Thursday, February 14, 2008

Schools Of Thought: Albert Mohler & Escaping The Public School System

Over at one of my favourite blogger’s sites, Erika Haub, posted a provocative quote by Dr. Al Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary form his latest book, “Culture Shift: Engaging Current Issues with Timeless Truth”. She found the quote at the Out of Ur blog. Some interesting discussion ensued. Inspire, another stellar blogger, Scot McKnight picked up the topic, with comment discussions sky rocketing. Here was the quote that Erika posted (but I suggest you read the larger article for context):

“I am convinced that the time has come for Christians to develop an exit strategy from the public schools. Some parents made this decision long ago. The Christian school and home school movements are among the most significant cultural developments of the last thirty years. Other parents are not there yet. In any event, an exit strategy should be in place.” ~ A. Mohler

This topic hits home for me. First of all, my Dad is a retired public school teacher, with several teachers in the family tree. I attended an excellent Christian school for 12 years. My brother spent his last few high school years attending the local public school. Several church friends were home schooled. Each of us experience wonderful strengths and inevitable weaknesses in each context.

Though the quotes from Mohler’s new book were without full context, they seemed that they fairly summed up his position with little qualification. I admit that they left me frustrated and concerned that this stance would still be put forward by respected Christian leaders. Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that any suggestion of facing these issues is unimportant. Rather, I am saying that there is a deeply alarmist and escapist reaction that speaks to the issue with sweeping judgment.

I believe that every parent must consider what is best for their children. This is no small task, with many complex dynamics involved. Not only must the specific school, curriculum and teachers be evaluated, but also the age, maturity and personality of each individual child. Even the parents must ask the hard questions about their own ability to participate in the educational process. Some are able to be involved enough to make public schools a good option while other may not have the time, experience or resources to do so. Socio-economics are also a big factor. While some families make huge sacrafices to allow their children to attend private school, this is not always an option. And these are just a few of the many issue involved.

While I believe that Christian families involved in public schools are important missional presences, I hesitate to require too much of children to see school as their “mission field”. This is especially true of young children. Too often kids that are pushed in this way end up undermining the result, be it through shallow mimickery of their parents faith to please them or rejecting their faith internally as a socially crippling burden. Yes, youth should be salt and light, but only as is appropriate for their age and maturity.

And what of the church communities responsibility in this? First, rather than recommending a generalized “rule” or ideal, the church should help educate and equip parents to make the best choices, then support them through that process. Involving educators with different perspectives- by they in the public school, private school or home schooling context- is critical in this. Dialogue with public school systems, while not always effective, tends to bring better results than aggresive protests and accusations.

It is so very important for us as Christians to recognize the historical pattern of ghettoization that can result from sweeping, generalized responses that call for an escape from the corrupting influence of the “world”. Not only does the world suffer for the disappearing presence of people of faith, but the church suffers from the isolation from the world the Christ so dearly loves. It is not the options that define this danger so much as the fueling motivations and intentions behind them. Whatever happens, we need to approach this issue with grace, humility and a great deal of creativity.

What do you think?

Posted by Jamie Arpin-Ricci in 03:42:07

16 Responses to “Schools Of Thought: Albert Mohler & Escaping The Public School System”

  1. Michael T says:

    This sounds Amish.

    Where does one draw the arbitrary line between living in and out of the real world?

  2. Jamie Arpin-Ricci says:

    Michael, while I disagree with Mohler, I’m not sure the line for him is arbitrary. There is clear thinking that guides his position, which is, in fact, what scares me the most.


  3. Trevor says:

    Have you seen iMonks take on ‘Christian Schools’ today?

    An amusing alternate take on the subject.

