Abandoning our public schools is not the answer


Roger Moran would like for more of us to withdraw our children from the public schools and teach them at home. A member of the executive committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, Moran believes that public schools are places where God is ridiculed, where drugs and alcohol are rampant, and where promiscuous — even homosexual — lifestyles are encouraged.

According to a recent Associated Press article by David Crary, Moran complains, "Humanism and evolution can be taught, but everything I believe is disallowed."

Moran is a prominent proponent of a movement made up of groups like Considering Homeschooling Ministry and Exodus Mandate, which want to encourage as many as 1 million students to abandon public schools for homeschooling. If they’re successful, 1 million new homeschoolers will approximately double the population of the homeschooled to something over 2 million.

But this idea hasn’t achieved much traction with mainstream Baptists, who have rejected resolutions calling for the abandonment of the public schools at least three times at their annual convention. In fact, as it turns out, a Google search of "Roger Moran" reveals a spirited debate among Missouri Baptists in connection with him that carries on some of the most unseemly traditions of religious politics. It’s gotten a little ugly, and someone has even taken the trouble to create an online game called "Moranopoly."

So it appears that most Baptists are unconvinced by Moran’s marginal arguments and are reluctant to abandon public schooling as yet, resisting the call to jump on the homeschooling bandwagon.

I hope they continue to do so. Homeschooling is an entirely legitimate alternative, but the motivation to homeschool is often driven by the notion that our public schools are in corrupt disarray. This is an overstatement. In an Atlantic Monthly article (October 1997), Peter Schrag argues that part of the public schools’ bad reputation stems from the fact that no one is particularly interested in good news about public schools because maintaining a sense of crisis (drugs, crime, low test scores) serves the ends of liberals, who want more money for schools, as well as conservatives, who want vouchers or homeschooling.

In fact, Schrag says, while many people believe that public education is a mess, about 70 percent maintain that their local schools are doing just fine.

Undoubtedly some public schools are awful, but others are excellent. My nephew graduated from high school in a moderately affluent Houston suburb. He received a fine public-school education that included literature, arts, music, sports and sufficient science and math to prepare him to study engineering at a good university. His public school was clean, modern and well equipped. He learned the trumpet in an excellent school band that eventually played in Carnegie Hall. Now he works for NASA.

Unfortunately, not every public school is like his. The great failure of public education is that our society has been unwilling to provide the same access to quality education at all schools that we provide at our best schools. Therefore, our schools appear to stumble from crisis to crisis amid periodic calls for their replacement with voucher programs and more homeschooling.

Abandonment rather than improvement of our public schools would be an unfortunate choice. I’m attracted to the ideas of the late Neil Postman, who argues in his book "The End of Education" that to the extent that our nation enjoys a common shared culture, that culture has been developed and is passed on from generation to generation at least partly by means of the shared knowledge and ideas that we acquire during our common experience in the public schools.

In other words, because our public schools are a place where we develop a set of common stories, myths and experiences — George Washington crossing the Delaware, Betsy Ross sewing the first flag, even the fear of being sent to the principal — they encourage a sense of a shared heritage that helps pull our country together.

Homeschooling and vouchers for private schools — places that allow the teaching of the things that Roger Moran believes — tend to pull us apart. All in all, our public-school system has served us well; it would be better to repair its faults than to abandon it.

(John M. Crisp teaches in the English Department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas. E-mail: jcrisp(at)delmar.edu.)


  1. Lexie Homewood

    I assume that your children are aware of the shortcomings of their children’s education–especially in reading. Can you discuss remedial help with causing a conflagration in your family? It is not to late to salvage this mess.

  2. Teresa

    I realize this discussion is based on a “Christian homeschooling” commentary. However, SECULAR homeschoolers are starting to catch up to the numbers of religious homeschoolers, due to the failure of the public school system to properly educate. Read “Dumbing us Down” by John Taylor Gatto, a former NYC school teacher given the “Teacher of the Year” award for three years. It’s a real eye opener. I’ve home-schooled my youngest child from day one, and I’m not sorry I did so. It has taught me just how badly the public schools do at giving a real education useable for life. The secularly homeschooled kids I have met seem to be light years ahead of public schooled children, socially and academically.

    They get an equal or better education in HALF the time it takes for the public schools to teach our children, and the added benefit of not being separated from the parents to be “institutionalized” with peer groups.

  3. Sandy Price

    Public schools should stick to academics not religion.I sent my kids to Christian school for 6 years and they came home fearing the devil. My grandkids went through Catholic schools 12 years each and can hardly read or write.

    My problems were solved when I found a secular private school where academics were stressed and the harm was repaired and my kids ended up with a strong background in academics. My grandkids will be handiapped forever.

    Leave the superstitions to the churches and parents.

  4. Paul

    There are no doubt good arguments both for and against vouchers. I have read in many areas of the country where high numbers of public school teachers send their children to private school. Indeed here in Vermont the President of the local NEA after working against vouchers, sent his own son to a private Catholic school. Does that inspire confidence?

  5. Bonnie

    Becky, I too am an ex high school teacher who left, partially because of the NCLB. If you give up on public schools because of the current mandates then you are falling right into the hands of those who want private schools and vouchers. The NCLB was created in part to condemn public education so the gov’t can get out of the education business. Vouchers are not going to give the poorer members of our community enough money to go to any private school. And, private schools don’t have to take in those they don’t want. And, the working families don’t always have the option to homeschool even if they are willing. What we need is to ask experts like yourself “under what condition can you best teach the children under your care” – listen to what you have to say and design schools based on the individual children’s needs. It is what many homeschoolers like about their choice, it is also why there is such a diversity in the private schooling options. We just need to give the public schools the same flexibility.

    Sadly, this is the exact opposite from what we are doing right now.

  6. V

    As painful as it might be, we MUST get our public education system back.
    The private religious schools and homeschool movements popping up now are going to create a social caste of arrogant little fascist prigs who have NO tolerance of others who believe differently than they do in upcoming generations. You can already begin to see the effects of it in the kind of people in government now. That is why we are on the verge of a constitutional crisis and everybody is screaming to take back our country.
    As one who lives in a “red” state and has an elementary age child, I have explored these private schools and some are downright frightening.
    One such purports to teach a “classical” education. Very good, I thought initially. But when you look at it more closely, they are teaching an agenda based on the presupposition that there is no other valid religion than Christianity and that history proves it. How will these teachings manifest themselves in dealing with others later in life ?
    We need to inject the toil and money required to create a quality education for every young citizen of this nation and make sure that what they are taught reflects the most accurate knowledge available in all subject matter. Only a national standard can do this.
    “Local control” of the schools should not extend to the curriculum to the point of crippling it.
    The public education system needs to be brought up to something equal to, nay better, than what it used to be. Right now it is little more than an institution for programming politically correct moralisms into their little minds.
    On the other hand, if what the churches are teaching is any good it all, it should be sufficient for them to learn their religion on weekends. Education time should not be wasted or degraded by trying to integrate totally non-sensical religious teachings into curriculum (ESPECIALLY science) to satisfy vocal activist religious fanatics.