By Eric Buehrer, President, Gateways to Better Education
July 1997 – The biggest danger the American family faces from public education today is the schools’ attempts to help the family. Public school officials, educational “experts,” and bureaucrats see the value of good parents and stable families, but also see an army of government employees intervening to produce such families. For instance, in a handbook for educators, Teachers College Press says:
Teachers and administrators, because of their day-to-day contact with students, may have the greatest potential to transmit information, reward efforts and accomplishments, serve as role models, and enhance positive relationships among children. Their effectiveness is enhanced by counselors, psychologists, health professionals, social workers, and sociologists, who are equally involved in schools.
Who needs parents when we have a horde of professionals to raise children? At least it’s comforting to know that they admit it takes a massive crew to replace Mom and Dad.
Schools are becoming surrogate parents. Both liberals and conservatives claim to be pro-family but their definitions are quite different. A liberal believes he is pro-family by relieving parents of the burden of their responsibilities. A conservative seeks to create conditions for families to be self-sustaining and self-caring.
Sociologist James Coleman describes the future of schools: “[T]he demand for a new institution is clear: It is a demand not for further classroom activities, not for further classroom indoctrination, nor for any particular content, but a demand for child care. It is a demand for care, first, all day from birth to school age; second, after school every day until parents return from work; and, third, all summer.”
Unfortunately, the new school welfare will have the same corrosive effects on middle class families as federal welfare has had on lower class families. To relieve parents of their child care needs, liberal policy-makers too often create policies that push parents further out of their children’s education (and lives) and dilute schools’ academic focus.
Schools are working hard to provide for children’s emotional needs, nutritional needs, medical needs, sexual needs, socialized needs, and day care needs. If this trend continues parents will merely be seen as breeders and workers. Schools will be the care providers.
Schools are only partly to blame for this. While they often show little hesitancy in taking on child-rearing responsibilities best left to parents, politicians and bureaucrats continually heap new social responsibilities on educators. And many parents are happy to shirk their responsibilities. At some point someone has to say, “Stop! This isn’t good for families or for schools.
Frustration and Hope
Across the country we see causes of frustration and reasons for hope. Over the last 20 years the federal government’s role in directing local education has increased dramatically. Whether it’s Goals 2000, School-to-Work legislation, or a push for national standards, federal bureaucrats never slack from thinking they know what’s best for local schools. But, at the same time a growing number of states are allowing charter schools, a move which waives many government regulations and gives local districts and parents greater autonomy in a school’s curriculum, structure, and governance.
As schools continue to push into the domain of the family and as liberal, special interest groups, such as the homosexual lobby, increase their drive to dictate curriculum, more and more taxpayers question the validity of public education’s hold on our nation’s children. As evidence of this there has been a dramatic increase in school choice initiatives proposed across the country. Between 1990 and 1994 voucher proposals were put forth 24 times in 18 states.
Taxpayers are also fed up with the National Education Association. In California last month, citizens began circulating petitions for a ballot initiative that, if passed into law, will dramatically cut the political power of the union’s state affiliate, the California Teachers’ Association. The law will require the union to get annual written permission from its members before it can use any dues for political purposes.
When a similar initiative was passed in Washington state, the teachers’ union there saw an 80% reduction in their political war chest. Since teachers’ unions are often among the biggest financial contributors to liberal politics, this is truly a hopeful sign.
Another hopeful sign is that thousands of Christian parents with children in public schools are beginning to see that they can make a difference in their schools. The answer to our educational problems will not come just from politics – as important as this is. We cannot place our hope in policy changes alone. Personal change in the lives of educators is crucial. In fact, policy changes will arise from personal changes. This is where the real power of Christians can shine.
During the 1980s many Christians got involved in school district politics – running for office, protesting curriculum, and lobbying school boards. This was good. But during the 1990s many parents are adding another dimension to their involvement. They are getting involved in what I call relational activism – building credible relationships with educators to influence their hearts and minds. This is where cultures are changed.
For instance, to address the ban on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter in schools, our ministry Gateways to Better Education, developed holiday cards which explain to teachers what they can legally do to celebrate and teach about the holidays. Through Christian parents we have distributed over 100,000 cards. Parents’ letters testify to the dramatic change in thinking these simple tools – given in the context of parent-teacher relationships – have had on school policies.
If we are going to change our culture we must change the hearts and minds of people. When their hearts are changed, their politics will follow. If we are going to reverse the trend of schools taking on more and more parenting tasks, we must change the thinking of those involved at every level. We start by using as our model the recent shift away from the
Eric Buehrer is president of Gateways to Better Education – a ministry to Christian families with children in public schools. For free sample newsletter call 800-929-1163.