I usually review books that I can recommend. However, I decided to review Going Public: Your Child Can Thrive in Public School by David & Kelli Pritchard because it one of the only books I am aware of that encourages Christians to send their children to public schools. Forgive me for being unduly harsh in this review, but this really is a terrible book. And Tim Challies should be ashamed for writing a favorable review.
You Can Do It! Maybe . . .
The authors, David & Kelli Pritchard, work with Young Life and have put eight children through public school. While we all have our biases, it is telling that Kelli has degrees in secondary education and social work. Her defense of America’s socialist educational system only confirms that her programs successfully indoctrinated her into statism. I should also point out that the cover of the book indicates that it was written “with Dean Merrill.” Unfortunately, such a description makes it impossible to know how much of the book was actually written by the Pritchards. Either way, this book is a pitiful defense of America’s government school system.
The book even starts off on a bad note in the foreword, as the president of Young Life, Denny Rydberg, uses the sports analogy to “get ready for an upset” when you send your kids to public school. In other words, right off the bat the book admits that if you send your children to public school, you have everything going against you. You are hoping to pull off a rare feat.
In the first chapter, titled “You Can Do It!”, the authors state that “God is bigger than the modern educational monolith” (pp. 19-20). This leads the into the question, “How does God protect and nurture boys and girls in the public-school environment? . . . The main answer is this: parents” (p. 20). While the answer is correct, the Pritchards are asking the wrong question. Rather than asking how God can protect children “in” the public schools, we should be asking how God can protect children “from” the public schools. You don’t throw sheep to a pack of wolves and then ask how to protect them.
Is Public Education an Evil Plot?
Things start to get interesting in the second chapter, titled “Is Public Education an Evil Plot?” Recognizing there is criticism of public education, the authors seek to answer this question. They answer in the negative and give five points in response:
(1) “Government Schools” have been around a long time;
(2) Test scores need a context;
(3) Today’s public schools do have some ungodly elements;
(4) Public schools have a ton of good, hardworking people;
(5) Like it or not, 9 out of 10 kids today go to a public school.
Besides not dealing with the best arguments against public education, none of these points actually answer the question of whether public education is an evil plot. In terms of logic, these are all red herrings (meaning they distract from the argument). While all of these statements are actually true, they in no way lead to the conclusion that public education is not evil. So what if public school has been around for hundreds of years? Or that 90% of kids attend public school? These points have nothing to do with the moral justification of the public school system. (This may be a good time to point out that public schools no longer teach logic . . . )
Of course, in making these true but unrelated points, the Pritchards still make a whole host of errors. In saying that government schools have been around for a long time, they leave out the fact that outside of New England, American education was almost entirely privatized before the mid 1800s. And people seemed to do quite fine back then.
The Pritchards at least recognize that today’s public schools have “some ungodly elements.” But after mentioning immoral behavior by some public school teachers, they are quick to mention that “private-school faculty members have their failures, too” (p. 36). This is known as the tu quoque fallacy (“you too”), as they are clearly deflecting the issue at hand. Further, this is not even a fair criticism. Private Christian schools, unlike the public schools, actually have moral standards for their teachers. While it is likely the case that such immoral behavior is rarer among Christian schools, it is also the case that if this behavior does take place it is condemned as inconsistent with the professed beliefs of Christian schools. The same cannot be said of public schools. They can call such behavior “illegal,” but teacher sex scandals are perfectly consistent with the atheistic and Darwinian worldview of the public schools.
The Pritchard's point that the public schools have “good, hardworking people” is actually comical. It does not matter if there are great Christian people in the public schools as long as the schools ban them from teaching a Christian worldview. The Pritchards describe teaching in a public school as a “Christian calling.” But listen to their description of the job—“They pray in their cars on the way to school in the morning, hoping that the love of Jesus will be evident in their words and actions” (p. 37). The Pritchards seem to miss the point that these teachers’ “words” cannot legally communicate the “love of Jesus” during class hours. Why would any Christian teacher volunteer to have his hands tied behind his back? If these teachers want a Christian calling, they should take less pay and go teach in a Christian school.
How Not to Apply the Bible
Sometimes it seems as if the Pritchards do not realize what they are saying. They start off their chapter on the Bible and education on a strong note, pointing to Proverbs 1:7 that the starting point for knowledge is the “fear of the Lord.” They even go on to say that this “has direct relevance to the school week” (p. 46). Logically, one would expect them to conclude that all education should therefore be grounded upon the fear of the Lord—but that is not where they go. Instead, they end up talking about teaching their kids outside of the classroom.
