Our Public Schools: Is Atheism All We Can Afford?

Heading home after a long and godless day.
Heading home after a long and godless day.

I have always believed that the best education for my kids is an explicitly Christian one.  I know there are many Christian parents who think differently. They think a child can learn about math, history, and science in a public school, and learn about God at home and Church. This is certainly possible, but in my view it is far from ideal. School ought to introduce us not simply to discrete subjects but to the whole structure of knowledge, and to God as the being who created that structure and makes it cohere. Put less grandly, I would rather not have my kids in any setting for eight hours a day that systematically ignores the reality of God. That is playing a game of “Let’s Pretend” rather longer than I deem healthy.

Many parents accept public schools more from financial necessity than from any really settled views about education. Private Christian schools are almost prohibitively expensive.  Here in Houston, I know you would be hardpressed to send your child to a Catholic grade school for less than $5,000 tuition per year. High school tuition will run at least $10,000-15,000. Taken out of one’s net income (reduced by payment of property taxes to fund, what else, the public schools) this is a sizeable expense. Currently, I have two children in Catholic schools but a third in a public school. For that third child, our youngest, we must settle for an atheistic education in which all meaningful reference to God has been ruthlessly excised. The excisers themselves hardly strike me as unkind. They are just doing their job. I would love to have our youngest in a God-grounded environment, but for the moment atheism is all we can afford.

In truth, an education without religion is an education on the cheap. Our public school children are being systematically denied their birthright as human beings–their right to be exposed to the best that human beings have thought and believed about God. An unhappy and dangerous fiction is being quietly foisted upon them–the notion that this life is all there is and that no one has ever seriously thought differently.

What is the way out of this impoverishment? We can’t make private religious schools free. But we can make the public schools open to religious expression in a way that would raise the comfort levels of thousands of religious parents. And we can do it without raising constitutional objections from any but the most ardent secularists.

The solution is not really that difficult. Our public schools should be religion-equipped, just as they are equipped for so much else. Our public schools have bathrooms, libraries, water-fountains, and baseball fields. They have music teachers, cooks, and counselors. Some of them have grand football stadiums and spacious gyms. Why can’t they also have religious classes and clergy? Why can’t they teach religions as academic subjects, in classes offered for academic credit? Why can’t clergy of different faiths set foot on campus and provide guidance and instruction to students of the same creed as themselves? They could serve as volunteers or be paid out of funds contributed by local religious bodies. If a school can accept private money for a new football scoreboard or music wing, it should also be allowed can accept private money for a minister, rabbi, or imam to provide support to students of the same faith on-campus.

Are there insuperable constitutional objections to such practices? The secularism of our public schools has more to do with progressive theories of education than with the United States Constitution. Other public institutions where progressives have not triumphed have preserved religious life without falling afoul of the Constitution. Religion is a big part of American military life and receives significant government support. Public colleges and universities, for all their reputed godlessness, have been more supportive of religious reflection than the public high schools from which they draw students. Why, exactly, are 10-year-olds denied what is offered to college students and soldiers? There is no constitutional justification for it. If parents fear religious indoctrination–an unconstitutional  “establishment of religion”–their consent could be required before a kid is allowed to take a religion class, see a minister, or participate in a prayer meeting.

The systematic emptying of our public schools of any reference to God has made them spiritual wastelands.  This holds true as much for the “blue ribbon” school in the toney suburb as for the inner-city school that can barely afford textbooks. Every civilization the world over has seen to the formation of its children in some religious tradition. Our failure to include in our schools this essential dimension of human well-being is a dereliction of duty that no appeal to constitutional scruples can hide.

7 responses to “Our Public Schools: Is Atheism All We Can Afford?”

  1. Unfortunately, our schools are becoming more and more anti-religion. My sisters and I all attending Catholic school. My children went to Catholic high school, and got a much better education. It was extremely costly, but well worth it. Schools today cannot discuss religion or God. They cant punish students or speak harshly. They are even trying to get rid of prayers at sporting events among players. Why can’t they do what they believe in? Crazy! I hope something changes soon.

  2. I have nothing against Atheism, I have spend some years of my young life actively considering it as the best possible option.

    I tend to agree with your comment that “In truth, an education without religion is an education on the cheap” And I am in complete agreement with you on the point of offering all the available view-points to the next generation as a part of formal education.

