Christianity and Public Education: Do they Go Together

CHUCK COLSON

In his article, "Integrating Faith and Public Schools Without Mixing Church and State", Eric Buehrer says that teaching students about Christianity and its positive influence on American culture is not only possible, it's legal, and a legitimate academic pursuit for public schools.

Many educators assume that because our society has become so diverse in recent years, it's inappropriate to give Christianity any greater attention than other religions in today's public school curriculum. In their minds, it's insensitive to give more emphasis to Christianity that to, say, Islam or Buddhism. It's like being a cultural bully.

But as Eric Buehrer of Gateways to Better Education points out in his article, "Integrating Faith and Public Schools Without Mixing Church and State," such mistaken thinking comes from the false belief that fairness means that all religions must get equal time. Buehrer makes the case that "fair" doesn't always mean "equal." Sometimes "fair" means "proportional."

For example, first-year educators teach the same number of students the same subjects as do veteran teachers. But, they don't get equal pay for equal work; they get paid proportional to their years of service. So in this case, fair doesn't mean equal.

"It is reasonable to assume," Buehrer points out, "that American schools teach American students about American culture." And no one can deny that Christianity is an influential part of American culture, both historically and today.

For instance, just this past summer, Newsweek magazine ran a cover called "The Glorious Rise of Christian Pop." The article reports that for every ten country-music CDs sold, seven Christian CDs are sold — outselling all jazz, classical, and New Age music combined. After citing these statistics — along with the fact that one recent series of Christian novels and the Veggie Tales children's videos have had combined sales of over $50 million — the Newsweek article calls Christian consumerism a cornerstone of contemporary American culture.


Besides that, there are nearly 1,500 religious radio stations airing Christian messages and music every day in this country. Christian holidays dominate the American calendar. Our national motto, "In God We Trust," is inscribed on all our currency. Our president takes his oath of office with this hand on a Bible. And our Pledge of Allegiance declares that we are "one nation under God." All these facts, and many more, contribute mightily to American culture.


When teachers teach this aspect of American culture, they are not giving Christianity unfair attention; they are giving proper balance to their students' education. They are addressing the cultural fact that Christianity is — far and away — the most influential religious force in America.


Unfortunately, many teachers give their students the impression that Christianity has had no greater influence in American culture than any other religion. They do this when, as just one example, they spend a week celebrating Hanukkah but censor any mention of the birth of Jesus at Christmas. They do this when they promote lessons about religions in other countries while ignoring the dominant religion right in their own backyard. Or by teaching their subject matters as if God doesn't really exist, or that Christianity is an historical artifact.


Christians need to work with teachers and school boards to understand that it's constitutional to teach about Christianity. Contact us here at BreakPoint and we'll send you some helpful materials. We've got to work together to get our schools to stop censoring Christianity.

For years, Denise, an elementary school music teacher, felt she was denying her faith when she taught her students Christmas songs like "Jingle Bells" and "Frosty the Snowman," but never any Christmas carols about Jesus, which she thought the law prevented her from doing.

Then she discovered she was wrong — the law does allow public school students to sing religious Christmas carols. So she decided to teach her students "O Little Town of Bethlehem," "Silent Night," and more. In fact, Denise began class by announcing that they were going to learn some Christmas songs about Jesus Christ.


She was surprised when some of the children in the class gasped, as if she had used a swear word. They didn't know who Jesus was, they said, and thought the words "Jesus Christ" were curse words. Well, that day Denise had to become a history teacher before she could be a music teacher.


A good education not only means that students can learn about Christianity, it means they can learn how the Christian religion has had a positive impact on the world. But is education like that really possible in today's public schools?


In his article, Eric Buehrer says that teaching students about Christianity and its positive influence on American culture is not only possible, it's legal, and a legitimate academic pursuit for public schools.


For example, Buehrer points out that in 1995 the California State Board of Education published a handbook on teaching about religion in the schools. In it they state: "School personnel are obliged to help students develop an informal understanding and appreciation of the role of religion in the lives of Americans and people of other nations."


The handbook continues, "Study about religion in America is fundamental to understanding and appreciating the American heritage. America is a land of many races, cultures, languages, and religions. Students should learn about the contributions of religion to America."


You see, history is not merely the recording of events; it is the understanding of what motivated the people behind those events. Even a liberal state like Massachusetts recognizes the academic legitimacy of teaching students about Christianity. In their social studies standards for grades 5 through 8, students are encouraged to "understand the power of ideas behind important events." And, as an example, the Department of Education suggests they discuss how the ideas of Moses and Jesus could motivate entire nations to action.


