Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Should Christian children be sent to evangelize in the public schools?

Rod Dreher has an interesting post up about the “missionary schooling” idea, the idea that some Christian parents have that they must eschew homeschooling or even private Christian schools in favor of sending their kids into the public schools to be “salt and light” and witness to the Gospel.

The comments over there have been pretty interesting, to say the least.

Now, I’ve sometimes erred on the side of being too enthusiastic about homeschooling, especially in the past before the mellowness of middle age hit. I still think homeschooling is a terrific way to educate your children, especially if you want to give them a specifically Catholic or Christian (or Jewish or Muslim etc.) education.  The reality of the public school is that it cannot teach much at all about religion except in a very abstract way.  Since I wanted to give my children a good Catholic education, could not afford the local Catholic schools, and didn’t really trust diocesan Catholic schools generally to give a good Catholic education anyway, homeschooling was, and remains for our youngest who is still in high school, the best option for our family.

But even though I’ve relaxed about people doing what works for their own individual families and situations including public school when that’s the best option, I still think that sending one’s kids into the schools with the idea that young children should be expected to spread the Gospel and witness to their friends is a bit much.  In some public schools where the vast majority of kids are Christians, this isn’t even necessary--but in other public schools where the vast majority of kids are from irreligious and badly broken homes and where violent forms of bullying are daily occurrences, you wouldn’t be sending your kids in as witnesses, but as potential martyrs.  To place such a burden on a child who is likely still learning to tie his shoes is not particularly just, I think.

Is the “salt and light” option a good way for Christians to engage the culture via their children?  Is it a terrible idea that puts innocent children at risk from a culture which is daily growing more hostile to their, and our, values?  Or is it really just a nice way for Christian parents to put things so that the local Christian co-op parents will quit bugging them about homeschooling which really wouldn’t work for their particular family?

What do you think?


Daddio said...

It reads to me, in some cases, as defensive. A justification for folks who can't afford private school (fine) and are unable or unwilling to home school (also fine).

I've also mellowed a lot and don't think the local public school would literally destroy my children. I do think it would present some major challenges, but home schooling also seems too much to bear sometimes...

I'd just say to the "salt and light" folks to relax. It's okay to use the public school your tax dollars are paying for. But don't expect your kids to be little "culture warriors" everywhere they go.

Deirdre Mundy said...

To me, the question is insane. If sending out kids to be missionaries at school is good, wouldn't sending them to ISIS be better? Why not have a new children's crusade?

"Kids as Missionaries' is an awful idea on several fronts. First of all, kids lack the knowledge to spread or defend the faith.

Second of all, they lack the temperance and experience to spread the faith-- they're more likely to be obnoxious and repel than to attract.

Thirdly, making friends just to convert them is skeezy. And sort of a perversion of friendship, since you're just trying to rack up 'wins.'

Finally, we don't confirm until HS in most places. So these kids haven't been given the MISSION to be missionaries yet. Even the disciples waited for Pentecost!

So, leaving aside any negative effects on the kids, kids make lousy missionaries anyway!

Erin Manning said...

I agree with both of you. :) But I also think that sometimes the “salt and light” people are reacting to those who act as though it’s almost shameful, absent truly dire circumstances, to send your kids to the public schools. It might be, if your local public schools are awful, but it might not be if they’re not.

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

In some public schools where the vast majority of kids are Christians, this isn’t even necessary--but in other public schools where the vast majority of kids are from irreligious and badly broken homes and where violent forms of bullying are daily occurrences, you wouldn’t be sending your kids in as witnesses, but as potential martyrs.

Not even necessary.

I was more or less martyred - in the bullying sense of the word - in a school of a suave, Modernist Protestant and sometimes a bit Pentecostal area.

For not hating Middle Ages.
For hating abortion and contraception.
For not believing Evlution.
For preferring Hitler over Stalin.
For preferring sex roles over feminism.

Erin Manning said...

Hans, I apologize--I should have written, “...MAY not even be necessary.”

I was responding to some parents out there who insist their public schools are really sort of unofficially Christian because of all the great Christian kids. And this can happen, especially in some small and/or close-knit communities.

But I hear you. Really. As a kid bullied at Catholic schools for defending Catholic teaching, boy, do I hear you.

Unknown said...

My wife and I, early on decided to send our children to public school, we have had four. Reasons were.
1. Catholic schools were unaffordable and we distrusted the schools ability to teach the Catholic faith. A priest told me recently that “he was sorry that catholic schools are hostile to those who follow what the Church Teaches”. Yeah, me too.
2. My wife did not want to home school.
3. With four children, they would keep an eye out for each other. And they have-
4. The public schools in our area are decent. We have had many memorable Christian moments there. Christmas carols at Christmas time, in the middle school and at the high school. A teacher with a bible on their desk. Many teachers and staff at the local schools are Catholic/Christian and attend our parish or nearby parishes/churches.
5. The children would be in the world, but not of the world; and set good examples. And they have-

Notice it is the fifth reason, in a sense it is born of the others but there is truth in it. At times, I have wondered what it would have meant to other public schooled children to have: “not” been part of our family at supper (with grace of course), “not” to have been asked to attend Mass with us (many have), “not” to have heard my wife’s sermons to high school girls in our Astro van (we’ve been kind-of a busing service at times) on the benefits of NFP, “not” to have heard my sermons to boys on how sex is for marriage because sex is about “babies and bonding”, “not” to have had my sons arguing in high school class with some their peers and sometimes their teachers(!) regarding the evil of abortion, and so on..

Don’t ever forget, we’re not (and no one is) in this Alone. “If God is with us, then who- “

Barbara C. said...

I think it's kind of a faulty plan all around.

I am desperately trying to make sure my own kids learn and retain their faith, because they're the kids that God put me in charge of. I can't be obsessing about saving other people's kids.

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

Erin, I am sorry I didn't see what you wrote earlier.

Apology totally accepted AND my astonishment at the "Catholic school" which you went through!