Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Weightier Things of the Law: A Case Against Conscience-Binding in the Schooling Debate

Whether or not one sends their children to public school, the children belong to their parents and their parents have the primary responsibility for their education and formation. Neither state, “Christian Academy,” or homeschool “co-op” is a surrogate parent. Each are an extension of parental agency – whether they think so or not. This is particularly important to emphasize in a context where educational institutions sponsored by the state conceive of themselves otherwise (rendering the reinforcement of parental agency an uphill battle).


As the nation’s schools continue to move down the path paved for them in the Obergefell decision, many Christian parents are pulling their children out of the public schools. Though the exact reasons for doing this vary from person to person, it typically comes back to concerns about schools advancing a pro-LGBT agenda that will prove hostile to orthodoxy on a number of key points. While not entirely wrong, this reading of our situation is at best incomplete and at worst gets the cultural signals mixed.

In fact, the value system that underlies the Obergefell judgment has been in public schools for a long time. To wit, the grounding of one’s identity in subjective dispositions and a corresponding public expression (which “the other” is obliged to affirm) is all the the stuff of yesterday.

Certainly the cultural and now legal payment for this moral habituation is going to be significant in the coming years, but the underlying problem has not changed. As well, the great diversity of contexts and individual teachers within the public school system render it likely that any newfound obligation to get excited and prophetic about the inevitable new bits in the curriculum will be met with some handy passive-aggressive resistance. Resistance to the legal implications of SCOTUS’ decision is already widespread.

This variety of contexts and the inevitable variety of outcomes immediately suggests we are in the land of prudence rather than law—unless one has more fundamental objections to public education (in which case this argument is not for you). However, focusing upon context and legal loopholes is merely to observe rather than to interpret. The more fundamental point to be made is not simply that things have not changed as much as we might think. It is to assert that the most fundamental cultural battles are not predominantly fought in or disseminated by the public school system.

The values of Obergefell are the values we breathe every day.

Rather, the values that undergird SCOTUS are values that we all tacitly imbibe all day long every day of our lives. One can argue against these values as much as they want. But we all shop in stores with a hundred varieties of crackers. We all watch Netflix and have an entertainment, intellectual, and social life in which we are afforded an unprecedented amount of options. We have more clothes than most of our ancestors and can “express ourselves” in more ways than they could probably imagine. We might express ourselves in such a manner as to argue about the SCOTUS judgment, but SCOTUS is us and we are it.

The real battle is a battle that you cannot avoid, and which you swim around in 24/7 and it is a battle in which the whole order of reality is a reality which says that “you” and your desires are the most important thing. If I want to communicate anything else here, it is that this is not predominantly a matter of explicit pedagogy. It is more like cultural “air,” and my bet is that most of it is something we couldn’t even identify if we tried.

Did worldviewism fail?

If I may be permitted a personal aside: I grew up in the Dallas area in the 90s. I was homeschooled and I had culture wars and “worldviews” up to my eyeballs. So did all of my friends. I noticed something by the time we all went off to college. A ton of them lost their faith. I noticed something else. Plenty of my public schooled acquaintances did not. Indeed, I doubt the the percentage was significantly different.

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