Is Public Education Right for Your Child? What Christian Parents Need to Know

March 28, 2024

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In this episode, we dive into the challenge Christian parents face: preparing children to live out their faith in a secular environment. We explore the strategic approach of establishing a strong biblical foundation in children before they encounter secular viewpoints, particularly within the public education system. Join us as we tackle the question: Can children with a solid biblical theology thrive in public schools? This discussion is crucial for parents contemplating the best educational path for their faith-filled children.


Note: The following is an auto-transcript of the podcast recording.

Hello friends, and welcome to another episode of the Foundation Worldview podcast where we seek to answer your questions so that you can equip the children that God has placed in your care to carefully evaluate every idea they encounter and understand the truth of the biblical worldview. I'm your host, Elizabeth Urbanowicz, and I'm thrilled that you've joined me for another episode today.

Today's question says, "Considering the call to homeschool, I have felt conflicted, but have found your podcast extremely helpful. Your recent podcast, Protecting Innocence While Preparing for the World, made a point which several families I've sought counsel from have given for sending children to public school. Any wisdom for me?" That's an interesting question. And in that podcast that was referenced, the Protecting Innocence While Preparing for the World, we recommended preparing children to live faithfully in a secular culture by first building up a positive biblical theology and then introducing deviations from God's good design after that. And so what we're going to look at today is, okay, does this formula of first building up a positive biblical theology and then introducing deviations from God's good design, is that cause for sending our children to a public education setting where they're going to be receiving secular form of education? That's an interesting question and an important one for us to think through.

Now in that podcast that was mentioned in this question, I gave an analogy of how small exposures to germs, to bacteria and viruses can lead to immunity where really intense exposures to germs, they lead to sickness. And so recommended that while our children are still safe within our own homes, that we in small ways expose them to the ideas of the world, help them logically evaluate them see, how they compare and contrast to what God is real in Scripture, so that they will then naturally develop some immunity against those ideas. And I gave the example of how that's what we want to do with our physical bodies. The example I gave as myself as a teacher, if I would pick up a child's pencil, yeah, I might get some bacteria, some viruses on my hands, but doing so that would give me some small level of immunity. We're having a child sneeze in my face that was not going to create immunity that was going to get me sick. So what we want to do with our kids is we want to develop these levels of immunities by giving them small exposures to ideas of the world, just like small exposures to germs can help create immunity.

Now, when I was teaching, I think of this one sweet little boy that I had in my class, and he was sick with a cold, probably multiple colds the entire school year. There was not a single day where he was not coughing or sneezing blowing his nose, and it was not just allergies. And this was, he actually had a cold all of this time. And as I started asking him some questions to try to figure out what was going on, it became clear that he wasn't getting the proper amount of sleep, that he had sisters who were older and were involved in lots of sports, so he was out late, lots of time, lots of eating out. And so his family was just doing all these things that were not healthy for his development as an 8-year-old. And so therefore, he was just consistently had an immune system that was just worn down and was weak and could not fight off viruses. And this obviously is not what we want for our children, physically, that we want to be creating a healthy environment where their immune systems are built up, have them have small exposures to germs so that they naturally begin to develop immunity. Where what this child in my class, what was happening is his parents were giving him over exposure to germs and not enough of what he needed to grow healthy and therefore he was sick all the time.

Now, this is not going to be a very popular statement, what I say, but I think that it is true. I genuinely believe that sending our kids off to be instructed in a secular environment for eight plus hours a day is not creating immunity to false ideas, but actually breaking down their immune system to fight those false ideas. Now, I know that probably for many of our listeners when I said that statement, that probably caused some discomfort if not caused you to be upset. So if that's you feeling upset or angry or defensive about what I just said, that's a natural reaction. But just ask that you take a moment, take a deep breath and know that my upsetting you was not my goal by making that statement. What I'm going to do is I want to briefly lay out a case of why I think in most situation, public education puts our children at a higher risk of falling prey to false ideas. Okay? So please just hear me out for the next 15 minutes and then weigh the evidence that I've given you and then you can make a decision on your own.

