Posted By Luci on May 10, 2010
Not for young readers.
When discussing the many advantages of homeschooling, many parents are confronted with the question: “But what about the ‘good’ public schools? Why would you not send your children there?” Of all the challenges to homeschooling, this question is perhaps among the most pernicious: being vague, it’s difficult for a parent to answer. Without some idea of what students gain (or lose) from “good” public schools, homeschooling parents may find their choices difficult to defend.
I attended public schools for thirteen years (kindergarten through twelfth grade). Thanks to high property taxes, the schools in the county where I grew up are very well-funded and offer “extras” from special language classes to numerous extracurricular activities. My high school is consistently ranked among the top 200 high schools in the nation; it’s fair to say that it counts as a “good” public school. The schools I attended were not anomalies; rather, they were held up as models for other schools to imitate. As such, I consider them valuable lenses through which to evaluate academics and socialization our nation’s “good” in public schools.
Elementary school (K-5)
I was insulated from social pressures due to the fact that I was usually working with higher-level classes. I faced some questions from my friends when my parents kept me out of our fifth grade “health” class, wherein students learned about AIDS and homosexuality. By the end of fifth grade, three or four of my friends had begun “dating” – no one appeared to find this development strange.
Middle school (6-8)
Academics: My middle-school teachers were far less equipped to deal with gifted students, as they spent a significant amount of time enforcing classroom discipline. However, I began French in sixth grade, which provided a new challenge. In eighth grade, my English teacher allowed me to design my own curriculum around the St. John’s College Great Books program.
Social: Beginning in sixth grade, I witnessed the sexualization of youth culture. I knew several eleven year old girls who became pregnant; at least two had abortions. I’ll never forget the moment in seventh grade when I learned that two of my twelve year old classmates had engaged in oral s-x. I remember thinking, “They’re not going to get married. What’s going to happen when one of them gets married and has to tell his or her spouse about doing this at the age of 12?” This incident wasn’t uncommon; similar activities occurred at school, on the bus to and from school, and at children’s houses after school when no one was home.
A major problem was the lack of parental supervision. I was still in my “it’s cool to be a nerd” phase, so I didn’t go to parties – but they were happening! Parents would allow their children to invite 20, 30, or 40 kids over for a late Friday or Saturday night (unsupervised) party. I can only assume that the parents of the children who attended these parties were either aware that no chaperons would be present or simply didn’t care. By eighth grade, many of my good friends had gotten to “third base,” if you will, and others had been around the bases several times … with different boys.
It was well-known that sexual activity was common at my middle school. In eighth grade health class, a classmate told our teacher and class that he knew about “safe sex” from his older brother, so, the first time he had sex, he made sure to use a condom. In retrospect, I find that incident to have been terribly sad; at the time, I was simply flabbergasted. I couldn’t help but wonder how his girlfriend – who everyone knew – would feel about him sharing such details with our class. The next day, I fainted while watching a mandatory, extremely explicit video on intercourse. Thankfully, that ended my stint in “health” class!
Because of the increasing social pressures, I implored my parents to let me go to a private school, thinking that it would be better. However, we could not afford tuition and they didn’t think that the social environment would be any better. (In retrospect, they were correct.) I went to our church’s Youth Group to meet friends who weren’t as boy-crazy. At the first and only meeting I attended, we discussed contraception and a potential trip to New York. I did not return.
The experience of my childhood best friend, who grew up just a few houses down the street and attended the same schools, was all too common. She began dating when she was eleven, had slept over at an older boy’s house at twelve, and, by age thirteen, had experimented with a variety of drugs. I rarely saw her, as she was usually busy hanging out with “cooler” kids, but I missed her so much.
High school (9-12)
Academics: Despite being highly ranked and nationally renowned for its academic offerings, courses at my high school were by no means difficult. It had 2,200 students, so I was not able to receive the individual attention that I had in middle and elementary school. I completed the International Baccalaureate curriculum as well as eleven Advanced Placement tests; I did not take any of the AP classes, but earned an average score of 4.5.
My French teacher became a beloved mentor for me. Beginning in 10th grade, she let me have my own class with two native speakers of French from Cote d’Ivoire. We spent an hour a day conversing in a little back room that was separate from the main French class. My French improved tremendously, and I remain fluent in the language.
Social: The sexualized culture that began in middle school remained pervasive. I was sucked in with one “boyfriend” in ninth grade, and then another “boyfriend” in tenth grade. The latter was an extremely destructive influence in my life; he was verbally and physically abusive, and I was unable to escape until I completed my freshman year of college. From time to time, my French teacher gently expressed her concerns about this boy; she was a very positive influence when I began trying to break things off with him much later. My parents had no idea that he was anything but kind to me.
Signs of the dating culture were everywhere. The school had a daycare center for girls’ babies; it was always over-enrolled. Our weekly school newspaper always had an advertisement from a clinic that offered abortions. The school nurse passed out condoms – no questions asked. One yearbook section was devoted to “couples.” Of course, by the time the yearbook came out each year, many children featured had moved on to the next partner, or the next, or the one after that.
With high school came trouble with binge drinking. I never understood the excitement of underage drinking parties, although I knew that many parents would host them for their kids. Students would often discuss these events with their teachers to show how “sophisticated” they were. To my knowledge, no teacher ever contacted school officials or parents to express concern. Parents justified these parties by saying that the kids were “going to drink anyway,” so they might as well “provide a safe environment.” The parties were generally followed by co-ed sleepovers, which many of my peers attended without their parents’ knowledge or consent. Make no mistake – at least several of my Christian friends arrived at church on Sunday mornings having come straight from a co-ed sleepover… and their parents never had a clue.
