American Education And The Family

Apr 15th, 2023 | By | Category: Culture & Wordview, Featured Issues

The mission of Issues in Perspective is to provide thoughtful, historical and biblically-centered perspectives on current ethical and cultural issues.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 stipulates the vital importance of parents in educating children:  There is to be a formal structure where children are taught facts, ethical standards and doctrinal truth.  They are also to model these virtues, values and standards before their children.  Parents are thus central in the moral and spiritual formation of their children.  In America, parents, the church and the school should be cooperative and supportive in accomplishing this goal of education.  But moral and spiritual formation has been replaced by indoctrination and the pursuit of personal autonomy.  It is difficult to be optimistic about the future of public education in the US.  Christian parents need to take seriously their responsibility before God in educating their children.  Because the public school system is not working, homeschooling or private school education are viable options.  But each one has a significant financial and temporal cost and, therefore, some Christian parents might need to embrace a sacrificial approach to educating their children.  For many, public schools are no longer a viable option.  A model that fosters cooperation and support between parents, the church and the school is necessary.


Given these propositions about education and the responsibility of parents in this process, what are some current observations about education that are helpful in making wise decisions about educating children?  Meira Levinson and Daniel Markovits wrote last year in The Atlantic that “The coronavirus caused by far the biggest disruption in the history of American education.  Today’s teachers and students are living with a set of altered realities, and they may be for the rest of their lives.”  David Brooks summarizes this altered reality:

  • “Shrinking enrollments. In the first full academic year of the pandemic, K-12 public school enrollment fell by 1.1 million students, and fell by about an additional 130,000 students the following fall. New Stanford-led research finds that 26 percent of that decline was caused by students switching to home-schooling and 14 percent by students leaving for private schools. Another 34 percent of the decline is hard to track, but some students were probably going truant, doing unregistered home-schooling or simply opting out of kindergarten. (A declining school-age population explains the rest.) In the years ahead, enrollments, and the funding streams that go with them, will most likely decline further as birthrates fall.”


As public school enrollment shrunk, the Wall Street Journal reports, “private-school enrollment increased 4% while home-schooling soared 30% between 2019-2020 and 2021-2022 school years.  The US school-age population from April 2020 to July 2021 also fell by more than 250,000 because of lower birth rates and declining immigration.”

  • “Academic regression. Since the National Assessment of Educational Progress was first administered in the 1970s, scores have usually risen or held steady. But two decades’ worth of math and reading gains were more or less erased for 9-year-olds during the pandemic. Declining academic skills will have long-term consequences. Researchers calculated that the decline in math skills alone will lead to $900 billion in lower future earnings over the course of students’ lifetimes.”
  • “Rising absenteeism. During the pandemic, students got in the habit of not going to school. Those habits have persisted. According to one preliminary estimate, 16 million students were chronically absent during the 2021-22 school year. In New York City, about 41 percent of public school students were chronically absent that year.”
  • “Worsening discipline problems. More than 80 percent of public schools say the pandemic has led to worse student behavior and lower social and emotional development. In the fall of 2021, for example, Denver public schools saw a 21 percent increase in fighting compared with prepandemic levels.”
  • “Surging inequality. As Robin Lake and Travis Pillow write in a Brookings Institution article, ‘American students are experiencing a K-shaped recovery, in which gaps between the highest- and lowest-scoring students, already growing before the pandemic, are widening into chasms.’”


But this moment of disruption in education should also be a moment of innovation and reinvention of education.  Brook summarizes several current initiatives:

  1. “A surveyfrom EdChoice and Morning Consult found that more than 40 percent of parents express a desire for some form of hybrid, at-least-one-day-a-week at-home learning. If these more personalized and parent-led forms of schooling are going to flourish, they need new forms of curriculums, not off-the-shelf models suited for traditional school settings.”
  2. “Some innovators are working on ‘mastery-based learning.’  In normal school, the whole class studies a subject for a fixed period, then there’s a test that serves as an autopsy on how well the students learned. In mastery-based learning, the feedback is more continual and steers each student to master the subject at his or her own pace.”
  3. “Other schools are experimenting with 3,000-square-foot classroom areas where teams of teachers work with students in small groups or individually. Others are rethinking how teaching jobs are defined. ‘Having a superbly skilled early literacy instructor teach addition or watch students eat lunch simply because he’s a second-grade teacher is a bizarre way to leverage talent,’ observesFrederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute.”