The Pritchards admit that they have occasionally had to withdraw their children from particular subjects in the public schools, such as middle school lessons on human reproduction. Their reason? “Not because the information was false, but because it was incomplete without the moral dimension—and also because it would have had a desensitizing impact on our kids” (p. 56). This analysis is on point. But is sex ed the only subject public schools teach that is “incomplete without the moral dimension”? Is not all education moral? One could easily argue that all public education is incomplete because it lacks such Christian morality.
Things to Teach Children
The Pritchards spend three chapters (chs. 4–6) on what they consider to be the most important things to teach children who attend public school. They say that the most important thing to teach children is the Greatest Commandment to “love the Lord your God” with your all (Mark 12:30). Recognizing this comes from Deuteronomy 6, the Pritchards say this “calls us to infuse daily life with discussion about God’s truth” (p. 66). It would be difficult to disagree with their analysis.
Unfortunately, the Pritchards fail to properly apply this passage. If God commands us to love Him with our whole being and to talk of His words whether sitting, walking, lying down, or rising up—how does this exclude the seven hours per day spent at school? The Pritchards do not recognize their inconsistency here. They have some good things to say, as they encourage parents to teach obedience, self-control, and respect to their children. But none of this justifies sending Christian children to secular government schools.
Missing the Point
Ch. 11 is titled “Everybody Should Homeschool.” This chapter is interesting because the Pritchards identify five areas that “need the greatest attention from parents” (p. 158). These areas are (1) biblical worldview; (2) creation; (3) sexuality; (4) American heritage; and (5) spiritual life and devotion. One would be hard-pressed to disagree that these are significant issues. But again, the Pritchards fail to recognize that American public schools undermine every one of these areas. Let me address each:
(1) Biblical worldview—Public schools teach children to think apart from God, thus training children in an unbiblical worldview.
(2) Creation—Public schools teach Darwinian evolution as scientific fact, and they are legally barred from teaching creationism or even intelligent design.
(3) Sexuality—Public schools teach relativistic sex ethics, thus undermining Christian morality and marriage.
(4) American heritage—Public schools consistently neglect our Western Christian heritage, as well as teach a left-leaning and politically correct version of American history.
(5) Spiritual life and devotion—Public schools do not allow prayer or Scripture reading in school.
The very issues the Pritchards identify as needing attention from parents at home are the things that public schools undermine the most. Why do the Pritchards believe they can overcome such a powerful influence on their children? And why are they willing to expose young minds and hearts to such a hostile environment? Instead of teaching these subjects at home in an attempt to overcome the daily teachings of the public schools, these things should be a central part of every form of education. In other words, the Pritchards fail to give a reason why Christians should not just embrace Christian education through a private school or homeschooling.
The Pritchards even recognize the problem here—“When do parents find time for this kind of 'homeschooling'”? (p. 160). They respond, “Much of our instruction has come at the dinner table or while riding in the van together” (p. 161). How is a few hours per week of family discussion supposed to overcome 30 hours per week of unbelieving instruction? Not to mention, many parents do not have the time and energy, let alone the know-how, to address all these issues outside of school. The Pritchards are basically recommending that Christian parents throw their children to the wolves during the day and then try to bandage them up in the evening. To say this is a bad idea is an understatement.
Towards the end of the book the Pritchards make this comment—“The Ten Commandments may not be posted on the wall, but that doesn’t mean God has been locked out of the building” (p. 205). Sure, no one can keep God’s presence out of even the darkest places. But God works through His Word. And unfortunately, the public schools have “locked” the Bible out of the building and barred it from the curriculum.
The Pritchards seem to be sincere Christians, and they have nice stories to tell about their interactions with unbelievers in the public schools. But the missionary work they describe seems to mostly be the work of the parents (who are mature Christians) and not the work of the children (who are by nature immature). Regardless, sending children to a school is not for the purpose of them serving as missionaries. The purpose of sending children to a school is for them to receive an education. We should therefore be concerned with what type of education they are receiving. It is difficult to understand how the Pritchards can say that “public school is an excellent pool in which to train our young sons and daughters” when they themselves admit how hostile the public schools can be (p. 27).
Ultimately, Going Public is an awful book because it does not even justify the claim in its subtitle, “Your child can thrive in public school.” Not only does the book fail to mention the best arguments made by public school critics—that the system is founded on coercion and trains students in atheism—but it then turns around and assumes that children can “thrive” in public schools. Surely some children skate by with their Christian faith still intact. But it seems foolish to suggest that children can thrive in a system that entirely opposes and undermines everything their parents believe.
The authors are deceiving themselves. And unfortunately, they are encouraging other Christians to do the exact opposite of what they should do. Rather than stay in the public schools and fight a losing battle, parents should abandon the government school system. Then and only then will their children “thrive.” If all Christians in America would take this mindset, the entire system would collapse and we could actually have a thriving private school system.