3 Ways Culture Is Co-opting Kids’ Identities … and 3 Strategies for Christian Public School Teachers
by Monique Duson with Emily Bontrager
Culture is waging a war for the identities of children, and if the past few years have revealed anything, it’s that public school teachers play a critical role in affecting how students think about themselves.
Activists and proponents of critical theory have realized this. They’ve spent a long time inside institutions, implementing policies and curricula to ensure that a secular worldview flows naturally from the institution and into children's minds. And it’s working. Here are three strategies culture is using:
1. Identity Buffet
As Christians, we understand that identity is intrinsic and reflective of something greater than ourselves. We bear the image of God, and our identity as image bearers has significant implications for understanding who God has created us to be and how we are to live.
Being created in His image, I understand that a part of me, and of all humans, reflects God’s qualities. He creates; we also create. He rules and reigns; we see in Genesis 1 that we are created to rule and reign over the earth. He lives communally in the Trinity; we also are communal creatures. These traits are both inherent to our well-being and necessary for our ability to live in accordance with His design for us.
We operate within the creator’s designs; God is the designer, and we are the designed. We are told that we are created male or female and that we are to worship, be fruitful and multiply, live in community, and create society. There are many ways he has told us who we are. We don’t just create who we’re going to be.
However, children are being bombarded by messages in the culture, whether on Tik Tok or in their classrooms. These messages tell them that their identity is what they make it to be—that they can essentially create what they want to be, and no one can question them. For example, if I’m born a girl, I can alter my physical traits to present as a boy, and no one can question me because I am expressing what I feel is true about myself. My identity is male because I say so.
The possibilities here are endless. The question has become less “Who are you?” but “What are you?”
2. The Long March Through the Institutions
If you’re going to change society, you’re going to have to start with the youngest generation and raise them up. Ideas, values, and religion are passed down through the teaching and discipleship of one generation to another. When that process is disrupted and the next generation is taught a different set of ideas, values, and religious beliefs, then the old set will disappear.
During the 60s, Italian communist Antonio Gramsci coined the phrase “the long march through the institutions,” referencing the slow and steady pace it would require to eventually cause a revolution. Gramsci’s “long march” required dedicated revolutionaries to enter the institutions, get comfortable, and stay for a long time in order to work, promote, and embed their way of thinking into the institution, such that it would flow naturally from the institution.
Activists today are implementing a similar strategy with children. If a child spends 12 years of formal education learning to participate in society from a queer-normative or race-normative worldview, by the time they get to college, they’ll be so indoctrinated in that way of thinking that they won’t question it. It’ll be culturally normative. Co-opting a child’s identity and getting them to view the world through that lens is how you change society in a generation or two.
3. Removing Boundaries
In offering this identity buffet and crafting a new cultural norm, culture has effectively removed from children the boundaries granted by a society that’s guided by Christian morals.
These boundaries or structural processes taught kids how to flourish, consider the world, or even think about themselves. In the past generations, there was an objective standard for what was good, true, and beautiful—even for people who did not subscribe to Christianity. In a sense, these boundaries allowed kids to have ever-shifting interests and emotions as they matured, all while providing an objective structure for seeing the world.
But what we currently have, and have seen over the last few generations, is a shift in ethics and morality, and in the understanding of what is good, true, and beautiful. From this new standpoint, the good, true, and beautiful are defined by each person.
Kids are shown or taught that their ever-shifting interests, desires, or struggles are indicators of some intrinsic truth of their identity. The question “What are you?” has unlimited answers. Comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) teaches kids how to pursue their sexual desires and maintains that there is never really anything wrong with that. Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) practices implemented by school districts or teachers’ unions promote the idea that black students belong to oppressed social categories and therefore require special circumstances so that equity can be achieved. California requires teachers and school administrators to affirm a student’s preferred gender identity.
In removing boundaries, what we’re really saying is to do what you want, be yourself, this is your truth, and no one can tell you that it’s not true. However, these messages only offer confusion for kids who are at a formative age where structure and boundaries will be needed to help them navigate their adolescent years.
Now, I’m sure all this doom and gloom is disheartening. It’s common for educators to feel like they’re being painted as bad people, even if they’re Christian and want to go against the machine of policy and culture.
But in understanding how a child’s identity is co-opted by culture, we can begin to chart a way forward.
There are small steps, goals, and resolutions we can make ahead of time to push back against the narrative. Here are three strategies you can implement as a Christian public school teacher to counteract the culture:
1. Be a Missionary
Just like the activists who are on the long march through the institutions, teachers need to see their classrooms as a mission field, and they must be willing to wade through the craziness and stick around.
As a public school teacher, you are uniquely placed to challenge the narrative, but you must be willing to stay and quietly subvert the institution in order to reclaim what’s been handed over to a very secular ideology. This may require a “pick your battles” or “keep your head down” approach so you can keep your job and stay in the mission field. But ultimately, we as believers have hope rooted firmly in Jesus. If you can stay and speak any form of biblical truth to your colleagues or your students—if you can, in some way, promote some part of a biblical identity and help kids to grab onto some part of that identity—who knows what difference that can make?
2. Be Bold
Part of taking the missionary approach requires an understanding that when you do have the opportunity to promote truth, you promote it boldly.
We don’t have to always interject the word “God” into the conversation for us to communicate His eternal moral principles. If we can begin to challenge the narrative with some of the principles that we find in Genesis 1 and 2 about what it means to be a human, we can prompt kids to question the secular narrative just a little bit. For example, phrases like “I don’t believe that humans are ever a mistake” or “Hey, you were intentionally created” are rooted in Genesis 1 and 2 and may cause students to question or hear a thought different from the mainstream.
Right now, there’s no pushback. There’s no question. The secular narrative is and must be true. But if we can put pebbles in their little shoes, that is a way of pushing back on the narrative just a bit.
3. Be Prayerful
Above all, be prayerful. Seek discernment and see how far God would have you go.
Culture is increasingly putting forth the requirement that Christians bow to its requirements and whims. Christian teachers are going to be asked to do things that definitely go against God’s moral law. As Christians, we bow our knees to Christ, not to culture. When you’re faced with having to make the decision for culture or for Christ, ask the Lord for wisdom and trust the Holy Spirit to direct you.
You also are not going at this alone. As Christians, we are part of the Body of Christ, and many in this Body are wrestling with similar dilemmas. Find a community with other like-minded, Christian public school teachers. The CEAI and Teach 4 the Heart are excellent resources that I recommend digging into if you haven’t already. At my ministry, the Center For Biblical Unity, we have a Facebook group specifically for Christian educators to share their experiences and allow others to chime in with how they have navigated different issues. Often it’s just a place for teachers to come and say, “I can’t believe this is happening.”
If you see education as your mission field, the “head down approach” can help you stay off the radar. But a time is coming when you will either have to sign a statement or participate with students or parents in a way that puts you in direct opposition to your faith. At that point, you’re going to have to make the choice. We should be prepared for that choice so that it does not catch us off guard.
In the meantime, practice your prayer, practice discernment, and find a community. Remain prayerful over your students, and ask that any seed planted would grow and that it not be choked out by the thorns and thistles of the culture.