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The Harsh Truth About Public Schools

By Bruce Shortt
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #66, 2005.


Christian kids should get a Christian education, right? Yet most church leaders are perfectly content to see 80% or more of their church's kids in public schools. What effect is this having on these kids' faith? Can anything be done? We ask the man with a plan.

In mid-June 2004, officials and members of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) gathered in Indianapolis. Little did most of them know that a bombshell was going to go off in their midst, in the form of a resolution submitted by Air Force General Thomas Pinckney and lawyer Bruce Shortt.

The Pinckney-Shortt Resolution called upon "all officers and members of the Southern Baptist Convention and the churches associated with it to remove their children from the government schools and see to it that they receive a thoroughly Christian education, for the glory of God, the good of Christ's church, and the strength of their own commitment to Jesus."

You wouldn't think that it would be hard for the SBC to at least commit to the part that says every Christian child should get a thoroughly Christian education. But in fact, vigorous efforts were made to suppress it, resulting in the resolution never making it out of committee.

The committee may have squelched the resolution, but they couldn't stop the debate. Subsequently, some state chapters took up similar versions of the resolution, and even the Presbyterian Church in America took a look at it, although they failed to pass it.

During this time, Bruce Shortt was working on a book which explained why such a resolution is desperately needed. Now it's out. Unsurprisingly, it's called The Harsh Truth About Public Schools.

We had been following the national and state resolutions with considerable interest, so we tracked Bruce down and asked him some questions.

PHS: How did you start getting involved in promoting Christian education?

Shortt: Not long after I started homeschooling, I became active in the Exodus Mandate ministry. It was founded maybe five years ago, and its purpose is to encourage Christian parents to bring their children out of public schools and to provide them with a Christian education, either in a sound Christian school or homeschooling. As I became increasingly involved in the ministry I began writing the book. After I finished the book, I embarked on the project of submitting the resolution.

General Pinckney is a friend and shirttail relative. He wrote the foreword for my book and had reviewed the manuscript. So I discussed with him the possibility of being the resolution's co-sponsor, and he kindly agreed.

PHS: What' s happening to the Christian kids who aren't getting a Christian education?

Shortt: Public schools are killing our children spiritually, morally, and academically.

PHS: What's your evidence?

Shortt: Look at the results of George Barna's periodic surveys of teens and young adults to see how shallow the commitment of most is. Only 9 percent believe there is any such thing as moral truth. The majority believe that Jesus sinned while he was on earth.

The Nehemiah Institute has done worldview surveys of evangelical teens for some years now, with tens of thousands of teens. Kids who attend Christian schools or homeschools are 10 times as likely to have a Christian worldview. This is no surprise, since the Ten Commandments are treated as hate speech in public schools.

The SBC had a report in 2002 that SBCs were losing 88 percent of their children within two years of high-school graduation. But even if you had 100 percent of the bodies sitting in the pews, you could end up with a non-Christian congregation. When you look at the attitudes and beliefs held by teens today, most could not honestly be called Christian.

PHS: Why do you think the Pinckney-Shortt resolution was so roundly resisted?

Shortt: The Southern Baptist Conference, and most evangelical Protestants, have long viewed public schools as normative. They are comfortable with compartmentalizing education in such a way that government provides most education and the church provides a few hours on Sunday and maybe Wednesday. It's central to their model of youth evangelism. In many of our seminaries, the youth pastor is taught to use public school children as magnets for attracting children out of public schools into the church. That's why there has been considerable resistance first to Christian schooling, and later for homeschooling.

PHS: Does this type of evangelism work?

Shortt: Most of the time you'd find that the children who were brought in to these youth programs, which are to a large extent fun and games, are not coming for Christ. They are coming for fun and games... maybe for attractive girls. A lot of what goes on is not as genuine as we might hope. That is confirmed, by the way, by the latest evidence and studies. Perhaps the largest study done recently is the National Youth Religion Survey, published in the book Soul Searching by Oxford Press. The lead investigator was sociology professor Christian Smith. He did a large survey that included not only filling out forms, but included in-depth personal interviews. He was looking whether involvement in religion leads to better life outcomes. Smith discovered that the religion of the overwhelming number of children could be characterized by what he called "moralistic, therapeutic deism." It's a religion of sorts; it just isn't Christianity.

What he found in his survey was that American Christian teenagers are incapable of articulating even the basic tenets of the faith. The principle religion of these teens has a "be nice" moralistic element. They have a vague belief in a higher power or God. They have no real understanding of orthodox Trinitarian Christianity.

PHS: Given all the data, how can Christian leaders keep fooling themselves, or do you think they're starting to slowly come around?

Shortt: It's very difficult for many of us to give up dearly held views that are convenient. Too many pastors rely on their own school experience in 1955. They have a couple of schoolteachers in their congregation and they seem like nice people.

Pulling out of government schools requires assuming a lot more responsibility, and it has financial implications. More dollars for Christian education means less for the cooperative program. We've been too often guilty of evangelizing ardently in Timbuktu and losing our own children. We've failed to see that spending money at the local level, educating our children, is also a missionary effort!

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