People of both political parties and many persuasions have been talking for decades about education reform. President Bush signed a huge new spending bill that is supposed to link funding to certain reforms so that no child will be left behind.
Now comes what could be the most radical and most successful education reform proposal ever made. The Southern Baptist Convention - the nation's largest Protestant denomination with about 17 million members - is meeting this week in Indianapolis, and among the resolutions it is considering is one calling upon parents to withdraw their children from public schools and either educate them at home, or enroll them in private Christian academies.
The rationale is contained in the text of the resolution authored by Houston attorney Bruce Shortt and retired Brig. Gen. T.C. Pinckney: "Whereas, the Bible commands that fathers are to bring up their children in the training and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4) . . . (and) Whereas, the government schools are by their own confession humanistic and secular in their instruction, the education offered by the government schools is officially Godless, and Whereas, the government schools are adopting curricula and policies teaching that the homosexual lifestyle is acceptable . . . and homosexual organizations are present as student 'clubs' in thousands of government schools and are spreading rapidly . . . ". Well, you get the idea.
In an essay published last week at ethicsdaily.com, Shortt wrote, "Government schools are converting our children to alien creeds and infusing them with false and destructive values." Pinckney added, "God gives the responsibility for education of children to the parents, not the government." Indeed. And it has been the decision by too many parents to allow government to shape their children's worldview and values that is responsible for spiritual and intellectual disorder that now inhabits the souls and minds of too many offspring of Christian parents.
The private and home school movements remain relatively small compared to the number of students in government schools. According to the latest U.S. Census Bureau figures (2003), there are 73.2 million children in school with 10 percent of them in private elementary or high schools. The number of children educated at home is estimated by home-school advocates and the Census Bureau at approximately 2 million, with that number growing by about 15 to 20 percent each year.
Most school choice advocates believe the poor would be the first to head for the exit should vouchers be approved for the parents of government school children. Numerous surveys have shown that lack of money is the only reason most poor children remain trapped in government schools and that if money were no longer a concern, poor parents would place their children in private schools. Liberal Democrats, who claim to be advocates for the poor, have failed them on this important issue because they like getting contributions from the National Education Association. While such contributions help keep them in office, poor children continue to starve intellectually and morally.
By passing the resolution, the SBC could inject new energy into this slowly growing trend toward non-government education and convert it into a powerful example with momentum. If large numbers of Southern Baptist and other Christian parents begin exiting government schools, the education monopoly will be forced to consider returning to real education standards instead of embracing every new education and social "fad." Like a business that is required to compete, government schools will either reclaim a once proud heritage, or go out of business; either way, the children will benefit, and it is their welfare, not that of the education establishment and their lobbyists, that ought to be of primary concern.
Conservatives have worried more about changing decadent culture than in changing themselves and their own children. Millions of schoolchildren reared with morals, values, ethics and faith that are endangered in the government schools would do more to enrich and advance culture than all of the political movements combined.
So, Southern Baptists, show the way and perhaps many will follow. Stop waiting for the world's permission to fully exercise your faith and beliefs (which will never come) and start training up your children in the ways your God wants them to go. That can't be done in government schools, but it can in yours or in your homes. It's time to give the word "exodus" a new meaning.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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