That's the question tackled by documentary producer Colin Gunn in his new film, IndoctriNation: Public Schools and the Decline of Christianity in America (see the trailer below).
The debate is spelled out right at the beginning of the film by two heavyweights in the world of evangelical Christianity. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, makes his position clear: "I am convinced that the time has come for Christians to develop an exit strategy from the public schools." Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham and president of Samaritan's Purse, is equally clear: "I want to see a child in every public school in America who is trained as a witness for Jesus Christ."
So should Christians stay and fight from within, or abandon a system they perceive as broken?
Author R.C. Sproul Jr. addresses the argument many make that Christians need to be salt and light in the public schools: "If we send out evangelists and they become nonbelievers, we're not following a biblical strategy." And that, I think, is the crux of the matter for all parents struggling with this issue.
Most of us probably know children from Christian households who've come through the public school system with their faith and morality intact. It happens. It's not impossible. But it's difficult, and in my experience, rare.
I'm a product of public schools, and I never felt that my faith was challenged in the classroom. Nor did I feel peer pressure not to attend church; plenty of my classmates went, too. But one generation later, things are vastly different. Erwin Lutzer, pastor of Moody Church, Chicago, also interviewed for IndoctriNation, points out the moral relativism schools actively promote, teaching children that there's no such thing as right or wrong. One Christian teacher interviewed describes the culture of public schools as "overwhelmingly anti-Christian." Maybe in my day, they were at the very least neutral, tolerant in the true sense of the word.
Can children be expected to spend 13 years of their lives in an environment hostile to their faith and not be at risk of losing it? Parents know their children best and only they can decide. As for me, I'm already encouraging my teenage children to keep my future grandchildren far away from the public school system.