A Southern Baptist Convention resolution urging reform of public education by calling for church members to run for school boards might have been an effective strategy for changing schools in 1906, but not 2006, says a leader in a movement advocating an exit strategy from government schools.
“Today school boards, administrators, and teachers have far less power to determine what goes on within their schools than they did even 10 years ago,” Bruce Shortt, a homeschool father, Houston attorney and author of The Harsh Truth About Public Schools, said in an e-mail report. “Instead, most of the power over education that once resided locally has flowed to the state and federal governments, the teachers’ unions, and the courts.”
Shortt said last week’s SBC resolution “On Engaging the Direction of the Public School System” “reflects no awareness that in many areas of the South and Midwest the school boards are already majority Christian, as are the faculties and administrators. Unfortunately, having a Christian majority on a school board does not change the fact that government schools by law are prohibited from teaching a Christian worldview.”
Shortt cited Plano Independent School District as an example. The community served by school district is overwhelmingly politically conservative and Christian, and that is reflected in the composition of the school board and the school employees. Yet the district made news in 2004 when it renamed Christmas vacation as “Winter Break” and told children not to bring such things as red and green napkins to school parties because the colors might remind someone of Christmas.
Shortt said a resolution he co-sponsored with Missouri layman Roger Moran calling for an exit strategy from public schools failed to make it out of committee because of a deadlock. Two members of the SBC resolutions committee said publicly they supported the Shortt/Moran resolution.
Still, Shortt said, debate within the committee was strong enough to produce an unprecedented two resolutions on education. The “whereas” sections of a resolution advocating off-campus Bible instruction during the school day, he said, recognizes “there is something wrong with the way in which we are training up our children, and it calls on all school boards in all school districts to recognize and accommodate parents, churches, and other faith-based organizations that wish to provide off-campus biblical education during the school day.”
Shortt referred facetiously to the strategy as a “partial exist strategy.” He predicted asking schools to dismiss children from school to attend Bible classes at a church would be “treated dismissively, if not with derision,” by most school boards.
Shortt said a motion referred to LifeWay Christian Resources to investigate several issues related to education is a “major breakthrough, because many of the leaders and pastors still try to deny that the problems within the SBC and American evangelicalism arising from our disobedience in the education of our children are serious.”
“If LifeWay looks honestly at the existing research, and we believe that it will under the leadership of Dr. Rainer, we are confident that the convention will be forced to admit that what we have been saying is correct,” he said. “This research project is especially welcome because now, for the first time, a major organization within the convention is working on a key portion of our argument.”
Shortt also welcomed the election of Wiley Drake as second vice president of the convention. “Wiley has been a strong and outspoken supporter of what we have been doing,” Shortt said. “I know Wiley won’t trim his sails on the issue of Christian education to please any elements of the SBC leadership.”
Shortt said he also has had contact with several seminary students. “They report that among faculty and administrators government schooling is clearly not the norm,” he said. “This is an excellent witness by the faculty and administrators and bodes well for the long term future.”
Shortt said those factors, along with success of the Southern Baptist Church and Home Education Association, “all provide us with good reason to think that we will continue to make progress in the near and intermediate terms, too.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.