How can churches equip kids for life in public schools?

In conversation with a 16-year-old daughter some time ago, I uttered one of those standard parental sentences that started, "When I was in high school . …" She listened patiently to the end of the sentence before replying with unaccustomed seriousness, "Mom, things aren't the way they were when you were in school." This was not adolescent one-upmanship. Mary Pipher, author of Reviving Ophelia, makes the same point: most middle-class parents have very little idea of what their kids are facing when they grab their backpacks and head for school. The social world of school is more complicated for our children than it was for us.

Complicated doesn't necessarily mean bad, but it does mean strenuous. Kids are expected to master complex, evolving technologies, to recognize early and often how race, class, and gender modify points of view; to look back on American history in light not only of two world wars and a depression, but of subsequent conflicts with murkier moral terms. They know they're a "target market"—the big guns of advertising are aimed directly at them. They have no choice about whether to "think globally": global trade, global warming, and global conflicts are far less remote than a generation ago. And the constraints upon public-school instructors who wish to provide moral grounding points are more rigorous now than they were 30 years ago. In many public schools, explicit reflection from the standpoint of faith is virtually prohibited in the classroom, or even in campus clubs.

One widespread response to these pressures is private schooling. Nearly 2 million students are now homeschooled, not to mention the many in Christian schools. That strategy has obvious selling ...

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Marilyn Chandler McEntyre
Marilyn Chandler McEntyre has taught at Princeton University, the College of New Jersey, Mills College, Dominican University, and Westmont College. She now teaches at the UCSF/UC Berkeley Joint Medical Program and in the University Writing Program at UC Davis. Her column for Christianity Today appeared from 2000 to 2001.
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