As Christian education continued to soar last year, public education stumbled to its feet after its paralyzing pandemic response led to historic declines in attendance and academic performance.
From ribbon cuttings to rowdy school board meetings, from teacher arrests to teacher awards, The Lion reported from the trenches of the cultural battlefront that is K-12 education.
Body Politics: gender and sexuality
Radical sexual and gender ideology, aimed at the youngest of children, proved divisive and deleterious on both local and national levels.
In Kansas City, Children’s Mercy Hospital was found to be offering cross-sex treatment to children as young as 2 years old, The Lion reported.
Even drag queen shows, which purposefully hypersexualize and caricature the female body, were presented as appropriate for children.
“I believe it should be criminal,” said Kansas City homeschool mom Cassie Bradley Vaughn, who protested a drag queen event somehow marketed as being for “all ages” yet containing “adult content.” “Just as a child is not allowed into a strip club or a pornographic movie, they should not be allowed to attend a drag show.
“Kids should be safe to just be kids instead of being sexualized.”
Additionally, detransitioners – people who renounced their transgender identity – condemned teaching gender ideology to children.
When dollmaker American Girl advocated for cross-sex treatment, detransitioner Cat Cattinson and others testified to the physical and mental dangers of transgenderism. Chris Beck, a former Navy SEAL, said being transgender “destroyed my life.”
Though some LGBTQ advocates denied the existence of detransitioners, Oli London, a British man who formerly identified as a Korean woman, shot back.
“I used to really hate the way I looked, so I thought having all this surgery, trying to become a girl, dressing as a girl, being more feminine, I thought that would make me happy,” said London. “That was a big mistake.”
He accused school boards of normalizing gender ideology in schools, causing irreversible harm to students.
Riley Gaines, a former champion woman swimmer at the University of Kentucky, told The Lion about her firsthand experience with gender ideology in college athletics when competing against biological male Lia Thomas.
Gaines said Thomas’ teammates were threatened and “emotionally blackmailed” into silently accepting competing with a biological male – and that “they will never get a job; their school has made their stance for them; they’re told they will never get into grad school.”
“It’s crazy – that we’re kind of acknowledging that 12-year-olds should make these unalterable changes to their body without knowing the implications,” she added. “Because at 12 years old, you don’t understand that fully.”
Parents in public education
Parents nationwide took to the streets – and school district board rooms – to advocate for their children. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis even dubbed 2022 “the Year of the Parent.”
A poignant example of parental advocacy occurred in Loudoun County, Virginia, where the school board and superintendent denied knowledge of the sexual assault of a female student by a transgender peer – a biological male – in the girls’ restroom. When the truth came to light, the superintendent was fired and indicted, and the Loudoun community called for the school board’s resignation.
In Ohio, parents sued their school district when it allowed transgender students to use bathrooms of the opposite gender.
There were countless incidents of parents finding school library books that were sexually explicit or promoted radical gender ideology. In one case, a district belatedly stopped such a book from being assigned to preschoolers after The Lion reported on it.
Overall, a staggering 98% of parents reported their child was exposed to sexually explicit content in school, a trend that some politicians, such as Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, worked to undo.
As a result of all this and more, parents became more invested in their children’s education. They considered switching education models and wanted a more personalized experience for their student.
Others, finding themselves at odds with the traditional system, chose to remove their children from public schools altogether.
“I know how much work it is for a homeschool mom,” said Sarah Michalak, a homeschool mom and art teacher. “But I think it’s a lot more doable than people really think.”
Swing toward school choice
In 2022, school choice garnered strong public support. Most voters (75%) said they believed parents should direct their children’s education, and 83% agreed parents should be able to remove their children from underperforming schools and place them into better ones. A strong majority (77%) also supported Education Saving Accounts (ESAs), a type of school choice program.
States such as Arizona furthered the school choice movement by passing legislation that made it possible for parents to use taxpayer education funds to send their children to private schools – or even homeschool.
In Washington charter, private and homeschools grew at record rates, as an estimated 40,000 students left the traditional public system in just one year.
Other states that expanded school choice in 2022 include Georgia, Louisiana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee and Utah.
Catalyzing Christian education
But the most impactful work wasn’t done by politicians or legislators. It was done by everyday parents and teachers who shaped the lives of their children and students.
One such place was Sunrise Christian Academy, home of last year’s top-ranked high school basketball team in the nation.
“Dr. Naismith invented the game 150 years ago with the intention to disciple young men,” Sunrise’s head coach Luke Barnwell explained in a mini-documentary produced by The Lion. “That mission hasn’t changed.”
Dr. Robert Linsted, the school’s founder and superintendent, felt the success of the basketball team reflected the school’s growth.
“When I look at the school and see how God has blessed it and how it’s grown, it’s exceeded anything that I ever had in my mind,” he said.
In September, the Herzog Foundation, which publishes The Lion, hosted its first annual national Christian teacher awards gala to recognize 12 remarkable Christian educators whose commitment to excellence raised the bar for all K-12 teachers.
Educators such as these were one reason Christian education boomed across the country, as thousands flocked to religious institutions that more closely represented their values. In some states, school choice programs helped pave the way for the mass exodus.
After Missouri passed a tax-credit scholarship program, the Herzog Foundation raised $1.3 million in scholarships for 215 students in just two months. By the end of the year, and in only six months, $3.2 million was distributed to 613 students.
“It’s been heartwarming to talk with parents and break the news that their child will be receiving this scholarship and realize how much of a difference this funding will make in their children’s lives,” says Herzog school choice program administrator and state Rep. Josh Hurlbert.
The Herzog Foundation also launched a podcast, Making the Leap, which encourages and equips parents to explore options outside the traditional education system.
“This podcast has opened my eyes to the veritable buffet of really high-quality educational options that exist to parents if they’re just willing to think outside the confines of the traditional structure of public education,” said Chris Stigall, the show’s co-host. “There’s far more out there for parents who desire better for their kids’ education than I ever understood.”
What to watch in the year ahead
Debates about gender and sexuality, from the classroom to the operating room, will continue. Lawmakers in some states are expected to propose legislation to protect children from life-altering cross-sex treatments.
Lawmakers who failed to pass parents’ rights bills last year may reintroduce them this year – and parents may well claim that 2023 is still “their” year, as they continue running for school boards, fighting for their rights and, in many cases, pull their kids out of government schools.
Public school attendance may rebound slightly after historic declines during the pandemic, but Christian education growth is expected to continue, too. Many schools continue to have waiting lists, or are embarking on construction projects to expand capacity.
School choice programs are also likely to continue to expand. According to EdChoice, 18 states still lack any type of school choice program. In states that do have them, lawmakers are proposing bills to expand their programs.
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