September 12, 1993

THE MIND MONOPOLY

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).

I don’t believe in prayer in public schools.  It’s not that I don’t believe in prayer.  I just don’t believe in public schools.

When I say that I don’t believe in public schools, I’m not talking about the poor academic achievement in many schools, and I’m not talking about the loss of moral standards.  These problems are very real, of course, and they’ve caused a great many people to lose their confidence in public schools.  But there’s a problem that goes even deeper.  The problem isn’t just in how the government is teaching children, but in the very fact that it teaches children at all.

It doesn’t bother me that the government isn’t teaching children to pray.  It’s not the government’s job to teach children to pray.  But that’s because it’s not the government’s job to teach children–period!  And yet, through the public school system, the government has given itself what amounts to a monopoly on the minds of children.

I think we need to challenge this mind monopoly, and I’m not the only one.  A lot of people these days are re-thinking the whole idea of public education.  They’re not satisfied to press the government to put a little more religion back in the schools.  They’re not content to bring prayer back, challenge the teaching of evolution, insist on morality in sex education, clean up the drugs, or reform some other aspect of public schooling.  They’re challenging the very concept of public schools, and they’re providing alternatives.

One such alternative is the homeschooling movement, where parents teach their children right in their own homes.  Twenty years ago, there were only an estimated 15,000 children in home instruction.  That number skyrocketed to over 700,000 by 1990 in the United States, and it’s still growing rapidly.  There’s also been tremendous growth in organizations that provide homeschoolers with curriculum materials and ideas, and in groups where families network with other homeschoolers for field trips, recreational outings, and so forth.

Another alternative, more common than homeschooling, is a private school.  Today approximately 15% of all children are enrolled in private schools, and the number is growing rapidly.  Some parents send their children to a private school for its academic quality.  Others choose private schools because they want an education that reflects their own religious beliefs and priorities.  Roman Catholics have a long history of parochial schools, but recently there’s also been phenomenal growth in the number of non-Catholic Christians who support religious schools, an increase of 149% in twenty years!

For some of you listening to me, this all may sound rather strange.  For you, a school supported by taxes and controlled by the government is just a given.  In fact, until recently most people felt that way.  The school was a fixture of the community, like the police station or the fire department.  It was just there, and that’s where children belonged.  You didn’t even think about it, let alone challenge it.

But today, all that is changing.  Fewer people are taking the government’s mind monopoly for granted.  So even if you haven’t thought much about this before, I hope you’ll think about it now.  The matter is too important to ignore any longer.  It affects the future of our children and our society.  As another school year begins, and students flock back to the classrooms, all of us need to ask ourselves:  Should the government be shaping the minds of our children?

I’ve lived both in the United States and in Canada, and in both countries, there’s a great emphasis on freedom of speech and freedom of thought, without interference from the government.  That’s true in theory, but in practice, this freedom is undermined by the mind monopoly.  Sure, you’re free to think and speak as you like, but a government-controlled school has been teaching you what to think and how to speak, seven hours a day, from kindergarten on up.

My identity as a free citizen leads me to look for alternatives to public schools, and even more importantly, so does my identity as a Christian.  God says in the Bible, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).  This has enormous implications for education.  As a Christian, I am called to think differently from a world that doesn’t acknowledge the rule of Jesus.  I can’t just squeeze myself into a mold imposed by society.  I need to be transformed by Christ through a renewing of my mind.  So if anyone is going to monopolize my mind or the minds of my children, it had better be the Lord Jesus Christ, not the government.

Now, I realize that public education isn’t all bad and that educational issues can be very complex.  But the fact remains that we badly need a vision of education that goes beyond the government’s mind monopoly.

We’re challenging the assumption that government should control the schooling of children, and we’re exploring a different vision.  Let’s look first at some basic principles from the Bible that apply to education, and then we’ll examine some practical implications.

The first principle is this:  Wisdom begins with God.  The Bible says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10).  God is the one who creates all things, he’s the one who determines their significance and meaning, and so we need to know him before we can make sense of anything else.

This means that public education goes wrong at the very beginning.  It starts with a conscious commitment not to talk about God.  It has no foundation on which to build.  Wisdom begins with God.

A second principle of education, closely related to the first, is this:  All knowledge is related to Jesus Christ.  In Colossians, the Bible says that “all things were created by Christ and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17).  Colossians says that in Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (2:3).  The Lord then tells us, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophies, which depend on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (2:8).

Again, public education goes wrong at this point.  Children study a whole host of things without ever relating them to their unifying center in Jesus Christ.  They study all sorts of facts without ever exploring their true meaning.  And this has led to a serious problem in our society:  the notion that religion fits into a tiny compartment.  Faith consists of a few private thoughts and feelings which have nothing to do with the rest of life.

It’s no wonder, then, that even many Christians think of Jesus only as a personal Savior or friend, and not as the Lord of every aspect of life and the unifying center of all knowledge.  They’ve taken their cue from an education which treats knowledge as isolated facts, rather than setting these facts within a coherent vision of reality brought into focus by Christ.  Christianity is comprehensive.  Jesus Christ is Lord of everything.  But how are children going to see that if they study various subjects for seven hours each day without any mention of Christ?

