Disgust was the first emotion that washed over me when I reviewed online a sexually explicit pamphlet distributed at a conference at Brookline High School, in Brookline, Mass., for gay and lesbian students.
Dismay was the second emotion. I was disappointed that any responsible public educator would permit the Little Black Book: V 2.0 Queer in the 21st Century to be given to children as young as middle schoolers. As disdainful as the pamphlet’s gutter language was, the pamphlet’s list of “Boston area bars and clubs for the discerning queerboy” was even more contemptible.
Empathy soon surfaced for the anti-public school advocates who fear public education.
Then, as I shifted from emotion to reason, I wondered whether the leaders of the anti-public school movement were emotionally manipulating one incident into a nationwide crisis, by implying that what happened in Brookline was either happening everywhere or was about to. I concluded that they were playing on dark fears and clouding objective assessment.
I find the anti-public school movement today as wrong-headed as I did last year, when I wrote that public schools were a national treasure.
Before a Southern Baptist Convention anti-public school resolution was considered in 2004, I editorialized that “public schools are not perfect. But they are neither completely immoral–as the anti-public school resolution asserts with its ‘enemies of God’ language–nor pagan mission fields.”
While that resolution did not get reported to the floor of the SBC meeting, the SBC’s refusal to speak out in support of public schools spoke volumes about their real attitude toward our nation’s schools.
This year’s SBC anti-public school resolution focuses on the threat of a homosexual agenda. It urges churches to investigate school districts and encourages parents to remove their children from public schools if they have homosexual clubs, curricula or programs.
Those largely outside the fundamentalist power structure are pushing the exodus movement from public schools. SBC fundamentalist leaders are resisting it, fearing a backlash in churches from public school teachers and an awakening within churches about the extremism of their worldview.
These SBC leaders engage in the worst sort of moral duplicity:
–They oppose the anti-public school movement, while they send their children to Christian academies or home school them.
–They attack public education without any first-hand knowledge about what goes on.
–They instruct their bookstores not to carry an anti-public school book, while they publish educational materials for Christian home-schoolers.
–They practice situation ethics—money matters (Cooperative Program gifts and LifeWay Resource sales) more than their morality that preaches hatred of gays.
Wouldn’t it be more honest for SBC leadership to endorse the exodus movement than resist it? The only answer is “yes.”
As for those of us, who are Christians and support public education, we also need to speak up.
As the father of two graduates of Nashville’s public schools, I suspect that I know more about public education than either the open or secret anti-public school crowd. I’ve heard and seen both good and bad stories, but I think the good far outweighs the bad.
Public schools deserve unqualified praise and gratitude from church members.
Public schools educate poor children, helping them escape from poverty and become productive members of society.
Public schools teach children how to be civil participants in the world’s most diverse society and greatest democracy.
Public schools produce presidents, scholars, entrepreneurs and leaders in every conceivable profession.
Public schools pull communities together around common problems and uncommon hopes.
Three cheers for public schools and teachers!
Robert Parham is the executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.