Family Education - In a Secular Society

This is the second of two articles on family education from a Christian perspective in the light of significant social changes currently being experienced in Western nations.

In the previous article we considered four key Bible passages which provide important insights into the place of the family with special regard to the education of children. This article discusses why it is important that Christians understand the nature of the current threat to the established freedom of parents to teach their children “in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.”[1]

Understanding the times

This phrase is part of the description of the sons of Issachar in 1 Chronicles 12:32, who are listed amongst the mighty men who had rallied to David. Their understanding of the times equipped them “to know what Israel ought to do.” Over the last hundred years there have been multiple changes in society, and at a pace which leave many wondering what is happening. For Christians, perhaps the most striking change is that once “Christian” nations have enthusiastically embraced secularism.

In times like these, Christians need to understand what their God is doing and how they should respond. Many hope He will call a halt to the rush into unbelief, but if we are honest there seems very little to suggest that He will. Some may feel rather like the Israelites in the time of Haggai, who had looked for much but seen little by return (1:9). Many have prayed and prayed for revival, but there is no sign of national repentance. Should we continue to live in hope, or be preparing for more difficult days ahead? Does the Bible shed any light on the realities of today’s post-Christian nations?

In Romans 1 Paul described what had happened previously, and will always happen, when a society chooses to forget their Creator. From v18 he recounted how The LORD makes known His contempt for human ungodliness and unrighteousness. Twice he wrote that when a society turns from God, He gives them up to the forms of immorality which have risen to prominence in Western culture in recent years. Paul further warned that if they did not learn from this, God would then give them over to a debased mind (v28), resulting in an increase in unrighteousness. Whilst the catalogue of their wilful rebellion is awful, Paul's conclusion is even more alarming, “knowing the righteous judgement of God, that those who practise such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practise them.” Is this why we now find ourselves living in a society where bad is called good, and good is being outlawed as bad (Isaiah 5:20)?

The relevance of this to education and parenting is that increasingly the state is requiring that children be taught this inversion of righteousness. This being so, we must ask, “What should God’s people do?”

In Loco Parentis or In Loco Civitatis?

The previous article considered the Biblical understanding that education is primarily the responsibility of parents. This foundation has underpinned the British state education system since it began in 1870. It is also embedded in Human Rights conventions; for example Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.”[2]

One author pointed out in 2014 that the then Education Secretary, Michael Gove, had just signalled a significant departure from this established position. Educationalist Prof. John Howson, a former chief adviser to the government, questioned the previous day’s announcement that in future, independent schools “must meet basic standards of promoting British values.” In his article entitled, “Re-writing the rule book on education”[3] he criticised the implications of this change, which he described as putting the “Education Secretary in charge of all education content in England,” [emphasis added]. Whilst recognising that many parents “passed the obligation to educate their children to the state,” Howson saw the government’s quiet grab for educational power as a worrying development.

Whilst Gove’s announcement did not begin the process of shifting educational responsibility from its Biblical foundation, it did signal that the state was now prepared to demand that all who had not already done so should conform to their zeitgeist. For instance Howson then asked, “And what about the home schoolers, are they now also to be monitored for British values, and parents told they cannot continue if Ofsted doesn’t think they are British enough?” He continued, “I am not sure that I subscribe to such a totalitarian attitude, where a politician can decide on what represents British values, and prevent a parent from espousing any other set of values that is within the law.” His concerns were justified in April 2018, when the Department for Education announced a Call for Evidence on Elective Home Education. In the associated Draft Guidelines, a “suitable education” is in part defined as the requirement not to teach anything which is “in conflict with ‘Fundamental British Values’ as defined in government guidance”.[4]

Standing Up for Parental Responsibilities

The journey from the foundation of godly family education to increasingly state-dominated secular education started slowly as far back as the late 1700s, but has now gathered pace. For a long time there was no significant conflict between state education and the values which Christian parents sought to pass on to their children. That is no longer so; Biblical morality is now considered oppressive, unloving and intolerant. The reality however is the very opposite, with “tolerance,” as Howson identified, being imposed by totalitarian means. One matter of concern is that many church leaders didn’t see this danger coming and more worryingly, that some are now seeking to embrace it as good. Faced with such changes, it is important for Christians to ask themselves if they can allow the state’s assumption that it has the right to impress secular values upon every child to continue unchallenged, especially when those values contradict those of their parents.

