An Attempt at Objective Response to Tony Jones on Public vs Private/Homeschool Education

A week ago my friend Tony Jones posted an article on his blog explosively titled, “Death to Homeschooling!” As you can imagine, homeschoolers started loading up the comment section with their rebuttals. He’s posted a few follow up pieces since then, which have also garnered way too many comments I haven’t taken the time to read, but he’s holding firm to his original thesis, which is that public school families are fulfilling their missional duties more than homeschool or private school families. To quote,  “to withdraw my children from public education is to not play my (God-given) role as a missional member of society — like I can’t just choose to withhold my taxes.” And, “I don’t, as a Christian, have the option to “opt out” of the societal contractInstead, I live under a mandate to be the most involved, missional societal participant that I can be.”

Two days ago Tony tweeted that he has yet to hear from a non-homeschool advocate who disagrees with his point.  Well, I’ve got a long history of arguing for sport and intellectual entertainment with Tony, so I’m happy to chime in.  :)

I should be forthright and say that I’m not sure how objective I can be, as I also do not put my kids in public school. They attend an Episcopal college preparatory school, and if things work out as we plan, they’ll have attended there all the way from K to 12th. I love their school, and I’m not sure anyone could talk me out of sending them there. If we didn’t have that choice, meaning there was no private school we could afford and we believed to be a good fit, we’d likely move to Richardson (a near suburb of Dallas) and attend a public school there. Homeschooling would be a distant and unlikely third choice.  Sending them to a Dallas ISD school is a non-existent choice. So there are my cards, straight out on the table for you.

I agree that homeschooling is not ideal, and I certainly agree that many zealous advocates of homeschooling are making the choice out of a desire to shelter their children from what they believe to be a “secular” world. And I’d agree that’s not a missional lifestyle in the way Tony defines it. But I know plenty of families whose children are enrolled in public and private schools who are doing the exact same thing. And that gets to the heart of my overall critique with Tony’s posts: they are dualistic.

I don’t believe there’s any way anyone can actually choose to opt out of the social contract. They can be bad at it, but they are in it regardless. (Maybe, Tony, your argument would be better served in saying you don’t believe homeschooling produces responsible members of the social contract, or some other value judgment…but good luck getting anyone to agree with that either!) There is no firm boundary between sacred and secular. There is no outside and inside the system. To say that someone who homeschools or sends their child to private school is not an active member of society is beyond silly. It’s the same reason why many of us roll our eyes when we hear someone say he is going to move to Canada if X is elected, as if entering another national cultural situation will somehow make it possible to live perfectly in line with every last one of your values. It’s the same reason why many of us wondered why Chick Fil A became a battleground of civic responsibility when nobody seems to ask the same kinds of paradigm-alignment questions of their clothing makers or their banks or even the pension funds of their denominations, for God’s sake. It’s the reason why, in Texas, nobody takes seriously the tiny group of people in Fort Davis who continue to believe that Texas has everything it needs to secede from the Union and become its own country. These are all dualistic affairs. They are sloppy and inconsistent and not sufficiently conscious of the interrelated nature of the world in which we live. Things are much more complicated than all that, because the lines aren’t as clear or as boundaried as we’d like to think.

You can send your child to public school and be a terribly lazy member of civic society. Heck, you can even pay an inordinate amount of money to a private school to educate your child and be equally lazy and uninvolved in their education, much less their-or your- growth into civic responsibility. People can pass the buck of dutiful citizenship from anywhere. I think the matter of school choice is one of but many, many factors.

To say this in the positive, sending my children to private school does not hinder me from being an involved participant in the city of Dallas. I pay my taxes, I vote, and I follow the news of the school district my children will never attend. I am invested- through money and prayer, at the very least- in the lives of the children in Dallas County. And the reason is because somewhere along the way in my own childhood and education, I was taught the ethics of a missional life and the value of citizenship. I’m an involved (read: missional in its broadest sense, as someone who seeks the good) person wherever I go because I was taught to be one. And I’m not elitist enough to say that I could only have been taught that in my own private Episcopal school upbringing, because it’s patently untrue.

We are all members of the social contract. We don’t have a choice in whether to opt in or not. The better question is what we are doing within our social location to bring about the coming Realm of God. And I’m arguing that there are ways in which we can bring that about in every kind of education choice we make.


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