By Jacqueline J. Holness
This month America’s children will once again shed the summer sun and cloak themselves in heavier back-to-school gear, flooding the hallways of elementary, middle, and high schools, colleges and universities.
For some children, those hallways are no farther than their bedroom doors, as they will be homeschooled. Some children will be in private Christian schools where Jesus Christ is incorporated into every subject, from mathematics to physical education. Other children may not learn about Jesus Christ, but they will benefit from the creative approaches to education that have become the hallmark of charter schools. And the rest will return to public schools that can be found in every neighborhood from the best to the worst. Of course, there are some schools that incorporate more than one of the characteristics illuminated in each example.
Conflict in the Public Sector
It can be argued that American Christianity has seen its relationship with the public school system deteriorate since prayer was taken out in 1962. And 2015 has included many examples of Christian faith clashing with public education.
Michael Lehr, who was once the principal of Manchester High School in Manchester, Georgia, maintains he was fired for delivering a sermon at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting. A Waterloo, Iowa, kindergarten teacher was forced to remove a poster which stated, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength,” from above her classroom door. Grace Lewis, age 16, who is dually enrolled in high school as well as Polk State College in Lakeland, Florida, believes her humanities professor gave her zeros on assignments because her Christian faith conflicts with his worldviews.
Solution #1: Flee
For some, the answer to this decades-old dilemma is to leave the public school system altogether. Last year Exodus Mandate founder E. Ray Moore, who ran for South Carolina’s lieutenant governor, made headlines when he decried the public school system. He stated that Christian children shouldn’t be educated by the “enemy.” According to Exodus Mandate’s website, the mission of this 20-year-old organization is “dedicated to the belief that the time has come for a coordinated commitment by the national Christian leadership, ministers, and the larger Christian community to support an effort to withdraw Christian children from the government school systems and place them in existing Christian schools and Christian home schools.”
Ten years ago Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, first called for Southern Baptists to leave the public school system and has continued to advocate for all Christians to do so. He contends that the good things the public school system offers in terms of “breaking down ethnic, economic, and racial barriers” has been negated by an “ideologically driven attempt to force a radically secular worldview.” Earlier this year, a Westmoreland, Tennessee, minister removed his granddaughter from classes at Westmoreland Middle School after discovering that her social studies class included learning about Islam and the Quran.
Solution #2: Stay
However, some Christians have opted to continue to support the public school system. Nicole Baker Fulgham, author of the book Educating All God’s Children: What Christians Can—and Should—Do to Improve Public Education for Low-Income Kids says that Christians can still impact the public school system. “There are so many places where Christians can make a positive impact without explicitly sharing the gospel—and public schools are one of them.”
Brian Jones, senior minister of Christ’s Church of the Valley in Royersford, Pennsylvania, has kept his children in the public school system. He wrote a 2014 blog post “5 Reasons We Don’t Send Our Kids to Christian Schools (but you might, and should).” Among his reasons for staying in public schools are that Christian schools don’t always have the best teachers or they may lack funding. And the fact remains that 84 percent of Christian parents send their children to public schools, although the public school system is only the first choice for 24 percent of them, according to Barna Group’s nationwide studies. The responses of 4,495 adults were included in the studies, which were reported in 2014.
Whatever side of the dilemma Christians choose, all of us—with or without children—have a stake in its outcome.
Jacqueline J. Holness, a member of Central Christian Church in Atlanta, is a correspondent for Courthouse News Service, an online, national news service for attorneys. Read more on her website (afterthealtarcall.com).