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Issue and Interchange

Wilson Responds

It is a distinct pleasure to debate with a Christian gentleman. I trust that in the exchange which follows I will be able to express myself as graciously as Dr. Simonds. I am afraid, however, that all the graciousness in the world will not be able to paper over the fundamental difference here. And, because this is a debate, to the differences we go!

First, Dr. Simonds contends that I skipped over the only purely Biblical option, which he identifies as home-schooling. The reason I skipped over that was because it was not the subject of the debate. (I also skipped over the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII.) It is true that nowhere in my piece do I say anything about home-schools vs. private Christian institutions. The debate between them is important, but it is primarily pedagogical, not ethical. All my arguments were geared to whether Christian children should be in public schools, and they are arguments with which both home schoolers and Christian school advocates can readily agree.

Dr. Simonds also pointed out that not all Christian schools are good. "Children are not necessarily safe there." This is quite true, but it is also not the subject of the debate. The question is not whether it is morally required to send your child to any and every institution bearing the name Christian school.

Closer to the heart of the debate, Dr. Simonds challenges my definition of the public schools. The part of my definition he appears to question is the claim that public schools are "officially agnostic." He says, "Please note that this statement is inaccurate." He then goes on to say, "The schools must remain neutral on the teaching `of' religion, but not 'about' religion." He then goes on to argue that a "non-agnostic" form of education can be provided by godly parents as a result of a combination of the base education provided at school, mixed with the particular doctrines and beliefs of the parents at home. The picture that comes to my mind is the one of how paints are mixed at a paint store. The base paint is neutral, and various colors are added to suit the customer. Only in this case the customers mix in their own colors at home.

Now if the schools must remain neutral on the teaching of religion, how is this not official agnosticism? They are allowed to teach about religion, true, but does this include the permission to say which one is right? Or is that a detail? And where does Scripture allow us to believe that truth can be learned this way, with a certain percentage of basic, neutral facts, which are then mixed with the truths of Christianity? The Bible teaches that all truth is God's truth, and none of it is neutral. There is no such thing as neutrality.

On a personal note, I was frankly impressed when Dr. Simonds said that he and his wife read every single assignment. It is good that he and his wife discuss with theirkids what they heard during the day. And apparently the degree of their commitment is reflected in the character of their children; we all rejoice that they are walking with the Lord. But I have direct experience with this sort of thing too; I am one of four children, all of whom went all the way through the public schools system, and all of whom are still Christians. Whenever I was taught something which I understood to be in conflict with the faith of my parents, I rejected the lie. But the key phrase here is which I understood. There were many lies which got by my childish defenses. I am now thirty-seven, and I am still unlearning my public school education.

Dr. Simonds agreed with an application of II Cor. 10:4-5 to education, but said that Christian parents ought to be taking control of the entire public school system, instead of abandoning it. But this creates two questions: First, why should we have to do all this if it is possible to provide a godly education for our kids by combining Christian ed at home with neutral ed received during the day? If it is true that "in most cases teachers try hard" to follow the dictum that requires the public schools to be neutral in the teaching of religion, and Dr. Simonds says that it is, then why do we have to take over anything? Why do we not simply concentrate on mixing in our own colors at home?

Secondly, if we answer this call to conquest, do we take the schools back in order to make them explicitly Christian, or do we take them back because the secularists cannot be trusted to keep them neutral, while we Christians can keep them neutral?

If the former, then are we not formally establishing the Christian religion in a tax-funded institution? Are we not requiring the non-Christians to pay for the propagation of a faith they do not believe? And is this not doing unto them what we do not like done unto us? Is Dr. Simonds making this a debate between advocates of different kinds of Christian education, i.e. tax-supported vs. privately-financed?

And if it is the latter option, I would ask for the Scriptural imperative which requires us to fight to maintain a neutral institution, with a mission to propagate neutral facts.

Dr. Simonds then says that 33% of all church children have dropped out of church, largely because, he says, of the atheistic no-value system in our public schools. He then offers this argument, which I frankly find quite baffling. But perhaps I have misunderstood. He says, "Now that makes a great point for Mr. Wilson's thesis, to put our children in Christian schools, right? Wrong. Why? Because Christians are not putting them in Christian schools in spite of our urging them to do so." Let us apply this argument elsewhere. People who smoke 22 packs of Turkish cigarettes a day are dropping like flies. Mr. Wilson has urged them to quit. Now if they do not quit, and they continue to assume room temperature, can we reason from this that they ought not to quit? I don't think so.

He then argues that if churches made the public schools a high priority, we could elect Christians to school boards all over the country. We could then control "all curriculum, textbooks, reading, teaching and administration in just three short years." Again, control to what purpose? Explicitly Christian public schools? Or schools run by Christians to be neutral?

The hindrance, he says, to this conquest of the public schools is that we "are still holding onto this archaic philosophy" that it is immoral to send your children to public schools. Now even if what I argue here is wrong, it is hardly archaic. The Christian school movement in America is very young, and the home school movement is even younger. Those Christian parents whose kids are in the public schools are the current establishment; the reformation, the change, comes from those parents seeking to provide a Christian education.

Dr. Simonds concludes by asking whether, given my reasoning, it is immoral for a Christian to be in the world, rubbing shoulders with all the pagans out there. The biblical answer to this is that we are supposed to be in the world (see for example 1 Corinthians 5:9-10). But we must be constantly vigilant to see that the world stays out of us, and we must take particular care to keep the world out of our children. We must train our children to go into the world; we must not help the world go into our children.

At one point in his conclusion, I am afraid Dr. Simonds misinterpreted my argument. He says, "Our dear brother says when we send our children to public schools we are subsidizing evil by our taxes." What I said was, "Christians who send their children to such schools are subsidizing, with their children as the payment, this particular lie..." About half my property taxes go to support the public school system, and I submissively pay those taxes; they are God's chastisement. I am biblically allowed to pay this tax, because Caesar's image is on what I send them. But God's image is on my children, and I am forbidden to render them to Caesar (Matt. 22:21).

In conclusion, I appreciate the tone of Dr. Simonds' arguments. I am grateful for his commitment to his children. I am glad that we can agree that atheistic no-value education is harmful to children. But after that point, we part company. I believe that all the education of Christian children should be thoroughly, consistently, and explicitly Christian, and that it should be financed voluntarily by Christians. In contrast, Dr. Simonds believes part of the education need not be explicitly Christian, and that Christian parents should provide the Christianity at home.

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