School — No Place for a Child

 

Some days I need to yell, “The world has gone crazy!” This is one of those days. Let me tell you up front that my wife and I homeschooled our children, and we’d do it again. So, this essay is not a cool analysis. One more caveat: I come from a family of public school teachers. I think many teachers do the best they can given their situation, and they are all underpaid. This “yell” is about the system and the culture, not about the individuals trapped in it. Okay, ready?

Yes, I mean it. A school is no place for a child. As a child nears 5 or 6 years of age she or he is made to believe that starting school is a glorious coming-of-age transition. You’ll become a big boy, a big girl. You’ll learn to read and write and do all sorts of fun stuff! You’ll get to make decisions for yourself—which actually means that you will give in to pressure to do what your peers are doing. At six years old the baby bird must leave the warm nest and learn to fly. At six! Is that crazy or what? You’ll learn to deal with ubiquitous bullies and pick up the ways of the world from older kids. Why? Because the world is full of bullies and you’ve got to face the world sooner or later anyway! (Actually, the only place I have ever been bullied is at a school.) Away from the protection of mommy and daddy you will be taught and protected by an underpaid and over-stressed teacher, who has 30 children to look after. And teachers are all-knowing and all-seeing. They always know what goes on in the play yard, the hallways, the athletic fields, and the restrooms. You might get a teacher who views the world like your parents and your church does or you may end up with teacher who views God, morality, life, and love in radically different ways. You don’t know in advance.

And what will you learn in the education factory, the state-run orphanage for parented kids? You will learn the least common denominator of moral values. Government schools are supposed to be religiously and morally neutral, and that “neutrality” is the heart of their religion and morality. You’ll read the books, hear the stories, and engage in the sort of activities that are designed to make you exactly like everyone else, a compliant, tolerant, and uncreative citizen. Excellence, creativity, thoughtfulness, and individuality are discouraged because they are disruptive. Everyone is equal, everyone is special, everyone is gifted, and everyone is right. And no one thinks.

The parent-child bond must be broken (at six years old!), because parents teach their children all sorts of crazy stuff about religion, race, and gender. Useful skills like language, writing, and mathematics must be subordinated to the really important task of socialization for life in a “pluralist society,” that is, of teaching children not to judge anyone for anything…except of course for believing in the difference between truth and falsehood, right and wrong, and good and bad. Or, for believing in the superiority of one’s own culture or religion. And the informal “socialization” you learn is how to survive in a school culture with 10 adults and 200 children near your own age. Such a social skills have nothing to do with those you’ll need in the real world.

Okay, I’ve had my “yell,” my rant if you like. I am not asking you to join my chorus. I just wanted your attention. My main goal is simply to plant a question in your mind: Does it have to be this way for me and my family? I want you to know that if you feel like there is something not right about giving up your parenthood when your child is five or six years old, that there is something crazy about that notion, you are right. And you don’t have to do that. You are not the crazy one.

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20 thoughts on “School — No Place for a Child

  1. Vfmradio

    I am a mother of one year-old twins, and the question of their schooling is already weighing heavy on me, for all the reasons you articulated. We have not seriously considered home schooling for the simple reason that I must work full time, and while my husband stays home with the twins and always will, he is not a trained teacher and does not feel equipped for that task. But I have serious concerns about how to select a school that will not undermine everything I am trying to teach them about God, either directly or by exposure to peers who do not share their beliefs. I am praying now that, whatever they are taught at school, the influence of their home and church will be strong enough that they are willing and able to think critically about what they are told and embrace the possibility that they will be outsiders to the dominant way of thinking.

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    1. ifaqtheology Post author

      I understand your situation. And I have and shall pray for you. I know you love your children more than anything. One thought about the training one needs to home school children: there are many homeschooling moms and dads that have no college at all. They do a wonderful job. And there are many homeschooling cooperatives where kids can take special subjects like languages and lab sciences with other homescholers. I am a dad, and I was the teacher. Blessings on you and your precious twins!

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  2. nokareon

    It is interesting to me that, in secular society, schools are seen as the proper vehicle for “belief moderation,” arguably comprising its most essential function. To an extent, this makes sense–without traditional faith communities, what else would be the means for belief moderation? Sometimes this can take on insidious overtones, though–particularly when the attitude becomes one of supplanting homegrown beliefs with state-sanctioned one.

    On the other hand, becoming equipped to live in a pluralistic society means also being able to hold fast to the truth in a cultural milieu that disagrees with and even ridicules it. Hiding the light under a basket does no service to the light nor those who need to see it. 5 or 6 may be too early and too formative, but surely there is something apropos in living out one’s Christian walk in a highly secularized environment, at least by high school or university.

