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)
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.”
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.