The State of State Education

Dr. Norman C. Marks

Pastor Emeritus
Mountain View Bible Church
Hummelstown, Pennsylvania

The President gives a “State of the Union” address, and the Governor gives a “State of the State” address.  Citizens can be assured that in these annual speeches, education will be included.

The education establishment is pouring millions of dollars into its effort to communicate that “all’s well” and that all citizens view state education “correctly.” They have persuaded many that it is unpatriotic to question or criticize the state education system.

Yet, one could cite many recognized, dependable sources that don’t “just toe the company line,” including groups like The Heritage Foundation, Family Research Council, Eagle Forum, National Review, and The Commonwealth Foundation.  Notable independent authors add their observations.  Christian college and seminary leaders articulate the problems they face with incoming students who are often the products of state education, both lacking academic background and not embracing a Christian worldview.

I wish to give you a “State of State Education” address.  I call on Christians to sharpen their skills at using God’s Word to sniff out the differences between an education that is approved of God for our children and grandchildren and one that is not.

Jehovah is an unchanging God, His Word is unchanging, and a biblical pastor’s mission is not limited to formal-sounding topics like Christology (Christ), Soteriology (Salvation), Ecclesiology (the Church), and Eschatology (Future things).  The word “doctrine” means “teaching.”  Frankly, the Scriptures are downright personal, addressing a myriad of situations that a person encounters on a daily basis.  The Scriptures have much to say on this subject of education and schooling.  Thus, I as a pastor should be teaching (providing biblical guidance) parents (and older students who can understand) concerning issues of the day.

As a guide, let me give this pointed overview of present state education through an acrostic.

Education Is Seen As The Responsibility Of The State.

There was a day (not that long ago) when education was seen as the responsibility of the family, the church, and the community (for those without family and church resources).  These three have largely been displaced; and there is now a dominance by central government, even inclination toward a virtual government monopoly.  The education industry generally (teacher unions, administrator unions, administrator groups, construction firms, professional consultants, etc.) and liberal/progressive advocacy organizations reinforce this dominance.  Specific illustrations can be seen in their annual and forceful “lobbying” for government appropriations and through state college teacher education courses.  Legitimate diversity in education is being throttled in pre-kindergarten through college, and mandates previously designed as accountability for government funds are increasingly applied to non recipients.  Through all of this, the primary rights and responsibilities of parents are subverted; and parental involvement that does not match with their goals is undercut.

Discipline Has Been Severely Limited, Redefined.

The student has the right to balk, sulk, and disrupt; but for extreme cases, he must not be inhibited, and he must not be embarrassed by confrontation.  Absolutes of right and wrong are largely a thing of the past, replaced by modern thinking in defense of a child’s rights, self-esteem, and self-determination.  The implications of “the new way” are far ranging, including concerns for safety, to exposure to a full range of lifestyles and opinion, the diversion of teacher time, and diminished academic progress for those who wish to learn.  Yes, the school boards want veteran staff out early so as to save on sky-rocketing costs for salaries and tenure, but there is another underlying reason.  This is illustrated by a personal event way back in the 1990s at a high school reunion as one of my former teachers said, “I would not go back to teaching because I’d get kicked out for declaring my right to have order in my classroom” – and it has only gotten worse in the schools since then.

Undermining Of Excellence Has Ravaged The System.

International achievement tests continue to demonstrate that U.S. students as a group lag behind.  Modern education theories teach that parents and educators should avoid embarrassment to the student with either lower aptitude or lower achievement – at all cost – for receiving a bad grade would be hard on a student’s self-esteem.  Schools typically employ a new philosophy of grading.  Gone is the traditional system where one ranking system of grades, “A” through “F,” was administered to all.  Increasingly, students receive grades based upon how they perform on their assigned work.  The Report Card or transcript can list an “A” for a Special Needs student, a slower student, an average student, a better student, or an Honors Class student.  Parents, grandparents, and citizens who grew up in the old system fail to realize that an “A” or a “B” in the new system has a new meaning, one disconnected from excellence.  And in an increasing number of schools, there is also a distinct growing dislike among peers for the truly excellent student.  The typical state school peer group considers it cute, groovy, “in,” or cool to be mediocre; and to be excellent is to be the Nerd.  It is not unusual for the students and parents to criticize classroom teachers who assign “too much” homework and expect “too much” in assigned papers and tests.