So I'm going to give three reasons as to why I think public education puts our children at a higher risk of falling prey to false ideas. The first reason is that public education is based on the premise that the school, not the parent knows what is best for the child. Now, you may be thinking, that's not what my child's teacher thinks. And if that's not what your child's teacher thinks, praise God for that. However, the entire structure of the public education system in the US is based on that premise. And how do I know that? Because when you actually do reading and when you read some of the primary source documents of the founding fathers of education in the US, people such as Horace Mann and John Dewey, you see that what they're doing is they were building up a system that viewed families, parents specifically as not knowing what was best for their children and the school to be the one to impart the correct worldview. Now, think about this just in regards to public school, whether you're sending your children to public school or you yourself went to public school or you've just observed it in the community that most of the time there's minimal partnering with parents in a public education setting that yes, there's parent teacher conferences, but think about how those conferences are structured. Usually our parents brought in at the beginning of the year and asked, tell us more about your child. Tell us your child's strengths and your child's weaknesses. Tell us what you think we can do to help best support your child. No, the structure of parent teacher conferences is the parent comes in, the teacher gives them an overview of how their child is doing, and then they're told things that they need to do at home. Now, I'm not saying that the teacher is not an expert in education or that the teacher can't offer some helpful advice. Teachers can offer, most teachers can offer some helpful advice, but even just the entire structure of that parent-teacher conference shows that the school is viewed as the authority and the expert on children that parents are to come there and learn from them where the biblical worldview is just the opposite.

Now also, there are laws in most states in the United States that allow teachers and counselors and administrators to guide children without the parents' knowledge or permission. Now, I'm going to give a very extreme example. This is not every example. But just to show you what these laws can eventually lead to. I was visiting my parents in my home state. I grew up in the Northeast, which most of you watching and listening probably know that most states in the northeast are pretty liberal in terms of their understanding of the government's responsibility with children. And when I was at my parents' church, there was one woman there who's a school nurse, and she told me that she was considering quitting her position and I asked her why. And she told me that at their school that any time a girl comes in and they find out that the girl is pregnant, that there is one procedure, what they do, they tell the girl that she is not ready to have this child and they take her to the hospital or to a Planned Parenthood clinic or without her parents knowing this, in the middle of the school day, they take her there and she'll get an abortion and then they send her back into the classroom. And no communication is ever given with the parents. The girl isn't really given any options. They're just told this is what you need to do. And she was just upset because that had just happened the Friday before I was talking with her, I was talking with her on a Sunday. And so obviously that's an extreme case and most people who are listening do not live in the Northeast and do not have their children in high school and all of this kind of stuff. But that's just an example of where this kind of philosophy leads and where these kind of laws, where there are these laws where teachers and counselors and administrators can guide children in really big ways without the parents' permission.

And I can tell you just from my own experience of one growing up in the public school system and two then teaching in the public school system that this is just the overarching attitude of public schools. Now, I'm not saying that every public school teacher has this attitude, but it is the overarching one. And I can even tell you from my own experience that this was my attitude, my first years of teaching. It wasn't until the year 2012, I was at focus on the family's leadership institute and one of the professors there was Del Tackett who created the truth project. And one afternoon I said, Dr. Tackett, you haven't talked to us about education in our classes yet. Can you talk to me about education? And he sat down with me and I will never forget in the midst of our conversation, he looked at me and he has this very gravitas voice and presence for those of you who have ever heard him. And he looked at me and he said, oh, Elizabeth, don't you for a moment believe the lie that you are the primary authority figure in your students' lives. God has given parents the primary responsibility to instruct and educate and disciple their children. They're graciously handing off that responsibility to you for several hours a day, but don't ever get confused about who works for who. You work for the parent. They do not work for you. And I remember just sitting there being like, whoa, it's going to take me a while to chew over that. But just because I had been raised in the public school system and then I even went to a Christian college, but they just gave me a public school version of education with a few bible verses stamped on top, I had this wrong attitude.

And so we know from the biblical worldview that God has designed it so that we are called to be the primary influencers over our children. And so we need to make sure that we have the time to invest in them. And if we are sending them out of the home eight plus hours a day to system that believes that we are not the primary authority in our children's lives, we are going to have much less influence in actually imparting the biblical worldview to our children and equipping them to think carefully.

