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Aug  2016 30
Why (Some) Christians Should Champion Public Schools

There are 55.6 million K-12 students in the country this year, about 90 percent of which are in public schools. No, K-12 public schools are not consistently, in every ZIP code, what the U.S. as a whole or that local community needs them to be.

No, public education is not serving all of America’s children in a fair and equitable way. Some kids are being taught by accomplished, well-paid, highly trained educators, and these attributes are lacking in other schools. But for whatever is wrong with public education, our determination should be to fix it, repair it, re-build it.

Starving public education, as we are doing in states like Oklahoma, will not result in healthy schools, healthy children, or a healthy public life.

There are several reasons why I’d like to see Christians step up their support for public schools.

The first reason is because some Christians reject public education, which means those of us who support public education need to be loud, organized, and persistent.

Historically, Catholic leaders established parish-based schools because the public schools were seen as too Protestant or even anti-Catholic. But today millions of Catholic students attend public schools.

A more serious contemporary challenge to public education comes from very conservative Protestant Christians. If a Christian believes the following, they are unlikely to be a supporter of public education:

  • America was founded and should forever be a Christian nation.
  • Climate change is a hoax, the earth is 6,000 years old, and evolutionary theory is pseudo-science.
  • School vouchers are a fair use of tax dollars.

For those of us Christians who believe there is and should be “a public” in which we, as Christians, participate but do not seek to control, who affirm the values of a secular Constitution and of modern science, who have the stomach for dealing with the messiness of democracy in which moral worlds collide, in which the ability to compromise is a virtue, and where the rights of political minorities are honored, Christians need to speak up in our communities for public education.

Christians should advocate for and support public education because:

  • It is practical. Religious groups do not have the resources to educate everyone!
  • Religious groups should not be trusted with public education. The language of revelation, on which many faiths are built, is not a public language. We religious types are prone to turn doctrinal or narrowly moral. Religious schools belong in a democracy but can’t be counted on to educate persons for democratic participation.
  • We believe God loves the whole world, not just my kin. One of Jesus’ core messages was “your family is bigger than you think.” Public education is one way of loving all our children, with “our” meaning the nation’s children.
  • Democracy, richly understood and practiced, has a quasi-sacred quality. Freedom and responsibility, community and individuality all yoked and bound together. And public schools are among the only potential training fields for a richly understood and practiced democracy.
  • Christians care about justice. Justice in public education includes equality of opportunity, meaning justice in public education is premised upon access to relatively equal schools. Here, as is well-documented, there is a great deal of work to do.
  • Christians take the long view, considering the cloud of witnesses that came before and the community or nation that is yet to be. Justice includes attention to “generational equity.” That phrase is used in conversatons about spending patterns for endowed gifts, and not spending so much in one generation that another is hampered. The phrase is used when debating (or debating after a decision is made) who pays for today’s war—must the debt be paid within the present generation or is the war so important that it is fitting to extend the payment across generations? Many of my generation experienced what we value as a good public education. What does it take to offer than quality of education today?

So, for Christians who can affirm the above, we need to raise our voices and cast our votes to re-build public education.

I highly recommend this cogent article on the topic of public education written by a Kansas legislator. The perspective applies in states far beyond the borders of Kansas.

Browse more posts by: Gary Peluso-Verdend, Phillips President
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