Back to School -- Really?

It’s that time again -- back-to-school ads fill the TV screen. Football teams sweat through summer practice. Teachers return to their classrooms, hoping against hope to get totally prepared for the year to come. And yet we all know that something is rotten in America’s schools.

America was once a well-educated country -- de Tocqueville mentioned that on his tour of the fledgling nation in the early 19th century. He was astounded at how well informed the average man-on-the-street was. He would be horrified today.

The man-on-the-street videos are not only embarrassing and scary, but test scores and graduation rates back up the videos with dismal scores, and many of those who do graduate can’t read or write, can’t compute, can’t speak without using the F-word. Competent, inspiring teachers are vacating the profession at an alarming rate -- one can only take the frustration and disrespect for so long.

And it’s not going to get any better if we keep doing what we’ve been doing: dusting off the same old band-aid programs, dressing them up with new names, and hoping against all rationality that this time it will work. It won’t. There are some fundamental reasons for this dead end.

Mainly, education is caught up in a landslide caused by the weakness of its very foundations and hastened by the frantic efforts of a movement so off base, so deeply, fundamentally flawed that it must implode.

Education, from time immemorial has been rooted in religious belief. The most knowledgeable people in any tribe were the priests, the shamans. From the scribes of Israel, the Wise Men of the Gospels, the monks of the Middle Ages, the scientists of the Renaissance, the Ivy League schools at their inception, education and religion were joined at the hip. Up until John Dewey and his “progressive” anti-religion attitudes, educators recognized that connection and nurtured it.

Why does this learning-believing pairing work? Why is it so hard to teach without it? The short answer is that learning is hard work and requires a substantive motivation to accomplish. When human beings acknowledge their Creator, curiosity ensues – Who is this God who made me? Why did He make me? What is my purpose? What is the purpose of the universe? What are the properties of this universe? What is the nature of man and how can we connect with God? What will happen in the future? The important questions, the wondering questions all start with God.

Secular humanism, the main philosophy behind public education since Dewey, teaches that we are each the master of our own fate and that everything is about us, for us, through us. It teaches moral neutrality, so nothing is shocking, nothing is reprehensible, nothing is important, and nothing is interesting. Our school librarian -- a lovely lady -- used to say that most things weren’t worth learning since everything was going to change anyway. The librarian! It teaches that science knows everything, and only those with the power of science can know anything. And yet, science is always changing its collective mind, and often at the whim of a grant bribe. God, on the other hand, doesn’t change. What we learn about Him will never be useless.

Progressivism, however, promotes the idea that the state is the Supreme Being; its priests are the bureaucrats and politicians, its disciples the men in white coats. None of this promotes curiosity; none of it provides purpose or direction. And it relegates education to nothing but job training.

For decades after Dewey the schools limped along still able to pull their students into at least a semblance of learning. The family still stood behind the schools and the family taught its children about God. Those kids could find purpose and interest in that divine knowledge.

But much has changed. The family is crumbling like a stepped-on potato chip. And much of that can be laid at the feet of the leftist, progressive ideology and the government policies that resulted. Prior to Johnson’s Great Society only 7% of black families were missing their fathers; now, 73% of African American families are fatherless. A single mother is hard-pressed to feed her children let alone take them to church and watch over their schooling. The family, as a bulwark against ignorance, feels, especially to teachers, like a lost cause.

So we have a gigantic, expensive, paradoxical institution hanging around the necks of our children. It teaches them that nothing is true, that we mustn’t make any moral judgments, that respecting authority is an antique idea, and that their own self-esteem should be their greatest concern and then we expect the kids to learn. When they don’t, the government, which is now synonymous with the schools, gives them harder tests, which undermine self-esteem and do nothing at all to ramp up curiosity.

The secularist attitude has ruined our schools. But, but, but, sputters the progressive, but we have to have separation of church and state! We have to keep our schools neutral! Really? If you send a kid through 16 years of schooling in which God is never mentioned, except in a derogatory way, you end up with a person who doesn’t see any evidence for, or information about, or guidance from the Creator of us all. That’s not neutral.

But, but, but, says the humanist, we’re a secular society. Really? And how’s that working for you? Any teacher will tell you that the best students, the successful students are, more often than not, from religious families. The troublesome students, either the arrogant pseudo-intellectual kids, or the dropout wannabes, usually are not.

By forcing our schools into this anti-God stance we have destroyed them. If the government (and the bigger the government the worse this is) runs the schools, God (according to 21st century attitudes) must be excluded. If we exclude God from education, we also exclude the impetus for that education, and we remove much of the philosophical, moral, virtuous, character-building material goes with Him -- literature, music, art, history, science -- all these disciplines must be heavily censored, rewritten, dumbed down. If we do this, then we are training robots, not enlightening human beings.

If God is excluded from schools then so is any authority to demand good behavior. If several generations receive their education from Godless schools, then fewer and fewer of the population know anything at all about Him or about absolute values, like truth. If couples who don’t know God raise children, they won’t know God, and the family will be unlikely to develop consistent values, let alone values that lead to confident, well-behaved, motivated students.

So, how do we break this chain when the separation-of-church-and-state meme seems carved in stone? We educate our children in the way they should be educated; at home. We set up vouchers to be use at the school of the parents’ choice. We support specialized charter schools and open up school registration so that parents can choose where their kids go to school. If parents can send their kids to a school that teaches what they believe, then the church/state hammer no longer has any weight and some schools will go back to allowing for the reality of God.

Many options are sitting there in the classroom, enthusiastically waving their hands, just waiting to be called on. Enough data already exists to prove that these options work. So, as the kids and their new backpacks march off to school this fall, let’s keep our eyes open, do some research and make a move. It’s up to each of us to fix this.

Deana Chadwell blogs at She taught high school English for 30 years and currently teaches writing and speech at Pacific Bible College in Medford, Oregon.