In his Banner article (“Reformed Matters: Supporting Public Education,” Aug. 2011), Thomas B. Hoeksema argues vigorously for supporting public education as a legitimate alternative to private Christian schools. Many Christian school supporters are rightfully irritated by the label private that is often attached to Christian schools. The term suggests notions of elitism, exclusion, snobbishness, secretiveness, isolation, and perhaps even indoctrination. While many schools may be accurately described as private, that is not true for the member schools of Christian Schools International (CSI) or the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) that many Banner readers are familiar with.
The term private is also used as the opposite of public. Christian schools are non-public and therefore private. Public schools, on the other hand, are called public by virtue of the public funding they receive and the enrollment policies by which they accept all students. If we understand the term public to mean civic-minded, open, patriotic, contributing to society, meeting government standards, and making our countries better places, we can contend that Christian schools are every bit as public as publicly funded schools.
School at the Crossroads
In his “Faith Lessons” video series (followtherabbi.co m), Ray VanderLaan says that God placed his chosen people at the crossroads of civilization. While God could have placed them in a private, out-of-the-way place, instead God chose the land of Israel—the most public of places. God also wants followers of Jesus to influence the world in profound ways. He wants us to publicly attempt to have an impact on every sphere of life, from politics to agriculture, from entertainment to health care, from biology to linguistics. Notice that God did not scatter his chosen people throughout the variety of public places in the world; instead God placed them together at the world’s most major intersection where everyone could see them.
In the New Testament, the church is described as the body of Christ. Christians are supposed to work together as one body in an effort to reclaim every area of life for our Lord Jesus Christ. So Christian schools ought to be found in public places, preparing tomorrow’s leaders among the community of believers to make an intense and weighty public impact. Like God’s chosen people, Christian schools ought to be found at the crossroads of civilization.
Governments establish public schools to meet a number of goals they hold for the people of the nation, states, and provinces. It is good for a country to require its young citizens to master an official language, to learn skills needed in the workforce, to learn in a caring environment that nurtures ingenuity and is concerned for their physical well-being. To accomplish these goals, governments establish programs of studies that publicly funded schools must adhere to. But many unfunded schools are also obliged to follow the very same government curricula and guidelines. In the sense that Christian schools meet and exceed the goals that governments have set for the education of its young citizens, Christian schools are public schools.
Do Public Schools Have to Be Secular?
For many people, the term public also means secular. Advocates for secular education affirm that the separation of church and state requires that publicly funded education must keep religion out of the classroom. An online dictionary defines secular as follows:
sec·u·lar [sek-yuh-ler] adjective 1. of or pertaining to worldly things or to things that are not regarded as religious, spiritual, or sacred; temporal: secular interests. 2. not pertaining to or connected with religion (opposed to sacred): secular music. 3. (of education, a school, etc.) concerned with nonreligious subjects. 4. (of members of the clergy) not belonging to a religious order; not bound by monastic vows (opposed to regular). 5. occurring or celebrated once in an age or century: the secular games of Rome.
Given these definitions, the opposite of secular is not private but rather sacred, spiritual, or religious. It is obvious that if public is to mean secular, Christian schools cannot be public. It is equally obvious that if the term private implies exclusion, public schools are private in that they exclude devout advocates for Christian education from the publicly funded system of schools.
In the case of public education, the working definition of the term secular has expanded beyond any dictionary definition over the years to include science as the only acceptable secular means of truth-finding. If a notion is not supported by a body of science, or at least by a scientific theory, it has no place in a secular school. Multiple intelligence theory cannot include a spiritual intelligence in public schools, so theorists opt instead for the term existential intelligence.
There is more truth than simple physical, scientifically describable truth.
While the idea of a God-created universe is a religious doctrine that has no place in public schools, The Big Bang theory is secular, and therefore can be taught in public schools. This, of course, is problematic for many Christians who believe that Jesus created “things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible” (Col. 1:16). Christians contend that there is more truth than simple physical, scientifically describable truth. Secular public schools, on the other hand, do not simply avoid religious matters. Rather, they contend for “truths” that run counter to the beliefs of many Christians. In doing so, secular schools exclude a large segment of the population from publicly funded schools. Inasmuch as secular schooling is not non-religious but rather an alternative to other religions, truly public schools should not be exclusively secular.
Christian school supporters in the United States have long lamented that the separation of church and state becomes a separation of religion and state where publicly funded schools are concerned. Christian school supporters in many Canadian provinces lament how a system of schools that was initially Protestant and Catholic has become officially secular and Catholic. The purposes for which our nations established public schools never included promotion of a secular understanding of the world—and certainly not an advancement of the scientific religion which secularism has become.
All schools—whether they are publicly funded or not—that build citizens by teaching an official language, by training in skills for the workforce, by nurturing ingenuity, by supporting physical well-being, and by teaching the government approved curriculum, are part of a system of public schools.
Whether they are funded or not, Christian schools are public schools.