And that brings us to the next principle:  Neutrality is impossible.  There are different forces constantly competing with each other to shape your identity.  You either conform to the world, or you’re transformed by God.  It’s one or the other.  You can’t sit on the fence.  Neutrality is impossible.

If you don’t believe it, look what happens when public schools try to be neutral.  Is it neutral for prayer to be banned?  Is it neutral to study history and not say one word about the Lord of history?  Is it neutral to study biology and geology and astronomy without mentioning the Creator?  Is it neutral to teach kids about sex without mentioning God’s will for it?  When a school tries to be religiously neutral, it neutralizes religion.

Let’s face it:  The government’s mind monopoly isn’t neutral.  It’s secular.  It conforms to the pattern of the world.  But we need an education that doesn’t pretend to be neutral.  The Bible says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).  We need an education that renews our minds, that transforms our lives.  We need an education that begins with God and that shows how all things find meaning in Jesus Christ.  Obviously, the public schools aren’t doing that, and that’s why I don’t believe in public schools.

In 2 Corinthians 10:5, the apostle Paul says, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”  That’s the goal of a Christian education.  Every thought must submit to Christ.  Every argument opposing God must be demolished.  It’s a battle, and children need to be trained for the battle.  Neutrality is impossible.

Let’s move on to a fourth principle of education:  The foundational textbook is the Bible.   The Bible is the one book that really matters.  It’s the book that stands above all other books, the book by which all other books must be judged.

The writer of the book of Ecclesiastes put it this way:

The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails–given by one Shepherd.  Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them. Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body. (12:11-12)

I’m sure that as students get bogged down in schoolwork they’ll agree that there are too many books and too much study!  But this isn’t just the complaint of a tired student.  The point here is that we can find ourselves drowning in a sea of information and data, and still not discover what really matters.

In the Bible, we have a book that collects many books, and all these books are given by one Shepherd, the Lord himself. The words of the Bible are like goads that spur us to action, and they’re like firmly embedded nails, something solid on which we can hang all our other knowledge.

I’m not saying that the Bible should be the only book in the curriculum.  But it should be the central book, the definitive book.  We need to study history and math and science and literature, but we need to shine the light of the Bible on all these things.  As the writer of Psalm 119 put it, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (v. 105).  “The unfolding of your words gives light;  it gives understanding to the simple” (v. 130).  The Bible is the foundation of a solid curriculum, and as everyone will agree, that’s not the case in public schools.

Let me mention one more educational principle, and then we’ll deal with some practical and political issues in applying these principles.  The fifth principle is this:  Parents are responsible.  The Bible tells us to impress God’s ways on our children (Deuteronomy 6:7; 11:19) and to bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

Parents are responsible.  One aspect of this is that there’s more to education than the time a child spends in school.  The most important years in a child’s development occur before he ever goes to school.  Not only that, but once a child begins school, the involvement of parents is still extremely important.  No school can make up for a lack of parenting.

But there’s more.  Parents are responsible, not only for the informal learning that happens outside of school, but they also have ultimate responsibility for the instruction their children receive in school.  In God’s plan, the family, and not the government, is the social institution that should control the instruction of children.  In some cases, where parents are qualified, this may mean home schooling.  But even when children are sent to schools for their formal education, they should be schools that are parent-controlled, where families and not bureaucrats have the final authority.

And that’s one more problem with public schools.  Horace Mann, an early founder of public education, wanted to detach students from their parents and make them more dependent on the government to make sense of their world.  Today that approach is reaching its logical conclusion, as court opinions and not parental convictions have the final say in public education.  But according to the Bible, God doesn’t give the training of children to government, first of all, but to families.  Parents are responsible.

Those, then, are some basic principles.  By now it’s clear that this vision of education is very different from the government’s version.  But in the real world, how is it possible to put these principles into practice?

Well, as we’ve seen, a great many parents have already rejected the mind monopoly, and they’ve taken matters into their own hands.  The homeschooling movement is growing rapidly, and so is enrollment in private schools that are founded and controlled by Christian parents.  If you’re interested in more information about Christian schools, just get in touch with us, and we’ll be glad to help.  You can join the growing number of families who are choosing an education based on Christian principles.

We need to do what we can to seek alternatives in our individual family situations, and we also need to make an effort to change official government policy.  You might think it’s a bit extreme for me to speak of government schools as a mind monopoly.  After all, there’s no law against sending children to a private school.  Well, maybe not, but current government policy leaves many families without much choice but to use the government system.

For parents who don’t have the competence to teach or who have jobs and can’t afford to stay home and teach, homeschooling really isn’t an option.  And for those with low incomes, it’s mighty hard to pay tuition at a private school, though many Christian schools do offer financial help to needy parents.  But the fact remains that Christian parents are required to pay thousands of dollars in taxes to support a system of secular education they don’t believe in, and after that if they have enough money left, they have to pay thousands more if they want a school that educates their children according to their Christian convictions.

