A few weeks ago I wrote something criticizing public schooling over this incident. It got the ire up of friends and family members, many of whom have spent decades of their lives teaching and working in public schools. They vehemently disagreed with my portrayal of public schooling.
I reflected on what, exactly, bothered me about public schools and other activities or institutions like them, and I came up with a simple thesis:
For many hours each day, you cede your authority and parental care to others while letting other children socialize your children.
In the case of public school, those “others” are bus drivers, teachers, and principals. Many readers probably do not see any problem with this. And at one time I didn’t either. But I do now. First, a little background on my own education.
A Product of Public Schools
I went to middle-class, suburban public schools from first through twelfth grades, then to a public, State university. Full scholarship, National Merit Scholar, got over a 1500 on the SAT (this is back when 1600 was the highest), straight A’s, a model student. I was all about public schools, because I did well in school.
For a long time, I remained an advocate of public schools. Only since becoming a Protestant Christian and then a Catholic did I begin to peel back the layers of the onion and start to realize the depth of the problems in our culture and how public schooling is one factor in them and serves to reinforce them.
The Mis-socialization of Devyn Rose
How can I succinctly describe the diverse and disturbing things I learned while at school–not in classes, but at recess, in gym, on the blacktop before school started, on the bus, in the locker room? It’s impossible, so I’ll mention only a few things.
In elementary school classmates told me stories and jokes about homosexual acts. While they (nor I) probably understood all that we were saying, the gist of it was conveyed.
In middle school, I learned that there were the cool kids, the popular ones, and that I wanted to be one of them. I ditched the first group of friends I made at my new school (in fifth grade) and ingratiated myself into the popular group. I played sports and was pretty good at most of them, so that helped me gain entrance. But Heaven forbid if you ran afoul of one of the leaders, or you were singled out for ridicule because of some way you looked or dressed. The popular kids could be brutal, and the harshest among them were the ones most admired.
In sixth grade, one girl in my class was cruelly ostracized everyday, especially as we waited for the first bell to ring. She was mocked, insulted, physically hit, and despised. Why? Because she was not attractive, did not have good hygiene, and had been unpopular since elementary school. The adult monitors who were supposed to watch over us before school were MIA. I still think about this young woman and am ashamed of myself: instead of defending her, I joined in ridiculing her.
In seventh grade one of my good friends told me (and whoever was near in the locker room) about sexual experiences he was having with a high school girl. Yes, he was about thirteen years old and having sexual intercourse.
I was pressured by classmates to become sexually active so I could remain “cool.” By the time of high school, I had been exposed to so much vulgarity and perversion that there wasn’t much left to be learned or scandalized about.
One of my favorite teachers in junior high and high school turned out to be a molester. There were rumors about him, but I always dismissed them because he was such a kind teacher. Only years later did I read a short article in the local paper that said he had lit his house on fire and torched himself to death. This was when a brave student had finally come forward and openly accused him of sexual abuse. He had moved from one school district to another over the years. Sound familiar?
What I learned in school was this: it’s dog-eat-dog, or kid-eat-kid, and you have to learn to survive for yourself. Your parents are not there to protect you. Navigate the dangerous shoals of bullies, popular kid scorn, humiliation, sexuality, all while trying to learn who you were, and who you were supposed to be. All while being exposed to every foulness, perversion, and ugly side of human life.
So today I wasn’t surprised, but I was grieved and disgusted, to read the latest horror story to come to light out of public schools: young men sodomizing their classmates as a hazing practice. Read the whole piece if you can; I only made it half-way through.
Your Objection is Invalid
Objection: “But these are isolated incidents!”
The objection goes that these horror stories are isolated. No they’re not. Hundreds of them come to light every month, and those are just the ones we find out about. Ten times their number occur yet never make the news. Horrible things happened in my suburban, middle-class school, and very few saw the light of day.
Now, I was never sodomized, or molested, or interrogated for two hours til I peed my pants for bringing a cap gun on the bus. Again, I am a public school “success” story. But as I described above, even the regular stuff that goes on in public schools is awful.
Objection: “You can’t bunker down and isolate your children! They’ll learn about all this sooner or later.“
Then let it be later. And I’m not talking about isolating my children or bunkering down. That’s a strawman. Would you let some guy come up to your five year old and tell them stories about anal sex? Is that appropriate for your five year old? No.
We shelter our children all the time. We choose not to take them to see that movie with intense violence that we as adults can stomach. Of course we shelter them, prudentially, from things they are not ready to understand, or from vile things that they should not be exposed to. There’s a time and a place for them to learn about certain things, and that time is not when they are in second grade, and that place is not from their peers at school.
Objection: “Your children have to learn to deal with other people, even difficult ones”
Sure they do. But they don’t have to be socialized by children whose parents are not rearing them properly. They don’t have to fear being sodomized by “difficult people” at school. And by adulthood, the kind of fish bowl Lord of the Flies stuff that goes on in middle school, junior high, and high school is gone. There’s other challenges that go on, naturally, but as an adult you are equipped to handle them. As an eight year old, you are not.
Objection: “I’m going to let my children shine their light for Jesus!”
If you were there with them through their school day, I may say “okay, go for it.” But you are not. And instead of shining their light for Jesus, a light that takes time to grow strong, much more likely is that the darkness of our pagan culture, as exhibited by their peers in overwhelming numbers, will snuff out the nascent flame that God has lit. I’ve seen it happen, again and again, even in good Catholic families (more on this later).
