The authors selected for the respective sides in the debate are outspoken supporters of their viewpoints.
Douglas Wilson opens the debate by arguing that Scripture forbids Christians to educate their children in public schools. Mr. Wilson, M.A. (philosophy; University of Idaho), is a teaching elder of Community Evangelical Fellowship, Moscow, Idaho, and author of numerous published essays and books, including the forthcoming Turning Point series text on education, Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning (Crossway Books).
Taking an opposing position is Dr. Robert Simonds Th.D., president and founder of the National Association of Christian Educators and Citizens for Excellence in Education. Dr. Simonds served on President Reagan's "Forum to Implement the National Commission on Excellence in Education Report: A Nation at Risk" and is the Southern California Chairman of the National Association of Evangelicals.
The burden of proof in the interchange is placed on the person opening the discussion, and so Douglas Wilson will open and close the interchange.
As Christians, we must begin with the assumption that there is no area of life where Biblical principles are irrelevant. So even though the Bible does not directly address every problem in the modern world with our terminology (including the public schools), nevertheless, the Scriptures do address the problem directly. God has revealed in His Word how He wants us to rear and educate our children.
To ensure that we are talking about the same thing, I will begin with a definition of "public schools." For the purpose of my discussion here, a public school is an officially agnostic, tax-supported institution of education for dependent children. Frankly, quite aside from the following arguments, I believe any Christian who grants this definition will immediately concede that a strong case has already been made. And anyone who denies the definition will have trouble with his case because the definition is so obviously descriptive of what we call the public schools here in America.
There are a series of arguments on the necessity of Christian education that can be made from Scripture. They are:
1. Christian parents are morally obligated to keep their children out of public schools because the Scriptures expressly require a non-agnostic form of education. Consider this passage in Deuteronomy on the instruction of children.
"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart; you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates" (Dt. 6:4-9).
It is important to remember that this required instruction in the law was not limited to "spiritual truth." It involved agriculture, economics, history, sex education, etc. -- what we call education. The Biblical mentality is not compartmentalized into two distinct areas of thought: secular and sacred. All of life is under the authority of God's revealed Word, and children were to be taught in terms of this comprehensive authority all the time.
The same mentality about the instruction of children can be seen in the New Testament: "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. `Honor your father and mother,' which is the first commandment with a promise: `that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.' And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord" (Eph. 6:1-4).
Notice that in the Deuter-onomy passage the requirement is that children live in an environment pervaded by Scripture. A thorough and Biblical instruction can only be provided successfully if it is happening all the time. Teaching in terms of God's Word must occur when walking, driving, sitting, and when lying down. Nothing could be clearer -- God wants the children of His people to live in an environment conditioned by His Word. In Ephesians, we see the same thing, although stated less directly. Children are to be brought up in something; that something is the Word of God.
Pose the question another way. What area of life has God declared to be neutral, in which it is permissible to ignore Him, and His Word, while we instruct our children? The answer is that there is no such neutral zone.
2. Christian parents are morally obligated to keep their children out of the public schools because of the requirements of the greatest commandment. Jesus requires His people to love the Lord their God with all their minds (Mt. 22:37). This means that the command to be teaching your children all the time must not to be interpreted as simply applying to religious instruction, set off by itself in an airtight compartment. If our children are not taught to think like Christians when they study math, history, or science, then they are not obeying the command to love God with all their minds. And if they are not obeying the command, the parents are held responsible. This is because parents are responsible to instruct their children in what God requires of them. And it must be remembered that Jesus taught us that this is the greatest command. It is clear that God's people, and their children, are required to love the Lord their God with all their brains. This involves more than a general acquaintance with David, Goliath, Samson, Noah, et al. Sunday School once a week will not get this job done. Nor will family devotions do for a few minutes each night.
This second argument is obviously related to the first argument presented above, although there is a difference of emphasis. Deuteronomy 6 requires instruction in all of God's standards, all of the time. The greatest commandment requires the child to receive and love this instruction with all his mind. Because parents are responsible for bringing up children in such a way that they will obey the requirements placed on them by God, it is obvious that the education they provide for their children must teach them to love God in all subjects.
3. Christian parents are morally obligated to keep their children out of the public schools because God expects parents to provide for, and protect, their children. It is truly odd that one of the most common charges made against parents who provide a Christian education for their children is that they are "sheltering" them. O tempora! O mores! What is our nation coming to? Parents sheltering children!
