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The Story of Education in America

The his­to­ry of edu­ca­tion in Amer­i­ca is a sto­ry. Like most good sto­ries, the plot fol­lows a com­mon struc­ture of expo­si­tion, ris­ing action, cli­max, falling action, and res­o­lu­tion. As par­ents seek­ing to prop­er­ly edu­cate our chil­dren, we do not act in iso­la­tion, but instead are part of this larg­er sto­ry. To under­stand our own roles, it is impor­tant to ask, in what part of the edu­ca­tion sto­ry do we find our­selves today?


In the expo­si­tion, the stage is set and the main char­ac­ters are intro­duced. The char­ac­ters begin to real­ize their mis­sions and search for like-mind­ed indi­vid­u­als to help them achieve their goals. Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the LORD is the begin­ning of knowl­edge: but fools despise wis­dom and instruc­tion.” In light of this, we see that the main char­ac­ters in the sto­ry of edu­ca­tion in Amer­i­ca are God-fear­ing edu­ca­tors (the pro­tag­o­nist) and fool­ish edu­ca­tors (the antag­o­nist).

These God-fear­ing edu­ca­tors came to Amer­i­ca by boat in the 1600’s and found­ed Chris­t­ian schools by such names as Har­vard and Yale. They under­stood their mis­sion in for­mal edu­ca­tion was to teach chil­dren the word of God, “It being one chief project of that old delud­er, Satan, to keep men from the knowl­edge of the Scrip­tures… It is there­fore ordered that every township…appoint one with­in their town to teach all such chil­dren as shall resort to him to write and read…”(Old Delud­er Satan Law, Mass­a­chu­setts Bay Colony, 1647)

Rising Action

Mean­while, the fool­ish edu­ca­tors did not share this same pur­pose of edu­ca­tion. A con­flict between the pro­tag­o­nist and antag­o­nist began its ascent in 1852 when Mass­a­chu­setts enact­ed the first com­pul­so­ry edu­ca­tion law. The antag­o­nists desired a manda­to­ry com­mon sys­tem of schools fund­ed by the gov­ern­ment to teach chil­dren the skills and ideals nec­es­sary for mod­el cit­i­zen­ship in a demo­c­ra­t­ic soci­ety. Edu­ca­tion, in and of itself, was pro­mot­ed as the sav­ior and sanc­ti­fi­er of the coun­try.

Although the com­pul­so­ry com­mon school sys­tem was not with­out warn­ing by God-fear­ing edu­ca­tors, Chris­t­ian par­ents suc­cumbed, believ­ing the new­ly found­ed gov­ern­ment schools would hon­or their promise to teach from the Protes­tant Bible. Over time, how­ev­er, the focus of edu­ca­tion in these schools mor­phed from par­ents car­ry­ing out their respon­si­bil­i­ty to teach chil­dren “how to be a Chris­t­ian” to the gov­ern­ment assum­ing own­er­ship of young cit­i­zens instruct­ing them “how to be an Amer­i­can.”


The cli­max refers to the high­est action point in the sto­ry where the main char­ac­ter and his adver­sary under­stand the nature of the pow­er strug­gle. The bat­tle between them is not set­tled in this stage, but it is at this point that the main char­ac­ter must make a moral deci­sion that will ulti­mate­ly deter­mine his suc­cess or fail­ure.

The strug­gle between the God-fear­ing edu­ca­tors and the fool­ish edu­ca­tors is, with­out ques­tion, whether God should be allowed in the gov­ern­ment school. Since the system’s birth, the fool­ish edu­ca­tors set to work remov­ing the marks of Chris­t­ian iden­ti­ty in schools in an attempt to pro­vide a reli­gious­ly “neu­tral” edu­ca­tion for the increas­ing­ly diverse nation. In 1857, just five years after the first com­pul­so­ry law was enact­ed, the wide­ly-used McGuf­fey Read­ers were stripped of its staunch­ly Calvin­ist ref­er­ences and replaced with broad­er, more gener­ic, val­ues. After 150 years of such strip­ping, the result is a grotesque and Christ-less sys­tem that shows no signs of life. Iron­i­cal­ly, the name giv­en to this mon­stros­i­ty is human­is­tic edu­ca­tion.

What was the deter­min­ing moral deci­sion for God-fear­ing edu­ca­tors in this sto­ry? They sim­ply said, “Not with my kid you don’t.”

Falling action

The next stage of the sto­ry, falling action, is messy. Although pieces of the sto­ry come to an end, it seems as if the bad guy will win after all (which does hap­pen in tragedy sto­ries).

This is the stage we find our­selves in today. When the God-fear­ing edu­ca­tors said, “Not with my kid you don’t” the adver­sary retort­ed, “Says who?”

Encour­ag­ing strides have been made for Chris­tians (and non) to exer­cise free­dom of choice in edu­ca­tion. For exam­ple, from 1982 to 1992, states began to revise com­pul­so­ry laws to per­mit home­school­ing. Addi­tion­al­ly, enroll­ment in Chris­t­ian schools has increased. As more Chris­tians come to the con­vic­tion that edu­ca­tion has nev­er been a neu­tral mat­ter, the pop­u­la­tion of gov­ern­ment schools will fur­ther decline.

Eco­nom­i­cal­ly, how­ev­er, the antag­o­nist main­tains the vic­to­ry. Chris­t­ian par­ents essen­tial­ly are forced to pay for the pri­vate edu­ca­tion they choose on top of the tax­es they are forced to pay to fund the pub­lic schools they left. In this time of eco­nom­ic hard­ship, Chris­t­ian par­ents must choose whether they will serve God or mon­ey (Matt. 6:24).


The tur­moil between pro­tag­o­nist and antag­o­nist in the falling action stage con­tin­ues until a final con­fronta­tion is made and a final vic­tor emerges. Here the audi­ence can see the out­come of the moral deci­sion made by the pro­tag­o­nist in the cli­max.

God-fear­ing edu­ca­tors can rejoice in the assur­ance of vic­to­ry — because of the love of Christ they are more than con­querors. The Lord always leads His peo­ple in tri­umphal pro­ces­sion, spread­ing the fra­grance of the knowl­edge of God every­where (Romans 8:37, 2 Corinthi­ans 2:14). This sto­ry does not have a trag­ic end­ing!

What might vic­to­ry look like for the pro­tag­o­nist of this edu­ca­tion­al sto­ry?

In a vic­to­ri­ous res­o­lu­tion, Chris­t­ian par­ents would own their respon­si­bil­i­ty to edu­cate chil­dren in the knowl­edge of God. The church would embrace Chris­t­ian edu­ca­tion as an impor­tant means of being salt and light in the world. The gov­ern­ment would com­plete­ly remove the tax bur­den of pub­lic edu­ca­tion for fam­i­lies enrolled in pri­vate schools. The best Chris­t­ian teach­ers would teach at Chris­t­ian schools. Chris­t­ian schools would achieve supe­ri­or aca­d­e­m­ic per­for­mance rec­og­nized by all. Chris­t­ian stu­dents would learn to study the Bible in its orig­i­nal lan­guage and his­tor­i­cal con­text. They would live out and defend the bib­li­cal world­view in all realms of life. The cul­ture would be trans­formed for God’s glo­ry.

But most of all, the whole world would rec­og­nize that the real hero of the sto­ry is Jesus Christ.

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