And this leads into my second point. So the first one is that, or the first one was public education is based on the premise that the school, not the parent knows what is best for the child. The second reason is that public education teaches everything from a secular worldview. And now the first thing I want to give here is a little caveat that if there's any public school educators who are listening to this, please do not think that I'm any way saying that you should not be teaching in the public school system. Praise God that you are teaching in the public school system and that you are there and that you were able to have an influence over your students. But for the parents of kids who are in public school or are considering public school, one thing I want to make very clear is that having a Christian teacher in a secular education environment does not make the education any less secular. Now, hopefully that Christian teacher will not be pushing ideas that are anti-biblical in such a hard way as maybe a non-Christian teacher would do, but that teacher does not have the ability to change the entire curriculum.

So I'm just going to take you on a brief tour of the main subjects that our kids learn in school and talk about how public education is giving a very distinctly secular education. For example, just thinking about math, mathematics, why is it that we can trust that three times three is nine today and three times three will be nine tomorrow and three times three will be nine a hundred years from now? Why are the laws of mathematics stable? Public education doesn't ever cover that. It just naturally assumes the law, the laws of mathematics without ever giving any grounding for them. Where from a biblical perspective, we know that the laws of mathematics are stable because they were designed by the unchanging, immutable God of the universe. In science, how did everything come to be? How did everything get here? What's the answer in every school textbook used in a secular classroom in the US that we got here? Everything got here by blind unguided, evolution, random time and chance. Where then when we think about the implications of that, they're huge. What does it mean if everything is accidental? It means that nothing actually has an inherent purpose. That there is no inherent purpose, meaning, or value to life, or that's just the opposite of what the biblical worldview teaches. That everything all life has inherent value, meaning, and purpose that was bestowed upon it by the creator. In literature, who is it that brings the meaning to the text? Is it the author or is it the reader? Because according to postmodern theory, which is written into most literature curriculums throughout the us, it is the reader that brings the meaning to the text, that the text has no inherent meaning, where we know that just the opposite is true, especially when we are thinking about Scripture, that God inspired the authors of Scripture, and each author had a very specific meaning in the text that he wrote. It's not us that brings the meaning to the text of Scripture or any other literary work. It's the author that has placed it there. History, is history an endless cycle of repeated events, or does history actually have a teleological goal? Does it actually have an end goal? Because according to the secular view, history is just on this cycle of repeating itself over and over and over and over again, and we're responsible for learning from history. We are according to the biblical worldview, history is linear and it's on a trajectory toward the return of Jesus. What about language arts? Do words have any objective meaning or is language all just this subjective game where there is no inherent meaning to anything that we say or write? Because according to the biblical worldview, words do have meaning that words are describing objective concepts, where according to postmodernism, we humans have no access to objective reality. It's all just a language game. And so while things in the classroom might not be explained in the exact language that I just explained them here, these are real questions that are answered in real time, in real curriculums.

Then when we think about the overall philosophy of learning in a public education classroom, all education has to answer the question, what is a human? How do humans learn best? And if the view is that a human is this result of blind unguided evolution, then humans are just these blank slates that we get to write in. Where according to the biblical worldview, humans are not blank slates that we come into the world in a certain way that we are image bearers with inherent value, dignity and worth, and nothing that we do can take away that inherent value, detonating worth, but we are also naturally separated from God and separated from one another because we are sinful. This then influences discipline according to public school philosophy. Where do we ground? Where are there moral standards grounded for punishing any behavior in class? What is the purpose of discipline? How are we going to implement it? These are all things that have to be answered. And from a biblical worldview, we know that morality is grounded in the God of the universe. And anytime we are disciplining a child, that discipline should be for the child's good, and it must treat that child as an image bearer. So all of these are really deep questions that every school answers, and especially in the formative years, it is vital that we instruct our children and equip them to see all of life through a biblical worldview. And how can we do this if for eight plus hours a day, our children are being instructed in just the opposite? So we really need to give this some serious thought.

