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Learning In Retreat: The Decline of High Quality Schooling in America and What We Can Do About It

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By Tom Argersinger
Head Administrator, Veritas Christian Academy

The public school systems of America are in trouble.

There is an existential educational crisis in America, and while largely underreported in the media, it is of eternal consequence to our children.

This decline has affected virtually all students in some way, in both public and private schools around the world. But as you will see, it is especially evident in the public school systems of America, including right here in New Jersey.

This decline was accelerated by the pandemic crisis, but it did not begin there. Indeed there has been brewing a “pandemic” of Unfinished Learning in our country, one that many experts fear will be profoundly difficult to reverse.

Meanwhile, students are lagging academically. According to the Nation’s Report Card, only 35% of fourth graders were proficient in reading and only 41% were proficient in math on the 2019 assessment (note: pre-COVID), and achievement gaps remain. Anecdotally, things continue to decline.

The combination of Chronic Absenteeism, Learning Loss and the mutation of schools as primarily centers of learning to Schools as Centers of Social Welfare has had a devastating effect on the mental focus, emotional health and resilience, as well as the spiritual centeredness and contentment of our children.

The sober reality is that the vast majority of public school students are working far below grade level, and this affects the level of instruction at that grade. In other words, many subjects are being “dumbed down” because of the overall drop in Reading and Writing achievement (more at the Bush Presidential Center).

My purpose here is not to bash my talented, hard-working and dedicated colleagues laboring in public schools (I was one of them for many years).

In most cases, it is the system that is at fault, not the teachers or the administrators; a devastating infiltration of anti-truth and deconstructive cultural narratives and practices has created a social and counter-educational tsunami that has quite literally engulfed the hearts and minds of a generation. Witness this short list of trends, much of which have been localized in public school environments:

  • The overly broad application of the tenets of critical theory, resulting in the selective editing of history (particularly American history)
  • The evolving redefinition of words to fit certain contemporary agendas
  • The forcing of students to indicate publicly their “preferred pronoun”
  • The creeping integration of post-modern viewpoints on language and truth by popular textbook publishers
  • The confusion over what constitutes the American family
  • The decline in reading of great books, including the elimination of certain writers who do not align with the current cultural “zeitgeist”
  • The unwise proliferation and virtually unregulated usage of personal technology
  • The unwillingness of a growing group of students, parents and pedagogues across the political and social spectrums to engage in “honorable dialogue” and to respect others’ convictions
  • The general acceptance of individual and group behavior that even ten years ago would’ve been considered deviant or at least culturally unacceptable.

NOTE: Many public schools, including some of those in our area, are allowing students to identify as animals, to respond with animal noises to adults and to be led around on a leash in school.

So what has been the result of all of these intellectual, emotional and social shifts?

There are many far-reaching consequences, but perhaps the one of greatest concern to many of us who work in the education space is The Anxiety Epidemic in Public Schools.

The simple truth is that this generation of young people, what researchers call “Gen­er­a­tion Z — indi­vid­u­als born between 1995 and 2010 — are grow­ing up in an age of increased stress and anx­i­ety.

Some 70% of teens across all gen­ders, races and fam­i­ly-income lev­els say that anx­i­ety and depres­sion are sig­nif­i­cant prob­lems among their peers, accord­ing to the Pew Research Cen­ter.” (more at the Annie E. Casey Foundation).

As a lifelong parent and educator I believe that parents and schools share a common responsibility: to educate children in such a way that they flourish as whole human beings — intellectually, socially, emotionally, physically and spiritually.

Clearly, that is not happening for most children in the public system.

And a growing number of parents are saying, “Enough!”

As a result, America is experiencing the revolutionary Rise of Homeschooling, which has seen home education quadruple nationwide from Spring 2020 to Spring 2021. Local estimates have homeschooling in Northwestern New Jersey growing over 20% in the last two years.

Yet many parents, for various reasons, cannot or prefer not to homeschool. And many home educators need help with some aspects of their children’s education: advanced math and science, unique leadership development programs, arts and athletics, etc.

What is the best answer for them? Faith-based education.

I believe faith-based schools are particularly well-placed to address virtually all of the trends I have listed above.

Let me be clear: it’s not that private or Christian schools are completely unaffected by the trends.

Yet, faith-based schools experience less of them, and are able to address the ones that are present directly, with compassion, truth and best educational practices, free from the harmful agendas that are pressing hard upon and re-shaping our public schools.

At a foundational level, a Christian school does not base its educational program and operations on the shifting sands of cultural agendas, favor and opinion, but on the timeless truth, values and virtues of the Word of God, who is the Creator and Sustainer of all things.

Pre-Kindergarten through 8 schools such as  Northwest Christian Academy and Sussex Christian School, and 9-12 Veritas Christian Academy High School are adapting aggressively to the challenges of the 21st century while remaining rooted in the best of rigorous educational practice, fully integrated with the unchanging truth of God.

We are actively pursuing true character development and the forging of strong, godly leaders who will stand for what is right, alone if necessary, and the intentional formation of the whole person.

In fact, out of the debris of post-pandemic education a new vision is emerging for a 21st century Christian high school where students can flourish in all aspects of their personhood in a truly generative learning environment.

Informing on that vision is the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI), through which Veritas is accredited. ACSI is bringing new research and practical help to bear via their ACSI Flourishing Schools Initiative.

So you see, there is hope; hope that it is not too late; hope that the decisions we make right now as parents can help to reverse the trends; hope that in the end “all will be most well”, since we (thankfully) are not in charge of this crazy world.

At the end of the day the choice is ours: where will we send our children to school next year? Where will they flourish?

For information on Veritas Christian Academy visit www.veritasnj.org.