Modern public education is far from impartial:
The answer to the question posed in my title depends on what sort of education we have in mind. Certain subjects are non-controversial, and anyone should be able to get to the truth. That is, regardless of one’s worldview, most folks know that 2+2=4, and most folks know that H2O is the chemical symbol for water.
But not all knowledge and learning is so straightforward. Much of what is taught in schools today is taught with various agendas, biases, and points of view. History can easily be used in this way, as can be economics or politics or metaphysics or ethics or sociology and so on.
And the Christian takes this even further: real knowledge and understanding is bound up with knowledge of God. It was John Calvin who famously said in the beginning of his Institutes the following: “Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”
The two are indeed intimately connected. But as Western education increasingly moves from the dissemination of facts and basic knowledge to the pushing of agendas and ideologies, with propaganda and indoctrination rampant, one has to ask: Whither modern education?
It is easy with hindsight to see just how bad contemporary education has become. But it was more difficult over a century ago to predict how things would pan out. But some prescient figures did just that. Let me mention two of them – one rather briefly and one in more detail.
The English writer G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936) wrote much about education. Sometimes he just described its essence, and what it involves, as in this remark: “Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another.” But often he warned about the downside of modern education, as these four quotes illustrate:
“The purpose of Compulsory Education is to deprive the common people of their commonsense.”
“Public education has not produced an educated public.”
“Education is the period during which you are being instructed by somebody you do not know, about something you do not want to know.”
”The State did not own men so entirely, even when it could send them to the stake, as it sometimes does now where it can send them to the elementary school.”
And the American systematic theologian and principal of Princeton Seminary A. A. Hodge (1823–1886) also spoke strongly about the dangers of contemporary education – especially as it is divorced from God. The son of theologian Charles Hodge (1797-1878), he gave 19 lectures just before he passed away. These were turned into the 1890 book, Evangelical Theology.
The end part of Chapter 12 on “The Kingly Office of Christ” looks at the issue of modern education and how the state is increasingly secularising it. It was a few decades before this that America had been embarking on the public school system, with a number of states making education compulsory.
A. A. Hodge was quite worried about how this would fare. He certainly feared the centralisation of education, and how God would be pushed out of the curriculum. He wrote:
The tendency is to hold that this system must be altogether secular. The atheistic doctrine is gaining currency, even among professed Christians and even among some bewildered Christian ministers, that an education provided by the common government should be entirely emptied of all religious character. . . . It is self-evident that on this scheme, if it is consistently and persistently carried out in all parts of the country, the United States’ system of national popular education will be the most efficient and wide instrument for the propagation of atheism which the world has ever seen.
He goes on to speak about the importance of worldviews, and how complete impartiality and neutrality in education is impossible:
Every department which deals with realities, either principles, objective things or substances, or with events, must be in reality one or the other; if it be not positively and confessedly theistic, it must be really and in full effect atheistic. The physical as well as the moral universe must be conceived either in a theistic or an atheistic light. . . . Philosophy, ethics, jurisprudence, political and social science, can be conceived of and treated only from a theistic or from an atheistic point of view. The proposal to treat them from a neutral point of view is ignorant and absurd. English common law is unintelligible if not read in the light of that religion in which it had its genesis.
The prevalent superstition that men can be educated for good citizenship or for any other use under heaven without religion is as unscientific and unphilosophical as it is irreligious. It deliberately leaves out of view the most essential and controlling elements of human character….
It is no answer to say that the deficiency of the national system of education in this regard will be adequately supplied by the activities of the Christian churches. No court would admit in excuse for the diffusion of poison the plea that the poisoner knew of another agent actively employed in diffusing the antidote. Moreover, the churches, divided and without national recognition, would be able very inadequately to counteract the deadly evil done by the public schools of the State with all the resources and prestige of the government. But, more than all, atheism taught in the school cannot be counteracted by theism taught in the Church. Theism and Atheism cannot coalesce to make anything. All truth in all spheres is organically one and vitally inseparable. It is impossible for different agencies independently to discuss and inculcate the religious and the purely naturalistic sides of truth respectively. They cannot be separated; in some degree they must recognize each other and be taught together, as they are experienced in their natural relations.
And he summarises things with this prophetic statement:
I am as sure as I am of the fact of Christ’s reign that a comprehensive and centralized system of national education, separated from religion, as is now commonly proposed, will prove the most appalling enginery for the propagation of anti-Christian and atheistic unbelief, and of anti-social nihilistic ethics, individual, social, and political, which this sin-rent world has ever seen.
He certainly got that right. Today the main means by which atheism and secular humanism are promoted are in our public school systems. Would that we had heeded his astute warnings delivered 136 years ago. Now the rot is so fully set in that talk of educational reform sounds silly.
The public school system in the West today is NOT neutral and impartial. It is riddled through and through with a worldview fully inimical to Christianity. As Douglas Wilson once put it: “You cannot send all the Christian kids off to be educated in a school system that is riddled with rank unbelief, shot through with relativism, and diseased with perverse sexual fantasies, and then wonder at the results you get. And why are you not allowed to wonder about it? Because God is not mocked.”
The options are few for those who are concerned about these seemingly irreversible trends. There are Christian schools, the classical Christian education movement, and homeschooling. But the current system as it now stands is seemingly corrupt beyond repair. The only real question is why so few believers did anything about it while they still had the chance.