book Wisdom and Eloquence: A Christian Paradigm for Classical Learning, which I happened to be reading right before reading this blog post, it states the goal of education should be “not only to benefit the individuals we educate,” but “to help our society toward more grace and civility, and toward a universally high quality of life…Teaching them to think, to discern, and to behave wisely should be coupled with instilling in them a sense of obligation to contend for those same values throughout society. If we believe that Christian living is the fulfillment in this life of what God intends for human beings–if being a Christian is, in fact, ‘good for us’–then we can legitimately conclude that living in a Christ-influenced society can be good for anyone, even those who do not profess the faith personally. A gracious, articulate citizen who has learned to consider and to communicate within the whole range of human concerns will find it must easier to influence those living in the modern world than will those who have missed this set of skills in their education” (pp.17, 20-21).

    So getting Christians elected to high public office and overturning public schools, while high priorities for some conservative Christians, are relatively low on the agenda of classical Christian educators (and many classical Christian schools, like mine and Turley’s, refuse to even accept vouchers because of the potential strings that would be attached). Christians who have been rightly educated as such will have more to contribute to society not because they get elected and get laws passed, but because they improve their communities by contributing the positive values and virtues that accompany a well-informed, imaginative, and genuine Christian life.


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