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  3. ifaqtheology Post author

    Well stated. I am writing from the point of view of a parent who has been given children by God. The state and those representing it has its interests. I was not speaking for the interests of the state. In our culture, the two often collide…indeed more often than parents think. As a parent responsible to God for my child, I should think about the welfare of my children first and believe that if I do what is right for them, the wider community will also benefit.

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  4. falonopsahl

    THANK YOU! I have so many qualms with the American public school system. Even just the fact that 4-9 year olds are forced to sit for hours and hours memorizing information instead of learning in more natural and age-appropriate ways, like through play an exploration. These are a couple articles I’ve read recently that were really moving for me.

    One on how Finland lets kids play for 15 minutes of every hour: http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/06/how-finland-keeps-kids-focused/373544/

    One on the Common Core test system, which is just insane. People who don’t even interact with children are often the ones setting standards and writing tests for age groups and individuals they know nothing about: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2016/04/12/teacher-what-third-graders-are-being-asked-to-do-on-2016-common-core-test/

    I hope Nate and I are in a financial position to able to homeschool our children or send them to a charter or private school with a smaller student-teacher ratio and without all the ridiculous regulations set in place by the government.

    I have thought much more about the education aspect than the issues you brought up in this. It just makes me more frustrated. Thanks for enhancing my understanding and insight.

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    1. ifaqtheology Post author

      Wonderful! There is always a way. We did not consider it until our youngest boy became so unhappy in school that I felt like I would be neglectful parents if we did not make the change. That boy now has a PhD in Math and is a software engineer for Groupon. We have at least two families in our Division that homeschool their children.

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  5. dthroop94

    I loved the article, and it is true that the socialization that occurs in a public school setting doesn’t necessarily correspond to the real world. I am going to send the article to my Dad, because he is contemplating homeschooling my younger sister.

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  6. Sara Hope

    Dr. Highfield,

    I really appreciate the candor with which you shared your thoughts on this topic. You’ve definitely given Daniel and I something to think about! There is only one point you made that I do not think I agree with–maybe you can unpack it more for me, though:

    “And the informal “socialization” you learn is how to survive in a school culture with 10 adults and 200 children near your own age. Such a social skills have nothing to do with those you’ll need in the real world.”

    What is it about the schoolyard and classroom that is so far removed from reality? In elementary school I had to learn to be independent from my parents, to respect adults who were not my parents, to interact with others who were very different from me, to make friends, to deal with bullies, to work hard for rewards, and fundamentally to figure out the kind of person I was. Was I competitive and confident, or shy and insecure? Was I mean to outsiders, or did I reach out to them? My mother always praised me for my smarts and my work-ethic at home, but it was going to kindergarten that showed me I really was smart and hard-working. It’s one thing to know who you are in the context of your family, quite another in “the real world.”

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  7. ifaqtheology Post author

    As I said I’ve never been in a society that is as lawless as the school yard. Your family is much more like the real world, Homeschooled kids actually know how to relate to adults; most school kids do not. Adults rule the world. It is usually a long time before you work for someone your own age.

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  8. Sammantha Lund

    I found this to be an incredibly insightful view on public schooling from a parents point of view. As the oldest child in my family, my parents put me through public school up until I attended Pepperdine. However, in the last six years they have homeschooled my two younger sisters, and from the conversations I have had with my sisters, I have to agree with Sarah in the sense that I don’t fully agree with your statement that the social skills you acquire through public school have nothing to do with what we will need in the real world. I think a lot of it truly depends on the child and their personality type. I see a great deal of dependance still in my little sisters because they are constantly at home within the same environment, and I see a lack of grace towards those who have a different point of view from them, or in all honesty my parents, because of their guarded socialization by my parents. In a world that is already fallen, I believe that in order for us as Christians to fully be able to touch those who weren’t necessarily raised with the same moral foundations found within the church, we have to a certain extent understand what the “real world” is about. Not necessarily become subject to its ways but also not be naive to its influences, which I think without the proper guidance, can occur when only having the influence of two like minded individuals. I firmly believe in the saying that it takes a village to raise a child, even if that village is a little broken. Then at the very least the child can know a difference.
    (But that’s just my personal experience)
    Loved this.

