Monday, September 07, 2015

On "The Evils of Public Education" (Part 1)

When parents of the Covenant place their children in public schools, they subject their children to an environment of rampant ungodliness and worldliness. This spiritually hostile environment tempts their children to live in spiritual harmony with their ungodly peers. [Aaron Lim, "Our Children's Education: A Covenant Necessity (III): The Evils of Public Education," Salt Shakers 33 (Jul 2015), 15]

The doctrine of "common grace" is one topic that certain conservative segments within Dutch Reformed circles reject. According to groups like the PRCA (Protestant Reformed Churches of America), the doctrine of "common grace" implies that God is gracious towards the reprobates, and that He in some sense desires and works towards their salvation. Of course, that assumes that there are only the Arminian and Amyraldian interpretations of "common grace" available, but I digress. Coupled with the rejection of any notion of "common grace" is a radicalization of Abraham Kuyper's doctrine of the antithesis. Not only is the Christian faith and other religions and philosophies seen to be antithetical to each other, but the antithesis divides even between institutions and societies. The strong Dutch Calvinist tradition of Christian schooling stems from this particular strain of the antithesis as applied to schooling, and thus there is a strong promotion of Christian schools within the Dutch Reformed tradition. Now, I do not think that there is anything wrong with Christian schools; in fact I think that is a good educational path if one is available. But the issue of contention is not the goodness of Christian schools, but rather that some people would not stop at promoting good Christian schools, but that they continue on to demonize alternative ways of education as being essentially unChristian.

In an article for the latest Salt Shakers issue (a magazine of the youth of Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church in Singapore), Aaron Lim, a member of the congregation who was sent to the PRC seminary for theological studies, wrote an article decrying the "evils of public education." Lim is arguing against public education, seeing it as being full of evils and thus not something Christians should be in. Lim lists down a few reasons for why public education is evil. First, public education is an "environment of rampant ungodliness and worldliness." (15). Second, due to peer pressure, Christians are very much tempted to become wicked and ungodly. Third, there is the danger of "blurring the spiritual distinction" between Christians students and the children of the world. Fourth, if they resist ungodliness, they will be persecuted and ostracized, but children need friends to share their lives with. Fifth, the goal of public education is worldly and earthly-minded, which is contrary to Christianity (16), and results in children being worldly and treating the world as "a playground."

I must say that these reasons are all singularly unconvincing, and this presentation struck me as being isolationist and Anabaptist. Jesus prayed for Christians to be in the world, but not of the world (Jn. 17:14-15), but it seems to me that Aaron is arguing that we should be neither in the world nor of the world.

One main thread throughout the various reasons is the idea of the world's temptations. The theme of keeping Christian children away from public education is to keep oneself away from the world's temptations towards ungodliness. But such is to strongly associate wickedness with a particular institution ("public education"), and gives rise to a view of sin as being "something out there," instead of the biblical picture of sin as being pervasive even within Christians. According to the Scriptures, sin and wickedness pervades all mankind and the line between good and evil is NOT between "good institutions" and "worldly institutions," but through the hearts of every man. Sin is internal, not just in external institutions which we can conveniently demonize. After all, one of the most wicked institution, the Medieval Inquisition, originated not from the world but from within the Church. And if one continues to want to demonize institutions and thus condemn all of medieval Christianity, those who claim a Reformed heritage may want to consider the Salem witch trials in Puritan New England, or the massacres the Puritan armies led by Oliver Cromwell inflicted on the Irish.

We now look at the reasons one by one. The first two reasons speak of the world's temptations. Now, there is a difference between willingly putting oneself in the path of temptation, and having temptations that are part of the natural course of life. If a seductress attempts to seduce you into sexual sin, it is well and proper and mandated to flee from that temptation, as Joseph ran from Potiphar's wife. But if you see someone drops his wallet, the temptation to just take the money is to be resisted. It makes sense in the former example to flee from temptation and NOT put yourself willingly into the path of such temptations. But is entirely impossible to flee from temptations of the latter variety. Is there any way one can ensure that one will not ever be in a scenario where someone dropped his wallet in front of him? It is impossible to escape such temptations, unless one leaves the world entirely!

The presence of temptations towards worldliness therefore is no sufficient reason for separation from public schools. After all, is Aaron claiming that sin and the world does not follow us the fallen seed of Adam into Christian schools? You might not have overt worldliness, but worldliness will just assume a different guise. The Anabaptists experimented with their holy societies in the 16th century, and it did not make them any more holier than the rest who did not separate themselves from the societies of their time! The opposite sins of lawlessness and licentiousness are moralism, pride and self-righteousness, and look how the Pharisees fared before Jesus in His day. And since we are on the topic of Christian schools, do we need to talk about Calvin College and how it has managed to "redeem" science into an embrace of theistic evolution? You can take a person "out" of the world, but you can never take the world out of the person (not in this life), for we are all sinners and sin still works its iniquity even in the best of us.

Aaron says that "sin always appears attractive," and yes it does. But it is an underestimation of sin's ubiquity as if sin is just "out there" and one can easily avoid it by avoiding public education! It is the nature of things for Christians to struggle with sin, and that struggle does not cease just because one is spared the "worldly environment" of public education! Worldliness will just as quickly creep into "holy" and "spiritual" Christian education if you let it!

We will take up the other points in the next few posts.

[to be continued]

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