Because pluralism (with regard to worldviews) is a false theology (it is institutional agnosticism), Christian parents are required to protect their children from this lie. Because the public schools are an established institution, required by law to teach and practice agnosticism, Christian parents are obligated to protect children from exposure to this false teaching. The principle is acknowledged by all Christians; it is simply not applied to the issue of public education by some. I cannot imagine us having this debate about Christian kids in Vacation Bible Schools run by the Jehovah's Witnesses. So why do we treat agnosticism as a preferable heresy?
Christianity is not the only worldview that pervades all subjects; false teaching is also pervasive. If a Christian parent attempts to neutralize the false teaching, it means he has to spend many hours every night countering what the children learned that day in school. This is impossible because the parent doesn't know exactly what the children learned that day. And the children themselves have not been equipped to come back and report on what was unbiblical in what they heard. This makes responsible oversight extremely difficult, and I would argue, impossible. The only alternative is a private Christian education, which a Christian parent can provide, or monitor.
Christian parents are morally obligated to keep their children out of the public schools because sending children into an intellectual, ethical and religious war zone without adequate training and preparation is a violation of charity. In a physical war, we know that a country is desperate when they send their children to fight. In the same way, the saints in this country are in pretty sad shape. We send our kids off to be warriors, instead of training them to be warriors.
My children are being educated privately. They are being trained to hold and apply a Christian worldview. I am not trying to keep them from encounters with those who hate God; I am trying to train them and prepare them for it. We don't send adults to the mission field without training and preparation. During that time of training, they must be protected. What makes us think that sending unequipped seven-year olds off to be "salt and light" in an officially agnostic institution, without training and preparation, is consistent with charity?
Means for such preparation exist; such preparation is called a Christian education. Once such an education has been provided by the parents, and if the child is truly equipped, he may then be sent into the world. If the parents have done their job, the young adult will be more than a match for anything he meets.
4. Christian parents are morally obligated to keep their children out of the public schools because of the declared intellectual goal assigned to the Church in Scripture. Paul says, "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ...(II Cor. 10:4-5).
Question: Are there any strongholds in the public school system against the knowledge of God? Any such rebellious arguments? Is there any high thing that exalts itself in defiance of God? Our goal as Christians must therefore be to pull them all down. Christians who content themselves, in the educational sphere, with anything less than absolute obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ are compromising this goal given to us in Scripture.
I know of no Christian reformers of public education who have vowed that they will settle for nothing less than explicitly Christian public schools. Christian reformers generally would settle for a piece of the action, or a "say" in the great pluralistic discussion. Thus, they do not have conquest, which is the goal of II Cor. 10:4-5, in mind.
Pluralism is an attempt to make everyone leave everyone else alone; it seeks to make evangelism an offense. But if Christianity is an evangelistic religion, and it is, then pluralism is an attempt to make Christianity an offense. Christians who agree to the truce which pluralism attempts to impose are being unfaithful to the mission of the Church.
But what if some Christians do adopt such a goal of "conquest," i.e. they want the public schools to become tax-supported Christian schools? Then their attempts should be resisted for a different reason; God does not assign educational responsibilities to the civil magistrates, even if the magistrates are godly. It is not their job.
5. Christian parents are morally obligated to keep their children out of the public schools because not to do so subsidizes a lie. Every time the public school doors open, they declare their independence from God in all things. They, officially and on the record, claim the right to teach all their subjects without any submission to God and His Word. Christians who send their children to such schools are subsidizing, with their children as the payment, this particular lie, which we have already discussed.
If every Christian parent pulled their children out of the public school system, that school system, along with the lie, would collapse. I mean, the public schools would collapse if only the Southern Baptists pulled out. This means that Christians are keeping an institution dedicated to false teaching in existence.
In summary, I have argued that Christian education is not a luxury, or an option. It is part of Christian discipleship for those who have been blessed with children. Christian education is a necessity because the Bible requires non-agnostic education, because the greatest command includes loving God with all our intellectual capacity, because Christian parents should protect their children from lies, because the goal of the Christian church must be nothing less than intellectual conquest, and because this officially agnostic institution depends for its continued existence on the attendance of professing Christians.