by ProfDave, ©2021

(Dec. 14, 2021) — A few weeks ago I wrote that “Children Matter.”  Children have to come from somewhere.  Someone has to take care of them.  Someone needs to prepare them to be productive citizens.

The importance of children

Babies are important.  Without babies, there would be no one to care for us in our old age.  Without babies to pay taxes there would be no social security.  Without babies there would be no first responders, no armed forces, no hospitals – we could go on and on.  Without my baby daughter (and her generous husband) I would be homeless.  Babies are essential to the survival of the species.  We need babies.  Am I going too fast for you?

Despite advances in modern “science” and imagination, babies are still produced in the old-fashioned way: m + f = bm or f.  People are not assembled in a factory in Detroit or Mumbai or Wuhan.  Nor are they grown on the prairies and harvested with combines.  They have to be raised by parents, involving intensive 24×7 care and cultivation for a couple of decades.  You can’t leave them in the garage.  The process is not merely physical, but intellectual, emotional and spiritual.  It is long and arduous.  The investment is huge. 

One term we use is socialization.  Maturity – which we hope they will eventually attain – is when the person becomes an independent and productive citizen, able to produce a healthy family of his/her own.  Sadly, some never make it.

Whose children?

Clearly, we need babies and the only way we are going to get them is through parents.  Whose baby is it?  Is it an accidental product of conception or a gift of God?  Never mind, there it is inside a woman, a new human being.    Is it hers?  She goes through the discomfort of pregnancy and the agony of giving birth.  Cutting the cord in no way severs the bond.  Is it hers?  When it is born, it is placed in the hands of the father (if he hasn’t run away).  Is it his?  If he makes the mistake of looking into its eyes he will experience feelings and hormones he didn’t know he had!  When they leave the hospital with it, it is emphatically their baby. 

OK, other things happen.  In Greco-Roman times, the patrician husband would inspect the product of conception, and if it did not meet specifications – say it was a girl – he would put it out with the garbage.  Sometimes a Christian couple would pick it up.  Today we call this abortion; then it was called exposure.  Adoption is a far more beneficial option in which a childless couple go through a gauntlet of examination, paperwork and expenses to assume the privileges and responsibilities of parenting the new human being.

In any case, the baby leaves the hospital in someone’s arms and is totally dependent on at least one person called a ‘parent.’  God grant them a mother and a father.  They are legally responsible for its care and feeding.  No one can apply a band-aid without parental permission.  They may, if able, arrange for help from extended family, Nanny or daycare, but no one contests their ownership until the state gets involved.

At age 3-6, the parents register the child for school – at some point they are required by law to do so or provide an alternative.  There may be private schools (mostly religious) available, and homeschooling is an option in some circumstances, but we all are compelled to pay for public schools with our taxes.  For most parents, the state has virtual monopoly in K-12 education.  Whose child is it then?  Aye, there’s the rub. 

Do the parents unconditionally surrender ownership of the child to the school or the society or does the child still belong to them?  They are still mostly held responsible for the child physically (unless it decides to have an abortion or change “its” gender?), but does mental, social, sexual and spiritual development pass under the authority of the state?

But who is the state?  Historically (and theologically still) all authority was derived from God.  The state was the monarch and education was the church – or homeschooling.  Wars were fought over which church the children were to be educated in.  But in 1776 something new came on the earth – nondenominational public education organized by local parents and citizens.  Actually, it began a hundred years earlier.  The idea crystalized in our founding documents was that whatever authority that was given to government, though still derived from God (as St. Paul taught), was distributed to elected bodies – from the President down to the kindergarten teacher – by the people.  In other words, no matter whose signature was on the teacher’s paycheck, they were employed and empowered by the people.  Thank you very much for your advice, Department of Education, but the people are in charge.

Objectivity

What do modern parents expect from the teachers who work for them?  Expectations definitely shift from generation to generation and neighborhood to neighborhood.  Some parents are deeply involved in their children’s socialization, while others expect the schools to do it all.  Basic mental health and attitudes are formed before age 5, but most hope their child will come out of public High School ready for adult life and/or further education, socially, morally and spiritually well adjusted. 

Since the 50’s civil religion is no longer part of the mix beyond a positive attitude – their parents’ faith and scruples not attacked.  Skills should be taught with the most effective means available.  Information taught should be factual, not fanciful – truth, not dogma.  Literature should be acknowledged classics.  Science should be scientific, not speculative.  History and political science should be objective, not partisan.  Morality should be encouraged.  To sum up, parents expect their students to graduate as updated and moderately improved versions of themselves – not to undo what they wish to inculcate.

