Some Baptists Supporting Government-Run Schools

On Some Baptists Urging Support of Government-Run Schools

(secondary title: On "A Baptist Pastoral Letter Supporting Public Education")

 

by Brian D. Ray, Ph.D.

posted April 25, 2006

 Some Baptists are urging the support of public schools in a document entitled “A Baptist Pastoral Letter Supporting Public Education.”[1] Their letter raises several questions regarding empirical evidence about homeschooling and about biblical rationales. Therefore, several comments on their letter are in order. First, the letter’s signatories state:

While every family is free to decide the course of their children's education, we believe it is wrong for Baptist leaders to urge Baptists to exit the nation's public school system for homeschools and Christian academies and to equip that cause.

The signatories provide no premises to support their claim that it is wrong for leaders to urge Baptists to never put their children in public schools or take them out of public schools to home educate them or put them in Christian schools. Assuming that these signatories are Christians who think that the Bible is God’s special revelation to humankind, why do they not provide a biblical argument against Christian schooling or parent-led home-based education?

 

Second, the signatories write:

We decry the anti-public school statements that . . . claim public schools are converting Christian children "to an anti-Christian worldview."

Their statements beg many questions. For example, Do the signatories claim that children in public schools are being taught a Christian or biblical worldview? Do the signatories deny that the worldview of the curriculum (i.e., the teachers’ views, the state-approved textbooks, the videos, the school assemblies, the classroom discussions, the values and beliefs of other students, and more) of many, if not most, public schools is anti-Christian? If they do not think the worldview entailed in state-run schools is not anti-Christian, do they think it is pro-Christian?

 

The signatories state:

 We believe Baptists should recommit themselves to public education, not as a means toward converting school children, but because it is the right thing to do. We believe public school children are God's children who deserve the nurture of a good society, the prospect for a good education and the equal opportunity for a good life.

It appears that the signatories think that promoting the children of Christian parents to be taught in Christian schools or based in the home is the same as being against children who are in public schools. This is an illogical conclusion, a clear non sequitur. If a parent believes his or her child will get the best education in a private school or via home-based education, this does not mean he or she is against other children getting a good education and having an opportunity for a good life.

 

The signatories of the letter write:

We call on Baptists to recommit themselves to the separation of church and state, which will keep public schools free from coercive pressure to promote sectarian faith, such as state-written school prayers and the teaching of neo-creationism (intelligent design).

This is perhaps where the signatories commit their most serious error. This statement shows that their entire letter and thesis is fraught with conceptual and epistemological error. They are still functioning under the false assumption that any educational system (whether public schools, private schools, or homeschooling) can operate free from the influence of “church,” that is, religion or philosophical worldview. Philosophers of education – whether they advocate public schooling, private schooling, or homeschooling – have made it clear for centuries that no education is value-free, that no education is free of the influence and effects of religion. That is, all education and schooling is value-laden. All education is religious in the sense that all education transmits a set of values and beliefs, a worldview, to children and youth. All public schools necessarily mix church (i.e., religion, worldview) with state (i.e., state-run schools) because all education is, de facto, religious in nature. Along these lines, Dr. Rob Reich, a professor at Stanford University, understands so clearly that all education is about value- and belief-indoctrination that he argues that homeschool parents should be required by law to teach certain values and religious beliefs to their children that are different from their own.[2] Jesus the Christ made it clear he knew that all education is value-laden when he said, "A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher."[3]

 

The signatories of the letter state:

We call on Baptists to recommit themselves to a just society. A just society will ensure that every American child has an opportunity for a good education and that public schools have the resources necessary to provide such an opportunity, achieving the highest standards possible.

Without offering any premises, this section implies that public schools have significantly advanced a just society since about the year 1900 and if Christians put their children in private schools or home educate them then the realization of a just society will be thwarted. They offer no empirical evidence to support this claim. To the best of my knowledge, there is none. There is a growing body of evidence, in fact, that homeschooling is associated with children, youth, and adults of a variety of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds who are better educated academically, more engaged in community service, and more civically active than the U.S. population in general.[4] Furthermore, do the signatories of this letter have any evidence that if all education were done via private schooling or homeschooling that fewer children would be offered sound educational opportunity?

 

The signatories write:

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.

They here imply that diversity of belief is good and that public schools support unity among those of diverse beliefs. Neither claim is supported with premises. Their view of public schooling implied in this section begs many questions. For example, What is their definition of national unity? Have not many despotic governments throughout history used state-run education to dominate the citizens? What empirical evidence is there that public schools have enhanced U.S. national unity during the past 100 years? Are they suggesting that Americans happily getting along with their neighbors, local volunteer community service, and a healthy pride in being an American have all increased and violent crime, racism, fornication, adultery, divorce, and out-of-wedlock pregnancies have all decreased because of state-run schools (i.e., public schools) over the past century? Biblically-speaking, how would the signatories of this letter define diversity of belief among Christianity, and how much should be promoted according to scripture?

 

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the signatories, who are Baptists and thus should recognize the importance of the Bible as the most important document in Christianity, never refer to any scripture to argue against Christian schools or against Christian parents leading and discipling their children in home-based education. Nor do they use any scripture to argue for the biblicality of either the existence of state-controlled education (i.e., public schools) or of sending one’s child away for a government-run education to be taught, trained, and indoctrinated by teachers or a system of education that is not clearly biblical in its foundation, purposes, and teachings.

 

The thesis and conceptual framework of this “pastoral letter” are severely lacking in terms of both empirical scientific support and a biblical rationale.

 

— end — 


[1] A Baptist Pastoral Letter Supporting Public Education, Baptist Center for Ethics, Nashville TN, April 21, 2006, Retrieved 4/24/06 online http://www.ethicsdaily.com/static.cfm?mode=public_education_letter 

[2] Reich, Rob. (2005). Why home schooling should be regulated. In Bruce S. Cooper (Ed.), (2005), Homeschooling in full view: A reader.  Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.

 

[3] Luke 6:40, New American Standard translation

 

[4] Ray, Brian D. (2005). A homeschool research story. In Bruce S. Cooper (Ed.), Home schooling in full view: A reader.  Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.

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