    The alternate to focus on single religion should not be ‘no religion at all’ but rather an approach where there is an acknowledgement of common goodness of thought across various religions. There is a term in in Sanskrit called ‘sarvdharmasambhav’ loosely it can be translated into ‘Similar Respect towards all Religion’. This is drastically different from the definition of the word ‘Secular’ that is generally professed.

    People who do not want religion to be the part of education, policy making, governance or administration may base their argument that it helps to avoid friction between people who may follow different religious beliefs. Rather than offering Atheism as a alternate to religion, why cant we offer sarvdharmsambav’ as an alternate.

    I find it funny that politically correct people share best wishes for ‘festive season’ rather than saying ‘Merry Christmas’ 🙂

    Again I have no problem if my own kids grow up to be Atheist, but I would like them to make that an informed choice after having knowledge about what the various religions of the world have to offer them.



  3. First, the caption of your photo made me laugh out loud.

    But I wonder, Tony. Considering their track record, do you really want the public education system to foster your religion? If you get a bad math teacher, your kid goes into Liberal Arts instead of STEM. If you get a bad religion teacher, your kid goes into Hell instead of Heaven. The stakes are higher.

    • Collin, I don’t envision a child being subject to religious instruction against the will of the parent. Students could take classes or be ministered to by instructors and clergy as well known to parents as their own pastors are. In some cases they may actually be one and the same. The whole point would be to create space for religion in the public schools, not to make public schools per se indoctrinators of children.

  4. Doc, you opened up a can of worms with this post, you know? My children attend a Lutheran parochial school. That is a decision that my husband and I have had to sit down and discuss where, exactly, family budget cuts could and would be made in order to fund their tuition. We have three children, and their annual tuition would add up to a nice vacation and a padded savings account, if we chose to pull them from Trinity and throw them into the midst of the public school system. However, vacationing in the south of France is not what we, as Christian parents are called to do. We are called to train up our children under the law of Christ, and equip them for the mission field. How can we do that if they are only being thoroughly exposed to the Word once a week? I realize that my opponents will come right back at me and tell me that true discipleship begins at home. I couldn’t agree more. But, my children spend eight hours a day at school…away from me. If they are in the public school system being “taught” that they evolved from a monkey instead of being formed in the image of the Almighty Creator, doesn’t my time with them sound a little counter-productive? Parents and teachers should support each other, not under-cut each other’s teachings.

    It’s very similar to the Food Pyramid. Do you remember that from days gone by? Similar, at least in concept: we are supposed to eat a well-balanced meal from ALL of the food groups several times EACH day. If we do not eat this well-balanced and healthy variety of food, our bodies become sickly, and eventually we die. We do not eat only ONCE a week. We do not feed our children only ONCE a week…or only feed them at night because that is when we see them. The same holds true for the Word of God, and all of His commands and promises. We are to be in God’s Word EVERY day. We are to have our kids in His Word EVERY day…NOT just on Sundays because that particular time slot is open in our calendars. We do not go to church because that is what we have always done or because that is what our parents did, so we have to go. No! We go in order to build that relationship with God, to get to know Him and His Son better. We go, so that we can get our “marching orders” for the week. We go to receive the forgiveness we so desperately need for all of the sin that is just rolling off of us. Sundays are the “cheat” days of a diet…where you just gorge yourself on goodies…the goodness of God. The rest of the week is the sustenance.

    Yes, I have my children in parochial school. Yes, I want to keep them shielded and protected from the godlessness of this world from as long as I can. In response to an earlier comment, no, I would not be okay if my children “chose” to be atheists when they were older. How could I? How could I allow them to look the Almighty in His face and tell Him with audacity and gall that He does not exist? How could any parent be okay with damning their children? This world is going to try and squeeze every drop of decency and goodness out of it. I will do everything in my power to equip my family for the fight because I know that greater is He who is in me, than he who is in the world.

  5. I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about this post because I went to public schools K-12…very good ones at that. My feelings were a tad bit hurt (lol), but once I was able to see past that, I completely agree with you. Once it was time for me to start applying for college, I avoided public universities like they were the black plague. I wanted a school that integrated Christian views into the education without feeling as if these views were being forced down my throat. To make a long story short, here I am at HBU enjoying my education thoroughly. Going to a school that holds on to its beliefs has definitely shaped me into a better person. I believe that the education here at HBU is definitely very well-rounded, and allows the students to be more open to different ideas and beliefs.

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