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Friday, September 02, 2016

Too Hot to Handle: Missionaries and Mindgames

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

Tom: We’re discussing IndoctriNation: Public Schools and the Decline of Christianity in America, a movie about the evils of the public school system.

The filmmakers tell us most American children from Christian homes are being discipled daily by pro-choice secularists, atheists, evolutionists, politicized bureaucrats, far left unions and oftentimes even child molesters, and that they are the subjects of a “vast program of social engineering designed to eradicate the Christian faith from American life”.

I noted a Franklin Graham quote in the movie trailer, IC, where he seemed to advocate sending our children to school as little missionaries of a sort. What do you think of the wisdom of that approach?

Children as Missionaries

Immanuel Can: I think it takes a special kid to be mature enough to recognize a public school as a mission field.

That being said, I have met quite a few young people who have been genuine missionaries for Christ in their local schools. Some have been the only voice for truth in an antagonistic classroom. Some have been exemplars of moral consistency. Many have been exemplars of kindness and mercy. And some have even been salt and light inadvertently.

Tom: You wrote something about this a while back, I believe.

IC: Right. A secular colleague began asking me what church I went to, because she was looking to get one. Naturally, I asked her about her interest. She said, “Well, I’ve watched the Christian kids in this school; and I can see that Christian kids do better”. She didn’t mean academically. She was impressed with the quality of life that was characteristic of many of our Christian kids, and she was rethinking herself in view of it. So testimony happens all kinds of ways.

Franklin Graham’s not really wrong: but perhaps he’s forgetting that’s not the only kind of kid there is.

Tom: I think, to be fair to him, he meant that we need kids in the public system, not that all Christian kids ought to be there.

The “Vast Program of Social Engineering”

Now the filmmakers say the public school system is a vast program of social engineering, and I wouldn’t disagree. They say our kids are “discipled daily by pro-choice secularists, atheists, evolutionists, politicized bureaucrats, far left unions and oftentimes even child molesters”. That’s certainly possible, but I think it misrepresents the average teacher I encountered during the years my kids were in public education.

The average unsaved public school teacher is, in my experience, more pawn than secular propagandist. Most teachers do not set curriculum, and most believe what they believe because they were taught it themselves and have never questioned it. But to see them as the scenery-chewing villains of the piece doesn’t really ring true to me.

IC: Yes, that’s fair. All the horror stories happen, of course; but they’re not all that is happening. There are great things too, sometimes. And of course I could multiply horror stories about other school arrangements too, such as Christian schools that are badly underfunded, understaffed and incompetent, or home schoolers who use their older children as unpaid babysitters or leave all their children as functional illiterates. But silly horror stories are not the point: it’s not about the school, it’s about the kid.

Tom: But back to the “vast program of social engineering”: my personal conviction is that it exists, but not at the level of the classroom. When you talk about “secularists, atheists, evolutionists, politicized bureaucrats”, I think you’re often talking about the policy-setting level: school boards, up into government and frankly, beyond that into “principalities and powers”. Even the political Left is not our real enemy: they’re far too incoherent and inconsistent to do the sort of damage they’d like to. But they are useful idiots in the hands of a greater intelligence, not to sound too paranoid.

So sure, there is danger in sending our kids to school; that should not be a surprise. The question is how to best deal with it: isolationism, viewing schools as a mission field, or something in between?

IC: Oh, I see what you’re after. Yes, you’re right: there’s no “conspiracy” per se, but rather a lot of people who are educated in the same way, indoctrinated by the same values and kept in line by a combination of professional codes, tacit peer pressure, and most of all, a sort of bad consciousness. As a teacher, you just know what is politically correct to teach, and what will not be tolerated; and you know when you’re pushing the boundaries. The social engineering is not so much a product of a single mind as it is of a general ethos of craven and dishonest leftism, which does indeed characterize the public schools, in my experience.

Tom: Well, this is (rather indirectly, I fear) my point of disagreement with the trailer for IndoctriNation, at least. It makes it sound like the real enemy is in your kids’ classroom, and that you can keep them safe by pulling them out and bringing them home to learn. That misses the point, I believe. You can’t keep your kids away from the real enemy: he’s everywhere. If you home school them, he’s on the internet and he owns your TV. If you, as parents, allow yourself to drift spiritually, he’s at work in your lives, often in very immediate fashion and with serious impact on your children. If you allow them to associate with the neighbours, he’s most certainly present. If you take them to church, be assured he’ll have his foot in the door looking to contaminate that.

