Sudan and Schools

Michael Metzger

Over 50,000 Sudanese have been killed over the last few months in the latest round of genocide.  While the United Nations (typically) dithers, Darfurian rebel groups continue the ethnic cleansing that arises from “Balkanization.”  What is Balkanization?  With the collapse of Yugoslavia in the late 20th century, small-scale independence movements (formed along ethnic, cultural and religious fault lines) fragmented the Balkan region of Europe by elevating individual cultural heritages over national citizenship.  The “Balkanization of Europe” led to the 1992 Bosnian and Serbian ethnic cleansing — and is tragically similar to the current tragedy in Sudan.

Westerners feel safe from Balkanization.  Yet the way some people of faith talk about schools raises the possibility of Balkanization elsewhere.  Two months ago, the largest Protestant denomination in America proposed that all parents (in their churches) remove their children from the public schools.  Why?  “The Godless schools have failed in their mission.”  Thankfully, the proposal was voted down.  But the rationale was chilling.  The denomination’s newly elected President said withdrawal from the public schools “would hinder evangelism.”  This is a seriously misguided view of education and evangelism — and contributes to such things as Balkanization.  How

In 1837, Horace Mann became America’s first Secretary of Education and founded the public school movement.  “Social harmony” was his primary goal.  Mann felt that a common school would be the “great equalizer” for cultivating a common citizenry.  In so doing, the public schools — even with all their failings — have helped prevent the “Balkanization” of America.  Thus, when religious leaders urge Christians to withdraw from public schools, we raise the specter of an eventual Balkanization of America.  Public schools are not purely “godless” (this denomination says the public schools are the “domain of Satan”), and Christian schools are not purely “sacred.”  This kind of dualistic — and separatist — thinking overlooks how public education can produce a public citizenry.

Some Christians need to rethink why we go to school.  The purpose for school is not to evangelize, it is to educate.  Sadly, many evangelicals assign secondary (or instrumental) value to everything except evangelism.  But this is dishonest at best and appalling at worst.  Education is intrinsically valuable.  We don’t attend public schools and participate as citizens primarily to evangelize.  John Stott goes to great lengths (Mission in the Modern World) demonstrating how this is dishonest and duplicitous.

All schools can contribute to a common citizenry (including private and Christian schools).  But they should derive from an integral understanding of education, public life, and the common good.  We don’t need to further the “ghetto” mentality of so many well-meaning Christians and contribute to the Balkanization of America.

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