A year ago, the Southern Baptist Convention issued a resolution urging churches and parents “to investigate their public schools to determine, among other things, whether they are endangering children in their care by collaboration with homosexual advocates.” The resolution stopped short of demanding that all Southern Baptists pull their children out of public school. This year, “exit strategy” advocates are pushing for a mass pull-out. Their ultimate desire is to end public education in America.
Those promoting the exit strategy include Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler, who claims that “atrocities” occur non-stop in public schools. World Net Daily, Jonah Goldberg, Dr. Laura Schlessinger and conservative pundits across the nation have also joined the posse, demonstrating that the idea is more GOP than Baptist.
Dr. Bruce Shortt, who helped draft the resolution, claims the idea is to start “a new public school system.” Yet there is nothing public about the system they propose. Americans are supposed to trust individual churches to create private Christian schools that anyone and everyone can afford. “Public” in this sense only means that the schools would be open to students who do not attend church there.
Not all Southern Baptists agree with the exit strategy; after all, plurality of opinion is a hallmark of the Baptist faith. Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics says, “The anti-public education agenda fits nicely with the anti-women, anti-science, anti-Disney, anti-everything ideology within the SBC. That agenda runs counter to the best of the goodwill tradition with Baptist life that seeks the welfare of the public square.”
I have no argument with people who want to remove their children from the public school system. My own children have been educated outside the public system for many years. We are not running from evolution, homosexuality or even drugs in the schools. Rather, education is a matter of personal freedom in our family. My children love the opportunities they have to learn “outside the box.” They have taken charge of their own education, seeking new opportunities to learn and grow. They have learned in private schools, at home, on the road, in student-lead collaboratives, at the library, through tutors and over the Internet. In America, parents already have the freedom to teach and train their children however they see fit.
That’s not the problem. The problem is that for some fundamentalists, focusing on their own children is not enough. They want to remove the right of all American children to receive a free local education.
As exit strategy advocate Voddie Baucham recently wrote in his blog, “I want to bankrupt the American educational establishment one student at a time.”
Baucham and his ilk claim that the public school system cannot be reformed. “We cannot mend it; we must end it. If the system loses enough money it will have to be scrapped.”
Their hope is to strip away enough per-student funding that the public school system will collapse. They pretend to be concerned for the children, painting a picture of public schools so toxic that registering a child there is tantamount to child abuse. Exit strategy advocates use phrases like “Pharaoh’s school system,” and “children rendered unto Caesar” to evoke strong emotions.
Baptist parents are encouraged to place their children in private Baptists schools if they can afford it, and if not – then homeschool. No one mentions the cost of homeschooling. Even if you dig most of your curriculum from the free bin at McKay’s Used Books, the cost of having at least one parent at home full time is tremendous.
If the souls of children were number one on the Baptist agenda, the churches would be focused on adding more educational options, not sabotaging the options we have now. Just imagine if church activists took the millions spent opposing abortion, homosexuality and public school, and simply funneled it into free Christian schools. Imagine if any child who wanted a Christian education could walk into the church and – at no cost – receive twelve years in math, history, science, language studies and Bible. Provide a superior education at no cost, and students will flock to the church in droves.
In fact, the church could reach children even earlier by offering free daycare to the community’s children. With free Christian daycare available to all, the majority of area children would learn to pray before they learned to ride a bicycle. They would grow up believing in God. They would be far more likely to attend church and identify with Christ as adults. A recent study by the Barna Group indicates that children under 14 are three times more likely to accept Christ than adults. If the church really wanted to bring people to Christ, free daycares and free schools are the surest path to achieve that goal.
“We can’t do that,” some are already grumbling. “It might encourage women to join the work force!” In fact, churches around the country have shut down existing daycare programs for just this reason. They do not want to be responsible for encouraging the “selfishness” of women. Isn’t it interesting how women are characterized as selfish for obtaining honest employment – while men are considered selfish when they don’t?
As for the Baptist/GOP hope that pulling out kids will bankrupt the system, their logic is flawed. Although Southern Baptist wealth is growing, many members will find themselves unable to afford private schools. It is doubtful that all Southern Baptist mothers will drop their careers to homeschool.
We can expect to see a continued trend of homeschool growth, but it will be offset by the continuing trend of public school growth. Just consider how many public schools are filled to capacity and overflowing into trailers and temporary buildings. Only a mass exodus of Baptist children would register on the radar – and in that case schools would downsize, not close. Fewer students require fewer teachers, fewer administrators, fewer buildings, fewer textbooks, and so on. In fact, if student numbers fall while tax revenue remains the same, it could actually help the public school system. More dollars per student would be available to educate those who remain.
The late Rev. Jerry Falwell once said, "I hope I live to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, we won't have any public schools.” He did not live to see such a day. The public school system outlived Falwell, and it will outlive this plot as well.
- Jeannie Babb Taylor