Curriculum Is An Increasing Danger.

A variety of culture-popular “isms” are normal fare, including humanism, secularism, material, statism,…  While foreign to the Scriptures, these are interlaced and integrated so as to be subtle.  Modern curriculum sneaks in the “isms” and pushes out both honest academics and our Christian-American heritage.  It is common fare for children to be taught that early American Christians were racists, bigoted, and greedy.  It is most doubtful that Wilberforce, Wesley, Livingstone, and Blackstone will ever be given credit for using their minds, voices, and energies for great works for mankind, including the defeat of slavery.  At the same time, the education establishment with its own agenda has more ways to fool conscientious parents than parents can create defenses.

Associations Are Often Forced Upon Students.

With “political correctness” being the norm, parents and students are expected to be part of the common community.  “Tolerance” has been redefined to mean that all views and lifestyles are equal, and all are expected to accept and approve.  This is a far cry from the community schools of past decades where families knew each other, personally knew each teacher, and where one could “pick and choose” associations.  Today, the percentage of society that conscientiously follows God’s Word has diminished.  No longer can it be said that parents can guide their children and youth to avoid undesirable companions, for the world’s system (spiritual) has long since taken over even the nicest communities – and the state education system.  Similarly, parents have no ability to shield their students from a teacher believed to be undesirable for their student (whether academically or spiritually).  Far from exposing students to the things that are “pure…, just…, of good report…,” elementary students face exposure to this world’s relativism and humanism.  Most exposure is subtle, but the stench of the world’s system grows more obvious with middle school and secondary students as they get exposed to the more advanced advice of secular guidance counselors, teachers, and the social peer group.  “Parental taboos” are easily skirted as students are assigned to classroom and school activities and projects.  There is one exception, for one does not hear much of students being rebuked if they speak disparagingly of (or act against) deeply religious students.  That form of bigotry is acceptable today.

Teachers Are A Direct Reflection Of The System.

Schools are not, and teachers are not, only dispensers of academic information.  The purpose of schooling has never been that narrow.  Schools and teachers are supposed to be major shapers of the student’s inner life as they are trained and expected to implement a full range of schooling objectives.  Most of those who planned schools and taught in the 60s, 70s, and 80s have had their fill and are getting out.  Overall, they were a rather conservative lot who had an inclination toward a traditional society with good academics, civil behavior and character expectations, and respect for parental wishes.  A much higher percentage of school planners and teachers is a new breed in that they are personally and professionally oriented to follow the progressive ideas taught in their homes, schools, and college classes (required for state education certification) in our spiritually and socially progressive society.  In contrast to previous generations, today, apart from the most extreme offences, teachers keep their certification and their jobs while being the type of person they choose.  But if you want a reality check, observe what a state school board does with a professional who lives a dedicated Christian life on and off the job and integrates biblical Christianity in the classroom!

Indoctrination Is Included in Curriculum.

