This June, my wife and I had the privilege of attending the high school graduation ceremonies of several home-schooled youngsters. These events not only impressed us with references to Christian traditions, family values, and heavenly music; they opened our eyes and hearts to the possibility of home schooling. Student after student spoke with such eloquence, maturity, and depth of spirit, that many times tears flowed freely both on stage and in the audience.
Like most parents, my wife and I want to provide our daughter with the best possible education. So despite the fact that she is still too young for elementary school, we have given considerable thought to the various choices. While originally home schooling was not our favored option, the graduation ceremonies piqued our interest. And we knew several home-schooled youngsters at our church who were smart, mature, and well adjusted. We sought the advice of educators in several Eastern Orthodox parishes in southern California.
Big mistake. What we found was not just lack of support, but open hostility and outright opposition to home schooling from those who worked in public education. We had hoped that these Christians, so familiar with the system and its many faults and failures, would understand our concerns. What's more, many of these educators regarded our interest in home schooling as almost deviant behavior. We were told that such a decision would not only endanger the social skills and development of our daughter, but also damage her future by protecting her too much.
As Christians we are called to influence those with whom we come in contact: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:16) The Gospels urge us to work in the world and show forth our Christian nature and character not only through religious faith and talk, but also through how we act and conduct ourselves in our daily lives. Why have so many Christians forgotten or ignored this work that must be done continually in our lives, especially in the public schools where it's needed most?
Beset by the forces of secularism and educational fads, the public education system in California has been steadily deteriorating. And a lack of money is not the problem. More than 43 percent of the state general fund and 32 percent of the total budget is allocated to support K-12 schooling. The Heritage Foundation reports that in 2002 California spent roughly $43 billion on K-12 public education. These staggering amounts work out to approximately $7,000 per student, exceeding the cost of tuition at most private schools.
All this money is funding some downright wacky practices. For example, most California school districts have banned the use of red ink in correcting student papers for fear of offending children and damaging their self-esteem. Many elementary and middle schools have also abandoned the age-old tradition of assigning numeric or letter grades. Apparently the harsh realities and judgmental stance of objective and antiquated methods of evaluating student performance are too abrasive for the delicate psychological makeup of second and third graders.
Children languish in a system that fails to educate them even in basic math and English skills. A 2003 survey by the Pacific Research Institute brings to light some startling and frightening statistics. Although the California State University system only accepts the top one-third of the state's high-school graduates, nearly 60 percent of entering freshmen in 2002 required remedial instruction in either English or math. If things are that bad with the cream of the crop of California's high-school students, imagine how serious the situation must be with the remaining two thirds.
The PRI report highlights more alarming statistics. "The remedial rates at particular CSU campuses were shocking. At CSU Dominguez Hills in southern California, 75.4 percent of entering freshmen needed remedial instruction in math and 78.9 percent needed remedial instruction in English. At CSU Los Angeles, 64.3 percent of entering freshmen needed remediation in math and 77.9 percent needed English remediation."
Admittedly, there are limits to what a public school teacher or administrator can do to stem the tide of secularist ideologies and policies overwhelming the schools, but at least some resistance should be offered. Christian educators working in the California public education system don't necessarily need to promote religious education – the ACLU has insured they cannot - but they can demand that truth, objectivity, and balance be the norm. Such active involvement in the system would indeed be reasonable and fair and would bring about some much-needed reforms and improvements. Instead, Christian teachers have resigned themselves to do nothing, and worse still, to acquiesce quietly and promote the same biased perspectives on issues. Is the power of a paycheck that strong that it can co-opt and influence even the most staunch Christians among us?
At the home school graduation ceremonies, the light of Christ shone intensely. The truth and reality of how home schooling can change young lives opened up for us a new avenue full of hope and opportunities. Today, the rise of secularism, and government control of much of the educational establishment, has blinded many Christians to the value of schooling aimed at excellence and informed by faith. The one surefire way to spur more competition among schools is parental choice–exercised, for instance, by choosing to educate children at home. Maybe that way more schools will understand that educating a child involves both mind and character.
Chris Banescu, founder of OrthodoxNet.com, is an attorney and university lecturer. Before emigrating to the United States, he attended government schools through the seventh grade in Romania under the Communist regime.