In addition to these observations about American education, Jennifer Betheny Wallace of the Wall Street Journal reminds us of the critical and central role of fathers in the lives of children:

  • “A soon-to-be published survey of more than 1,600 teenagers by the Harvard Education School’s Making Caring Common project found that almost twice as many 14-to-18-year-old boys and girls feel comfortable opening up to their mothers (72%) as to their fathers (39%) about anxiety, depression or other mental-health challenges. The gap suggests that fathers can become much more involved at home, offering the kind of emotional support that many children today so urgently need.  Intimacy between a parent and a child acts as a protective buffer against the day-to-day challenges of life. Sociologists have found that warm, caring dads produce what they call the ‘good father effect.’ A 2021 study published in the Journal of Family Psychology examined the at-home emotional support received by 388 adolescents over several years, measuring levels of ‘parental intimacy’ by asking questions about how often they went to their mother or father for advice and how much they shared feelings and secrets with them.  The researchers found that closeness with fathers was associated with fewer weight concerns, higher self-esteem and fewer depression symptoms for both boys and girls. Close relationships with mothers provided positive benefits but for a narrower range of ages than fathers. ‘In the context of two-parent families, the protective effects of father-youth intimacy may be more apparent than those of mother-youth intimacy,’ the researchers wrote.”
  • “Fathers who were involved in caregiving and play, and who reacted with warmth and greater sensitivity to a child who expressed emotions, were significantly more likely to have children with better emotional balance from infancy to adolescence. Those skills in children are linked, in turn, with higher levels of social competence, peer relationships, academic achievement and resilience, while poor emotional regulation skills are linked with anxiety, depression and behavioral problems.  Boys can be especially affected by whether fathers are part of the emotional equation. Our culture often tells men that softer emotions are weak, so fathers may have to give sons explicit ‘permission to feel,’ says Marc Brackett, director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.
  • “Matt Schneider, a father of two and the co-founder of a national support group for fathers called City Dads Group, says that fathers need to push back against the myth that men are less capable of being sensitive than their female counterparts. Fathers don’t need to accept the proposition that they are inherently less nurturing, says Mr. Schneider. Learning how to be a warm, emotionally attentive parent, he says, simply ‘involves on-the-job training and staying actively engaged until you start getting good at it.’”

Finally, in a delightful and informative essay in Christianity Today, Andrea Palpant Dilley writes that “As parents and caretakers, the vision for our kids’ flourishing starts here on earth but extends all the way into eternity. We’re teaching them to govern creation now but also raising them to co-rule with God in the new creation.’’ She suggests these principles:

  1. “We need to see our kids’ future influence, earning capacity, and social mobility in the context of stewardship.”
  2. “We treasure knowledge but not at the expense of wisdom.”
  3.   “We value God’s general revelation to our children through science, nature, art and literature.”
  4. “We pay heed to the spiritual formation that happens in community.”
  5. “We raise our kids to worship.”
  6. “We raise our kids as pilgrims . . . Their final ‘goal horizon’ is the new creation, not this one, which means they need to courage to suffer.”

Public education in America is in crisis.  However, as Christians, our hope and focus is on Christ and His kingdom.  This truth should give us optimism about the future but also cause us to be diligent and thoughtful about our stewardship responsibility as outlined in Deuteronomy 6.  May God grant us His mercy, His grace and His wisdom as we do so.

See David Brooks, “America Should Be in the Middle of a Schools Revolution” in the New York Times (16 February 2023); Wall Street Journal editorial (18 February 2023); Jennifer Betheny Wallace in the Wall Street Journal (4-5 March 2023); and Andrea Palpant Dilley in Christianity Today (March 2023), pp. 29-30.

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