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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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?

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. “Moran believes that public schools are places where God is ridiculed…

    Any adult who believes in fairy tales is richly deserving of ridicule, “god” is a figment of mans imagination – and a crutch for the weak minded.

  8. Craig

    soldat speaks like the senseless ones who say: There is no God! Unlike evolution teachings that change every 10 years or so,the Bible has stood the
    test of time. Even the
    enemies of Jesus admitted being astounded by his teachings. Even the Muslims
    knew he existed. But soldat says there is no God
    and likewise,there can be no Son of God either.

  9. Lance

    “All in all, our public-school system has served us well; it would be better to repair its faults than to abandon it.”

    Ah, but what do you suggest to improve the public school systems? What is missed by the anti-voucher crowd is the idea of improvement through competition. If a solid voucher program would be put in place, it would be easy for people to change schools (either to private or other public schools) based on the quality of education received at these schools. Therefore, instead of a family being required to move from a low-income area to a high-income area – a move that may be more difficult – in order to get a better education, they would only need to move their children. As a scientist and as a civil liberty proponent, I am strongly in favor of a fair school-choice program that allows people of all socioeconomic backgrounds to have a better shot and getting the best education available. As it stands, today’s dependence on a single public school per unit area is a huge disservice to those who can’t afford to make better choices through physical movement from one school district to another.

    Instead, many of the arguments against school choice seem rooted in concerns about (a) what education would be taught in a school-choice regime and (b) whether schools with the poorest records would survive. Both arguments are weak at best and completely misleading at worst. Will ultra-conservatives start to teach more fringe ideals? Sure, who cares? Would this really become endemic? Probably not since it would become increasingly obvious that ultra-conservativism does not equate in better science/technology jobs. For the second argument: why should we be more concerned with whether a school system survives and less concerned with the quality of the education received? If the school is bad, it should close/move-over and let a better school take its place.

  10. Jackson

    While the existence of God is life’s greatest mystery, popular concepts of God and religion, are largely figments of man’s imagination.

    Back when public schools were largely community based, kids could be assured an education in keeping with community values. Today however, public schools have increasingly come under the sway of government control with it’s attendent “dumbing down”, and waste. Government warped schools can’t be trusted to educate young kids, the way communities want their kids educated, hence the explosion of home schooling.

    It’s possible to nullify the negative effects of public schooling by careful monitoring, and counteracting if needed at home, what your child learns at school. Parents today have to be far more diligent in protecting their children from the negative effects of government warped public schools, that at any time in the past.

  11. Lance

    Craig, there are so many things wrong with your statement, I’m not sure where to begin. First, while I do believe in God, it is no more or less senseless for someone else to make their own choice. As you would probably say, it’s their soul they should be concerned about. Personally, I’ve met a number of atheists in my time, but I also know that there is a spiritual world out there about which we (including Christians, Muslims, etc) know very little. If your God is the embodiment of that world for you, then so be it.

    Second, you attack evolution from a completely misguided position. Certainly, any scientific theory – and yes it is a theory – is open to debate and it should be. A theory is not an axiom. And yes, the theory of evolution has itself evolved in part because of ever increasing evidence that has further solidified the theory. Has it moved from theory to axiom? No. And that’s ok. Despite what people – especially people of limited intellect – would like to believe, science is not nor will it ever be carved in stone. It is a forever shifting sand of evidence. In essence, it is not faith. What is wrong with biblical teachings about creation is not necessarily that it shouldn’t be taught, but that it is not a scientifically supported concept since there is absolutely no scientific evidence of creationism. In effect, there can not be…again, because it is faith not science. Teach creationism in a social studies or comparative religions class, but it just doesn’t belong in a science class. Don’t devalue your faith by trying to find evidence to support it. If your faith is strong, you should be demanding that creationism NOT be taught in a science class for the simple reason that it is what it is. It is a personal axiom. Science doesn’t work that way…in fact, good science CAN’T work that way.

  12. Paul

    While I agree with some of Moran crticisms, he needs to remember there are two other places where religion can be taught, namely the home and the church. Anyone demanding schools teach religion has to be asked why they aren’t teaching it at home or taking then to Sunday school.

    Also if we teach religion which one should it be? Christians are the national majority, but locally other religions, even Wiccan or Satanism might predominate, especially in more isolated area or in cities with many subgroups. Would Moran approve of those religions being taught to his children. Thomas Jefferson and the other founding fathers saw the acrimony caused in Europe and elsewhere by Theocracy and were determined to prevent that here.

  13. Becky

    I’ve taught for 30 years. All my experience has been in the “bad” schools. I walked out of the classroom last December an emotional wreck from the absurdity of the whole thing. No Child Left Behind, standards, scripted curricula, bloated administration, forests decimated for paperwork — this is what I think of when I think of “school” now. If kids come to mind, it is seeing them huddled together — often in fear — trying to learn but being unable to do so. Public education is irretrievably, irrevocably, and irredeemably broken — it cannot be “fixed”. Perhaps a new beginning from scratch, but the huffing and puffing in-place structure will not permit this. I have thousands of examples, but I have learned that people don’t really want to hear this. As the author states, he personally knows someone who got a good education — and that’s all that really counts, isn’t it? A 50% dropout rate? Well, half are getting a good education. Or are they? What did his nephew learn about, say, Columbus, or about, say, using algebra to build a handicap ramp? I was always opposed to charters and home schooling — now I see no alternatives. God is the least of the problems.

  14. Miriam T

    Get the federal government out of our schools for starters and the kids might have a chance.
    I am on a third generation raising of school kids.
    My kids did okay back in the 70’s. Not as good as I did but Okay.
    I watched my grandkids learning nothing in the 80. They didnt even know what county they lived in.
    Now I am starting with my great grandchildren and believe me I am scared for them.
    I dont what happened or when it happened but I learned in school-these kids dont.
    Its sad to watch them start and be so anxious to learn and then watch them fall about by junior high. And then drop out.

  15. Kathy J

    Ok, we should stay with our public schools and fight to make them better. Well, after four children, I’m throwing in the towel. I was involved in every opportunity that parents were afforded to be involved with my children’s schools, and still they got worse and worse. Now the public schools and the courts are saying that parents have no voice in what their children are taught. I am tired of trying to make things better and watching them get worse. I want better for my children and I want it now! So I have taken my children out of public school and I am teaching them what they should have been taught years ago!