It’s not really new for Christian leaders to advise parents to remove their children from the public schools. James Dobson encouraged an exodus in 2002, and in 2004 the Southern Baptist Convention introduced a resolution urging parents to remove their children from government schools (it was soundly defeated at the group’s annual meeting that year). At the time, the question was almost always framed as “should Christians remove their children from public schools?” Many argued that Christians should maintain a presence in the schools — that schools could be redeemed, both as an institution and spiritually. Christian children could — and even should — be missionaries in the schools, many argued.
Now, Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has turned the question on its head, instead asking, “Is Public School an Option?” In a recent article, Mohler, an influential evangelical Christian cultural and intellectual leader, wrote:
The growing chaos in society is forcing Christians to rethink even their most cherished assumptions about their relationship with government institutions.
Mohler begins with the reminder that parents are responsible for the education of their children — that God will hold parents accountable for the decisions they make regarding their children, including on their education. “The duty of Christian parents to raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord cannot be delegated to anyone else—not to the state, not to the schools, and not even to the church.” So regardless of how or where children are “formally” educated, the responsibility for spiritual training ultimately rests with the parents.
Since the beginning of the twentieth century, most American children have attended public schools. Mohler looks back nostalgically at the American century:
Evangelical families sent their children to the public schools with confidence and with eagerness. They had little interest in other alternatives for the simple reason that they saw little need for any alternative. Evangelical Christians were happy with the public schools and saw them as both effective and efficient in the delivery of an American education. They also saw the public schools as safe and healthy places for children, and they grew to love the athletic programs and extracurricular activities that grew along with the schools in the American Century, as the last century came to be known.
But by the end of the twentieth century, evangelical Christians began to leave public schools by the millions as the country witnessed an explosion in Christian schools and homeschooling.