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Monday, April 24, 2006 

More Problems With Public Schools

As if I needed another excuse to feel the way I do about the public schools, along comes another incident (with commentary from Dr. Albert Mohler). Here is the link.

Just as this story breaks, showing once again that public education is concerned less with diversity and more with pushing an agenda, the former Southern Baptist dissenters, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, along with other moderate to liberal Baptist groups have been asked by the Baptist Center for Ethics, who apparently operates the online "news" magazine, Ethics Daily, to sign a statement affirming the public schools. The document begins by saying, "The time has come for Baptists to speak positively about public education and to take proactive initiatives that advance a constructive future for America's public school system." The author of the document (available here), Robert Parham, later gives the following challenge:

We call on Baptists to recommit themselves to the nation's founding principle of "E Pluribus Unum." A society based on unity out of diversity will embrace every child and recognize the vital role public schools play in achieving national unity.

We, the undersigned, pledge therefore to

  • pray for public schools;
  • show our support for public schools through worship services that affirm all
    school-related personnel;
  • advocate for a high wall of separation between church and state that is critical to good public education;
  • pursue a just society that benefits every child;
  • speak up for the role public education plays in democracy, especially the unity it creates in the midst of diversity so necessary in our society;
  • challenge religious voices who demonize public education; and
  • share this letter with others
Now, as someone who is currently working in the public school system, and sees it at its worst one day, and its best the next, I look at this list of pledges and laugh. Nothing here, save the calling for prayer, offers any solutions to the prevaling problems in the public schools. Liberals for years have challenged discipline in the public schools and now there is none. These people don't seem to have a clue as to what is happening in the public schools. There is no mention of academic problems, though a number of public schools' students (and in my experience the vast majority) today suffer from a lack of education under an environment that is completely unconducive to learning. Yet these Baptists seem to be unconcerned with those facts.

Dr. Bruce Prescott, a signer and advocate of the public schools in their current state, has made it clear in his blog that his worry is not over the problems in the public schools, but rather ovver those that do not desire to train their children in environments that teach things that are contradictory to the Christian faith and over those that advocate homeschooling and Christian education (he mentions in quite a few blog posts that these people don't educate their children, but rather indoctrinate them). Numerous times he has commented on this or has pointed his readers to others with whom he agrees. You can find examples of this here (where he seems worried more about government money than test results that show school children are not performing well -- see "Jeff the Baptist's" helpful comments), here (where he quotes Ed Hogan's extremely biased article on homeschooling and then charges Christians again with wanting more government money), here (where he uses his opposition to a new grand vision of education by Ed Gamble -- which doesn't involve government money in any way -- to again attack Southern Baptists on many fronts), here (where he takes issue with John Stossel's report on the failings of the public schools, despite the fact that conventional wisdom and many of my fellow teacher's experiences is on Stossel's side on this one), and here (where Prescott attacks everyone who supports alternatives to public education, charging them with everything from implicit racism to indoctrination to a hatred of democracy).

The reason why I bring up Bruce Prescott (again!) is because he (and those he is associated with) seems hell-bent on pushing an agenda for support of the public schools with, like almost all moderates and liberals, a complete ignorance of the actual problems of the school systems and absolutely no solutions to those problems. It is akin to the whole coming failure of the Social Security system. Liberals continue to deny the problems, offering no solutions, content to shoot down the suggestions of other, all the while the system grows closer and closer to complete self-destruction.

I, for one, am sick of all the rhetoric and blindness pushed by the moderate and liberal Baptists. When are these guys going to wake up, look behind them, and see that they have done little more than oppose what everyone else was busy accomplishing for the Kingdom of God? The public schools are in bad shape -- period. And while I oppose a complete exodus from all public schools, I think it's time to take a good, hard look at where they are headed and start discussing a contingency plan when they completely bottom-out. I have some ideas about this, and I hope to share some with you in the coming days. Stay tuned...

And if, in the meantime, you need any more proof about the failure of the public schools, read Joel Belz's article in World Magazine entitled simply, "F". He has some insightful things to say regarding the recent Time Magazine article on the public schools (HT: Brent Thomas of Colossians Three Sixteen).

"Nothing here, save the calling for prayer, offers any solutions to the prevaling problems"

Really?

You find no spiritual or moral value in "showing our support for public schools through worship services that affirm all school-related personnel"?

