While some religious voices say otherwise, Stella Edwards, legislation chairperson for the Virginia PTA, believes Christians should engage, and not abandon, public schools.
“I truly take exception to the idea of carving out children of Christian families and isolating them from the general public in order to educate them,” Edwards, a member of First Baptist Church in Hopewell, Va., told EthicsDaily.com.
Instead, she continued, “I would think we should be calling out for Christian young people to go into the field of education,” said, as a way to make sure an exodus of retiring teachers are replaced by people with Christian values and to exert political influence to ensure that teachers are fairly paid.
Edwards, who volunteers for her position in PTA, said she has always felt a strong calling to be active in working with the public. “For one thing that’s the only way I can witness,” she said.
She recently traveled to Washington, D.C., with other state PTA lobbying leaders to push for legislation, including a pending bill to improve nutritional standards for food served in schools.
The White House Web site says President Bush has made education funding a priority, but the budget he proposed to Congress cut 48 education programs totaling $4.3 billion, according to the Washington Post.
Last year in Virginia, Edwards opposed a law that allows civilians with concealed-weapons permits to possess a loaded gun in their cars on school property.
More recently she spoke out against a bill allowing parents to home school their children with a minimum of a high school diploma instead of a bachelor’s degree.
“It’s just not fair to the kids,” Edwards told the Roanoke Times. “Parents will send their children to public schools to have a highly qualified teacher. The home school children shouldn’t have any less.”
The bill, supported by the Home School Legal Defense Association, passed last month in both houses of the General Assembly, but Gov. Tim Kaine has not yet signed it into law
The call from the religious community, including the Southern Baptist Convention, to break away from public schools, she said, “is so counterproductive to what we should be doing as Christians.”
A recurring theme in the anti-public school movement is that God has given parents the responsibility for educating their children, but too many have turned that responsibility over to the state.
Edwards said she agrees that parental involvement is important, calling it a “major area of interest and need” in public education.
“Every state in the country should have within their standards of quality or in the curriculum standards which increase parental involvement,” she said.
On the other hand, she said, “You have parents who are 16 or 17 years old” who, due to life circumstances, may not be able to devote as much attention to their child’s education as parents with more advantages.
“Collectively, we are all responsible for these children,” she said. “I feel just as responsible for my neighbor’s children as my own.”
In fact, she views parental involvement as one area where Christians can make a difference in public schools. She thinks churches should educate members on how to influence and improve their community schools. “There are so many areas where we could be doing a better job, instead of this attack-and-conquer mentality,” she said.
While some Christian parents fear that things like homosexual clubs for students or anti-bullying programs undermine values of church and home by brainwashing kids with messages like “it’s OK to be gay,” she disagrees.
“Some of these things do occur,” she said. “We know Satan is working all the time in so many ways, and we should be out there setting the example as opposed to going to war.”
“One way to battle these assertions is by physically being in the system,” she said.
“It is definitely prevalent, and there is no getting away from it,” she said. But rather than hiding from sin, she believes it is better to “educate children to deal with the ills of the world.”
But she doesn’t buy some of the thinking that portrays the “government” school system as conspiring to undermine Christianity. “There are just too many Christian educators in our schools,” she said, for that to happen.
Despite restrictions against teachers using their positions to proselytize, Edwards believes it is possible for people of faith to get their message across by how they relate to students and parents. She also believes children from religious homes in the public school system “need to have other children like them.”
Edwards also disagrees with those, like a recent “20/20” program titled “Stupid in America,” who say public schools are failing the nation’s children.
“It’s not public education that’s failing our children,” she said. Education is just a “piece of the puzzle,” along with family, community and church “that help develop young people to be citizens.”
“I think there are a lot of areas in our society that are failing the human race,” she said. “For the public school system, that it is failing, you have to show me the evidence. I don’t see the evidence of that.”
She admitted that some school systems are failing, but also charged that some mandated programs being thrust on schools “may be undermining success” and are driven by a desire to dismantle public schools and turn education over to companies and big businesses.
“I think that is driven by money,” she said.
“Certainly it appears to me there are major decisions that are being thrust upon and mandated upon the school systems that are causing major problems.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.