Throughout time, the purpose of schooling is not narrowly limited to mastering purely academic content.  For example, the historic cultures of Rome, Athens, and Jerusalem are all noted for education systems that influenced the next generation to fit into their culture.  More recent examples include the schools under Hitler and Stalin or of a modern Muslim country.  The underlying concept is true of U.S. state education today.  Some educators title the aspects of school curriculum that go beyond the textbooks and formal lesson plans as the “hidden” curriculum (“hidden” meaning the content one includes but does not “show on paper”).  One time, not long ago, our schools taught problems of democracy, world history, governance of a republic, and American exceptionalism; and they taught responsibility, ethics, morality, modesty, the value of work, honor to parents and adults, and punctuality as part of the “hidden” curriculum.  If the surveys are true, these are not areas of learning for which modern state school students are held responsible.  Today the students are well taught in pluralism, a world-focused agenda, and relativism.  Even in the formal curriculum, communism is now dead; and the communists of yesterday have long ago been made to look like men interested in world peace.  Discussion of gender and sex have no absolutes.  National pride is passé at best and likely deemed as wrong; and our Constitution must be rewritten by the bench, the President, or by general acclamation since democracy is deemed to be so important.  Meanwhile, there is no place for the unalienable rights formerly acknowledged as coming from God.

Objective-Based Accountability to Government Is “In.”

For several decades, citizens have not been happy with state education.  The hue and cry is that too many students are not learning well and that too many students are not prepared to be decent workers, parents, and citizens.  Legislators come up with new “reforms” about every eight years, and it is typical that these speak of accountability – more and more money flows to local schools from Washington and Harrisburg, and with money comes controls.  The trend in educational theory for the past decades is to require state schools to administer a state-designed criterion reference test based upon what officials believe should be “mastered” by all at each grade level.  These are not achievement tests or aptitude tests.  With passing years, the objectives being tested are expanding beyond rather objective Reading and Math skills and are being shaped in part by political and philosophical preferences.  The result of implementing these tests is that state schools “teach to the test” so their school building receives good “marks” – more students can answer the specific test questions but have not mastered broader academic content.  This “dumbs down” the overall curriculum.  Regularly, conscientious teachers complain that they have no time to meet the real academic needs of their students because their time is consumed by fulfilling government mandates.  In general, only the highest 10-20% of the students in state schools are educated decently as they avoid the narrowed curriculum.  Beyond hindering the good education of the majority, the path is paved for government imposition of “proper” thinking.

Neutralism (So Called) Is Having Its Effects.

To effectively undermine a Biblical philosophy of life, a school and a teacher do not have to directly challenge a Biblical assertion.  He only needs to say, “Well, it is o.k. for you to choose that option.”  He only needs to undermine the student’s idea that there are absolutes, that there is truth, that there are right and wrong.  To be “neutral” is to embrace relativism (situation ethics included).  Is it any wonder that many parents describe their teenager as a “good kid” because he has “chosen” to stay away from symptoms of worldly living such as drugs, sex, booze, etc., while staying within home and church rules?  But being steeped in neutralism/relativism, they do not personally hold to a thoroughly Biblical system of values and philosophies.  They have been taught well, and research indicates that huge numbers of these students forsake the values of their homes and churches as they approach or go through their teens and 20s.

In summary:

As to the state of state education, we must look at the situation as it really is – today.  As to enrolling a Christian student in the state schools in this generation, I must ask some questions to any father or mother under my spiritual watchcare.  I will start with these.  Would you send your child to a tavern for his lunch?  Would you send him to a San Francisco bathhouse for his personal hygiene?  Would you send him to Vegas for instruction in budgeting?  Would you house him in a co-ed college dorm to prepare for married life?  I hope we would all say, “No, this is not the way to raise a child to develop convictions for God.”

For what reason would a Christian parent, a modern Christian parent, send his child to this system, whether for pre-kindergarten, elementary school, high school, or college?  For academics?  (The elite are not doing badly in the honors classes, but is that the norm?)  For sports?  (How important is that in eternity?)  To be a missionary?  (Do spiritual battle, even against adults, without preparation?)  To “fit in?”  (For whose approval?)  For saving money?  (At what price?)  Because “my school” isn’t as bad as others?  (By whose calculations?)

No, as a pastor, considering the state of state education, I cannot recommend that any Christian parent enroll his child in the state schools.  If even secular conservatives can see problems clearly, why should not a student of the Scriptures be able to see the principles that are being violated?

Use Christian education.

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