Years ago my mom decided to stop in at the local public elementary school. Impressed, after talking to the staff, my parents sent my older sister there and soon I would follow—along with the rest of my siblings.
This might not seem strange to most. But, for a conservative Mennonite child this was highly unusual—or at least in the past few decades. It bucked the trend of religious parents, afraid of secular influence, pulling their children out. Private schools and home schooling becoming the preferred ‘safe’ options.
Anyhow, maybe as a result of my positive experience, or from inheriting my mom’s genetics, I have always thought differently than my peers. That is to say, for better or worse, I stood apart from both my public school and Mennonite peers, basically a third culture kid or non-conformed in both settings. So, when I had to consider where to send my own children, public school was not something I feared.
This post is not saying that everyone should follow in my footsteps nor suggesting that every child should go to public schools. No other situation is exactly the same as mine, some schools are better or worse and every student different. My intent in this blog is simply to give an explanation of what is now unthinkable to most fundamentalist Christians.
A Stranger in a Strange Land
Public school did not mean assimilation for me. My religious identity was always visible enough for me to be given nicknames like “Micro Mennonite” or basically any Amish sounding name my classmates could come up with. The small things, like wearing pants in the hot weather or the side part of my hair were enough for some to take notice.
I was sometimes subjected to what could be called microaggressions. As in I had one or two classmates who would inform me what I should or should not do, as a Mennonite, and this often included the idea that we did not pay taxes or the assumption that we needed a horse and buggy for transportation. This kind of banter was mostly benign, or at least taken that way, but still served as a continual reminder of my outsider status.
The end result is that I seemed to have a stronger Mennonite identity than many of my religious peers. I learned, at a young age, that I was different and it was okay to be my own person. I was never ashamed to be Mennonite nor stopped from following my own conscience so far as things like pledge of allegiance (I always stood respectfully) or abstaining from other activities that went against my cultural standards.
A child private or homeschooled does not truly know, first hand, the alternative to their own community and home. It is easier for them to believe that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence and many of my religious peers did jettison the indoctrination they received in a pursuit of the prevailing culture. But, being the witness of single parent homes, the chaos of the world and consequences suffered, it made me more thankful for what I had.
Exposure made my home more desirable, it also made the failures of parents my community feature less prominently in my mind. There were many who, raised in the religious cloister, became disillusioned with Christianity as a result of their overbearing dad or as the result of school administrators showing extreme favoritism. Had the same thing happened to them in public school, had they been bullied or abused there instead, at least it would not come in direct conflict with their walk of faith.
No, certainly we don’t want to put children in a harsh environment so that our own home or community contrasts favorably, but some healthy perspective is good. Not taking for granted the food or shelter over our heads by being a little exposed and feeling some hunger pains for home is not a bad thing at all. A big benefit of my public schooling was appreciation for my heritage and a strong desire to preserve the Mennonite culture. I could not afford to be myopic or ignorant, throwing out tradition recklessly because it didn’t suit me.
I had to weigh things more carefully rather than react and throw the baby out with the bathwater. Many of my religious peers have this feeling of having missed out and some had to learn the hard way from their own experiences.
Walk In Faith, Not Fragility!
Conservatives love to laugh about the ‘woke’ and their safe spaces. They are very quick to ridicule those families still wearing face masks and call people snowflakes for their sensitivity. The great irony is that many of these same people withdrew their children from public schools, decades ago, because they “took God out of the schools” by ending prayer led by state employees. The reality is that it isn’t just the fringe far-left that tries to hide themselves and their children from all contrary opinions.
The problem is that without challenge there is no growth. Yes, part of the job of a parent is to protect and yet it is equally important to prepare a child for the real world. I know, I know, someone out there is saying right now, “he’s saying to throw my precious darling to the wolves!” And then we wonder why, with that kind of attitude, when we assume all of our neighbors are dangerous predators, we are not more successful reaching them with the Gospel?
Jesus, our Lord and Savior, and example to follow, had no problem detouring into the Samaritan lands nor with standing on his own two feet with elders as a child. And I, likewise, had no difficulty standing toe to toe with my high school biology teacher or with seeing through leftist propaganda even back in elementary school. I remember scoffing, even then, at the blatant manipulation on Earth day or that faulty “haves vs have nots” construction of my fresh out of university social studies teacher.