So in essence, if you want out of the mind monopoly, you’re going to be penalized thousands of dollars.  You won’t see one cent of the tax money you gave for education.  If you’re not able to pay for education twice over, it seems your only realistic choice is the public school.  Many individual families may have access to educational alternatives, but it’s important to reform the system so that everyone has a choice.

Before we can do this, though, we need to face some important practical issues raised by those who believe in public schools.

The public school philosophy says that all children should have access to an education, regardless of their ability to pay.  And that’s exactly right.  In an age when so much of a person’s future depends on education, it’s good that a society through its government tries to make education accessible to everyone through public funding.  So it would be a mistake, practically speaking, to oppose public funding of education.

The idea of government-funded education is a good one.  But the idea of government-controlled education is a bad one.  The problem isn’t in the fact that public funds are used, but in the notion that these funds can be used only to support government-controlled schools.  When the government controls a school, it tries to be religiously neutral, and as we’ve seen, that’s just impossible.  We end up, not with freedom of religion, but freedom from religion, where all meaningful talk of God is excluded.

How can government funding make education available to all and still recognize freedom of religion?  Perhaps the best idea in our present situation is education vouchers.  Parents could apply these vouchers toward the cost of homeschooling, or, in most cases, toward the school of their choice, whether a secular school or one based on Christian principles or a Hebrew school, or whatever.  This kind of voucher system would make education affordable for all, but at the same time it would give parents, and not politicians, the final choice in how their children are educated.  Variations on this idea are already being used in some parts of Canada, and in a few experimental situations in the United States.

Advocates of the government monopoly ask, “Why should taxpayer money support religious schools?”  Well, in a country where the vast majority believe in God and only a tiny minority are atheists, it might make more sense to turn the question around and ask, “Why should taxpayer money support atheist schools?”

But that’s not really the point.  This isn’t about government funding of particular schools.  The point is that taxpayer money would support families, not schools.  Under a voucher system, the money doesn’t directly support any school.  It supports parents in providing their children the kind of education they believe in.  So it’s not a case of government supporting any particular religion or religious institution.  It’s supporting the freedom of individual parents to make their own choices for themselves and their families.

Some supporters of public education, especially those in the teachers’ unions, offer another reason for maintaining the government monopoly.  They say that our society will become fragmented if the majority of citizens aren’t trained in the public system.  Public education is indispensable as a unifying factor in society.  But is that so?  Does cooperation and unity depend on a government brainwashing its citizens to think alike? That’s not what a free country is about.  Again, what’s so great about allowing freedom of thought and speech, if the government is programming children how to think and speak?

Still another objection from the public education establishment is that school choice favors the elite and that poor families and minorities will suffer under a voucher system.  If that’s the case, then why is it that minorities are even more likely than whites to favor choice?  A recent Gallup poll found that among nonwhites, only 33 percent opposed a voucher system.

Polly Williams is a pioneer in the voucher movement.  In 1991 she led a group of black parents who were fed up with the public schools in Milwaukee.  These parents pushed through the first state-funded voucher system so that low-income parents could send their children to a broader variety of schools, rather than have public schools as their only choice.  And so far, it’s been working.  The children are getting a much better education.  Polly Williams says, “We’re taking some power from the bureaucracy and giving it to the parents.”  Isn’t that the way it should be?  A voucher system would make educational choices available to all and protect freedom of religion at the same time.

Meanwhile, though, in many places, the public system remains the only choice many people have.  What do we do in that situation?  Well, as Christians we’re called to make the best of the situation in which we find ourselves.  As long as there are public schools, we need Christian people serving in them as teachers and administrators.  So if you’re a Christian teacher in a public school, by all means, keep on teaching.  Government guidelines may restrict and hamper you, but you can still shine for Christ and make a difference in your situation.  If you’re a student, do your best to understand what you’re learning in the light of the Bible, and ask your parents and your pastor to help you.  Also, as a student, you have more freedom than your teachers to speak out about your beliefs.  And if you’re a parent with no choice for your children but government schooling, do everything you can to help your children to see the real meaning of what they are learning as it relates to Christ.  Meanwhile, as citizens, keep working for the kind of reform that breaks the mind monopoly and makes it possible for your children to get the kind of schooling you believe in.

Finally, to all of you involved in Christian schools or homeschooling:  Keep it up!  It’s a great sacrifice, but it’s worth it.  And remember:  It’s not enough to criticize public schools. Our calling is to do better.  Our schools need to honor the basic principles that wisdom begins with God, that all knowledge is centered in Christ, that nothing is neutral, that the Bible is essential, and that parents are responsible.  It’s not enough to talk about those principles.  We need to put them into practice each day.

Even Christian teachers and parents and students can sometimes forget that a school is more than a place that keeps kids out of trouble for a few years and puts them in a position to compete in the job market.  The real purpose of education is not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  So let’s not settle for protesting the mind monopoly.  Let’s seek God’s help in developing the mind of Christ.

PRAYER

Father in heaven, you are the source of all wisdom and knowledge.  Teach us to know you through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Renew our minds, transform our lives, and give us the insight and the courage to teach our children your way.  In Jesus’ name, we pray.  Amen.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.