Book Review: Excused Absence

“Excused Absence: Should Christian Kids Leave Public Schools?” by Douglas Wilson

This book should come with a warning label. Though I believe it to be a book every Christian parent ought to read, it is also a book which cannot be read without forcing readers to seriously challenge their previously held and sometimes deeply rooted assumptions about the nature of education. It’s one of the things I love so much about Doug Wilson’s writing: This book may not change any of the decisions you have made about your child’s education, but it will, at the very least, make your decision a more informed one, and cause you to ask yourself some questions you may have never considered.

Many people will read the subtitle of this book and expect a simple “yes” or “no” answer, but of course, it’s never that simple, is it? For those simply skimming the review, however, I’ll give you the short answer, and then share how Wilson arrives there. Yes, Wilson believes Christian kids should leave public schools, but this is never presented as an absolute moral imperative (i.e. — sending a child to public school is not a sin). There is a difference between “should” and “must”. Wilson does grant that there are some rare exceptions when parents may legitimately decide that public schools are the best option for their children. Of course, when 85% of Christian families in America currently believe they are the “rare” exception, there is going to be some disagreement from this author.

The book’s opening chapter presents its purpose statement:

[This book] aims to persuade Christian parents to act wisely in their children’s education by giving them the kind of education the Bible requires: a distinctively Christian education, which their children cannot receive at government schools.

Wilson begins building his case by framing his arguments as proactive, rather than reactive. Most of the time, he says, Christians react and respond to problems in government schools (drugs, Outcome-Based Education, teaching of evolution as fact, removal of prayer, etc) rather then beginning at “the true starting point”: the biblical mandate for Christian parents to educate their children according to God’s Word (Deuteronomy 6:4-7; Ephesians 6:4). If we start building our educational philosophy with what God has commanded in no uncertain terms, we’ll have a much sturdier foundation than if we simply try to “fix” what is broken in the secular schools.

If we accept the premise that God is the Creator and Author of ALL truth, then it ought to be clear that all knowledge and education should point to God. All forms and subjects of knowledge are interconnected, because it all springs from the same root. Math “works” because God is a God of order, and has created an ordered universe. We study language because God has chosen to reveal Himself to us using words. History is important because it shows us how God has been sovereign and active throughout eternity.

Government schools are completely antithetical to this concept. Teachers attempt to communicate knowledge removed from its source, which is ultimately impossible. Apart from God, there can be no objective standard of truth, beauty, or goodness. Schools built on the assumption that men can decide their own “truth” must resort to relativism and constantly changing standards, which is exactly what we see in public education.

The entire argument hinges on whether or not such a thing as “values-neutral” education exists. If, as the government schools would have us believe, this is possible, then school can be simply a place for children to learn facts, while the interpretation of these facts is left to parents and students. However, Jesus said, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Matthew 12:30). This leaves no room for neutrality. Parents must choose between an educational system that is with Jesus, or one which is against him.

Making the right choice does not come without sacrifice. Wilson devotes an entire chapter to answering objections (many of them valid) against the pursuit of a Christian education, not least of which is financial. Also addressed are typically low standards in many Christian schools (hardly better and sometimes worse than public schools), and the fact that many parents are simply not equipped to homeschool.

The solution is that Christian parents and churches need to once again devote themselves to providing excellent, distinctively Christian education for our children, no matter the cost. If Christian education is indeed a moral obligation, as Wilson convincingly argues, then we must follow in obedience and trust the Lord to provide. If the Christian community-at-large can agree together that this is something which must be done, and if Christian families and teachers devote themselves to leaving the public schools in order to create something better and Biblical, then it is absolutely possible to make this type of education available for anyone who desires it. This is evidenced by Wilson’s own church congregation, in which only 5% of the children are enrolled in public schools. Most of the rest are enrolled in Logos School, which was founded by Wilson in the early 1980’s and remains an excellent standard for other schools to emulate.

In short, it is not a sin to enroll your children in the public schools. However, it is a sin to abdicate your responsibility to provide your children with a Christian education, something nearly (though not entirely) impossible through public schooling. Children who attend public schools from Kindergarten through high school graduation will receive approximately 14,000 hours of training in the rival religion of secular humanism. Parents must ask themselves which is easier: Helping their children to “unlearn” what humanism has taught them and replacing it with a Christian worldview, or building their children’s education on the Solid Rock from the beginning.

This book may be slim, but it is a gold mine of wisdom for parents. Buy it here.

One comment on “Book Review: Excused Absence

  1. […] of the government’s religion of secularism — is objectionable to Christians, then maybe our children should not attend public schools. It never ceases to amaze me that Republicans, and, most recently, the current crop of “Tea […]

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