Pink Floyd’s 1979 song “The Wall” expresses the anti-authority angst of a generation. I can hear the British children singing moodily as I read the words:
We don’t need no education
We don’t need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone
Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone!
What does the numbing, dehumanizing effect of modern schooling — at least according to Roger Waters — reduce people to?
All in all you’re just another brick in the wall.
Douglas Wilson evokes this cynical, barren, suspicious ethos with the first section title of The Case for Classical Christian Education: “Another Brick in the Wall.” Thus Wilson begins his case for a classical and Christian model of education by first diagnosing the state of education in our contemporary context.
What is the condition of education today? How did we get here?
Chapter 1 is titled “A Mess That Just Won’t Quit.” And what a mess the government-sponsored education system is. Many parents who send their children to a private Christian school are running away from something. They see the public schools as a source of harm for their children. There is something profoundly right about this, for sure. I have heard homeschooling parents or parents who send their children to a private school accused of sheltering their kids. Guilty. They clothed them and fed them also. Parents ought to shelter their children (from physical, spiritual, and relational dangers), and so there is a rising tide of parents who are saying, “Not with my kids, you don’t!”
In the end, running away from something is not enough. You need to run toward something. Merely running away will not foster the vision and fortitude it takes to make Christian education last. Nonetheless, parents who are embracing CCE are repenting and rejecting government schooling. Wilson makes this departure his beginning point, and he intends to move on then and make a positive case for CCE, urging us to commit ourselves to it as a vision for our family trees.
Wilson gives abundant evidence that the government schools are in crisis. He illustrates the case with a number of statistics and pointed questions.
- In 1998 12-18 year old students were victims of more than 2.7 million crimes at school, including about 253,000 serious crimes such as rape, sexual assault, robbery and aggravated assault. Teachers were the targets of about 80,000 serious violent crimes from 1994 to 1998.
Are guns to blame for shooting sprees? Wilson looks deeper and sees “a breakdown in civil order among our children” as coming from somewhere — and we need to get to the root of the matter. The civil disintegration of our schools comes from two principal sources: children are under-disciplined and over-medicated. In the 18th century, as a socialistic model of education increasingly encouraged parents to relinquish control of their children to the schools, people then began looking for alternative ways to control the undisciplined children who resulted. A technocratic society looked to chemicals and found medications that would alter their personalities and assuage the behavior problems. “As a whole, the government school system has said yes to drugs.” Unfortunately, horrific consequences accompanied the alterations as school shootings have ravaged student bodies. The guns were there before, but the doped kids, convinced by an all-too-effective ideology that they are just blobs of fizzing protoplasm, came to school and shot other blobs of protoplasm. “The kids who turn violent are called ‘monsters’ by the school system that made them what they are. Instead of shrinking back from the logic of the conclusion, schools should give these kids honorary diplomas.”
Wilson suggests three actions: first, parents should pull their children from the government school system; second, we should “talk at every opportunity about the spiritual and cultural malaise that pervades the culture our young people are growing up in and how the entrenched education establishment is trying to hide this rapidly escalating problem by inducing brain fog in any children who act up”; and third, build an alternative educational subculture, which means planting and building schools of our own.
- Statistics show that 1 in 5 children in grades K-12 are subject to this “chemical discipline” through the use of mind-altering drugs. That’s 20% of all school kids who are on Prozac, Ritalin, etc.
Wow. “Suppose for a moment that some prophet had come out of the wilderness in 1958 and predicted that within a generation one-fifth of the children enrolled in our schools would be doped into docility. The prophet would, of course, have been laughed back to his cave. Yet the spiritual nature of our disease is such that when these things to do come to pass, precisely because they have come to pass, it is impossible to see them. Before they happen, we cannot see them because they have not yet happened. After they happen, we cannot see then because we let them happen, and seeing would now require repentance.” Thus Wilson takes us beyond fruits to roots. Wilson is suggesting that our real problem is spiritual, and thus our real solution is spiritual — we need the gospel and the grace of God, repentance and righteousness.
- In 2000, according to “The Nation’s Report Card” only about one-third of fourth graders were proficient readers — the place where fourth graders should be academically . Wilson offers this stat not as an anomaly but as an indicator of the dismal academic state of the public school system.
Wilson points out a key issue at this point. “What may arguably tie these statistics together is the apparently missing factor everywhere — parents.” Competent educators, pastors, and wise Christians have long known that the most crucial factor in a child’s education is parents. But without altering the whole system of education in America, “the problem of parental abdication” remains and will persist unabated. “When test scores are poor, there is still an expectation that the schools must fix the problem — instead of demanding that the schools get out of the way so the parents and their true servants in private schools can fix it.” Wilson concludes, “So none of this should be a great surprise. If parents leave their kids standing alone on a street corner long enough, it is simply a matter of time before someone offers them a condom. Or a lousy education.”
- If you had to guess, how much would you say that, on average, school systems spend per pupil? In public elementary and secondary schools in 1999-2000, it was $7,086. In 1961-2 in constant dollars it was $2,360.
Can we just throw money at this problem and hope it goes away? “Our problem in the schools is by no means the result of a lack of funds. The government school system has enormous amounts of money, and it is doing extraordinarily foolish things with it.” Let’s fast-forward to today, beyond Wilson’s 2003 publish date. Compare that $7,000 per-pupil amount from 1999-2000 with 2006-7. According to the Department of Education, in 2006-7 spending per pupil rose to $9,683. Is there any end in sight? Will we reach the ceiling at some point?
One thing this means is that at Regents Academy parents are paying, at the most, less than half of what is being expended in the public sector.
Wilson points to hopeful signs among American parents, who, statistics show, are abandoning the government school system for private schools and homeschools. But the figures show a wave, not a tidal wave. Wilson wants to call for “continued reformation in our country.”
Because “education is fundamentally religious,” it is not a question of whether religious questions will be asked and answered in a school, but rather which ones. Wilson sees the problem — and the solution — as theological. We need the rest for our souls that only the gospel and the grace of God provide. We need the salvation that is given as a gift by the Lord Jesus Christ. So we need to get the gospel straight so that we can receive the rest He gives, and then rest in His promises.
“Contrary to the opinions of our adversaries, education is not a savior. But it can be saved.”