Sex was seen as “recreation” separate from any emotions. “Hooking up” was rampant, even at school; moreover, kids didn’t seem to exhibit any shame when they were caught by teachers. My mother, who worked part-time at my high school, once attempted to break up two children who were locked in a passionate embrace – and who were quite late for their next classes. “It’s our (expletive) nine-day anniversary,” the girl huffed. “Leave us the (expletive) alone!” She continues to work there; students curse at her on a regular basis for “offenses” ranging from asking them to be on time to class to telling someone to pull up his boxers so that his rear end is covered.
Drugs were a huge problem; marijuana, crack, cocaine, and other substances were bought and sold at my high school. Violence was commonplace. I don’t mean bullying, but rather full-fledged fights every single day. There were kids with whom I rode the school bus who brought handguns or knives with them. We had four security guards who did their best to enforce school rules, but they couldn’t be everywhere at once. A proposal to install security cameras at two entrances garnered serious opposition from children and parents on the grounds of privacy rights. Students were “entitled” to leave school and skip class or engage in a fight without the presence of security cameras or metal detectors!
These are not extreme examples. In twelfth grade, I was elected president of my high school and came to know many students well. As such, I had an inside view of my school’s problems. Somehow, everyday life didn’t seem to justify the school’s high ranking. I talked with many older teachers, who bemoaned the total collapse of civility. I spoke with students, who saw no need to respect adults since, to them, everything was a matter of opinion and everyone’s opinion should be treated equally. The dress “standards” were outrageously low, and girls often campaigned for the “right” to wear even more revealing clothes as a means of “self-expression.” Spaghetti straps and miniskirts passed as appropriate attire. Homosexuality was promoted as a perfectly acceptable lifestyle. Most teachers displayed signs provided by the school administration in their classrooms which told students to “Stop Hate” and “Encourage Friends to Come Out.”
Unfortunately, my best friend never escaped the twin lures of sensuality and poor education in our high school. She hopped from one sexual relationship to another, engaged in self-mutilation, shoplifting, and other destructive acts. I wish that I had tried harder to convince her to avoid the sexualized culture in our schools, but I, too, made rash decisions. Mostly, I wish that an adult in our lives had defended us and helped us conquer the troubles we faced as a result of our time in public schools.
Was it worth it?
No. Although I enjoyed learning foreign languages and creating my own curricula in several grades, my academic efforts were greatly hampered by the constant social pressures to which no teenager can be immune. I was a very self-motivated student, but still fell behind as a result of peer influences. I would never subject any of my own children to the experiences I had.
I’ve drawn several conclusions from my time in public schools:
1. Even the best-funded schools in the country are ill-equipped to deal with the problems that plague public schools today. Classes are too big for individual attention. Parents’ complaints simply don’t matter. Laws about how students learn about human sexuality are ineffective because teachers direct lessons in certain ways to make ideological points. They remain free from outside pressure, because individuals in schools’ administrations have other priorities (and usually share the same humanist worldview.) Teaching children about God “when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up” (Deuteronomy 6:7) cannot occur in any efficacious manner if children attend public schools.
2. The schools of education from which public school teachers graduate do not produce good teachers. Studying on my own, I earned better AP scores than students who took the year-long AP classes. I was later told that the teachers of those classes were quite embarrassed. Younger teachers have usually graduated from programs that emphasize teaching moral relativism at the expense of real knowledge. School boards everywhere are changing curricula to fit standards of diversity, at the expense of “dead white males” like James Madison and other important historical figures. Without good teachers, students flounder and fail. Male students often have particular difficulties with the “progressive” and feminist philosophies espoused and implemented by younger teachers. Christina Hoff Sommers’ book, The War Against Boys, and C. Bradley Thompson’s lecture, “Our Killing Schools,” available here, provide excellent expositions of these problems.
3. Regardless of how well parents supervise their children outside of school, children and teenagers overwhelmingly conform to the standards of their peers while in school. No one ever wants to be the “odd one out.” But God tells us, “Do not be conformed to this world.” (Romans 12:2) Philippians 4:8 instructs, “whatever things are true, noble, just, pure, [or] lovely … if there meditate on these things.” Such thinking is impossible in today’s public schools, where students are constantly bombarded with anti-Christian messages. The culture of public schools is completely antithetical to the cultivation of Biblical virtues.
The winds of change are not blowing in a direction favorable to Christians. H. R. 4530, the “Student Non-Discrimination Act,” would enact a broad prohibition of student speech against homosexuality and “actual or perceived gender identity.” The ACLU is engaged in active campaigns to broaden students’ rights at the expense of parents’ rights. (Parentalrights.org lists numerous challenges to parents’ rights to direct the education of their children.) Furthermore, if the Obama administration has its way, the United States will sign on to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Convention would impart to children the “right to freedom of expression,” which includes the “freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any media of the child’s choice.” Signing on to the Convention would present unprecedented challenges to Christian parents who seek to direct their children’s moral, educational, and spiritual development. The current legal climate is distinctly unfavorable to Christian parents – and looks like it shall remain that way for years to come.
So, what about the “good” public schools? I would contend that these schools aren’t “good” – academically or socially. If you are investigating your child’s educational options, I ask you to look beyond the rankings and what may appear to be a pretty façade at your local schools. Investigate the schools’ moral climates. We shouldn’t sacrifice our children on the altar of progressive thinking. Would you put your child on a sinking ship to help bail out tons of water with the equivalent of a thimble? There is nothing you can get in public schools that’s worth your child’s spiritual life.
Postscript: Despite my follies and wanderings during high school and college, the Lord graciously continued to draw me to Himself. I met a wonderful Godly man at college, who stood by me and helped me heal from the damage caused by my previous abusive relationship. We married in November 2009, and I delight in being his wife. God is so good!