In 1977 I wrote an article for CHRISTIANITY TODAY in which I argued that Christians had no business founding Christian schools. I condemned Christian schools as separatist, possibly racist, and inimical to Christian evangelism.
One of the editors told me then that my article set a record for negative mail. Most letters came from private-school administrators, and from Lutheran and Baptist pastors who had schools in their churches. They loved these schools and despised me for not loving them also.
Of all the letters, one remains in my memory. An inner-city Philadelphia mother told me about her experiences. Her teenage daughter had been assaulted on the school playground. Gangs controlled the halls and restrooms, and the daughter left home each morning refusing to drink her milk at breakfast because she felt she had to avoid the restroom until she returned home. The mother, who worked as a waitress, said, “If I had the money, I would do anything to get my daughter out of that hell, to give her the chance to have a better life. The schools you defend are about to destroy my daughter, and they ought not to get away with it.”
Over the years, I have come to believe that I was wrong and that struggling mother was right.
Roots of my conversion
Please put my conversion in context. I come from a long line of public-school teachers. My mother taught for 40 years in the public schools. My wife taught for six years, and after that, she and I worked and volunteered in our children’s schools. But in the last couple of years, I have come to disbelieve the great liberal axiom that democracy is utterly dependent upon uniform public education. I no longer think it is our duty as caring Christians to support the public schools unquestioningly.
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