Everyone knows America’s schools are failing, but everyone has a different explanation for why this is the case. Some blame the focus on standardized tests. Some blame federal control of the curriculum. Others say the schools just need more money.
But rarely do people talk about an obvious problem in American education—the breakdown of the family. We are now living in a day when over 40% of children are born to unmarried women. Add to this America’s high divorce rate, and we see that less than half of Americans are raised by both their mom and dad. That’s right, only 46% of kids under 18 are living with two heterosexual parents in their first marriage. Compare that with 73% in 1960.
A Cultural Crisis
This is a cultural crisis. A civilization cannot survive without strong families. And a child cannot thrive when his or her dad runs off and leaves mom by herself (or vice versa). Studies show that kids in two-parent households perform better in almost every statistical category when compared to kids raised by one parent.
This should be an obvious problem for education, yet few people are talking about it. Sure, there are other problems with America’s schools (such as the worldview being taught). But it is impossible for teachers to command authority in the classroom when parents are not instilling obedience in their children. And it’s hard for parents to train their children right when they are not present at home, as in the case of many fathers today.
I remember talking to a teacher in an inner-city public middle school a few years back. He told me that he didn’t even bother assigning homework because the kids just wouldn’t do it. He said, “If the parents don’t make their kids do their homework, they’re not going to do it.” He’s right. And how do you think those kids are going to turn out?
Teaching is a futile endeavor unless parents back teachers. School is not supposed to be a day care center for parents to drop off the kids and neglect their parental reponsibilities. School is supposed to be a place where parents send their kids to help in the education process. It’s supposed to be a three part relationship, with parent, teacher, and student all doing their part. If parents don’t demand that their children behave and earn good grades, they’re probably not going to do either.
Parents are the greatest influence upon children. As R. L. Dabney said, “God has provided for the parents social and moral influences so unique, so extensive, that no other earthly power, or all others together, can substitute them in fashioning the child’s character.” It is therefore sad when parents fail to do their job in raising their own kids.
The Contribution of Government Schools
The issue is a vicious cycle. Broken homes and bad parenting make education difficult. But our educational system also contributes to the breakdown of the family. Our government schools separate moral instruction and character formation from the education of youth. Public schools are permeated with the idea that they are “neutral” and are just teaching kids “facts.”
This is a ridiculous concept. Education clearly involves moral instruction. It is impossible to evaluate events, persons, and concepts without moral evaluation. Furthermore, our public schools are not neutral. They claim they provide no moral instruction, all the while they teach kids they are grown-up germs and then equate sex education with birth control. So are we really surprised that 40% of kids today are born to unmarried mothers?
It’s fair to say we have a serious problem on our hands. Parents are abdicating responsibility in educating their children, and the state is seeking to usurp the parents’ role. Children are suffering for their parents’ mistakes, but they will most likely follow the same path as their parents. It’s all they’ve ever seen, and their schools will not tell them they should live any different. Our secular educational system wants to play “daddy,” but it only ends up perpetuating the problem.
So what’s the solution? Well we cannot fix everyone’s problems for them, but we can offer them an alternative. Christian parents must begin by spurning the system and reclaiming their role as the primary educators of their children. Get your kids out of public school and get them a Christian education. Start Christian home school groups and private schools, and teach your kids a biblical worldview. Unbelievers will then see the superiority of our educational model—parental involvement, character formation, and academic excellence—and they will be attracted to it. They may even want to attend our churches and schools. Rather than trying to live like unbelievers, we can show them a better way.
 R. L. Dabney, Discussions, vol 4, 1897.