Hint to the homeschoolers: Your neighbors aren’t demons and your children aren’t little saints either. In fact, many of my younger home or privately schooled religious cousins were doing drugs, drinking hard and partying, even sleeping around, long before I had so much as a sip of alcohol. As Jesus said to a prior generation of contamination obsessed religious people, according to Mark 7:14–23:
"Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them."
We can’t save our children by sheltering them.
I know, but what about the “groomers’ and the brainwashing? No, I’m not going to say it is all hysteria. Indeed, the far-left is targeting children, they’re making no secret of their agenda and it is cause for concern. We see all of those sensational headlines of abuse and it is easy to be full of anxiety and fear about this. But, for perspective, there are over 3,800,000 teachers in the United States and the vast majority are simply doing their job. Some extreme example, from an urban hellhole or California, is not representative of the whole. Yes, your child going to a public school will be exposed to other perspectives and yet why would they choose lies over the truth?
It is no coincidence that the greatest Biblical examples of faith are those, who as children, faced pagan influence. Moses, trained as an Egyptian, was bolder than his other Israelites and faced down Pharaoh. Daniel refused to bend to social pressure, a Jewish child in the Babylonian court, and stands as an example of faith. And who can forget that trial by fire of three young men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who would not bow to the statue of the powerful Nebuchadnezzar II?
It is so strange that fundamentalists can read these stories to their children in their Sunday school classes and then be terrified by the thought little Johnny being away from them for a few hours a day. It makes me wonder if they truly believe these stories are true. Maybe they do not think that the God who called Samuel as a child or emboldened young David to slay a giant is still capable of the same today? Apparently they think God is getting weak in old age and only they are able to save their children from the world?
In the World, Not of the World
Part of the problem with the fundamentalist “purity culture” mindset is that they believe that Holiness is achieved through means of physical separation. Many parents think that they will keep their children safe from harm by keeping them in their protective enclave and away from all other influence. But, the truth is, if Adam and Eve could fall even in the garden of Eden, why would we believe that the serpent can’t find it’s way into our own homes and communities?
For as much as my religious peers would try to keep evil out, pulling their children out of even the church school to guard them from the influence of other Mennonite children, it is no defense from the most dangerous sin of all which is pride and this accompanying idea that we can be fully righteous by our own efforts. But, in the economy of Jesus, it is better to be the woman caught in adultery or thief on the cross who repents than the rich young ruler who kept the law perfectly yet isn’t able to live in faith.
They say more is caught than taught. We can say we believe “greater is He that is in me than He that is in the world” (1 John 4:4) and that God is our strength, but our actions betray us. The conservative Christian retreat from the public sphere is pretending that if they ignore the deterioration somehow the problem will go away. They are training their children to be cowards, afraid to effectively confront the culture or fully contend with the reality that they’re losing ground.
It is true, a Christian is not to be of this world and yet this is all about the spirit in which we are approaching life. The exact phrase “in the world but not of it” is not in Scripture, but we also see where Jesus didn’t avoid people simply because they were Samaritans, tax collectors or others that his religious peers carefully avoided. Unlike the parachute in ‘missionary’ compassion of today, he spent his time amongst his own people, rubbing shoulders with the unwashed masses and even being touched by a woman made into an outcast for her illness.
If we go out in strength, trusting that God is still able to protect us and our children from the teeth of lions, we would possibly see the change of culture that will make the world a place liveable for a Christian. But right now we’re teaching our children to be weak and, when the world finally does come to snatch them from the safety of their homes, many will be fragile and unprepared to stand. This is why so many get caught in the false social justice Gospel, they weren’t properly trained to identify the counterfeit.
“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”(Proverbs 22:6 KJV)
Why would I send my son into the lion’s den?
Because Daniel continued to pray, despite the risk of severe punishment, and precisely as a result of his childhood faith and learning to resist peer pressure at a young age.
Contrast that with the religious experts who had rejected Jesus for the unclean who he mingled with. Or with Israelites who prospered in their own promised land, absent of persecution, and only went through the religious motions of faith in God. They voluntarily brought idols into their homes and folded before their enemies.
Complacency is a bigger threat to a Christian’s child than lions.
We should not teach our children to run from the giants of our time or they’ll become king Saul.
Instead we should be helping them polish those giant slaying stones and trust God.