Should Christian parents withdraw their children from public schools?
Yes, private and home-schools do a better job: 15%
Yes, public schools are becoming too dangerous: 2%
Yes, Christians are called to be separate: 2%
Yes, public ed undermines family values: 11%
Yes, but only in extreme circumstances: 8%
No, children should act as "salt and light": 11%
No, parents can act as "salt and light": 22%
No, Christian withdrawal will worsen schools: 10%
No, public schools aren't that bad: 6%
No, the other options are just as troubled: 4%
I don't know: 4%
Non-scientific poll of 2,262 unique visitors to CT's web page.

Uncle Sam and Focus on the Family's James Dobson have found something on which to agree: It's okay not to send your kids to a failing public school. Rod Paige, President Bush's secretary of education, said in July that 8,600 of the 92,000 public schools nationwide have failed to meet state academic standards for the last two years. As a result, students at those schools will have the option to attend a higher-performing school within their district, under provisions in the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Recent reports reveal the extent of poor performance. About 70 percent of low-income fourth-graders are reading below a basic level. And in a 2001 geography test, one of three fourth-graders could not name their state and locate it on a national map. Problems other than failed instruction also lurk in public education. In a July broadcast, Dobson said a tidal wave of postmodern philosophy is overwhelming students and teachers. The leading edge of this wave is advocacy of homosexuality. Noting one extreme example, Dobson quoted a Nation article in which Bob Chase, head of the National Education Association, said that acceptance (not just tolerance) of homosexuality should be the goal for educators.

Certainly not every school district takes its marching orders from the NEA. But under the banner of tolerance, more school districts are allowing gay advocates into the classroom. A loose coalition of educators, politicians, textbook publishers, and researchers is devaluing traditional sexuality morality through their public support of homosexual relationships.

In reaction, American Christians, observant Jews, Muslims, and others are joining Dobson in endorsing an exodus from public schools. The size of this walkout is hard to measure. According to the research firm Public Agenda, private-school enrollments peaked in 1965 at 13 percent of all school-age children and are currently just over 11 percent. But the continuous growth of homeschooling (see "The Little School in the Living Room Grows Up," p. 48) broadly signals how unhappy many parents are with their public schools.

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Generations of Christians, in sending their children to public schools, have embraced the biblical metaphor of being "salt and light" to the lost. But that strategy seems self-defeating when more schools fail at basic instruction and are hostile to the values of the children and parents they purport to serve.

Cheryl Perez, a Christian teaching in a California public school who has two children in public education, believes parents have every right to pull their kids out of public education if its effect on them is negative. Doing what's best for your child is a standard Christians can embrace unapologetically. Perez hears God's call to keep teaching in a public school. "I see my campus not as a place to run from, but as a mission field of hurting, hopeless youth (and teachers) who need to know the love of our savior," she told CT.

Public education, a rite of passage for most Americans, should not be a journey into moral or academic bankruptcy. Christians, from within the system or without, should practice godly influence, steering our schools toward academic excellence and moral conviction.

We can no longer take for granted that our public schools are able to act in the best interest of children. Christian parents who remove their children from public schools should not face social stigma or have their commitment to the gospel questioned by other Christians.

Related Elsewhere

On Focus on the Family radio broadcasts July 8 (audio) and July 9 (audio), Dobson reiterated a call on his March 28 program for parents to pull their children out of public schools in some states.

Christianity Today covered Dobson's call for parents to pull their kids out of public schools in August's "'Get Our Kids Out' |Dobson says pro-gay school curriculum has gone too far."

An Official U.S. Department of Education website has a page on the basics of the No Child Left Behind Act.

For more articles on schools and schooling, see our Education archive.

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