Home/Rod Dreher/Goodbye, Public Schools?

Goodbye, Public Schools?

I was around town this weekend, and ran into a guy I know. I asked him how his family was (his kids are all preschool age). He mentioned at one point that “public school is not an option” for them. That surprised me. He went to public school, and has always been a supporter of public education. What changed?

Turns out the latest round of transgender stuff was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I told him that it would be a while before that stuff got to our local public school. Yes, he agreed, but it’s coming — and in his view, there is not much chance that local administrators and teachers could stop it if they wanted to, not if it’s a federal mandate.

What could I say? I think he’s right about that. But I thought about it all weekend. Here’s a young guy who works, and his wife works. Ordinary, salt-of-the-earth people. Goes to church, but not a holier-than-thou type, not by a country mile. And he has lost faith in public education — not because of the quality of teaching or the character of the teachers, but because he has come to believe that the federal government will roll over community standards when it comes to mainstreaming sexual, um, diversity.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that all it will take is one lawsuit, or threat of a lawsuit, and gender-specific locker rooms and bathrooms will end. Local people — assuming they will oppose it, which is no sure thing — will be helpless to do a thing about it.

The problem is that in a place like where I live, private school is not much of an option, though homeschooling, as we do, is. But my friend and his wife both work, and both need to work, so it’s not an option for them. What do they do? I guess ride it out and hope for the best here, all the while hoping too for a reasonable alternative by the time the cultural revolution is imposed on our public school.
Louisiana will be one of the last places this happens, but by the end of President Hillary’s term(s) in office, it will either have happened, or we will be much, much closer to it.

Again, because we homeschool, this concern hasn’t really been on my radar. I did blog about it last year, but it hasn’t been at the front of my mind, until the guy in town said what he did. I would like to hear from conservative Christian, Muslim, and other socially conservative readers who have kids in public school, or will have them there. What will you do? Or, if you live in a state or a school district that has already gone over (e.g., this San Francisco elementary school, which has gender-neutral bathrooms), what are you doing?

I’d like to point to a 2007 piece that Sally Thomas wrote for First Things, challenging the idea that Christians have a moral duty to keep their kids in public schools where the culture is hostile to them. She writes:

The idea of sending a child daily into a hostile environment—if not actively hostile, as in bullying, then certainly philosophically hostile—expecting him not only to withstand assaults on everything his parents have told him is true but also to transform the entire system by his presence, seems sadly misguided to me. There may be many valid arguments for sending a child to school, but that one doesn’t wash.

In the Sermon on the Mount, in addition to the salt-and-light business, Jesus also tells the multitude, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” A child’s greatest treasure, to my mind, is his childhood itself. He has only one, and it’s over quickly enough. If we as parents invest that treasure in sex education that makes us cringe, history we know to be a lie, and busy work we recognize as meaningless, we should perhaps not be too surprised if at the end of the day these things, and not the things which are above, have claimed our children’s hearts.

If this sounds hyperbolic, consider the responses of students in an evangelical college here, in a class taught by one of my husband’s friends, who decided to poll the students on their views of Christian sexual morality. He was taken aback, to put it mildly, to discover that the sole moral conviction held by an overwhelming majority was that it was wrong for Christians to judge other people’s behaviors. “Sex is just a bodily function anyway,” one student said. Bear in mind that these students were self-described Christians, from Christian homes, who had chosen their college for its Christian environment. Somehow, in all their years of formation, they seemed to have missed the fairly crucial lesson that Christianity establishes clear guidelines regarding sex. That Christians should regard those guidelines as neither repressive nor even negotiable was right off the radar.

If, as a correspondent of mine has suggested, Christians are impotent in engaging with secular culture, perhaps the problem is not that too many of us have withdrawn from it but that too many have surrendered our cultural distinctiveness. If we urge our children to integrate into the secular mainstream, and it turns out instead that the secular mainstream is integrated into them, then what we end up with is, well, what we largely have: a generation that believes that Christianity is only about not being judgmental.

Note well that she wrote this almost a decade ago, before the state became so interested in mainstreaming sexual diversity through educational policy. Even if we didn’t have the state and progressive-minded schools and school boards pushing the GLSEN agenda, we would still be in a mess. I suppose today I’m wondering: what is your tipping point, as a parent? How much are you willing to tolerate of the ethos at your kid’s school before you say, Enough?

And note well x 2, it is not enough to put them in a Christian school and assume that you’ve solved that problem. The Christian school might be pathetic at teaching and inculcating actual Christian virtues in their students. If parents aren’t consciously part of the countercultural educational mission, the culture will form the kids, not the church.

UPDATE: I found this comment from reader Chris Rawlings especially worthwhile:

Let me offer the perspective of a husband of a public school teacher and a father of a toddler whose academic future we are still considering.

My wife, a second-grade teacher in a poor, urban school in a bluish-purple state has yet to face a forced intrusion of transgenderism or homosexualism into the curriculum—thankfully, and boy are we thankful. But I hasten to add that it sits as a perpetual sword of damacles over her head. She is a very, very good teacher and the students she has taught over the years have developed strong relationships with her that continue today. It’s a good thing that she is in their lives. But a state civil rights court here has already ruled that a school must allow a transgender (six year old!) student the right to use the bathroom of the sex by which they identify. Particularly among the poorer urban population my wife serves, in which moral neuralgia seems to stick like an industrial-strength bottle of glue, you get the sense that it’s only a matter of time before she faces a similar situation.

She has had, in four years of teaching, one or two students whose parents are a gay couple. Far more common are mothers with a rotating series of cohabitating boyfriends. The children of gay parents would mention with frightening nonchalance their “moms” or the “other moms,” and my wife would try to quickly and politely change the topic to the schoolwork at hand. What else, after all, can you do? This is utterly normalized in the lives of so many kids today, and it is quickly normalizing in the broader culture, too.

I’ll also add that we are planning to move to Israel in about a month. My wife will be directing a Catholic preschool filled with refugee babies from places like India and Eritrea. It is unlikely that she’ll face the same challenges with transgenderism and homosexuality there. However, we have a two year-old who, in Israel, will be beginning preschool at three years-old. There are cheap Catholic schools, but they are mostly Arabic-speaking (and we, alas, are not). Which leaves either prohibitively expensive private English-speaking options or traditional Israeli public schooling (in Hebrew, which we do speak). One major suburban city in the country has already decided that every municipal preschool must be outfitted with various kids’ books that explicitly support gender ideology. Preschools. Isn’t that amazing? Really, it’s shameless. In any case, while we won’t be living in that particular city, it may not be long before the same thing happens in our city. Because we are Catholics, religious Jewish schooling is an obvious non-option. Ultimately, I think, we’ll be immersing our daughter in Arabic, if only in that way can a non-subversive education be assured.

All of that is to say that if properly safeguarding your child’s education requires homeschooling, moving districts, or maybe learning Arabic, then I suppose that is exactly what you do. And for my wife, in the future it is likely that she’ll be taking a dramatic pay cut to teach as a Catholic school rather than returning to a public school. Perhaps there will be a rare handful of states to resist it all with courage and determination and in that case we would strongly consider relocating there.

The real losers in all of that, though, are the students who not only spend time on mind-blowingly stupid niche cultural items like gay coupling and confused six year-olds (instead of edifying things that sustain minds and civilizations), but who also lose a caring, quality teacher, too. The world is going mad.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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