On Tuesday, September 8, 2009, President Barack Obama has planned an address to America’s school children. I am the principal of a Christian school. I would like to explain why I believe Christian schools should not participate in this event. My objections center on three issues: 1) the proper role of parents in directing the education of their children, 2) the impossibility of religious neutrality in government directed education, 3) the authority and role of public servants.
The Role of Parents in the Direction of the Education of Their Children
Christian education is not secular education with prayer and a Bible class added in. Christian education should be God-centered, with its purposes, content, principles and methods in subjection to the Scriptures. One of the most important starting points when considering the education of children is who is responsible for it.
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” (Deut. 6:4-7)
Here, as in other parts of Scripture, God directs parents to take responsibility for the education of their children. Nowhere do we find any reference to the civil authorities having any responsibility in this area.
While the address President Obama will be making may be a well-intentioned attempt to encourage students to be diligent in their schoolwork, the very premise upon which it is predicated is antithetical to the biblical view of the role of parents in education. The preview materials for this address that I have received make no mention of parents or their role in directing the education of their children. Instead, it appears that the students will be instructed to set their own goals and “take responsibility” for their own educations without regard for or consultation with their parents or with God.
The President is not simply providing a positive role model for scholastic diligence; he is speaking with the authority of and through the agency of the Office of the President. The tone of the materials we have reviewed implies that the president has authority in the area of education and that the students are to receive teaching and instruction from him and be accountable to him in a manner similar to the way they should receive teaching and instruction from their parents or their pastors.
This is not the first time I have been disturbed by this administration’s (or the Department of Education’s under this and previous administrations) attempts to stand between students and their parents. I recently received materials from the US Census Bureau to teach students about the upcoming census. Listed under the purposes for this program (2010 Census: It’s About Us) was this statement:
It also seeks to enlist students as advocates for participation in the 2010 Census CNMI in their homes and communities, especially in communities that might otherwise be undercounted or overlooked, and as a result may lose out on a wide range of benefits. [Emphasis theirs]
Ignoring the political implications of this statement, let’s just analyze the parent-child relationship that is described. Students are to be enlisted by their civil government as advocates of a government program and then sent out to instruct and convince their parents on how they should cooperate with the census. I can’t help but think of the children of George Orwell’s 1984.
This is not an isolated incident. There has been for many decades an increasing trend of cooperation between political and government organizations, the government education system and education professional organizations to achieve their desired social changes by bypassing parents and directly enlisting children (whose naïveté make them much easier to convince than adults) to advocate for various causes. Just as parents have a responsibility to protect their vulnerable children from those who would physically harm or use them, they also have the responsibility to protect their children from those who would harm or use their minds and hearts.
The Impossibility of Religious Neutrality in Government Directed Education
The President’s address is a cooperative effort between the United States Department of Education and the Office of the President. The US government’s educational system is one that professes to be religiously neutral. However, an educational system that refuses to acknowledge God’s creative and providential roles in science, history, language or any other discipline is not religiously neutral.
For example, if I were to teach a biology course without mentioning the structure or functioning of living cells, one would assume that I consider this material irrelevant to the study of biology. Likewise, when I teach a biology course without mentioning God’s works of creation and providence, I imply that He is irrelevant to this subject. How can such a position be religiously neutral? There are only three possible positions on the claims of Christianity in regards to the subjects we teach. Either they are true, they are not true or it really doesn’t matter. None of these positions is religiously neutral. Each is loaded with far-reaching spiritual implications. By stating they are religiously neutral, the government school systems take the third option; they regard the claims of Christianity as irrelevant. They claim that Christianity is irrelevant not only to the academic subjects they teach, such as math, history and literature, but also to all the other ideas they propose or assume, such as the formation of character, the role of education and ethics.
For example, educational systems that train children to look within themselves for strength or to look to education for creating a better world are not religiously neutral. These ideas are in rebellion to God’s sovereignty over His creation, His people and the salvation He has provided for them through the work of Jesus Christ our Savior. They deny the effects of the Fall on mankind and the seriousness of the resulting curse under which we and the rest of creation now find ourselves. They deny our only real hope for redeeming this fallen world: Jesus Christ. Does God use education for the sanctification of His people and for equipping them for His service in making the world a better place? Yes, He does, and this is why He instructs parents to take it so seriously. However, suggesting that an education apart from God, without regard to the spiritual state of the students, will produce a religiously neutral Utopia is in direct contradiction to the Gospel.
Ideas such as these are not always explicitly proposed and defended. They are most often assumed and thus quietly underpin the entire curriculum. So subtle are these assumptions and so blind are even well educated Christians to them, that they become ingrained in the thinking of our children and ourselves without our even knowing it. They slip into our own worldviews without our giving them any critical consideration.