Okay, so first reason I gave was public education is based on the premise that the school, not the parent knows what is best for the child. Second reason, public education teaches everything from a secular worldview. And the third reason we need to, our children are not missionaries. Our children are our primary mission field. I hear so many Christian parents who are sending their children to public school say, our children are going there to be salt and light. Please understand, I want to be firm with this, but also compassionate. Our children are at a developmental stage when they're under the age of eight, where they're going to appear like they are passionate about being salt and light, but they're not yet at a developmental stage where we can understand if they truly understand the gospel. I'm not saying a child at three or five or seven cannot understand the gospel, but I'm saying with the way that God has designed children, our children are naturally going to be passionate about these same exact things that we're passionate about. They're naturally going to believe every single word that we say. They're naturally going to want to please us in every way up until the age of seven. And so if we're sending little kindergartners, first graders out there saying they're going to be salt and light, what is going to happen? They are going to be so heavily influenced by the worldview presented in the school in those stages when we need to make sure that we are equipping them to see all of life through the biblical worldview. And Barna's research is that for decades has been clear that a child's worldview is pretty much solidified by the age of 12. So that is why if anybody's listening and thinking, oh, I'm just going to send my kids to public school until we get to the middle school years and then I'm going to pull them out, I would say just the opposite is better, that in those formative years, we want to make sure that we are instilling a biblical worldview in our children and helping create immunity against false ideas. And so it's best if we have our children in a setting, whether it's in the home or in a Christian school where they're learning all of their education from a biblical perspective. And then once that's built up, if we think it's best for them to go into a public education setting, it would be much better for us to send them off in the later years rather than in the younger formative years.

Now, I know to any situation there are always outliers. There's going to be outliers out there where parents might not have any other option but to send their children to public school, or you may have been very intentional and prayerful about this and have decided to send your children to public school. I think for most families, the public school decision is an unwise decision, but obviously there can be outliers. Even in my own life, I have two friends, wonderful friends, love the Lord in their first marriages. Both of their husbands left them and left them for other people, and they were in really difficult situations and God provided for them. They sent their children to public school and God was faithful and he protected their children in really big ways. But we can't just expect that that's going to happen in each and every situation, that yes, there might be really hard situations that are outliers if those are the cases we need to really dig in deep into the body of Christ and look for the support that we need there. But for the vast majority of people listening to this podcast, most situations are not going to be outlier situations.

Also, one other thing I want to say is that just because the school calls itself Christian, it doesn't mean that it doesn't have some of these same issues because some Christian schools, what they do is they take public education and they stamp a few Bible verses on top of it, and that's not what we want for our children either. So I'm not just saying, go find the nearest Christian school, don't look into it at all and sign your kids up there, because sometimes Christian schools have these same issues. So if we're sending our kids to a Christian school, we need to be intentional, and that I think is the word that we need intentional. Whatever educational decisions we make for our children, we must be prayerful, well researched and intentional.

So in summary to the person who wrote in this question, please do not feel pressured to send your child to public school so that they can develop immunity against bad ideas, because I do not think for the reasons that I mentioned before, that public education is a setting where our children are going to develop natural immunity to false ideas. I think instead, it is a setting where our children are going to be much more vulnerable and fall prey to false ideas. There are much healthier ways of exposing our children to false ideas and ways in which we can develop a natural immunity rather than breaking down their spiritual and intellectual immune system.

I know that what I just said for the past 20 minutes in this podcast has not been easy to hear. I know that there will be many who will disagree with me, but what I would encourage you to do is to step away from this podcast no matter what situation you're in with your children, whether they're not in school, whether they're in public school, private school, or homeschool, that you would take a step back. Really prayerfully consider the things that I mentioned in this podcast, and ultimately, God has put you not me in the position of responsibility of discipling your children, so it's ultimately you that needs to make this decision.

Well, that's a wrap for this episode. If you have a question that you would like for me to answer on a future Foundation Worldview podcast, you can submit that by going to My prayer for you as we leave this time together is that no matter the situation in which you and your children find yourselves, you would trust that God is working all things together for your good by using all things to conform you more into the image of His Son. I'll see you next time.

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