You know the old story about boiling a frog? About how the best way to boil the frog is not to throw him in the boiling water, but to put him in the water when it’s still cold, and to turn the heat up slowly, so he doesn’t really notice he’s boiling until it’s too late?
That’s how what happened in our schools controls how we now think.
There’s been much kerfluffle over the past week about the President’s pronouncement (decree? edict?) concerning transgender bathroom use in public schools. This will go on for a few weeks or months; then, very quietly in conservative areas and with a flourish in more liberal or progressive areas, schools will comply with the order. Perhaps they will even add provisions like the Fort Worth ISD that, as an advocate for the child, the school should not disclose to parents when their children are struggling with gender identity: the State deciding what’s best for the child, rather than the parent. And, like the frog, we move one or two degrees closer to boiling, to our consciences being seared, to things that are radically far from the heart of God being acceptable to us, those things being seen as normal and the way things should be for our kids.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 13 percent of all funds directly underwriting public K-12 schooling in America come from the federal government. Other federal regulations, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, provide additional regulations. The Office of Civil Rights, within the Justice Department, can investigate and prosecute cases against school districts for acts it deems discriminatory in nature. All of the agencies administering these funds and enforcing these regulations are part of the executive branch, meaning the President. This means that, regardless of what you think of the politics of whoever happens to control the White House at any given moment, that person’s ideology plays a huge role in what happens in our public schools. And, when that ideology is contrary to the mind of God on an issue or multiple issues, and when the executive branch chooses to enforce its will on local school districts, the pressure is enormous. In fact, in most cases, it’s unbearable for leadership in those districts, even when they are populated with men and women who do have the mind of God. Ultimately, they have to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and the cost is social change in the “silent curriculum” in the schools.
Kids need a safe context for learning. They need a place where they can challenge the status quo and ask hard questions, but where the value systems of their parents and their own values are taught and reinforced in positive ways. It is not impossible, but it is exceedingly rare, for a kid to be able to handle a system that is not reinforcing, but subtly contradicting those values, without it profoundly changing his own ways of viewing the world.
And, so, the things we don’t like about the culture around us right now are largely the result of generations brought up under the system I’ve described, generations who have been taught to think in ways that are contrary to God’s nature and character, often, like the frog, without they or their parents (or, maybe, even their teachers) knowing it was happening. It happens gradually. That’s how Israel lost the face of God, raising generations who didn’t know how God had rescued them from Egypt. It’s how the teachings of the rabbis eventually caused the Jews to get caught up in trying to earn righteousness through the Law, forgetting that the whole purpose of the Law was to point out that they couldn’t. And, it’s how, in the midst of prosperity unlike the world has ever known, we’ve embraced what Russell Moore has called an “almost-gospel,” of being nice and expecting blessing from God, that is far from the heart of God.
We’ve become calloused to the true heart of God; we’re boiling, and we don’t even know it. Until something happens like last week. Then, the temperature is turned up a couple of degrees, and we flail around a little. Then, we stop flailing, and accept the new normal. And, we continue boiling.
I know it’s not the popular thing to say, but this is why Christian schools exist. Because raising and educating kids in an environment where Jesus’ Name is worshipped and praised, and His nature and character is brought to bear on every aspect of life, is essential. It equips kids to view things like what happened last week to not accept something that God condemns as wrong, because it reinforces the truth of God’s Word. But, it also hastens to add that anger and hatred are also far from the heart of God, and only through love and compassion for both our opponents and those who struggle with these issues can we reflect the gospel and persuade in winsome ways.
Christian education is only insular and bigoted if you actually believe Jesus was a bigot or xenophobe. Given that He shed His blood for the whole world, and died to make all the nations free, a fact that is being played out around the world as we speak, that criticism is unexamined and is itself narrow-minded. Nor can one credibly say that Christian education leaves kids unprepared for the “real world”, unless one believes that “go and make disciples among the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” which is one of the ultimate goals of Christian education, means something other than what it says. Most of those who say these things have never had their kids in Christian schools, or actually known anyone whose kids have graduated from those schools and entered the “real world.” I’ve seen 14 years of graduates thrive in Christian and secular colleges and universities around the country, and in their adult lives as they work, live, and play. They know how to live, but with a difference: they know how to live well, and for Christ.
Christian school isn’t perfect, because you and I and our kids, and whoever else decides to join us, are here. There are good schools, and bad ones. But, God tells us in Deuteronomy 6 that we’re to tell our kids the things of the Lord all the time, all day, every day, which in our culture means even at school, for a reason: He knows that, like the frog, whatever they’re immersed in will ultimately either empower them for worship, or cook them.