Guest column

Far From 'Godless' Institutions

by FROSTY TROY


"Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction." — philosopher Blaise Pascal

Of all the groundless, hurtful attacks on public educators, none is more painful than the charge that public schools are "godless institutions of secular humanism."

 

From Phyllis Schlafly and William Bennett to Pat Robertson, James Dobson and Jerry Falwell, the staccato drumbeat against public education includes religious defamation.

The U.S. Constitution requires that public education be neutral in the arena of sectarian religion, but that's a far cry from the debasement heaped upon public educators.

A torrent of abuse has flooded the airwaves since the shootings in Littleton. If only the Ten Commandments had been posted in schools, the religious conservatives lament. If only prayer had been permitted. If only school teachers were not devoid of values.

I find it ironic that the religious and political critics bring no facts to the table. Columbine High School was rife with religion--the kind permitted under the Constitution. There were Bible clubs, a religious organization for athletes, prayer at the flag pole and a largely Christian faculty.

The crescendo of calumny heaped on public education by the likes of Pat Buchanan, Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, Dan Quayle and other politicians is a partisan attack. They promote vouchers and charter schools to resegregate America, this time along class lines.

Biblical Pursuits
Who is for spiritual values for kids and who is just kidding? Can you name one other institution in America that comes closest to these biblical injunctions?

Feeding the hungry? For nearly 30 percent of the children in public schools, their free or reduced-price lunch is the only hot meal they received each day.

For nearly 30 percent of the children in public schools, their free or reduced-price lunch is the only hot meal they received each day.

Clothing the naked? There's hardly an elementary school in a poor neighborhood in America that does not maintain a clothing closet stuffed with underwear, socks and other necessities for have-not children.

There's hardly an elementary school in a poor neighborhood in America that does not maintain a clothing closet stuffed with underwear, socks and other necessities for have-not children.

The widow's mite? The average teacher spent more than $400 of personal funds for such things as workbooks and pencils for poor children.

The average teacher spent more than $400 of personal funds for such things as workbooks and pencils for poor children.

Visiting the prisoners? Those are public educators manning the GED, vo-tech, literacy and skill centers behind the walls, where they redeem tens of thousands of otherwise lost lives.

Those are public educators manning the GED, vo-tech, literacy and skill centers behind the walls, where they redeem tens of thousands of otherwise lost lives.

No greater love? Littleton teacher Dave Sanders who herded children into a room for safety, then shielded them with his own body, lay shot and dying in front of the praying students he had saved.

Littleton teacher Dave Sanders who herded children into a room for safety, then shielded them with his own body, lay shot and dying in front of the praying students he had saved.

Role models? No other profession provides a higher percentage of Sunday school teachers.

No other profession provides a higher percentage of Sunday school teachers.

Suffer the little ones? Who takes the little ones with mental retardation and developmental disabilities? Who redeems the dispossessed and the delinquent in alternative education programs?

Who takes the little ones with mental retardation and developmental disabilities? Who redeems the dispossessed and the delinquent in alternative education programs?

If you're looking for values, consider the majority of teachers who spend their own time and money mentoring students and sponsoring nonacademic class activities, all the while attempting to deal with the most undisciplined generation ever to enter public education.

A Spiritual Calling
Just because teachers can't pin on a church label and baptize the students doesn't make public education any less spiritual. It isn't the babbling critics who wrap themselves in religious intolerance who are making a difference for all of God's children. They preach to the saved in the rear echelon while public school teachers staff the front lines.

Public educators don't have the time or the inclination to bash parochial or private schools or the home schoolers who so often bitterly denounce public education.

Look who comes to America's public schools among the 46.5 million enrolled this year, then consider who truly does God's work:

 

  • Six million for whom English is a second language;

     

     

  • Five million special education children;

     

     

  • More than two million abused children;

     

     

  • Nearly 500,000 from no permanent address--the homeless ones; and

     

     

  • One out of four in extreme poverty and the others born out of wedlock and abused, neglected, unwashed, unwanted and unloved.

     

    You won't find these kids on the 700 Club or at the church of D. James Kennedy, one of the most-watched evangelists on cable television, or playing in the backyards of William Bennett or Lamar Alexander. They won't profit from the $114 million that poured into Focus on the Family last year, and they won't be adopted by the childless Pat Buchanan.

    The teachers who minister to these children are scorned on editorial pages and maligned from ignorant pulpits, but they keep on keeping on--and sometimes only God knows why.

    They earn the poorest teachers' salaries among all industrial nations, yet a new study shows they are among the brightest college students and nearly half hold master's degrees. More than 61 percent call themselves "conservative," and their connections to a religious institution of their choosing exceed that of the national population in a country with the highest percentage of churchgoers in the Western world.

  • Miraculous Outcomes
    With all its warts, public education produces more math and science brains than all of private and parochial education combined. From astronauts to Pulitzer Prize winners, from Nobel laureates to the clergy, they are in the front rank.

    The public school day may not start with a Hail Mary or an Our Father, a mantra or a blood sacrifice, but public education does more of God's work for children every day than any other institution in America--and that includes the churches.

    Frosty Troy is editor of the Oklahoma Observer, P.O. Box 53371, Oklahoma City, OK 73152. E-mail: ftroy@keytech.com