Surely "pursuing a just society that benefits every child" is fundamental to building God's Kingdom, no? I can't believe you wouldn't go along with that.

"Challenging religious voices who demonize public education" - you think it's Christian behavior to demonize! public education? He didn't condemn criticizing problems within the system, he condemned demonization - can we not agree on that?

I'm not saying that I think this is a complete list of what we can do to help our school children, but it is not a bad starting point - surely you can agree at least a little with some of these?

Dan,
As I said in the article, no I don't think they are addressing any of the problems that Christians have with the public schools with this document.

I don't see how worship services centered around "school-related personnel" helps any. Worship is for the exultation of God, not for the recognition of the public schools. So, no, I don't find any spiritual or moral value in doing this.

When they say they want to "[pursue] a just society that benefits every child" I just see fancy words. What does that mean really? Does that mean they want discipline restored to the public schools? Does it mean they want to kick out students that keep others from learning and keep teachers from actually doing their work? Thomas Jefferson, as Prescott pointed out believed in a public school system were everyone was guaranteed an opportunity to learn -- but is that what is happening? No! Justice will not be found as long as kids are not given as good of an education as they could receive from other places.

And the comment on demonization - let's be honest Dan - this is more about politics than Christ. Actually demonize is a horribly chosen word meant to incite people. "Demonize" means "to turn into a demon" or "to subject to the influence of demons." No one is doing that in conservative Christianity. What they are doing is pointing out that many public schools have become intolerant of Christianity, just as society has begun to do. The fact is -- the public schools are not doing as good of a job of training children as they could. There are fewer children coming out prepared for the job market. And those that are taught by alternative means are much more likely to score higher on standardized tests and do better in higher education. There are problems. Saying so isn't demonizing -- it's being honest. But what is not honest is trying to act as though "demonizing" is what is happening when people are simply being critical of the public schools.

So again, Dan, I have to say that I don't think they really said anything here. All they did was, once again, disagree with conservative Christians. They ignored the problems and yet found some way to craft a statement that sounds good, but says nothing really constructive (save praying for those involved in public education). I still think that public education is failing and will fail my kids one day. So I refuse to send them there. And, as I hope you will see when I get around to posting on it, I propose we actually do some specific things as Christians to help children who otherwise would get a bad education and be exposed to things that can only bring them harm.

Amen, D.R. A really good assessment of the Bruce Prescott and the schools' situation.
I am baffled by the negativism that totally engulfs Bruce whenever conservative Southern Baptists or conservatives of any form, take a stand on anything. His rhetoric gets so out of hand and he can't see it except in what he perceives in someone else. I can only think of a splinter and a plank.
Marilyn

"Actually demonize is a horribly chosen word meant to incite people. "Demonize" means "to turn into a demon" or "to subject to the influence of demons.""

Demonize, in this context, means "To represent one's opponent as evil or diabolic" - are you suggesting that this is not done by some in churches?

I have heard and seen it myself, could probably provide you some links if you'd like. And where it happens, surely we can agree that it ought to be stood against?

"When they say they want to "[pursue] a just society that benefits every child" I just see fancy words."

And how are those fancy words any different than Isaiah's words:

"You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat. For the breath of the ruthless is like a storm driving against a wall."

Or the psalmists:

"I know that the LORD secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy."

Or Mary, mother of Jesus:

"He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty."

Or Jesus':

"Sell your possessions and give to the poor."

And you know I could go on and on. Why are you condemning words that sound biblical in tone?

Dan,

As for you first post, if you want to go with that definition of "demonize" then I would first ask to see the particular links for myself (not because I don't believe you, but because I want to know what you or they mean). I think this term was selected because of its provocative nature and thus I am a little leery of their argumentation here.

As for the second post, I thought I clearly pointed out that I think that there is little substance behind the words. I think that anyone can say they want justice (which just because you throw the word just into something doesn't make it specifically Biblical -- especially since the term "just society" isn't found in any English translation I know of), but my contention is that the phraseology used is empty of any real plan or substantive calling. It seems to just be a rallying point (I mean would you consider Bush's term "compassionate conservative" to mean much in light of it's emptiness of action, though it uses the Biblical term "compassion"?). So my question is what does this "just society" look like? To me again, it's merely provocative and void of any real ideas. Public schools need some serious changes. If these guys are so worried about it why don't they stop talking about who Evangelicals (especially Southern Baptists, though most Presbyterian [PCA] folks have already left the public schools [and other Reformed denominations], as well as many Pentacostal groups and other conservatives [Southeast CC for example is high on private education and homeschooling]) who oppose the schools and start talking about what can be done practically to save many of these schools from self-destruction.