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    1. ifaqtheology Post author

      Thank for your thoughts! I congratulate your parents for making the sacrifice to homeschool your sisters. I spoke in hyperbolic terms to provoke thought. Of course most kids survive schools and they learn important lessons. But my point is not really that nothing good can come of it but that the case that children “need” the type of socialization only schools can give is not true. And consider this, there are many trials that can under God’s providence produce good: cancer, divorce, poverty, etc. But should we seek trials and temptations because they can produce good? I think not. Rather, shouldn’t we seek to learn how to get along in the world in the least traumatic way? One thing I’ve noticed is that schools create a youth culture in which kids become alienated from their parents and don’t know how to relate to adults. I love talking to homeschooled kids. They are so much more mature…on average.

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  9. Joel Foster

    I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this topic. As a product of public schools for the majority of my life, spending a total of 3 years total in a private school, I agree with aspects, yet struggle with other ones. I have always struggled with how public schools, since day one require children to sit and listen, sit and read, sit and focus. Its al stationary and it drives the inner soul mad. I have heard it said that there are two things that all experience regardless, childhood and curiosity. These two are, in a sense stripped by a lack of fascination in what is being taught, and stripped as a motionless room grows dull and silent with every passing minute. Too often do we brush it off as “ADHD” or something along those lines.

    Yet in being a Christian, and a product of a public school I saw the growth and formation of my faith occurring most in the public school. I was in the world, but not of it. I was challenged in my beliefs and why I stand up for what I do. I was pressed and pushed to think internally about the faith of my parents, the faith I had clung to for so long, and the faith being formed as my own, a genuine and passionate faith.

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  10. Sacha

    This is honestly something I think about a lot. The public school system is atrocious, and I have a lot of trust in a good private education. But at the same time, I feel apprehensive about sending my future children to school so early. I’ve got various reasons for feeling that way. Ultimately it seems as though an individualized approach is necessary though…. How can we write off the social interactions and skills built in a classroom setting? But do we really have to put up with the extreme cons as well? When I reflect on my own negative experiences in school, I can’t say the bullying did much good for me. It harmed my spiritual walk and led me to extreme distrust. It also took a long time to get back to a point of trusting others at a surface level, even. Maybe at the very least I had a better bounce back rate in college from similar situations! But at the end of the day there are pros and cons to both and it probably just has to be evaluated based on the child’s current state. But at the end of the day I’d sell my right arm to put my kids through a good private school than send them through public education.

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  11. theologyapology

    This post had me recalling my time in and out of public school. I definitely agree that my public school experience was not very edifying for my character. I got in much less trouble when my folks transferred me over to a Christian private school. What was remarkable to me when I switched, other than the differences in the world view espoused by faculty, was the difference in norms amongst the students. I was less motivated to act up in school because I didn’t receive the same kind of social reward that I did from my public school peers. It was also the first place that I met people my age who were genuinely pursuing a relationship with God. The positive impact of these peers was that I was encouraged to be more kind, felt more accepted for who I was, and meeting these peoples opened my mind to the possibility that someone could try and live for God before they turned 40.
    My experience isn’t universal and I think the atmosphere of my particular school was very conducive to spiritual growth, but my public and private school experiences has left me with the desire for whatever future children I may have to attend a Christian school. I feel that it would be particular important for middle and high school.

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    1. ifaqtheology Post author

      As I said in reply to others, I wrote in hyperbole to make sure to stimulate thought. This is not my usual style, but now and then it needs to be done. I had the same experience when I went as an early admission student to a Christian college in the summer between my junior and senior year of high school. For the first time in my life I did not feel alone and isolated at school. Additionally, I made the highest grade in a class of 60 that summer. The class included sophomores and juniors. I did not need to go back to high school. But my father died that summer, so I needed to return home. I might have stayed otherwise.

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  12. edwardfudge

    Sadly, you are mostly right. I am glad to say my daughter Melanie is a music teacher in KISD public elementary school, where she is a diligent, sacrificial, faithful missionary of hope, joy, creativity, and in whatever way possible, of Jesus. We can give thanks for all who are like that. Edward

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  13. ifaqtheology Post author

    Good for Melanie! I am happy and thankful for wonderful Christians like Melanie who enter the world and act as salt and leaven. It’s the children I worry about. Blessings!

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  14. McKayla Rosen

    I appreciated your unique perspective: “Excellence, creativity, thoughtfulness, and individuality are discouraged because they are disruptive. Everyone is equal, everyone is special, everyone is gifted, and everyone is right. And no one thinks.”
    So interesting to think about and reflect on my public school experience. It’s interesting to think about the experiences which led me to creativity and how they were indeed unrelated to my formal education I was receiving at school.
    I appreciated the question, “Does it have to be this way for me and my family?”

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