  4. Heather says:

    Love both this and the iMonks post. We really need to start THINKING about how we educate our children. I was always pretty skeptical about home educating, because it seemed very much to be an “escapist” mentality. (see: and subsequent posts for my story on how we came to homeschool). Pulling out of the culture can never be the answer. But forcing children to have a lousy education just so they can be “in” the culture doesn’t seem like a very good alternative for many children either (some public schools for some children are an excellent fit … some years). I suspect what we should really be doing is getting involved, building relationships, and asking questions. By building relationships with our child(ren), and with the local school options, we can have the opportunity of seeing what will be best for that child, for that year. But when we are talking about education, then education (not whether or not evolution or sex ed are topics on the curriculum) should be the litmus test of approval.

  5. John Lunt says:

    I like your thoughts on this. I think you are right about sweeping views. The most important thing you said was that parents must decide what’s best for their children. That’s the key (after listening to the Lord of course). I’ve known some parents that had some kids in a home school situation and other kids in public school. The ones in the public school thrive there and are not in danger of having their faith destroyed. The ones at home being homeschooled are the younger ones that are getting a solid foundation in faith and a good education as well.

    I don’t like this issue to be politicized. Parents have one obligation here – do what is best for their kids, not to impact the culture or the public school one way or another.

  6. Jamie Arpin-Ricci says:

    Thanks Trevor, I’ll head over there and have a read.


  7. Jamie Arpin-Ricci says:


    So true. Kim & I are already facing this question as we consider where our child will attend school. I am not willing to sacrifice my child’s education to make a point. My own experience with a Christian school was excellent and I have seen home schooling done really well, so it means a lot to consider. Thanks!


  8. Jamie Arpin-Ricci says:

    Hey John! Good to see you here again. It’s been a while. While I think it is important that we consider the impact of our choices in respect to our missional calling, I agree with you that children should never become pawns in the process.


  9. sonja says:

    I think I’ll be posting on this myself, Jamie. I homeschool our two children, but not for religious or political reasons. We’ve chosen that route for educational reasons. In the long run it’s what was best for our children and our family. However, we are not separatists, which is what Mohler seems to be advocating. I strongly disagree with that attitude. I also think this idea of having culture wars with the rest of society is nothing but horrible for the cause of Christ.

  10. Jamie Arpin-Ricci says:

    Hey Sonja,

    I have often considered home schooling our future children, as the nature and quality of their education is so important to me. Our decision not to has more to do with knowing how full our life already is without this. So we are looking for another good option. It is good to hear examples of home schoolers who are doing it for good reasons. Thanks!


  11. cindy says:

    Hey Jamie- I agree with sonja and would have said it pretty much the same way. And yes, it takes loads of time and energy and certainly isn’t the only option. As time goes on you may discover options you can’t see right now, as well.

  12. Maria says:

    I agree with you Jamie, that the issue is a lot more nuanced than a one-size-fits all answer (or a politically motivated one — why should my kids be pawns in someone’s political argument?). For the moment, we have chosen the public schools (our first is in kindergarten). Then again, we’re living in a small town with its own elementary district, a school 2 blocks away, etc. I don’t necessarily see my 5-year-old in terms of being a “missionary” to her culture, but it sure has been important for me to connect with her friends and their parents as I’m trying to find my way in a new community.

  13. Jamie Arpin-Ricci says:

    Hey Cindy,

    Yeah, we are open to many options. The special needs of an internationally adopted child are also a concern. Thanks!


  14. Jamie Arpin-Ricci says:

    Hey Maria,

    Thanks for sharing your personal journey with this issue. It is important to hear these stories and not focus on ideals.


  15. Anonymous says:

    This is a little late but maybe it would be good if caring Christian folks got involved in their schools – public, Catholic, or private – as volunteers. Kids need to see adults who care. The more Christians drop out of the system to keep themselves separate, the greater are the possibilities for things getting worse, IMHO There are lots of Christians who are teaching in the public school system too who would likely be thankful for Christian parents supporting them.


    Homeschooling is great if one is an educator but my kids needed an adult with training in education not a frustrated mother!

    We have so many choices in Canada on where and how to educate our kids. Seems the more choice we have the more we want.

  16. Jamie Arpin-Ricci says:

    Great thoughts Linea!