Surely you agree that there are a lot of public schools in real danger. Over the past few weeks working in Louisville schools I have been surprised by how many are on probation because of low CATS scores and need to do well over these two weeks to not be defunded.

Anyway, I hope you see my arguments. It's not about words -- it's about real actions. And on that I am sure you agree.

I can certainly agree that if they're calling for a just society with no actions, it is empty words. I was just wondering why you're supposing that this is the case.

On the other hand, our actions are often preceded by our words. That is, when we've determined to live out Christ's love to the world in a way that calls for justice for children, then that is a step in the right direction (as opposed to calling for "let's not really do nothing to help kids, parents should take care of them themselves and if not, then shame on them...").

Now, if it stops at those words, then that would be a shame and we could agree on that. I'm just saying the words ARE some of the right words in my mind. Which is something.

Praying, they stated specifically, is also the correct starting point for action. And speaking up for public education is also a specific action - directed towards those who'd demonize public schools as being antithetical to Christianity.

See
here
, for instance. Or here.

You can really find a bunch of stuff out there, including an article by Mohler called, "Needed: An Exit Strategy" and others who warn how public schools are havens of drugs and gangs and homosexuals, playing on people's fears to demonize public schools. And demonize is exactly the correct word for that.

If it were truly a concern for the children and families and not demonization, then they'd be talking about ways of addressing the problems, not encouraging withdrawal from the hellhole of "public schools".

Dan,

First, the reason why I think that they are empty words is because they offer no strategy for dealing with the problems of the public schools. That has been my whole point all along. Anyone can say they want justice, but what does that justice look like? What does it mean to "pursue a just society"? They didn't say. What public schools need is not support and rally calls. They need people to actually do something about discipline problems. They need someone to do something about test scores, and on and on. Christians have made suggestions, but the schools have not listened. And I am not talking about posting the ten commandments and keeping prayer in the classroom. Christians have advocated corporal punishment returning to the schools and they have refused. They have called for discipline and high standards of morality, but they have fell on deaf ears, and they have called for teachers to quit teaching about sexuality and start teaching more math, reading, etc. They have called for abstinence-based information to be dissemminated to students, but they say it doesn't work (tell that to the President of Uganda). And they have called for the schools to hold parents of undisciplined students to be held accountable, and that has been roundly rejected. There have even been some Christians who have called for classical training to return, but that has been ousted as well. So we've made suggestions. The schools are broke. And I don't foresee them getting any better. Even if I wasn't a Christian, I can't see myself sending my kids into that environment. If the secularists don't want to take our advice, then why should Christians support an enterprise that we think is falling on its face?

Now, that takes us to the point of demonizing. The articles you sent me very obviously pointed out major problems in some schools. They did make generalizations about all schools. They did suggest that the agenda of schools was not only not in line with Christianity, but also anti-Christian at times. But, if that is demonization, the Bruce Prescott is the greatest demonizer of Evangelical Christianity (especially that of the SBC) that there ever was. And I have read plenty of sites that make similar types of statements about homeschooling parents.

Now, what I would like to know is if Christians feel like their children are not getting as good of an education from the public schools than they could get elsewhere; and if they disagree with some of the curriculum, but according to the courts can't keep their children from being taught those things; and if they are worried that their children are being disenfranchised by teachers that oppose Christians' views of homosexuality and sex outside of marriage, as well as understandings of differing religions; and if Christians parents are worried for their childrens' innocence and safety and being influenced by things that are harmful to them; and if Christians believe that their children will be less well behaved by being exposed to environments where behavior is a problem (which studies indicate is true); then why shouldn't Christians pull their kids out of public schools?

Why are these Baptists so worried about Southern Baptists and others raising questions about the effectiveness of the public schools and advising Christian parents to pull their kids out of those schools? Why do they think that this will kill the public schools? How will Christians leaving the public schools harm the schools in any way (after all studies show that Christian children are having less of an effect on their peers than their peers are having on them)? And why is it so important that Christians support public schools? I understand Prescott and other's points about vouchers and such, but this letter said nothing about that. Why are these guys so worried about Evangelicals "demonizing" public schools? What do they think will happen?

