Christian Reconstructionists on Christian Schools

There can be no doubt that Christian education and home schooling is a growing part of the evangelical world. Influential evangelical, David Barton, has made a name for himself with his books and videos by marketing them to Christian schools and parents who home school.

I was once a Christian school board member who helped start two Christian schools. I was a true believer. Now, I think Christian schools can be an option for some parents, but I do not think it is the default position for evangelicals. I believe that public education is a critical aspect of a free and democratic society and these schools should be supported.

Even though I was once a strong supporter of Christian schools, I was a schizophrenic one, according to Gary North and Rousas J. Rushdoony, father and son to the reconstructionist movement. North explained in 1982:

As a tactic for a short-run defense of the independent Christian school movement, the appeal to religious liberty is legitimate. Everyone who is attempting to impose a world-and-life view on a majority (or on a ruling minority) always uses some version of the liberty doctrine to buy himself and his movement some time, some organizational freedom, and some power. Still, nobody really believes in the whole idea. Politics always involves establishing one view of the “holy commonwealth,” and excluding all other rival views. The Communist Party uses the right offree association to get an opportunity to create a society in which all such rights are illegal.

The major churches of any society are all maneuvering for power, so that their idea of lawful legislation will become predominant. They are all perfectly willing to use the ideal of religious liberty as a device to gain power, until the day comes that abortion is legalized (denying the right of life to infants) or prohibited (denying the “right of control over her own body,” after conception, to each woman). Everyone talksabout religious liberty, but no one believes it.

So let us be blunt about it: we must use the doctrine of religious

liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political, and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God. Murder, abortion, and pornography will be illegal. God’s law will be enforced. It will take time. A minority religion cannot do this. Theocracy must flow  from the hearts of a majority of citizens, just as compulsory education came only after most people had their children in schools of some sort. But religious anarchy, like “democratic freedom” in ancient Greece, is a temporary phenomenon; it lasts only as long as no single group gets sufficient power and accepted authority to abandon the principle. Religious anarchy, as a long-term legal framework for organizing a society, is as mythical as neutrality is. Both views assume that the institutions of civil government can create and enforce neutral law. They are cousins, and people believe in them only temporarily, until they make up their minds concerning which God they will serve.

The defense of Christian education today is therefore schizophrenic. The defenders argue that there is no neutral education, yet they use the modern doctrine of religious liberty to defend themselves – a doctrine which relies on the myth of neutrality in order to sustain itself. As a tactic, it is legitimate; we are jockeying for power. We are buying time. But anyone who really believes in the modern doctrine of religious lib.erty has no option but to believe in some variant of the myth of neutrality. Those who have abandoned the latter view should also abandon the former. (24-25, Intellectual Schizophrenia of the New Christian Right, in The Failure of the American Baptist Culture)

You can imagine what the reconstructionists think of the First Amendment and pluralism. And given that reconstructionist organizations such as American Vision and Vision Forum continue to be a part of the Christian Right, I think critics raise valid concerns.

In almost every book on Christian education I read through the 70s and 80s, Rushdoony was cited. Rushdoony’s works, based on the apologetics of Cornelius Van Til, were standards and considered foundational for Christian school teachers. It must be amnesia that explains why current Christian right commenters don’t remember this.

Those in the current Christian Right who say that dominionism (Christian reconstructionism, theonomy, dominion mandate, seven mountains teaching) doesn’t exist are either unaware of their heritage or have selective memory. Even though they complain that non-reconstructionists are schizophrenic, reconstructionists have been on board in various ways all along, especially as a part of the move toward Christian schools and home schooling.

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  • Dawn

    keep the good information coming, I’m definitely interest.

  • http://www.byron-harvey.com Byron

    Guess I was schizophrenic, too.