What an open door for helping students understand the impact of biblical truth on the lives of people and their cultures! But this is only one small example.


Teachers should have no doubt that teaching students about the importance of Christianity is academically appropriate. You can help teachers in your church, and in your children's and grandchildren's schools, to have the confidence to do this by reminding them that education about the role of Christianity is legal, and it's logical. Contact us here at BreakPoint and we'll send you a copy of Eric Buehrer's article, "Integrating Faith and the Public Schools Without Mixing Church and State," along with some other materials that will help you make the case.


Students need to be taught the historical and social importance of the Christian faith, and strange as it may seem, school officials from California to Massachusetts agree.

Sharon works in a public elementary school in Minnesota. Each year the halls of her school are decorated with voodoo masks or images of Aztec gods that the students make in art class. In January, Chinese New Year symbols are posted on the walls of the cafeteria and the children are encouraged to figure out which symbol their birthday is attached to.

"Yet," she laments, "at Christmas, nobody can talk about Christmas or have any Christmas decorations up -- especially a tree." The children aren't allowed to sing Christmas carols. And on the last day of school before Christmas break, the school celebrates, not Christmas, but "Back to the Fifties" with decorations and clothing from that era, and fifties music blaring in the cafeteria.


Sharon asks, "Whatever happened to our American culture and national holidays?"


What happened is that fear, intimidation, and outright misinformation about what's legally permitted in public schools has created an education system that, all too often, fails to teach students about the very culture they belong to.


Buehrer says that legal confusion has led to mis-educating students about American culture. For example, a school district in Wisconsin published a directive on holidays for teachers that said: "Thanksgiving is a national custom. Please try to avoid religious connotations." Imagine! Absolutely contrary to the historical accounts of how Thanksgiving began.


The fact of the matter is that the Supreme Court believes that students are learning about the religious nature of our holidays. In the case of Lynch v. Donnelly, involving public display of a nativity scene, the justices commented that during Christmas "people are taking note of the season with Christmas hymns and carols in public schools." The Court assumed public school children were singing religious Christmas carols.


Beyond holidays, however, confusion about what's legally permitted to teach about Christianity has led many teachers to simply gloss over or ignore significant information about the impact of Christianity on our society.


Contrary to what most people think, it is lawful for students to learn about the Christian beliefs that motivated people like Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, and George Washington. They can learn about the faith that motivates the men in the Promise Keepers movement; and they can learn why Prison Fellowship's faith-based approaches to prison reform have been so successful. They can read the speeches of presidents as, each year, they proclaim a National Day of Prayer, and Thanksgiving Day. In other words, they don't have to pretend that we're an atheist country.


In his article, Eric Buehrer offers this rule of thumb: "When there is a legitimate academic reason and it can be done without admonishing students to accept a religious belief, educators can teach students about Christianity.

"The law does not require teachers to mislead or misinform students about the significant impact Christianity has on our nation and the world. But you and I need to educate the educators. Give the teachers and school administrators in your area a copy of this article and other material we'll send you if you call us. Christians need to help school officials understand that they can teach the truth without fear.

You can reach Gateways to Better Education at http://www.gtbe.org/ You can get a copy of the article Chuck Colson refers to here, or at BreakPoint Online, http://www.breakpoint.org

 

 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Charles Colson, “Christianity and Public Education: Do they Go Together.” BreakPoint Commentary #011010 (October 8,9,10, 2001).

From BreakPoint ® (8,9,10/2001), Copyright 2001, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries, P.O. Box 17500, Washington, D.C. 20041-0500. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. “BreakPoint ®” and “Prison Fellowship Ministries ®” are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship Ministries.

THE AUTHOR

Charles Colson launched Prison Fellowship in 1976, following a seven-month prison sentence for Watergate-related crimes. Since then, Prison Fellowship has flourished into a U.S. ministry of 50,000 volunteers and has spread to more then 50 countries. Beyond his prison ministry, Colson is a Christian author, speaker, and commentator, who regularly confronts contemporary values from a biblically informed perspective. His "BreakPoint" radio commentaries now air daily across the U.S. and he has written 14 books, including Loving God, Answers to Your Kids' Questions, The Line Between Right & Wrong: Developing a Personal Code of Ethics, Against the Night: Living in the New Dark Ages, and How Now Shall We Live: A Study Guide.

Copyright © 2001 BreakPoint




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