Like Emily Hubbard, I grew up in a conservative Christian milieu that thought public schools were a moral cesspool where I would be exposed to drugs, sex, and possibly even evolutionary theory. And now she sends her kids to a public school!

Our school is doing the things that God says he does in Psalm 146. Besides trying to teach kids—most of whom have lives affected by the toxic stress of poverty and racism—our school is literally feeding the hungry, clothing the (required uniform) naked, watching over the sojourners—both the kids in more transient families and families from all over the world, and trying to reverse the oppression our families have experienced as poor people, mostly of color. God is in the building at our public school and he is in the work of our public school.

I think Emily make a good argument for why it’s good to send your kids to public school and I think it’s good to push back on the conventional wisdom among conservative Christians that public school is merely a moral cesspool. Virtually all of my public-school peers from my church growing up are still faithful, devoted Christians 15 years later. It’s good for your kids, your community, and your own spiritual growth to commit yourself to the local public good by putting your kids in public school, as D.L. Mayfield argues.

On the other hand, I don’t think that it is wrong to homeschool or send your kids to private school if they can’t hack it in public school. I was a problem child and I am extremely thankful that my parents made the sacrifices they did to homeschool me.1 I (and whoever had to deal with my craziness as a child) would have suffered unnecessarily had my parents sent me to public school out of duty. There are some kids that simply won’t thrive in a public school setting and some schools that can’t be helped by a few concerned parents choosing to invest in them.

I also think Christians should be careful in their enthusiasm for public schools because many schools are… well, not really oriented towards the needs of children (or human beings, for that matter). Right now, the most coherent telos of the public school system in America is making children sit still for hours and hours so that they’ll be well-prepared to acquire a lot of debt getting a degree that they can use to make a lot of money. I’m sure there are great teachers and administrators who are interested in forming good citizens or good people, but I can’t get too jazzed up about a system that at this point is mostly oriented, intentionally or not, around forming good worker drones for capitalism.

Clearly people like Hubbard and Mayfield have a very clear ethic and are approaching their children’s education with a strong appreciation for the moral formation they want their children to experience.  Their family telos is certainly stronger than the average family that chooses to send their kid to a private Christian school and just as strong than the average family that chooses to homeschool. That, I think, is the most important thing — and how Christians can inform the conversation in public school about moral formation and the ends of education is, I think, the next step for those who are committed to public school.

Posted by Matthew Loftus

Matthew Loftus teaches and practices Family Medicine in Baltimore and East Africa. His work has been featured in Christianity Today, Comment, & First Things and he is a regular contributor for Christ and Pop Culture. You can learn more about his work and writing at www.MatthewAndMaggie.org

One Comment

  1. […] I am inherently suspicious of applying justice arguments to public schools because I think many public schools are a quaint relic of an era where we thought that grown-ups should be treated like machines in a factory and children should be educated similarly. I am hopelessly biased by own experience as a homeschooled kid who probably would have been undereducated and overmedicated whilst dragging down the experience of my fellow students and teachers, even in the best public school possible. Children should not be warehoused and made to sit still for hours and hours every day; the fact that we have managed to force some of our children to thrive in this system does not make it any better for them or for society at large. Applying questions of justice to public education requires that we think more about what public schools are for. […]

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