A few months back I posted an excerpt from E.F. Schumacher's Small Is Beautiful so that I would be able to link back to it from time to time.
This is one of those times. That excerpt concludes:
… if it is taken for granted that education is a passport to privilege, then the content of education will not primarily be something to serve the people, but something to serve ourselves, the educated. The privileged minority will wish to be educated in a manner that sets them apart and will inevitably learn and teach the wrong things, that is to say, things that do set them apart. …
Bruce Shortt, of something called Exodus Mandate, believes that young Southern Baptists are not sufficiently set apart, so he's sponsoring a resolution urging all Southern Baptists to withdraw their children from public schools. Ethics Daily's Bob Allen has the story:
The call for an "exodus" from public schools continues to gain momentum in the Southern Baptist Convention, according to sponsors of a resolution being proposed at this summer's SBC annual meeting in San Antonio.
Bruce Shortt, a representative of Exodus Mandate, a Christian ministry that urges parents to remove their children from "government" schools and educate them either at home or in Christian schools, announced today plans for the fourth straight year to introduce a resolution encouraging the expansion of Christian alternatives to public education.
Shortt, an attorney from Houston, is co-sponsoring the resolution with Voddie Baucham, an African-American author and conference leader who worked together with Shortt in 2005 in convincing the convention to adopt a resolution on Christian education affirming that parents, and not the government, are primarily responsible for educating their children.
The 2007 resolution seeks to build momentum on a comment made by SBC president Frank Page shortly after his election last summer in Greensboro, N.C. Page, pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C., told Agape Press he is disturbed that many teenagers leave the church after graduating from high school and he hoped that more churches would begin offering Christian schools.
Bauchum said Page's call for more Christian schools reflects "an expanding debate" among Christians over public education. Seminary president Albert Mohler has called on Baptist parents to develop an "exit strategy" for their children from public schools. …
This year's resolution says the majority of Southern Baptist children are being discipled by "an anti-Christian government school system," that undermines values taught in church and home.
The resolution also has the support of Wiley Drake who is the SBC's "second vice president" (and not, as his name would seem to suggest, a character in a Flannery O'Connor story). Drake said:
"Southern Baptists, and Christians generally, need to plan a Christian educational future for our children."
"First, Christian parents are obligated to provide their children with a Christ-centered education. … Anyone who thinks that a few hours of youth group and church will have more influence on a child's faith and worldview than 40 to 50 hours a week of public school classes, activities and homework is simply not being honest with himself.
"Second, the open collaboration between homosexual activists and many school districts, together with the overall level of crime and violence in the public schools, make the public schools an unsafe place for our children."
I understand the idea here. Christians, St. Paul said, should not be "conformed to this world." Instead, St. Peter wrote, we are supposed to be "a peculiar people" and "a holy nation." That word "holy" means, literally, "set apart." But set apart for what? That's where Shortt, Baucham and Page, et. al., seem to lose the map. Their preoccupation with safety and purity and separateness-for-separateness' sake does not sound like the attitude of people who are called to be salt and light.
I also fear there's more to this agenda than its advocates are explicitly stating. I can't help but suspect that any group calling itself "Exodus Mandate" is planning to plunder the Egyptians. Step two of this plan, likely, would be for SBC families to argue that they are no longer obliged to pay school taxes, since their children are no longer in the public system. (And, despite Baucham's best Ward Connerly impression, I can't help but suspect that race is a massive, unspoken factor here.)
I would agree with the language of their preliminary resolution, stating that parents have the primary responsibility for the education of their children, except that I've seen these folks fumble the principle of subsidiarity too many times to trust them with its application here. Parents are responsible for their children's education. But so is the government and the rest of civil society. Turning this into an either/or is a dangerous kind of foolishness.
If their revolutionary zeal weren't so destructive, their confusion might be funny. For example:
"Christians and others find it increasingly difficult to avert their eyes from the metastasizing spiritual, moral and intellectual pathologies of the government school system," said Shortt, a homeschool father. "Southern Baptist churches and the SBC's institutions must get about the business of creating a new public school system — one that is 'public' in the sense that it is open to anyone, but controlled by parents and churches, not bureaucrats and politicians."
So instead of bureaucrats and politicians, parents will decide directly how these schools will be run. Well, maybe not directly — having a town-meeting every time you need to hire staff or purchase textbooks could be cumbersome and inefficient. But short of that they could ensure that parents had a say in such decisions by, say, electing representatives to a board that could oversee the schools. They could call it a "school board." This "school board" — accountable to the parents — could hire professionals to manage the day-to-day affairs of the schools. All of which would be so much better than the current system of politicians and bureaucrats.
I'll give the last word here to Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics:
"Rather than bearing false witness against public school teachers and the National Education Association, Christians need to speak up for the goal that great public schools ought to be a basic right for every child," Parham said. "We need to express gratitude for public school workers and to make sure that schools are fully funded."
"The anti-public education agenda fits nicely with the anti-women, anti-science, anti-Disney, anti-everything ideology within the SBC," Parham said. "That agenda runs counter to the best of the goodwill tradition within Baptist life that seeks the welfare of the public square."