Darrow Miller and Friends

State-Sponsored Education: What’s the Problem?

Was J. Gresham Machen prophetic when he spoke of state-sponsored education?

Our most popular blog post is titled “School vs Education: The Difference Matters.” Obviously many readers of Darrow Miller and Friends have a keen interest in education.

Recently I came across a quote on state-sponsored education from theologian J. Gresham Machen and passed it on to some friends of mine who are educators.

Place the lives of children in their formative years, despite the convictions of their parents, under the intimate control of experts appointed by the state, force them to attend schools where the higher aspirations of humanity are crushed out, and where the mind is filled with the materialism of the day, and it is difficult to see how even the remnants of liberty can subsist.

Dr. Elizabeth Youmans, a lifelong educator who is also a contributor to this blog, responded almost immediately with an excerpt of testimony Dr. Machen gave before the U.S. Congress almost a hundred years ago regarding state-sponsored education. The occasion was a debate about the wisdom of establishing a Federal Department of Education. Machen was a man who understood that ideas have consequences. He spoke in a way that seems prophetic today. His message is for anyone who is concerned about children and about their education.

Is state-sponsored education a good idea?

Machen warned about state-sponsored education

The department of education … is to promote uniformity in education. That uniformity in education under central control it seems to me is the worst fate into which any country can fall.…

It is to be opposed … because it represents a tendency which is no new thing, but has been in the world for at least 2,300 years, which seems to be opposed to the whole principle of liberty for which our country stands. It is the notion that education is an affair essentially of the State; that the children of the State must be educated for the benefit of the State; that idiosyncrasies should be avoided, and the State should devise that method of education which will best promote the welfare of the State.…

The principle of this bill, and the principle of all the advocates of it, is that standardization in education is a good thing. I do not think a person can read the literature of advocates of measures of this sort without seeing that that is taken almost without argument as a matter of course, that standardization in education is a good thing. Now, I am perfectly ready to admit that standardization in some spheres is a good thing. It is a good thing in the making of Ford cars; but just because it is a good thing in the making of Ford cars it is a bad thing in the making of human beings, for the reason that a Ford car is a machine and a human being is a person. But a great many educators today deny the distinction between the two, and that is the gist of the whole matter. …

I do not believe that the personal, free, individual character of education can be preserved when you have a Federal department laying down standards of education which become more or less mandatory to the whole country. …

I believe that in the sphere of the mind we should have absolutely unlimited competition. … A public education that is not faced by such competition of private schools is one of the deadliest enemies to liberty that has ever been devised. … I think that when it comes to the training of human beings, you have to be a great deal more careful than you do in other spheres about preservation of the right of individual liberty and the principle of individual responsibility; and I think we ought to be plain about this — that unless we preserve the principles of liberty in this department there is no use in trying to preserve them anywhere else. If you give the bureaucrats the children, you might as well give them everything else as well.

How important that we work thoughtfully to shape the future of the communities our children and grandchildren grow up in, and the future of our nations as well. Here are some possibilities.

• Creating alternatives to state-sponsored education,
• Starting consciously Christian or Jewish schools,
• Establishing private schools,
• Joining and promoting the charter school movement in which parents, not the state, guide the instruction,
• Home schooling,
• Joining your local school board and asking troubling questions about the nature of education that leads to liberty.

Let’s begin to think outside the box. With unhindered minds and a little creative thinking, the alternatives to the state monopoly would abound.

–          Darrow Miller

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Darrow is co-founder of the Disciple Nations Alliance and a featured author and teacher. For over 30 years, Darrow has been a popular conference speaker on topics that include Christianity and culture, apologetics, worldview, poverty, and the dignity of women. From 1981 to 2007 Darrow served with Food for the Hungry International (now FH association), and from 1994 as Vice President. Before joining FH, Darrow spent three years on staff at L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland where he was discipled by Francis Schaeffer. He also served as a student pastor at Northern Arizona University and two years as a pastor of Sherman Street Fellowship in urban Denver, CO. In addition to earning his Master’s degree in Adult Education from Arizona State University, Darrow pursued graduate studies in philosophy, theology, Christian apologetics, biblical studies, and missions in the United States, Israel, and Switzerland. Darrow has authored numerous studies, articles, Bible studies and books, including Discipling Nations: The Power of Truth to Transform Culture (YWAM Publishing, 1998), Nurturing the Nations: Reclaiming the Dignity of Women for Building Healthy Cultures (InterVarsity Press, 2008), LifeWork: A Biblical Theology for What You Do Every Day (YWAM, 2009), Rethinking Social Justice: Restoring Biblical Compassion (YWAM, 2015), and more. These resources along with links to free e-books, podcasts, online training programs and more can be found at Disciple Nations Alliance (https://disciplenations.org).


  1. Peter Millward

    July 25, 2019 - 7:51 am

    Darrow, Its been on my mind about state education and the challenges that exist today because the Church retreated or abdicated from its mandate discipling nations through education. Today the results are plain to see……..and the ground is moving even under our feet as we write, whatever was accepted yesterday is rendered obselete tomorrow by technology and social media and new ways to communicate. I just read this today at the link. https://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/minds-destroyed-by-internet/?fbclid=IwAR259lsFhHaI9Vld3wyejzF0knk9QtB1DVc95aFO-s2DtbnWHD3Uu5WE9-g

    What this means is the conventional way to reach a generation whose brains and way of thinking have been left broken by the internet, needs to be rethought. Kids are less likely to sit and read through a book or try to work out complicated issues. And the need is to meet them where they are in their need as human beings to know God…even if their minds are as described as “ruined” I am sure God has a plan to reach them to……and we have to find the way the Lord wants to do this.

    • admin

      August 3, 2019 - 7:19 am

      Peter, thanks for your feedback and for linking Rod’s article. It seems that the postmodern mind propagated in schools is a perfect match for the work that social media and the internet is having on those same minds.

      Perhaps social media has done as much to create the postmodern mind as the ideology behind the postmodern mind.

      However, I am encouraged and fascinated by the impact that thoughtful, content laden messages are getting out though short forms such as Prager University https://www.prageru.com/ (1 Billion views last year) and long form discussions and debates between public intellectuals such as Jordan Peterson Dave Ruben, and Bishop Barron https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2019/08/02/bishop-barron-and-jordan-peterson-have-something-teach-us-about-evangelization to name a few. These programs and discussions show that there is a hunger and thirst to engage in thinking and wrestling with large issues.

      Peter, thanks for reading DM&F and for writing.