Spring is in the air—the birds are chirping, the flowers are blooming and another anti-public school resolution is being proposed by some Southern Baptist activists. To be honest I have never quite understood this viewpoint that seems to be so contrary to the Great Commission. Apparently, when Jesus said to go into all the world he did not mean public schools.
In the newest wave of anti-public school rhetoric, one comment caught my attention as particularly odd. Bruce Shortt, one of the leaders of the anti-public school movement, attempted to justify the proposed “exit strategy” resolution.
“The schools are aggressively developing bad character,” Shortt argued. “Contrary to what a lot of the more ‘Pollyanna-ish’ parts of our leadership would think, our children are not evangelizing in the schools; the schools are evangelizing them out of Christianity.”
Shortt was attempting to criticize his opponents with the “Pollyanna-ish” remark, but he may not really understand the concept. Pollyanna, the heroine of the Eleanor Porter book that carries her name, is the role model of the story.
The book portrays her as an inspiration for the entire town and someone who positively changes the lives of those around her. Thus being “Pollyanna-ish” should actually be a compliment.
Perhaps he has not read the book. As one who has–and seen the movie, the classic 1960 version with Hayley Mills as Pollyanna–I view Pollyanna as a positive role model.
That is how Porter intended her to be read. She is the personification of Paul’s advice to “rejoice in the Lord always,” or similar advice given in many of the Psalms.
Imagine what a better world this would be if more Christians would follow Pollyanna’s example and actually attempt to live out these verses. By serving as such a good Christian example for us, Porter’s character Pollyanna also embodies Isaiah 11:6. In case Shortt has not read that book, either, it says that “a little child will lead them.”
If Pollyanna heard the complaints about public schools, she would probably not accept the gloomy rhetoric. Instead she might try to teach Shortt a lesson similar to one she taught the Rev. Paul Ford.
It is a lesson that each of the anti-public school–long with other judgmental and pharisaical–Christians should learn.
The church was struggling because of individuals who were “at swords’ points over a silly something,” “endless brooding,” “gossip,” “scandal” and other problems. Alone in the woods, Rev. Ford struggled with finding God’s message to bring peace and resolution.
Then along comes Pollyanna. During the conversation she offers advice to the preacher to focus on “the rejoicing texts.”
“Well, that’s what father used to call ’em,” she explains to Rev. Ford. “Of course the Bible didn’t name ’em that. But it’s all those that begin ‘Be glad in the Lord,’ or ‘Rejoice greatly,’ or ‘Shout for joy,’ and all that, you know—such a lot of ’em. Once, when father felt ‘specially bad, he counted ’em. There were eight hundred of ’em.… He said if God took the trouble to tell us eight hundred times to be glad and rejoice, He must want us to do it—SOME. And father felt ashamed that he hadn’t done it more.”
Pollyanna then went on to tell him about the game her father, a minister, would play with her to find “something in everything to be glad about.”
The conversation has a profound impact on Rev. Ford, and he scraps his sermon plan to preach instead from one of “the rejoicing texts.”
That seems to be a “Pollyanna-ish” lesson that Shortt and his colleagues should consider. Instead of condemning everyone and everything, why can we not try and find the good in them?
Instead of spending our time attacking people and institutions, why can we not focus on the positives? Instead of denouncing things with hateful rhetoric, why can we not rejoice in Lord and be glad?
I refuse to accept Shorrt misuse of the term “Pollyanna.” I refuse to accept his inaccurate and misguided tirade against public schools. I refuse to accept his misplaced focus on attacking public schools instead of sharing the love of Jesus.
I am a product of the public school system and am much better off for it. In fact, a couple of my high school teachers were great encouragements for me as I answered the call to enter the ministry. One of the greatest influences in my life—my grandfather—served over four decades as a Baptist minister and public school teacher or administrator. Finally, several of my friends are now public schools teachers. I know that with those strong Christian educators the next generation has positive influences on their lives.
That is why I still believe in public schools. That is why I refuse to accept the anti-public school rhetoric of some Baptists.
Bruce Shortt may now call me “Pollyanna-ish.” But that is all right with me, because I have actually read the book.
Brian Kaylor is communications specialist with the Baptist General Convention of Missouri.
Brian Kaylor is editor and president of Word&Way, associate director of Churchnet, and a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.