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.

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.

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.

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?

  1. As someone working in education (and particularly in special education), April, I’d greatly appreciate more details about what you see as the “certain type of learner” that schools cater to and what you mean by “kids who don’t quite fit the learning mold.” That’s the goal of special education programming in schools, and I think there are currently a lot of barriers to reaching the goal, but I’m interested in your perspective!

  2. The author States clearly, “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.”

    I don’t believe the point of this article is to convince people who homeschool or private school to go to public school. I believe the point is to give a voice to those christians that choose public school, and help people to see that public school isn’t always the wrong choice.

    The Christian community has painted an unfair picture of public schools for a long time now, and we need to reevaluate our view. The homeschool community has had hundreds, if not thousands of articles defending their position to the point of attacking believers who choose public school. Public school Christians deserve a voice, and this author is providing one.

    I know that homeschool families have felt the need to defend themselves from stereotypes and unhelpful and unsolicited commentary. I am sorry you’ve had to do that. I am sorry people have attacked you and called you names and made you feel like a bad parent.

    But, I to have been attacked by homeschool manifestos. I’ve had my Christianity called into question because my children attend public school. I’ve been called a bad parent from militant homeschoolers.

    So, maybe it’s time for those of us that use public school to enter a conversation with one another and encourage each other to partner with the local school. This article is for me, and people like me.

  3. This particular article written by Liz Riggs seems very biased and does nothing to repair the relationship between public education and Christianity. Actually, I feel the author is quite negative regarding anyone who choses a different educational approach other than public education. For example, she states that parents homeschool their children to prevent them from having interactions with the outside world, and by doing so, they are not allowing their children to be in a diverse environment–like public school–which makes them unable to share God’s Word to all people. Also, parents who are privileged to have a choice in how their children are educated, are self-centered and don’t care about other less fortunate children because the privileged parents are only vested in their own needs. Wow! I ask you, is this the way to repair a relationship between public education and Christianity by literally attacking the parents who have decided to take a different approach to educate their children?

    Unfortunately, some people read these type of articles and accept the material as absolute truth without even considering if the message is actually genuine or just based on the author’s personal opinion. As an avid researcher, I encourage you to not let others influence your own opinion until you ask yourself the following questions. Where are the facts and resources to support this writing? Who is the author and what is his/her background?

    Lastly, I would like to share two Bible verses and end on a positive note by saying that we, as Christians, are responsible to train our children to know and love God and others, and it always begins at home.
    “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
    (Proverbs 22:6)

    “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7New International Version (NIV)

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