The personal decision to not send your children to public school should not prevent you from advocating for the millions of children in the public school system. Unfortunately, too many Christians have abandoned public schools altogether.
The first time I heard the term “government schools” in a derisive way is when I came to seminary. Surrounded by Reformed and evangelical Christians, the assumption seemed to be that true believers would never trust their children to “Caesar”.
Fresh from seven years of teaching and being a principal in a public charter school in the Mississippi Delta (Arkansas side), I wasn’t prepared for the vehement opposition to public schooling heard from my classmates, and even from prominent pastors and theologians nationwide. They contended it was sinfully neglectful for Christians to surrender their children to the secular humanism oozing from the pages of science textbooks, and dripping from the lips of liberal educators.
But I never thought inculcating a vibrant faith in Jesus Christ and going to public schools were mutually exclusive. More significantly, when I thought about public education, I thought about the children.
For the first time in fifty years, a majority (51%) of children in public schools are considered “low income.” In my own state of Mississippi, that percentage is far higher at 71%.
Since poverty is such a striking factor for kids in public schools, what are their likely outcomes? A study by the National Center for Education Statistics indicates low income students are five times more likely to drop out of high school than their middle school peers, and six times more likely than upper income students.
A recent report finds just 9% of students from the lowest income quartile earn a bachelor’s degree by age 24. This is only an increase of 3% since 1970. Meanwhile, 70% of students from the highest income quartile earn a degree, up from 40% in 1970.
A Need for Believers
Anyone can trot out droves of statistics, but public education is about warm-blooded human beings, not just cold, hard facts.
Simone truly lost her father to a short and violent battle with cancer. Carlton really has been effectively homeless for weeks on end. D’Andre’s house really did burn down, and he started the fire. These are real kids with deep needs.
Teachers and administrators are not, and cannot be the Messiah. God already sent him. But the Lord sends Christians as well. He sends them to the places with the most severe want and where people are the most marginalized.Children, including those in public schools, are some of society’s most vulnerable constituents. There is a need for believers there.
Concern and Caution
There is cause, though, for Christians’ concern about public schools. You can’t talk about God there, at least not explicitly. A high school football coach can be suspended for praying before games. In some places, boys who choose to identify as female, regardless of anatomy to the contrary, can be allowed to change in girls’ locker rooms. It is a legitimate choice for Christian parents to choose non-public school options for their own children.
But this is not an argument to persuade Christian parents to send their children to public schools. It is a caution to not let your personal choice about education prevent you from doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God (Micah 6:8).
Christians have freedom to educate their children in whatever system they wish, so long as they diligently teach them the commands of the Lord (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). But if you don’t send your own child to public school, does that mean you don’t have to care about the children who are there?
Serving in public schools can be a singularly effective way to demonstrate God’s grace and mercy. Kids, and not just poor black and brown ones, need so much. Whether it’s volunteering to read to a 3rd grader, hiring a high school student as an intern at your company, or running for the local school board, every believer can contribute to the health of public schools.
I have had the honor of working with countless Christians in public education, from teachers, to bus drivers, to accountants, to custodians, to coaches. Christians have always been involved in public education, and continue to be involved today.
But there is room for more. I hope believers will ask themselves whether their personal opposition to public education has caused them to ignore or reject opportunities to minister in that setting.
There Are Children Here
From my first days as a new teacher, I knew education was about justice. This is why I have accepted the position of Interim Principal at Midtown Public Charter School in Jackson—one of just two first generation charter schools in the state of Mississippi.
While I have not been able to invest as much time in RAAN as I normally would, a strange twist of God’s providence brought up the opening, and I could not pass on the chance to intervene for the sake of kids. Like any educator, I can say I have learned far more then I’ve ever taught. That continues to be true in this latest iteration of my career in public education.
It is a privilege to serve God’s people in this way. After all, there are children here.