If you lived in AD 100, would you be sending your children to the pagan Roman schooling system, to worship Caesar and be exposed to so many perverted people? No. You would not do that. No more should you send your children to the schools today, which would give any Roman institution a run for its money in terms of debauchery.
An adult Christian, strong in the Spirit, can face such evil. Children cannot. Even George Lucas understood this when Yoda tells Luke he is not yet strong enough to face Darth Vader and his Emperor. As Mr. Miyagi said to Daniel-san: “First learn stand, then learn fly.” (See? Pop culture references from being being reared in the secular culture–I guess there are some good things about school!)
Objection: “Your children won’t be socialized!”
Oh yes they will. They will be socialized by mature adults who are faithful Christians. They will be taught the right way to live, and why they should live that way, and who God is, and why He is real and true and good and beautiful. They will be socialized by other faithful Christian families, with their children, in contexts where adults are present.
The pagans are happy to socialize your children, and will gladly do so if you send them to public school. In all likelihood, they will be socialized to conform to the prevailing culture, the zeitgeist, and not to Christ. Why? Because the secular society offers a competing vision for life and happiness, one largely at odds to the Christian gospel. Morally relativistic, consumer-driven, materialistic hedonism is appealing in countless ways.
Great Mr. Smarty-Pants. I Already Hate You, so what is your brilliant solution?
You just know I’m going to say “homeschool,” don’t you? Or maybe “Catholic school”?
I would propose, as a first step, any solution that avoids the pitfall described by my thesis: namely, don’t cede your authority and parental care.
If you can avoid ceding your authority and parental care while your children are in public school, then send them to public school. If you can avoid ceding your authority and parental care while your children are in Catholic school, then send them to Catholic school.
If you can do some combination of homeschool, homeschool co-op, cottage school, community school, Catholic school, and public school, all while not ceding your authority and parental care, great! do that.
But note that many Catholic schools are little better, and in some ways worse, than public schools. And in both Catholic and public schools, the predominant model is that you cede your parental care over your children. You are not in charge while they are at school; the school administrators are. You do not know what teachers or other children are doing or saying to your child. You have ceded parental care of your child during the time they are at school.
As a second step, I propose the solution that you offer a better culture to your children. A lively culture based on Christ and His Church, rooted in your family, in the milieu of a community of faith and love. Offer your children a place of beauty and truth, of warmth and welcome, of goodness and loveliness. Offer your children the truth of the Gospel as applied to every part of life.
In practice, homeschooling offers a good way of doing this. And a good way of not ceding your parental care to others. Some combination of other types of schooling with homeschooling can also offer it. I have yet to see how a five-day-per-week, eight-hours-per-day, standard public school option can offer it. Mom and Dad aren’t allowed in the locker room, where the pagan kids are wanting to sodomize your son.
A Word on Catholic Schools
I have friends, faithful Catholics, daily Mass goers, who have children that were homeschooled for years then went to Catholic schools afterwards. And some of their children have left the Faith entirely. They’ve bought into the secular world’s allures. They will one day find those allures to be empty promises, but the sad thing is that they fell for them. They found that vision of life to be more attractive than the Catholic one offered by their parents, who are praying people.
One of their children faced unbearable ridicule at a Catholic high school. Mean behavior to ostracize her, because she rubbed the popular girls the wrong way and was a threat to them in her faithfulness and guilelessness. In other words, the same sort of bullying and meanness found in public schools is also found in Catholic ones. And Catholic schools mostly follow the same model of parents ceding their parental care of their children, only to (at least nominally) Catholic administrators rather than secular ones.
So I caution parents to be careful with any organization: Boy Scouts, their Catholic parish, the children’s sports teams, and so on. Know who the people are who will be watching your children. Ensure you are involved and it is a safe environment. That goes for altar server training, camping, the assistant coach giving your child a ride to the weekend tournament, etc.
Now That You’re Feeling All Judged
The standard disclaimers apply: lots of good people work at public schools. I’m related to some of them. I had many as teachers. Lots of kids come out of public school with their faith still intact. Schools have lots of good programs that can help kids with special needs (which we ourselves have taken advantage of and been grateful for).
This post is not an indictment against everyone who works in public schools or parents who send their children to them. Many families have little choice but to do so. Money and jobs (or lack thereof) or special needs necessitate using the tax-funded public schooling option. But it is intended to provoke you into thinking about whether it is a safe and healthy environment for your child.
Our country is firmly secular, and becoming more so everyday. Public schools are an indispensable apparatus of the state to indoctrinate children into a particular way of seeing the world, of seeing themselves, one that is in many ways antithetical to the Christian Faith.
I want to offer my children a better way, and by God’s grace I hope I am able to. I plan to take the first step and be careful in what type of schooling I choose for my child. If anything other than homeschooling, I want my wife and I to be involved in the day-to-day goings-on at the school. We have one option for such a school in our area, and plan to try it out, along with homeschooling or a co-op type system with other families.
I also plan to take the second step and foster a community of love and truth where my children can learn who they truly are, as beloved children of God, in a safe environment, where they can learn to face the ugly and trying things in life as they are able.
If I have offended you, I apologize in advance. I was implored by a facebook friend to be much more careful in my critique. Instead, I have doubled-down, but in doing so I have been careful in crafting my thesis, which people are free to disagree with.