In my opinion, this is the primary reason why parents should not submit their children to any allegedly neutral government or private education. Like a virus that silently invades the body and then suddenly blooms and kills, so the godless ideology of secular education creeps quietly into the mind until its implications destroy the heart.
The Authority and Role of Public Servants
While we desire to teach our children to respect all civil authorities when they are operating within the spheres of God-given and Constitutional authority, we hope to educate them to discern the proper boundaries for that authority. As discussed above, it is parents, not civil authorities, who are responsible for education. The very existence of biblical Christian schools should be predicated on the assumption that they exist to serve parents in this responsibility.
It is no coincidence that American government officials are sometimes called public servants. Although there is now much confusion on our culture’s concepts of leadership, the American system traditionally viewed leadership as a service to the people. This model of leadership, in contrast to the dictators and tyrants of the world, is directly modeled by the highest leader of all, the King of Kings Jesus Christ, who laid down His very life for His people. Likewise, the Scriptures describe Christian leaders—pastors, judges, husbands and fathers—pouring out their lives for those they lead and the people they lead showing proper respect for their authority. The people are to respect their leaders and even be accountable to them within their proper spheres of authority, but they are not to serve them.
The original materials which were published for President Obama’s address very explicitly referred to the students serving him through their school work. After a public outcry, the materials were rewritten; however, the assumptions are still there that the students are accountable to their president for their schoolwork and that they do their work in service to him. Not only does this undermine the authority to which the children are accountable to for their schoolwork, namely their parents, it also turns the notion of public service on its head. Service to one’s country is a good and admirable thing, but we must not confuse service to one’s country with service to a man. Our military personnel, for example, serve their country (the people) under the leadership of our President; they do not serve our President.
Perhaps you have seen the recent video in which celebrities “come together to pledge their service in 2009.” (They are called celebrities, but I have to admit that I recognize less than half of them.) Not only do these people pledge to do such things as feed the world’s hungry children, free millions of slaves and cure Alzheimer’s disease, but they pledge to do so in service to Barack Obama. (Were they able, but unwilling to do these things when Mr. Bush or Mr. Clinton was President?) Demi Moore even makes the stunning pledge to “be a servant of Barack Obama.” Besides the obvious man-made Utopian theme discussed above, this is a shocking call for servitude to a leader, eerily similar to those we find in support of tyrants such as Fidel Castro or Kim Jong-il. Even the graphics of the President used in the film have a creepy “Big Brother” feel.
The President’s address isn’t as explicit as the video, but the principles are the same. Our children are being encouraged to create a works-based better world through doing their schoolwork in service to their President. Christian parents, however, should be teaching their children to do all things in service to and for the glory of God. Even when these ideas are innocently cloaked in seemingly good and harmless works such as diligence and perseverance in schoolwork, the insidious danger is that when otherwise good works are done with a motivation that denies the Gospel, they are no more than filthy rags. This is a vision and a philosophy from which we must protect our young children. It is a philosophy that we must expose to our children who are old enough to understand it and work out its implications, lest they fall prey to it.
The Paideia of the Lord
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul instructs fathers to bring their children up “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Eph. 6:4) The word that is translated as “instruction” here is the Greek word “paideia”. This is a word that has no English equivalent. To the Greeks, paideia was an education that fitted the students to be free citizens of the State. They were to be inspired by Homer and the other poets and playwrights to embrace the ideals of the State, such as courage and glory. They were to be taught to think, reason and persuade as effective leaders. However, Paul was proposing a radical idea when he instructed fathers to educate their children in the “paideia of the Lord.” He was instructing fathers to equip their children not to be citizens of the State, but citizens—priests and kings—of the Kingdom of God. While we agree that those who are equipped with a biblical worldview and a classical education are well equipped to be citizens of a nation with a representative form of government, our primary purpose for education must be to equip our students to serve God in His kingdom regardless of the earthly nation in which they find themselves. We are to train our children to love the things of God and dedicate their lives to serving Him in whatever callings He leads them.
Yet this address and the other practices of the government school systems mentioned above seem more in line with the Greek notion of Paideia than with Paul’s. It is raising up a generation that serves the State—or worse yet, the rulers of the State—rather than God. It does so under the guise of the “public good” or “service to mankind.”
For these reasons I would submit that Christian schools and Christian parents should not participate in this event. I would also hope that Christian parents who still have their children in the government schools will take this opportunity to reconsider whether they are fulfilling their holy calling to raise their children in the “paideia of the Lord.”