The hearts and minds of future generations are being fought over right now. Lord Soley, who introduced a Private Member's Bill [5] to bring in greater state oversight of home educators in 2017, is associated with both Humanists UK and the National Secular Society. Both groups have been conducting campaigns against faith schools and home education. Successive heads of Ofsted have repeatedly called for home educators to be registered. Sir Michael Wilshaw claimed that some parents are radicalising their children. His successor, Amanda Spielman, is calling for the state to exhibit “muscular liberalism,”[6] which she defines as maintaining “our openness and tolerance” and holding “no truck for ideologies that want to close minds or narrow opportunity.” Read her speeches, and you will see from the context that she is talking about parents and schools with clear convictions arising from their faith. This desire to embed secular values and morals into children’s minds appears increasingly to be a key reason why many schools with a religious background are coming under pressure to teach a morality contrary to the beliefs of their proprietors and parents.

Across society the pressure has increased for Christians to abandon Biblical values and to accept as good all forms of immorality. There is nothing unusual in that, but we have now reached a point where it is becoming compulsory to celebrate immorality. Not satisfied with the freedom to behave in this way, activists now seek to coerce everyone to approve what is wrong. Freedom of thought and religion are almost eroded, and “compelled speech” is becoming mandatory! It has to be asked if Christians are prepared to “stand in the gap” (Ezekiel 22:30), not just for their own personal freedoms but also for future generations. No doubt many of those who are motivating these changes believe that they are for the good of mankind, but so did the builders of the Tower of Babel and those global rulers described in Psalm 2 who took “counsel together, against The LORD and against His Anointed, saying, ‘Let us break Their bonds in pieces and cast away Their cords from us.’”

Ask Him to be gracious to the children

Whilst most Christians did not see these changes coming, they are now well and truly in place. Though state education had its roots in Christian compassion for all children, regrettably it was not built on solid Biblical foundations. When parents ask the state to fund and manage the education of their children, it could be argued that they have no grounds for complaint when it teaches them contrary to their convictions. So what seemed like a good thing at the start has now turned sour, with parents’ freedom to withdraw their children from various subjects increasingly being removed. And even when parents invest in independent education, such schools too are now required to teach the inverted morals prescribed by the state. The only remaining form of education in which the state has not yet managed to dictate the curriculum is home education.

In parallel with the rising popularity of home education around the world, parents in this sector are coming under increasing pressure in many places. There are sustained campaigns to subject home educators to state monitoring in England and Wales. In Scotland it is the Named Person scheme which remains a threat to a broad range of parental freedoms, including home education. All serious Christian parents surely aspire to raise their children in the discipline and instruction of The LORD, but sadly, many do not appreciate that home education has become the last remaining educational setting in Britain where this may be undertaken without compromise. Such freedom is no longer available in state schools, and is also being eroded in independent schools. Christian home educators long for other believers to join with them in praying that The LORD will be gracious to the children of today and tomorrow.

If you know Christians who home educate, do pray for them as they seek to raise their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, and do ask them about the situation where they are - it differs in each of the devolved nations in Britain. Sadly, Christian home educating families have frequently been perceived as unnecessarily “different,” and the media has recently been used to portray home education as a danger to children. It’s so important however to remember that the real danger comes from those who seek to teach everyone’s children that there is no God, and they can live as they please. King David rhetorically asked, “If the foundations are destroyed, What can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3) One objective, identified in the first of these studies, would be to pray that fathers’ hearts would turn back to their children and their children’s hearts back to their fathers. Praying that the freedom to home educate children in the UK without state intervention would be maintained could be a valuable first step towards that goal.

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European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) Human Rights Act, Article 2 Protocol 1


Universal Declaration of Human Rights | United Nations


Re-writing the rule book on education | John Howson


DfE - Draft EHE guidance for local authorities, §9.4c


Bill documents — Home Education (Duty of Local Authorities) Bill [HL] 2017-19 — UK Parliament


Amanda Spielman's speech at the Church of England Foundation for Educational Leadership - GOV.UK
Amanda Spielman's speech to the Policy Exchange think tank - GOV.UK

© Copyright Randall Hardy – September 2018
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