Acton Commentary

Southern Baptists Offer Words of Wisdom on School Choice


Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the endyou will be wise.
--Proverbs 19: 20

Solomon's teaching to his son, contained in the book ofProverbs, extols the virtue of accepting instruction from the Lord, which ismost often conveyed through other individuals. Ignoring this counsel, Solomon warned, would cause one to“stray from the words of knowledge” (Prov 19: 27). This past week, the Southern Baptist Convention gave someimportant advice to government schools, advice one hopes they will not ignore.

In preparation for the convention, held June 14-16 inIndianapolis, a draft resolution calling on Baptist parents to remove theirchildren from public schools was prepared and circulated. The resolution was not presented toconvention delegates for vote; later, however, the resolution's author proposedan amendment to another resolution (concerning the secularization of culture).This amendment, calling on parents to provide Christian education to theirchildren through home schooling or “truly Christian” private schools, was voteddown Wednesday by the 8,500 delegates at the Baptist convention. Nonetheless, the proposed resolution,and the later amendment, are dramatic contributions by the Southern BaptistConvention to the debate concerning parental choice in education.

In voting against the resolution, the Rev. Calvin Wittman ofWheat Ridge, Colorado, stated that Baptists should take care not to “usurp theauthority that God has placed firmly in the home.” This recognition of the primacy of parental authority in theeducation of children is welcome.Even in voting against the proposed resolution, the Southern BaptistConvention reiterated its stand that, whatever the ultimate choice-- government,private, or home schools--parents are empowered by God to choose.

The educational establishment, teachers' unions, andgovernment schools may choose to dismiss the convention's debates, and maydecide to view the vote as a victory for government schools and the statusquo. That would be missing thepoint. For several years nowparental choice has been a constant refrain in religious circles. People of faith have become, andremain, concerned by the disturbing trends in government schools towardsecularism, religious intolerance, and academic failure.

Southern Baptists are not the only ones who support parentalchoice in education. In 2001, astudy conducted by the American Muslim Council found that Muslims in Americaranked school choice as their top political priority: 84 percent supportedit. American Jews are beginning torealize that parental choice will be beneficial to Jewish day schools, and,according to Jonathan Tobin of Jewish World Review, would be a step in theright direction in helping to solve problems of “Jewish continuity.” Roman Catholics have been mostprominent in their advocacy of parental choice, but other denominations alsohave long supported it. The Amish, for example, have been forced many times intheir history to fight states for the right to choose the form of educationthat their children will receive.

We hear constantly, almost exhaustively, that “children areour future.” We know,intellectually and emotionally, that the generation of Americans being educatedin our schools today, will be the generation making policy tomorrow. It is incumbent upon us to insure thatthat generation, and, indeed, all the generations that follow, receive thefinest instruction possible; instruction that not only seeks to form the mind,but also the heart and the soul.

Last week, the nation's largest Protestant denominationoffered words of wisdom, not only to its members, not only to those who supportparental choice, but also to the nation's political and educational leaders. Inthe resolution and amendment presented at the Southern Baptist Convention,faithful Christians recognized the need for the schools to address the wholeperson--intellectual, physical, emotional, spiritual. One can only hope thatthose leaders will accept this instruction for what it is - a warning and amethod of correction. The warning:We are watching and we are not happy with what we see. If it doesn'timprove, we will exercise our rights as parents to choose a better school. The method of correction: Move away from your focus on secularideals. It would, as the proverbhas it, “be wise” for government schools to listen to and accept this adviceand instruction.