    OK, I’ll bite (as a strong supporter of both Christian education and homeschooling): why all the love for public education? What you call “a critical aspect of a free and democratic society” which “should be supported”, I call, at absolute best, a necessary evil. That’s in no way to slight the fine work that is done by so many teachers and administrators, nor to fail to admit that there are some reasonably good public schools, nor to discount the witness Christians can be there, nor yet to gloss over the problems that manifest themselves in other forms of education (because we’re all sinners, and that sin shows up everywhere). That said, the state of contemporary public education strikes me as abysmal in a variety of ways. Granting that the dreamer in me is unlikely to prevail in my lifetime, I still dream of a day when education is truly in the hands of parents instead of the state. Briefly, your rationale for support (as opposed to grudging acquiescence)?

  • Jayhuck

    Granting that the dreamer in me is unlikely to prevail in my lifetime, I still dream of a day when education is truly in the hands of parents instead of the state.

    Yikes – that, for me would be a nightmare. I know some uneducated parents out there who generally don’t seem to care about the process.

  • stephen

    Byron. Nowhere in the developed world is education in the hands of the parents nor should it be. In my own family, the children of my aunts and uncles have far surpassed the achievements of their parents because of public education. Had their parents educated them they would still be down coal mines. The great blight on American education these days is the obscene cost of college. We used to be the best educated country in the world till the Republican party, backed by the for-profit home-school movement, stripped it of proper funding.

    Warren, I’ve known of Rushdoony for years. If I’ve heard of him then professional christians should have heard of him too. I don’t think it’s amnesia, I think it’s ignorance.

  • http://aebrain.blogspot.com Zoe Brain

    The defenders argue that there is no neutral education, yet they use the modern doctrine of religious liberty to defend themselves – a doctrine which relies on the myth of neutrality in order to sustain itself. As a tactic, it is legitimate; we are jockeying for power.

    It is legitimate. The End justifies the Means. Bearing False Witness is no sin when doing God’s Holy work.

    It’s the hypocrisy that gets me.

  • StraightGrandmother

    I confess, if I meet new people socially and they mention that they are hme scholing their children (which they almost always reveal early on when getting to know you) I deliberately quietly back away and try and avoid them.

    What I did, and what I think works well for the children is to send your children to your faith based school through 8th grade, and then public high school. If the children remain in faith based schools it is to much of a shock to them once they get to college. I always told my kids, “The whole world isn’t of our religion.”

  • StraightGrandmother

    Theocracy must flow from the hearts of a majority of citizens, just as compulsory education came only after most people had their children in schools of some sort.

    SGM- Shudders, this stuff scares me a little bit.

  • carole

    In my area, home schooling seems to have begun with religious folks but the building of two rather large new Christian schools has, it appears, given those people a place they are comfortable sending their kids.

    The latest surge in home schooling in my area is among college-educated families who are unhappy with the quality of the public schools in the community. It seems they send the kids to kindergarten, maybe also to first grade, then decide against sending them to public school again until about the 8th grade or so. These are intact families with just enough financial resources to have the mother stay at home, although for some it is a hard financial decision. They are not religiously affiliated at all. I became aware of just how this trend was growing when one of my friends and colleagues, a fairly young English teacher, told me his wife was home-schooling their three little girls. He was the first to educate me about the growing number and network of home-schooled kids. I was astounded that he, devoted public school teacher that he was, and very liberal, had decided that this was the best for his kids.

    And Stephen,

    We used to be the best educated country in the world till the Republican party, backed by the for-profit home-school movement, stripped it of proper funding.

    I’m from California, so I can’t speak to the funding of education in your state, but our funding problems started many decades ago when the state began collecting local tax dollars and then redistributing t those dollars to the localities of the state based on a complex formula. This was the result of the passage of our Prop 13, which held the line on how much property taxes could go up each year. Old people who owned their homes could no longer afford to stay in their homes because from year to year as the valuation of their homes precipitously increased so too did their property taxes. While most of the time it’s nice to know your home has increased in value, it’s really pretty useless if all you want to do is stay and live in that home, not sell it. Millions of older Californians could no longer keep up with the rate of increase of their property taxes; thus, Prop 13 was passed.

