What Does Your Kid Sing in the Bathroom?

In the pages of Christianity Today, Andrea Palpant Dilley makes the case for private Christian schooling.  Her best argument?  Thanks to her new Christian school, Dilley’s daughter now sings “Holy, Holy, Holy” while going to the bathroom.

Dilley’s being humorous, of course, but her main point is this: despite legitimate arguments among evangelical Christians over the proper type of schooling, a good Christian school can push young people in healthy Christian directions.  A good school can help turn their souls and minds to the beauties and challenges of living a faith-filled life.  Does a Christian school guarantee that each kid will grow up to be a good Christian?  No.  But it gives young people a different set of mental furniture with which to fill their young heads.  Instead of singing the Ninja Turtles theme song, Dilley’s daughter sings “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

As I’ve reviewed in some of my academic publications, the decision to send children to private Christian schools is not a simple one.  Many Christian schools have been accused of being nothing more than “segregation academies.”  In practice, though, the racial politics of private schooling includes complicated decisions about where to send our children.

We have a few academic studies of these sorts of schooling decisions.  One 1991 study from Stanford wondered why parents chose Christian schools.[1]  Not surprisingly, the question turns out to be remarkably complex.  School founders and parents offered a mélange of explanations for their choice of a private Christian school, from bad discipline at public schools to creationist belief.  Similarly, a 1984 study from Philadelphia found that parents had many reasons for choosing private Christian schools.[2]  Again, parents listed public-school factors ranging from “secular humanism” to drug use and poor discipline.

Moreover, as Dilley notes, some Christian parents insist their children should remain in public schools in order to provide needed moral backbone in struggling schools.  Fair enough, Dilley acknowledges.  But for her daughter, the “Christian-school bubble” was the right choice.  Though the family had to scrape together money for tuition, Dilley’s daughter is able to attend a school that includes authentic diversity.  More important to Dilley, a Christian school also lets Dilley’s daughter learn the rich heritage and faith of evangelical Christianity.


[1] Peter Stephen Lewis, “Private Education and the Subcultures of Dissent: Alternative/Free Schools (1965-1975) and Christian Fundamentalist Schools (1965-1990),” PhD dissertation, Stanford University, 1991.

[2] Martha E. MacCullough, “Factors Which Led Christian School Parents to LeavePublic   School,” Ed.D. dissertation, TempleUniversity, 1984.


Jesus in Public Schools: In through the Back Door?

Is it okay for religious missionaries to use public schools as recruiting grounds?

Usually we say no.  But what about when the religious missionaries just want to help struggling districts?  What if they promise to leave the Jesus at the door and just provide social services to low-income students?

In the pages of Christianity Today we read of the public-school leadership of evangelical Don Coleman.  Coleman recently won election as chair of Richmond, Virginia’s school board.

For those of us who watch the intersections of public education and religiosity, ought we be concerned by Coleman’s attitude that “education is one of the greatest open doors for urban missions”?

According to the Christianity Today piece, Coleman supports a heavily intertwined church and state.  Local churches “adopt” students, in order to help students overcome significant personal problems.  Coleman wants local churches to become so helpful to schools in low-income areas that the public schools eventually welcome churches’ help.

The story raises some tricky questions.  Personally, I think a students-first approach is a good idea.  As Coleman says, “We don’t fight over prayer.”  Why can’t churches help struggling public schools?  Seems like a win-win.  Seems like someone would have to be pretty heartless to oppose helping a young woman go to college while the rest of her family languishes in jail.

But the underlying issues don’t seem any different from other school-church cases.  Constitutionally, public schools ought to be institutions in which all students are made to feel welcome, regardless of religious or non-religious background.  What about non-Christian students in Richmond schools?  Will they feel equally at home in schools “adopted” by evangelical Christian churches?  Or what about atheist students?  Ought public schools be places in which they have the gospel preached to them by outside missionaries?

Worst of all, we must ask if there is a racial or class bias at play here.  Richmond’s schools are heavily black and poor.  Would students in a more affluent or whiter school district be subjected to religious proselytization as part of their school day?  Or, if they were, wouldn’t activist groups such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation or the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State have more to say about it?