I don't imagine you have the answers to all these questions, but just in your opinion why are you worried about this taking place?

" Why do they think that this will kill the public schools?"

I'd like to point out again that I'm not totally opposed to homeschooling and for some of the same reasons you state (although, what we perceive to be anti- Christian is likely different). I'm of a mixed mind, so know that is the case.

The problem with a huge majority of folk pulling kids out of schools is that would leave even more kids in school whose parents are less able to support them educationally.

When one observes self-contained classes for children with behavioral disorders (as I taught), one sees that bad behavior increases and encourages bad behavior. We need to find ways to decrease negative behavior and increase positive ones and removing all but the most challenged kids is not the way to do so.

So you are absolutely correct in thinking we need all (the public at large including Christians) need to support our public schools.

Now supporting them includes critiquing them and finding ways to improve them, but it doesn't include saying that they are of the devil or that Christians have no place sending their children to them. That really should be up to the individual parents.

As I said, I'm sympathetic to the homeschooling cause, but think that decision should be made at the individual level and think that it's counter-productive to mass education to make calls for a mass exodus UNLESS you have a solution for those left behind.

Dan you are certainly keeping me on my toes these days, so let me go ahead and answer your comments here as well (though my fingers are going to tire soon).

"The problem with a huge majority of folk pulling kids out of schools is that would leave even more kids in school whose parents are less able to support them educationally."

I don't see how leaving them in there is helping. It actually is dragging the more educationally adept students down. That was not the vision of Jefferson -- to lower the standards so as to level the playing field, but rather to raise the level of the poor, who were unable to provide education for their students. So these are exactly the students that are supposed to be in the public schools -- those without viable options elsewhere. If the more apt kids are not being successful in raising the standards, then why are they there in the first place? It makes for a multi-leveled classroom, which actually hurts the educational process and makes it harder on teachers. Exceptional kids should be placed in higher learning classrooms anyway -- after all that has been Education 101 in the Western world for over a hundred years now. Actually by taking out students who don't need public education, you free up teachers to teach less students in each classroom and now they are able to adequately cover the differences in learning style and speed (given that the tax imput stays the same -- which I have pointed out numerous times I support).

"When one observes self-contained classes for children with behavioral disorders (as I taught), one sees that bad behavior increases and encourages bad behavior. We need to find ways to decrease negative behavior and increase positive ones and removing all but the most challenged kids is not the way to do so."

You restated my position here in regards to bad behavior. The problem with your last sentence there is that so far, nothing has been done that has shown to be effective, especially in light of the falling disciplinary standards, which Christians have spoken out against numerous time, only to find their words fall on deaf ears. Like I said before, the school systems are not listening to Christians, so what else is their to do but, believing we can do better, do education on our own, saving those children with whom we are directly reponsible and given to us by God to take under our care (not that we shouldn't care about other's kids, but honestly we often have to choose between the lesser of two evils -- in this case, I choose to follow Biblical mandates regarding my own children first, believing that in time, they will help change society through their own actions). Furthermore if birth rates continue to move as they are, Christian children will outnumber non-Christian children within a few generations (how imporantant does this make the educaitonal impact on society then?).

Support for the public schools must for now come in the form of our taxes and in the form of Godly teachers or older teenagers sent specifically into the schools for missional purposes. However, most kids are not ready for this and sending young children into a sex-charged, immorality-laced environment (which not all school are, but many in which I have seen this year are) is not the best way to do it. They end up becoming part of the statistics of children not continuing in Christianity in the next generation (some 80% of children raised in Evangelical homes will not stay in the church after age 18). My children's eternal destiny and that of those they will encounter later in life that they will be fully prepared to share the Gospel with is far more important their their cultural diversity training they will experience in the public schools.

Calling for a mass exodus, while an extreme measure, gets parents to think through the issues and makes them aware of these statistics and the potential impact on their kids spiritual and emotional lives. At the least, hopefully this will wake up Christian parents to be alert to what is happening to their kids, to what they are being exposed to, and what they are beginning to believe, with the result that parents once again take an interest in their lives for the sake of their souls and those with whom they will come in contact.

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Paul was not interested merely in the ethical principles of religion or of ethics. On the contrary, he was interested in the redeeming work of Christ and its effect upon us. His primary interest was in Christian doctrine, and Christian doctrine not merely in its presuppositions but at its centre. -- J. Greshem Machen.

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