Dan Edelen, one of my new pneumablogger reads, has a new post up at Cerulean Sanctum on their decision to send an only child to public school, rather than a local Christian school. The argument goes something like this:
Up till now, they’ve been homeschooling, but they’re starting to see evidence of socialization problems that, partly due to his being an only child, simply aren’t being solved by extracurricular activities. He needs to be in a fully socialized environment. But a friend of theirs has insisted that, by sending his kid to a public school, he’s essentially “handing him over to the Canaanites.”
Tertullian, the 2nd century church father once asked the famous question, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” That is, why should we bother teaching our children philosophy and the classics when all they really need to know is the Bible? Dan takes this metaphor one step further and basically asserts that, Jerusalem or Athens, all of it is Canaan. That is, public or private school, classical or modern, no matter how you do it, Christians don’t have the privilege of living in a purely separate society. We still live in a secular society, we still have secular influences. The only real choice you get is **which** Canaan you live in. In a public school, there runs a real danger of your kids being exposed to harmful ideas: unchastity, deceitfulness, vengefulness, violence. But these are obvious dangers; they can be targeted and exposed a hundred yards off. In a private school which proports to be Christian, there are just as many dangers – there are just as many fallen people – but their unchristian nature may be more subtle and difficult to weed out.
So far so good, and if he’d stopped there, I’d be singing the praises of Dan Edelen. But then he zooms in on the specific, subtle evil to be learned at Christian schools: Materialism. “Truth is, most people making a household income less than $100,000 a year can’t pay to send their children to private Christian schools.” I never knew. I’m pretty sure my parents never made so much (even adjusting for inflation), and yet we went to a Christian school. I suppose there were people there who were better off than we were, but there were plenty who were worse. But maybe things are different in central Ohio. “Fourth-graders putting condoms on bananas OR materialism,” he says. “Which one damages the soul more? Which is harder to root out?” I had no idea the choice was so clean.
Frankly (and this is where I depart from Dan Edelen and mount my own soap box), I have no problem sending your kids to a public school. My sister and I both went to a Christian school for one year in Tulsa and then promptly insisted we transfer to public school, and I found, at least, that the Christian character at the public school was at least as good as at the Christian school. And even then we longed for the days of homeschooling. Different solutions fit different needs, and that’s as it should be.
But honestly, I think “socialization” is a red herring when it comes to school. Maybe I’m wrong. I wasn’t an only child, and as I get older I’m discovering that I’m pretty well introverted, so for some people maybe socializing is something like a need. For me it’s something like a Cadbury Easter egg: Oh! it’s so good! But a little bit can last you a very long time. Maybe some people need socializing. But socializing and socialization are two different things. Socialization is only tangentially related to education. Socialization has to do with the fact that we don’t just learn from books, we learn from models. But to take an ignorant child and surround him with other ignorant children and call that socialization is to teach your child to model ignorance.
My problem with most schools, public or private, is that they’re very little about the business of educating children, very little about *catechizing* them. What they are about is babysitting, putting them in giant intellectual holding pens until they’re *ripe*. There are some schools that take education as their primary task very seriously, but I see very little difference between many schools and the animal factories we so often hear about that produce our meat and poultry.
The task for parents (and I admit I am not yet one) is to *raise* children, to prepare them to be God’s people. Part of that task is education, education in values as well as facts and skills. A significant part of education is modeling, and that’s fine. But to allow real and proper education to be undermined by the chimera socialization (socializing needs notwithstanding), is a waste and a shame.