The solution as I see it is to equip your kids to deal with the fact that we live in enemy territory our whole lives; to open up their eyes to the fact that there is no safe haven other than the Lord himself.

What Degree of Exposure is the Right Degree?

IC: Yes, that’s a good point. Yet there is merit in eliminating one source of antagonism, even if others exist. But you’re right to say that trying to prevent contact with the world is no kind of inoculation against its worst effects. Some of the children I’ve seen go most wildly off the rails as teens were some of the most sheltered in their upbringing. Sometimes well-meaning and protective parents end up simply creating “hot-house plants”, kids who can only survive morally in a protected atmosphere, but whose immunities to the real world are consequently very low.

A friend of mine often says, “Parenting is a continual process of letting go”. I think that’s wise. And if it is, then the trick is to get that process right, not to refuse to let go at all.

Tom: That’s my concern. I can’t claim to have done it all right, by any means, but I do believe in letting your kids have a degree of exposure to the world throughout their growth, while talking them through the experience and living it with them. So you go on the field trips and meet their teachers, and you do their homework with them and talk it through. We had the conversations — about evolution, about what gays say about the world and many other touchy subjects — while they were still going to grade school. It was too soon for me, but the topic was already relevant to them because the world around them made it relevant.

Could we have kept them at home and schooled them there? Maybe. Would it have been better for them in the long run? Only the Lord knows, and time will tell.

The Real Educator

IC: There’s this too: the one who is really educating is the Lord. He alone knows how he can use each educational system to bring out his image in a child’s life. All kids begin life by needing a lot of protection from predatory evils and poisonous kinds of information they are developmentally unable to process. But they also need exposure to challenges and the sense of ability and achievement such challenges produce, as well as the experience of how to deal with failures and disappointments in life.

Tom: True. The alternative is raising a child who remains dysfunctional or immature in some respect as an adult.

IC: Some kids need a personal mission field too, and others need the abrasive effect of worldly opposition to sharpen their characters. Still others would simply wilt under the same conditions. What any given child needs is determined by the particular age and stage that he or she is at, and that is a matter of personal discernment for the parent, in partnership with the Spirit of God and in view of the calling we all have — to become conformed to the image of the Son.

How that happens is different in every single case. And picking a method and going with it for 12 or 14 years is no substitute for a parent actually remaining involved in that discerning process, which the Lord intends for the growth in faith not just of the child but of the parent as well.

Tom: So if Christian parents elect to keep some of their teenagers home rather than sending them your way, you’re not bothered?

IC: No problem at all: I’d love to have them in my class, but if it’s not the right alternative for them, then that’s what should be deciding the matter.

Parental Involvement

Tom: You used the words “remaining involved”, and I believe that’s critical. I loathed the extent to which I was pulled into the mechanics of my children’s homework during their school years, frankly, but I do believe it’s very important to talk through what your kids are doing and seeing. I wonder if many parents don’t neglect that a bit because of their own, often hectic schedules. That’s not just asking “How was your day?”, because with some kids you don’t get much information from a question like that. My kids would far too often say, “We watched a movie”. Okay, fine: What movie? What did you think of it? What was the message? Was the movie content appropriate? What kind of manipulative emotional tricks did the movie’s writers try to pull off? And so on.

That gets harder in high school because as we all know, many teens are less disposed to lengthy discussions with parents. But it’s worth doing.

IC: Yes, but also we need to remember that public schooling is not an ideal, but rather a practical arrangement invented a couple of centuries ago, when factories were the latest technology. Even today, they are large, impersonal assembly lines run on standardization, quality control, repeatable processes, specialization, mass management, and all the other things that make a factor a factory. But no one should ever think that a factory is the ideal pattern for anything except perhaps manufactured goods. And when you’re outside the factory, as parents inevitably are, you have to make special efforts to have any hope of seeing what’s really going on inside. That’s just the reality.

Tom: So let’s sum up a bit here. Is the public school system subversive and anti-Christian? Sure. Can it be an unpleasant experience for a child? Without a doubt; I still remember walking miles out of my way to avoid bullying all the way up to grade 10. But would I trade my own public school education and the lessons I learned and the character I developed from it for an easier go of it with less temptation and challenge? From where I sit today, no, probably not.

Any final thoughts, IC?

IC: Just this: it’s your child. His or her education is between you, the Lord and your child. It is not up to the schools, the government, the teachers, some technique, or anything else. Whatever you decide, make the choice for the right reason, which is that the schooling arrangement you have picked is the one in which he or she will become more like Christ.

Then pray like crazy.

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