    It had desired results for these home owners, but unintended consequences with regards to local control of schools. Perhaps if a state isn’t too large, it might not be bad if it has a great deal of control over the educational system, but in a state as large and diverse in needs from locale to locale as California, the bureaucracy that is our state government has destroyed our public school system and it happened long ago and has nothing to do even now with home-schooling.

    Our problems are extensive, systemic, and involve not so much the lack of money as the lack of vision about what public education can do, can’t do, should do, shouldn’t do, and these questions can only be answered by people who refuse to be enlightened by the social science data we now have that answers those questions.

    It’s sad that the very institution–education–that purports to teach logical thinking and reason and science ignores the data we have and continues to pursue strategies that will fail again and again. Even Bill Gates has learned some hard truths that money is not the key.

  • http://www.byron-harvey.com Byron

    I should have spoken more clearly, because I understand how my words can be taken to mean that I believe all parents ought to directly educate their children, and this is not what I meant to say. That’s what happens when I fire something off too rapidly. There are clearly many parents who ought not be the primary educators of their children, not only for the reasons some of you have mentioned, but I am sure we could think of others.

    I think rather that parents, rather than the state, ought to be assumed to call the shots when it comes to education of their children (and yes, there are qualifications to that, even). I think that an ideal system would make it easy for parents to have a variety of educational options for their children (in accordance with their own consciences). I further think that many of the problems we are experiencing today with public education are endemic to the system, and it’s hard to envision a fix for many of them within the system.

    This is a complicated subject, and I’m not anything close to an expert by any means. I just have no confidence that the myriad of problems we see with contemporary public education are within our power to fix within the current system.

  • http://www.wthrockmorton.com Warren

    Byron – As you know, I am proud papa to four, two of which were educated in a Christian school and two who are in public education. I can directly compare and I like what I am getting from public education on balance better than from the Christian school. Home schooling we’ve tried (us, cyber school, etc. we have probably done about every form), and I can see how it can be good for some kids and is an option. The public schools don’t work for everyone and so parents have to know their kids and choose accordingly.

    Why am I more positive on the public school now? First, if I can be honest, is self-interest. I have an elementary school kid who is thriving there and I have an investment in making his experience there the best it can be. Thinking beyond my family, the community needs well educated people who respect each other. I need to invest in those places in order to get that benefit. I am on the bullying prevention committee here and there is a common ground of civility that we have developed that cuts across religious lines. On an even wider scale, the nation has developed a kind of caste system where some communities get good education and some get almost nothing. I see no virtue in abandoning those segments of the population. Good minds need to be a part of the solution.

    I do not see any of this as Utopian, just pragmatic.

    Finally, I still believe parents are the teachers. The school teachers hit the basics and sometimes say things I have to correct. Parents who send kids to any school cannot let that be the end of it. We extend what they have learned there, we listen to what is being taught and intervene when necessary. Parents are still responsible ultimately for this.

    I suppose the reconstructionists would say I am less schizophrenic just more pagan.

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  • Jayhuck

    Carole,

    These are intact families with just enough financial resources to have the mother stay at home, although for some it is a hard financial decision.

    I know several couples that home school their children. Two of these couples actually have the father stay at home to do the home schooling because the mother actually makes more money.

    I personally have no problem with the idea of home schooling kids and actually couldn’t agree more with your last two paragraphs above:

    Our problems are extensive, systemic, and involve not so much the lack of money as the lack of vision about what public education can do, can’t do, should do, shouldn’t do, and these questions can only be answered by people who refuse to be enlightened by the social science data we now have that answers those questions.

    It’s sad that the very institution–education–that purports to teach logical thinking and reason and science ignores the data we have and continues to pursue strategies that will fail again and again. Even Bill Gates has learned some hard truths that money is not the key.

    However, I don’t think all public schools are doing a poor job of teaching our kids. Some public schools seem to do very well. Money may not be the only answer, but it is definitely part (to some degree) of the solution.

  • Jayhuck

    Warren,

    The public schools don’t work for everyone and so parents have to know their kids and choose accordingly.

    Absolutely! Parents need to figure out what will work best for them and for their children