Heritage

We have used some terms above that post-modern parents might challenge, but are still accepted and expected by many modern and conservative parents: truth, classics, objective and the pejorative ‘speculative.’  Although public education no longer considers patriotism a major part of its civic mission, conservatives see American heritage as valuable.  They grew up pledging allegiance to the flag and stand at attention for the National Anthem – at least in public.  They support the troops (most of the time) and love their country as they understand it.  They feel civic loyalty is important.  They know USA has not always been right.  They see progress, not perfection.  They know American heroes have faults, but they give credit for their courage and wisdom in what they did right.  They believe in liberty and justice for all, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution – even if they don’t remember what is in them.  They want their children to have the same liberty and opportunity that they enjoy and to leave their country better than they found it.

Post-objectivity

What we have seen in the last two or three generations is a gradual federalization of education combined with a tribalization of society.  National standards, teachers unions, school board associations dominate the education of our children.  We are happy to have the benefit of their expertise and professionalism, but should they be the final authority or monopolies?  Should all parents work full time and leave child-raising to the government daycare?  With no moral and spiritual instruction?  Educational policy is more and more determined at the federal level and less and less local.  The trend has been away from the neighborhood school. 

Media is fixed on state and national news and the average voter (judging by myself) has little if any knowledge of school board nominees besides their names and their party affiliation.  We do not know if they represent our values or not.  Having had a spouse in the system, I know that most teachers are conscientious members of their communities who really care about their students and complain constantly of the lack of parental involvement – even while frustrated with some parents who irritate them.

What makes the alienation between school and parent more serious is worldview differences exposed by the at-home instruction of the Covid-19 epidemic.  Whatever Johnny’s teacher did in the classroom pre-pandemic, materials coming through his laptop at home seemed alarming to parents of the previous generation.  Cultural leaders have been dismissive of truth and objectivity for a generation now under the name of post-Modernism.  Can we trust people who do not believe in truth to tell the truth about what they are teaching or those who do not believe in objectivity to be objective in their portrayal of controversial subjects such as sexuality, racial relationships and the American heritage?  Parents may still be able to find private schools or homeschool curricula that support their worldview, but how much longer can they expect the public schools to be safely neutral when cultural elites are calling for “revolution?”

On the one hand we have progressive and socialist worldviews that (allegedly) seek to mobilize the young to overthrow the corrupt nation of 1619 and create a whole new America – global, green, collectivist, multi-racial, pro-choice, pan-sexual and transgender.  On the other we have religious and American exceptional-ist worldviews that seek to build on the traditional American heritage and Constitution – patriotic, individualist, color-blind, capitalist, pro-life, Judeo-Christian, and family oriented.  The worst of it is that they cannot trust each other.  Some of us cannot believe assurances that nothing will happen if boys are allowed in the girl’s room.  Some of us cannot believe that CRT is not being taught in grade school – just the facts of US history(?).  Perhaps we don’t even know what Critical Race Theory is, but we don’t want our children taught that America, its founders and all white people were and are racist, that our democratic and capitalist systems are evil – those are opinions, not facts.  We do we want them segregated in “affinity groups” by skin color – that is what MLK died to end. 

A Way Forward

Is there a way forward?  Only if we can give up the delusion of total victory, the goblin of a totalitarian state and the threat of violent revolution and counterrevolution.  Perhaps we can demilitarize our education system.   Here is my modest proposal:

  1. We accept our diversity of worldview and find a way to live with it
  2. Return public schools to local control – include parents
  3. Make curriculum more transparent to parents and citizens
  4. Require parental opt-in to controversial topics where major worldviews in the community are likely to clash
  5. Encourage variety and competition in local school systems – public, private, and charter – with school vouchers in low-income and minority neighborhoods.  One size does not fit all
  6. Provide full security for girls in restrooms and locker rooms
  7. Stop hiding gender and sexual explorations of minors from their parents – they need to know when Jack decides to be Jill or when Mary tests positive

As Stonestreet concluded in his excellent article on “Parenting and the State,” “God first and foremost entrusted the family, not the state, with raising the next generation” (John Stonestreet, BreakPoint, 12/8/21).  How are we to fulfill our sacred trust in a world where it takes two or more incomes to sustain our lifestyle and the childcare/educational system is biased against our faith?  Hmmh.  It is not going to be easy.


David W. Heughins (“ProfDave”) is Adjunct Professor of History at Nazarene Bible College.  He holds a BA from Eastern Nazarene College and a PhD in history from the University of Minnesota.  He is the author of Holiness in 12 Steps (2020).  He is a Vietnam veteran and is retired, living with his daughter and three grandchildren in Connecticut.

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