It was a great surprise to me to find something in the February issue of Chronicles with which I disagree.  (Normally, I find myself nodding vigorously in assent while reading each new issue.)  In his piece in Cultural Revolutions, R. Cort Kirkwood argued that the recent defeat of the intelligent-design crowd in Dover, Pennsylvania, should not surprise us.  He hits the nail on the head perfectly when he writes, “Public schools are uniformly atrocious.  They are blighted educationally and noxious morally.”  His later comments, however, raise some questions.  Mr. Kirkwood claims that private Christian parochial schools are numerous and that an even better choice is homeschooling.  “Indeed,” he says, “any serious Christian knows that putting a child in public school is a grave sin, given the crippling, lowbrow academics and anti-Christian cultural toxins to which such children are exposed.”

Perhaps the case is different in Mr. Kirkwood’s hometown, but the options are not that varied everywhere.  Private Christian academies are abundant, but they also cost thousands of dollars per year and are often not much better than public schools.  Christians have a tendency to take whatever courses the public schools offer and merely “Christianize” them, without any serious consideration of whether there is a better academic option.  In addition, parochial schools seem to be on the decline in the United States.  There are often more empty, deteriorating Catholic-school buildings in a town than active ones.

I agree that homeschooling is an excellent choice, but is it not one to which every parent is well suited.  There are many “serious Christian” parents who did not do well in school (and perhaps did not even finish it) and who, quite frankly, do not have the knowledge necessary to teach their own children.  Yes, they could go back to school or even educate themselves, but this, in addition to the everyday task of parenting, is a heavy requirement.  There are also families in which both parents have to work outside the home.  I realize that, more often than not, this is done because the individuals involved wish to and not because they must, but the latter situation does exist.

Finally, I wish to question Mr. Kirkwood’s authority to declare anything a sin that is so personal in nature and dependent on financial and intellectual ability as the education of one’s children.  If, by this, he means a “sin” against the children, he may be correct, but it is one that is sadly unavoidable for many.  If, however, he is referring to a sin against God, although his sentiment is admirable, I believe he took his point too far.

        —Marie Strang
Milwaukee, WI

Mr. Kirkwood Replies:

I appreciate Miss Strang’s thoughtful answer to my article.

She is correct about the deteriorating Catholic schools, as well as in her assertion that some private Christian academies provide warmed-over nonsectarian curricula.  A thin veneer of Christian theology will not overcome the shortcomings of a poor, immoral curriculum.  And, indeed, some parents might not be suited to homeschool their children.  I have no solution to the problem of cretins.  Like the poor, I suppose, they will always be with us.  Then again, maybe they wouldn’t be too stupid to educate their own children were it not for their own public-school training.

I used to believe that, in some families, both parents “have to work.”  I am unconvinced about that now.  In many cases, the reason both parents “have to work” is that they live beyond their means, incurring huge, unnecessary debts by purchasing cars and homes they cannot afford, and running up credit cards to the limit.  Families in which both parents “have to work” are often, if not mostly, families whose lives are ruled by making payments on consumer items they should not have purchased.  They refuse to distinguish between needs and wants.

But let us suppose that both parents “have to work.”  If they really want to homeschool, they might have to sacrifice.  It might require one parent to work a night shift.  It might require one parent to work weekends.  If the parents decide that one should stay home, then they might have to sell a car that costs $300 per month and buy an old beater.  They might have to move to a smaller home.  Dad might have to take a second job.  These are not preferable options, but parents must do what they must to protect and educate their children.

As for Miss Strang’s most important point, that I wrongly said that putting a child in public school is a sin, I stand my ground.  This isn’t 1950, 1960, or even 1970.  The public schools are unacceptable for a truly Christian parent.  Scandalizing children is a grave sin.  Any parent who knowingly exposes a child to scandal commits that grave sin, and ignorance of what the public schools do is no excuse.  Parents are obliged to care for their children, which means examining the schools in which they would enroll them.  However, most of them do not give the decision a moment’s thought.  They simply bundle up their kids at age five, shove them on the government bus, and send them off—eight hours a day, five days a week, nine months a year, for twelve years.  And then they wonder why they don’t know their children and why their children are morally addled.  Then they gasp, “But we didn’t raise him that way!”  No, they didn’t “raise” him at all: The public schools did.

Parents’ most important job is educating a child for eternity, which means doing everything they can to get a child to Heaven.  This is what God intended and expects.  Putting a child in public school frustrates that mission by immersing him in a morally noxious environment that might undermine his faith.  That some children emerge intact is miraculous.