In our last post, we explored the various ways in which our term “religion” has been effectively redefined as something that is personal and private. However, we noticed that according to cultural anthropologists, religion has not so much to do with gods and spirituality, but rather with the rules, understandings, and goals that a society considers absolute and unquestionable and that govern social and cultural life. There is simply no such thing as a social order without religion.
We then observed the implications of this:
So-called “public schools” can be considered religiously neutral only so long as modern education is successful in redefining religion in such a way that excludes itself from that definition.
And modern public education excludes itself from the definition of religion by perpetuating a dichotomy between science and religion, fact and faith, knowledge and belief, public and private.
And yet, this dichotomy, this consignment of science and religion into two different social domains – the public and the private – is not itself based on a scientific experiment and it is not itself intrinsic to any logical formula; the dichotomy between science and religion, public knowledge and private belief, is nothing less than a Creed; it is a Confession of Faith.
Let me illustrate.
In January of 2014, it was reported that the mayor of a Texas city had officially declared 2014 the “year of the Bible.”
Tom Hayden, mayor of Flower Mound, explained his motivation: “I believe that Jesus died for my sins and I hope to be able to share the good news with others.”
Now, when people were asked on the streets what they though of Mayor Hayden’s declaration, one person objected: “Honestly, I don’t think it’s a very good idea… I believe in the whole separation of church and state.”
Now, notice what we have here:
One person says, “I believe that Jesus died for my sins;” another says, “I believe in the whole separation of church and state.”
Did you catch it? Two beliefs; two statements of faith; but only one is considered religious.
There’s simply no way around this. All societies are governed by a faith; all cultures are ordered and organized by a religion.
And public schools are spaces where students learn about a very peculiar religion: the religion of religious neutrality; a religion that creates a dichotomy between itself and other religions.
So where does school choice fit into all of this?
Simply put, the public financing of Christian schools through vouchers, tax credits, and education savings accounts challenges the dichotomy between public and private education. It reconfigures socially the public square to include beliefs and practices thus far widely excluded.
As such, the school choice movement has the potential to dissolve significantly the dichotomy between public and parochial, the scientific and the religious, knowledge and belief, and thereby to challenge effectually the secular redefinition of religion.
This is why I think school choice is so viscerally resisted by representatives of the public status quo. Ultimately, school choice rejects the secular creed of state-monopolized education.
The good news is that the school choice movement is stronger than ever. As of June 2015, 18 states and the District of Columbia offer school choice programs. Nearly a quarter of million students nationwide are currently participating in voucher programs, tax-credit programs, or education savings accounts. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana is pursuing perhaps the most significant program of school privatization, where he is shifting tens of millions of dollars from the public school monopoly to pay for private, and mostly Christian, schools.
With the increasing national success of the school choice movement, we have reason to be optimistic that the days of the secular state’s monopoly over public education are numbered, and that the frames of reference necessary for a distinctively Christian social order will be restored to our educational enterprises, a restoration that will transform the lives of our students and our communities for generations to come.
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