As with essentially any issue, you can find Christians with opinions all across the board regarding educational policy in the United States. I am not going to pretend there is one “right” political position for Christians to take or that I know all of the factors individuals consider when making choices about their children’s schooling. However, as a Christian, former public school student, and a public school teacher, there are three requests I would make of Christians regarding their conversations and their actions when it comes to education.
1. Please focus your efforts on issues of significance.
In public schools, the loudest Christian voices revolve around issues like the debate about removing “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance (a phrase added to the pledge in 1954, a pledge that itself was only formally adopted by Congress in 1942). Another hot-button issue involves prayer in schools. When I have participated in “See You at the Pole” events as a student and as a teacher, I felt more like the hypocrite Jesus described praying loudly on a street corner than Daniel refusing to alter his by-the-open-window prayer routine. These types of issues are far from crucial to our faith and insignificant when compared to issues affecting students’ learning and well-being, like overcrowded schools, inadequate buildings and supplies, and students with special needs whose services cannot be supported because of the significant cost to districts and families. It seems the efforts and resources spent on the typical “Christian” issues would be much better put to use ensuring educators, students, and families receive the support and attention we need.
2. Please continue supporting public schools and the vast majority of children who attend them.
According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, 90 percent of students in the United States are enrolled in a public school. Christian educators and families working with public schools are laboring to be Christ’s presence in our schools — where you will find almost all of our nation’s children. Some Christian families choose to homeschool, send their children to private school, or found charter schools that support a handful of underprivileged children. The choices regarding children’s schooling belong to individuals. However, my concern is that in the process of making these choices, many Christians withdraw their support of public schools.
Sometimes I feel as though I am on a ship that, while certainly in need of repair, is not sinking. Yet some Christians are bringing lifeboats to take away a small percentage of the ship’s passengers, leaving the rest of the passengers behind as though they do not matter. It is a confusing situation for someone working for the passengers and trying to identify repairs when, instead of offering to help with the repairs, presumably well-meaning people bring lifeboats and remove some of the passengers. If they simply lent a hand — whether in practicality or in advocacy — it could benefit the greater good instead of a few.
3. Please use and consider anecdotal evidence lightly.
There are numerous factors that go into every school’s make-up, from student demographics and home environment to community support and personnel background. Every school and situation is different. When you hear about a public school “failing” a student, please remember it is just one story, and you are only hearing one side of that story. There are many, many other stories, and many facets to each story that you do not know. I am sure, if you or your children do not attend public school, you would not want me to assume one homeschooler or one charter school represents the whole. I would ask you to do the same, all the while remembering the educators, families, and students working very hard in sometimes difficult environments. It can be incredibly discouraging to have one’s efforts dismissed on the basis of a single anecdote.
Thank you for considering what I have to say. I hope my thoughts lead to meaningful and productive conversation. I hope we can move towards areas of agreement from which we can support the children in our communities in a way that honors the Messiah who first called them unto Himself.
Emily A. Dause is a public school teacher and a freelance writer. Her writing appears in PRISM Magazine(prismmagazine.org), Teaching Children Mathematics, RELEVANTmagazine.com, and her blog,sliversofhope.blogspot.com.
Image: Youth getting off a school bus, Margie Hurwich / Shutterstock.com