Discipleship and Politics Are Not At Odds in Public School Politics

In last week’s Monday column “Don’t Run for the School Board”, Christianity Today writer and author Bonnie Kristian evoked the words of C.S. Lewis to argue Christians should not run for school board. Broadly, it’s argued parents should influence education via discipleship and forgo engaging in “culture wars”. Education is not a “closed system”, and by the writer’s lights, we’re better off influencing that system from the bottom-up. For one, political involvement is embittering and impractical, the columnist argues. 

“Distraught” parents should focus on household discipleship, avoiding “claim[ing] political power and forc[ing] God back into the schoolhouse.” Drawing from Lewis’ words in the preface of How Heathen Is Britain?, A society which is predominantly Christian will propagate Christianity through its schools: one which is not, will not. All the ministries of education in the world cannot alter this law,” Kristian posits the open system of education will meld to society writ-large, which starts at home, not in political battles. 

Indeed, Lewis is making a point like that of Kristian’s in the quote. Lewis argues education will over time be affected by societal osmosis. There was a degeneration of British culture at the publication of How Heathan Is Britain? that Orwell’s The Road To Wigan Pier documents well. The streets were ridden with crime and the average man was not very industrious. Debauchery was common. Lewis thought the solution should not be as direct as political action, writing, “I do not, therefore, think that our hope re-baptizing England lies in trying to ‘get at’ the schools.” 

In effect, Lewis argued and Kristian is repeating the “politics is downstream from culture” aphorism. But here, the saying could go “education is downstream from discipleship”. 

But even if England’s education system was not producing the most stand-up youth, it certainly was not injecting gender ideology, Critical Theory off-shoots, and relativist sexual ethics into the minds of its students. The pornographic literature found in some school districts (labeled by some school-board members as “misformation”) would be inconceivable in 1950’s England. Lewis’ argument might have held more water years prior, but the present socio-cultural landscape is of a different nature. Its nature is far more perverse than the foul language and bouts of unconscientiousness and drunkenness wide-spread in North England 70-odd years ago. 

Securing political offices is difficult and requires much of the candidate as Kristian rightly notes in her column. However, she overstates this difficulty to say influencing local education via politics is “impossible”. It is near to impossible to reel in the local education when the system is one of many arms of an apparatuses controlled, largely, by secular teachers’ unions supporting a larger number of likely progressive teachers than the Christian “public-school teachers and board members” Kristian employs. Progressive educators supported by these unions have unionized security, wherein the many Christian teachers don’t enjoy the same luxury, lest, they must be supported by a progressive arm. 

We can disciple our way out of a lowering fecundity rate and growing secularism all we want in hopes we will one day change our education for the better from the bottom up. However, the statist balloon “disciples” much, much faster and has far, far greater power, influence, and funding. Not to mention they have the students’ minds for eight hours a day. 

Later Kristian writes, “For Christian parents worried about our children’s education, the real remedy (and most realistic) is discipleship.” The notion that family discipleship is more influential than daily public education is controversial on its face. But when the education system is so ideologically compromised, there is no way personal discipleship can create a culture nearly as quickly as public education can corrupt it in the classroom. While bottom-up effects are real, and can certainly impact local education when they have been widely employed amongst a critical mass to influence the system. However, these effects have to actually reach this point first. Such is not guaranteed, scant likely, when the tides are unfavorable and the future points otherwise. 

When the critical mass of discipled children is nowhere near being reached, much less discipled, political action, in the form of running for a school-board seat, is not the abdication of discipleship or a self-serving act to “win the culture war.” Political action can further secure the means of discipleship by intentionally, and with more effect, changing the education system from the inside out.  

Or, can we cling to a hope that the far-gone Portland education system will someday remove the postmodern teachings from their curriculum due to the bottom-up pressures from a local revival. That would be quite the site, given nearly 70% of the city claims no religion. On the other hand, Floridians are making waves on the cultural front. Albeit, using the means objected to in the Monday column. Does Bonnie Kristian really think children being discipled in Portland are just as likely to remain Christian as those in Florida where parents have defended their children in school as well? With time, we will see if these education systems have a radical change. But expecting that change to happen without intervention is a hope long lost.