Why religion is behind the exodus from US state schools

The story appeared on the BBC website on Saturday
The story appeared on the BBC website on Saturday

Commendably, on Saturday the BBC website published a story exploring the religious — and social — reasons why many more Americans are now home schooling their children, rather than entrusting them to an increasingly politicized state education system.

Quoting statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the article said that the number of home-schooled children in America has risen from 3% a year in 2012 to 8% a year and now stands at around 3.5 million children. That’s just over 1% of the entire population of the United States — that is, including adults — are now children who are home schooled.[1]

“I don’t think our state educators set out to be anti-religion, rather the education provided by the state must not be biased towards any religion. The problem [is that] an unbiased approach in education is unattainable — education is based on some original source, so if our education is based on no source it’s ultimately anti-source.”

Shannon Helmi, Austin, TX (quoted in BBC, ‘Behind the exodus from US state schools’)

The article focussed particularly on Texas, where the phenomenon is apparently particularly acute because of the religio-political mindset of Texans: at once, they don’t like ‘big government,’ and many of them are very religious and hence politically conservative.

In a telling few paragraphs, the article states:—

Hence many Texas parents are increasingly frustrated at what they perceive as religion being phased out of Texas public schools.

“Religion is a taboo subject in public schools across the board,” says Shannon Helmi in Austin, the Texas capital, where she has chosen to educate her four daughters privately with Regina Caeli, a homeschooling hybrid that teaches a curriculum based on the Catholic tradition.

“I don’t think our state educators set out to be anti-religion, rather the education provided by the state must not be biased towards any religion. The problem [is that] an unbiased approach in education is unattainable — education is based on some original source, so if our education is based on no source it’s ultimately anti-source.”

Parents and teachers in Texas also complain about the state’s public schools being made to march to the tune of an aggressive liberal agenda.

Is this a rational response?

Whilst we aren’t home schooling our six-year-old, nor do we think in his case it would be wise to do so — an important benefit of community schooling is the experience of social interaction it provides between children, which experience our child desperately needs; besides, sending our child to school certainly rounds off and compensates for the heavily academic tuition he receives from us at home (I admit it, we are very bookish in our household!) — yet, I do understand parents who choose to home school their children.

The fact that the percentage of children home schooled in America has more than doubled since 2012 — that is, in the last six years — surely tells a story.

The BBC website on Saturday featured the story, ‘Why religion is behind the exodus from US state schools,’ just above an article about food
The BBC website on Saturday featured the story, ‘Why religion is behind the exodus from US state schools,’ just above an article about food

With the rise of Twitter and so many other social media platforms which are, essentially, campaign tools, it does seem that the education system has become embroiled in the ideological wars between the political left and right.

“It is not surprising that we are seeing many of the same tendencies in our schools here in the UK. But another manifestation of this, at least over here, is the creation of so-called ‘safe spaces’ at universities which has been causing so much debate in recent years.”

Based on the passage I quoted above, in Texas this is about the removal of all reference to religion from the curriculum — what the article correctly points out farther down as a misconception, or misconstruction, of the First Amendment — alongside the aggressive pushing of a liberal gender ideology.

Opponents of secularisation in schools argue the constitutionally endorsed separation between religion and state is being incorrectly interpreted — they note the First Amendment prevents the government imposing religion on people or limiting the exercise of religion — resulting in less tolerance within schools for Christianity.

In many things the UK tends to follow the US, so it is not surprising that we are seeing many of the same tendencies in our schools here — witness this horrible example. But another manifestation of this, at least in the UK, is the creation of so-called ‘safe spaces’ at universities which has been causing so much debate in recent years:

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/feb/06/safe-space-or-free-speech-crisis-debate-uk-universities

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/sep/14/theresa-may-criticises-university-safe-spaces-for-shutting-down-debate

https://www.independent.co.uk/student/news/nine-10-uk-universities-free-speech-restrict-rankings-joseph-rowntree-cardiff-ediburgh-newcastle-a7577381.html

Hence it really does seem that — in the space of six years — the state education system both here in the UK and in the US, has undergone a shift from being about educational excellence to being driven by the prevailing forces of lobby groups.

“As Christians in many Western countries find themselves increasingly despised by society at large and their freedom of conscience and freedom of speech being gradually eroded, pray that their faith may grow to meet the new challenges.”

The Barnabas Fund, prayer diary, 18th August 2018

Meanwhile the change in Western social attitudes that has taken place even since 2012 are, to many very reasonable and normal members of society, frankly scary.

This isn’t entirely, or even primarily, about sex and gender. More deeply, it’s about how religiously-informed ways of looking at the world that once provided a guide, a yardstick, for society, not only are increasingly ignored — nothing new there, that’s been happening since Edwardian times if not since the 1700’s — but are now increasingly being labelled as actually in themselves evil.

The Barnabas Fund, in its daily prayer diary for Saturday 18th August, said it well:—

As Christians in many Western countries find themselves increasingly despised by society at large and their freedom of conscience and freedom of speech being gradually eroded, pray that their faith may grow to meet the new challenges. Pray that Western church leaders will be bold and not compromise for the sake of an easy life. Ask also that Barnabas Fund’s Our Religious Freedom campaign will be effective in safeguarding freedoms in the UK, Australia and New Zealand.[2]

Small wonder then if many parents are choosing to take their children out of such an ideologically-driven system and to give them what they see as a more balanced, more ‘classical’ education — and one that doesn’t treat religion as ‘the great unmentionable.’

Some implications of this

Here are what I think are some implications of this phenomenon:—

  1. If the state education system in the US has become this politicized, we can only expect the same to happen in the UK — more than it already is happening.
  1. Although the religious make-up of the UK is substantially different to that in the US, we can probably expect there to be a similar rise in the proportion of children taken out of the state education system over the next few years. As the BBC article implies, not only are parents of a religious persuasion choosing to do this, but also those who are simply socially conservative — as they increasingly feel disenfranchized by an education system that doesn’t represent them.

“As Christians, we need to stand up for schools of all faiths. It is not merely ‘Christian’ schools which the liberal agenda is attacking: it is attacking schools of all religious persuasions. We need to stand up for those schools just as much as for our own, ‘Christian’ ones.”

  1. As Christians, we need to pray for our schools, our teachers and our head-teachers. Many of them, religious or not, find themselves in a very difficult position, coming under daily pressure to teach certain ideological positions — apparently with the full backing of Ofsted. So pray for them!
  1. Whilst I don’t say this to condemn anybody who home schools their children, Christians have always been called to be “in the world, but not of the world” (John 17:13-16). Therefore, at least some of us need to stay in the state education system, and fight for its educational integrity. That fight is a hard and a debilitating one, but necessary: it would be wrong to give up and to cede the education of a generation.
  1. As Christians, we need to stand up for schools of all faiths. It is not merely ‘Christian’ schools which the liberal agenda is attacking: as shown here, it is attacking schools of all religious persuasions — at least the socially conservative ones. We need to stand up for those schools just as much as for our own, ‘Christian’ ones.
  1. If you’re in the UK, please sign the Barnabas Fund’s ‘Our Religious Freedom’ petition online.

 

 

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[1] Using the estimated population figure of 328,054,892 on July 4, 2018, quoted on https://www.census.gov/popclock/. Accessed on 20 August 2018.

[2] Barnabas Fund prayer diary, Saturday 18th August 2018: https://barnabasfund.org/en/daily-prayer/201808#

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