Tuesday, May 30, 2006


No child left behind

While it's clear to me (and to a good many respected educators, who know far more than I do about this) that King George's "No Child Left Behind" program is ill conceived, the program does highlight one thing that I do believe in: that we, as a society, have a responsibility to ensure that our children are collectively educated "properly", according to societal standards. No matter that you're a steel worker and your son will be a steel worker too: we will teach your son history and biology. No matter that your daughter will never travel beyond Omaha: we will teach your daughter geography and chemistry and geometry. And we aim to make sure that the schools are properly prepared to do that.

On Saturday, NPR reported about a movement among some Southern Baptists to remove their children from non-religious schools. This faction wants to "develop an exit strategy" from the public schools, because those schools provide a worldly education for their children, rather than a "Christ-centered" one. It isn't just that public schools are teaching evolution, and are accepting of homosexuality, though that's part of it. Apart from those sorts of concerns, there are, they say, "biblical reasons" for this.

As Roger Moran, a member of the Southern Baptist Convention's executive committee says:

It is time for responsible Southern Baptists to develop an exit strategy out of the public schools because the public schools are no longer allowed to train our children in the ways that the scriptures commands [sic] that we train them, and that is in the ways of the Lord, not in the ways of the world.
At one level, there's really no issue here: there are already Christian academies, as there are Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim schools, and these schools give a religious education as well as teaching the fundamental curricula — and that's fine, as long as they do teach the fundamental curricula. It becomes a problem if the school substitutes religious training for what society considers a proper education. In other words, it's OK to train them in the ways of the Lord as well as in the ways of the world — but not instead.

Mr Moran goes on to cite a study:

Evangelical Christianity is losing 88% of its children. At the age of 18, they're leaving the church, and they're not coming back — or at least they're showing no signs of coming back. And if that is even remotely true, then what that says is, we got a serious problem.

Mr Moran places the blame "directly on the leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention" because they have "failed to sound the alarm."He says that in addition to the schools, it's all aspects of popular culture — movies, music, and so on — that "pull children away from the biblical Christian perspective."

I have an alternative explanation: maybe the children are "leaving" because what you're giving them to work with is unusable. Maybe it's just wrong to expect the average person to toss away the society s/he lives in and be immersed in a rigid, fanatical dogma. A small number of people will have a calling as pastors, priests, ministers, rabbis, imams, and whatnot, but, by and large, the average kid will — and should — fit into the surrounding society. Maybe the answer is to ease the fanaticism and accept that there are other things around besides bible study. Maybe it's better to teach kids to think independently and critically, to educate them well to be doctors, lawyers, business executives, engineers, and presidents. Maybe if you show them that they can do that and follow God at the same time, your church will thrive. And you won't have to hold your children back by enslaving them and keeping them ignorant.

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