Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Jacoby on Education

Jeff Jacoby's article in Jewish World Review highlights an issue that is in danger of being overlooked in all the furor over the war on terror.

Of the roughly 50 million children enrolled in American grade schools, all but about 5 million attend government-run public schools. Of those 5 million, approximately 800,000 attend secular private schools. That leaves just 4.2 million who attend the nation's religious schools — only one American child in 12.

That isn't much, particularly for a country in which more than 60 percent of adults say that religion is very important in their lives. The United States is by far the most religious of the world's industrial democracies. Yet the vast majority of American parents would no more think of sending their children to a parochial school than they would of sending them to an orphanage.

Two Americans who aim to change that attitude are T.C. Pinckney, a retired Air Force brigadier general, and Houston attorney Bruce Shortt. Lay leaders in the Baptist church, they have drafted a resolution — which they hope to bring before the Southern Baptist Convention in Indianapolis next month — urging the denomination's 16 million members to take their children out of public schools and either homeschool them or send them to parochial schools. Their argument is straightforward: Christian parents owe their children a Christian education, not the relentlessly secular and often anti-religious instruction provided in public schools.

Frightening as the prospect of being blown up or gassed while going about our daily lives may be, the true threat to American society is not terrorism but our increasing cultural and spiritual illiteracy. We cannot hope to establish peace in the Middle East if our own value system is based on nothing more enduring than a secularized live-and-let-live tolerance and a gee-whiz fascination with technology and material prosperity. Teaching unbelievers to turn away from the easy dead-end path of revenge and walk the hard road of love and self-sacrifice will require that we ourselves understand that road and are prepared to walk it.

This is a challenge for generations and we must begin with our own all but bankrupt education system. Opposing gay marriage can wait and we cannot allow ourselves to get so caught up in the election cycle that we lose sight of the long-term goal. All of our current social problems are bound up with, if not directly caused by, the growing ignorance of and lack of interest in the robust truths of Christianity.

In the past two and a half years, I have heard no better prescription for winning the war on terror than that uttered in a moment of fury by the lovely but volatile Ann Coulter: "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity." Our government has made a good start on the first point, and has had some success with the second. But the third point cannot be achieved by force of arms or by government activity of any kind. If Islamic culture is to be Christianized, it must be done by persuasion and example. And both are impossible without an educated and attractive Christian culture.

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