Education of the Public
1989 Church of the Brethren Statement
Public Education has provided a valuable contribution to an American society seeking freedom, justice, and an equal pursuit of a satisfying life. The ability to realize these goals to an even greater degree depends on keeping and strengthening the education of the public.
Many of our current education systems are under attack from various fronts:
- competition for tax dollars to support education;
- low morale among teachers and students;
- a new wave of “private” schools;
- bad press regarding scholastic achievement with little emphasis on success.
The proper education of its children and youth has always been of primary importance to the Church of the Brethren. As Brethren settled in frontier communities, education for their children centered in the homes, with emphasis on reading, teaching, and memorization of the Bible, and the teaching of “Brethren Understandings.” As public education began to be established across the United States and children were expected to receive part of their training outside the home, the church struggled with the whole issue of education. In addition, many Brethren turned to teaching as a vocation.
The quality and nature of education available to the children in our communities continues to be a matter of high priority for Brethren.
WHEREAS: Teaching the people was a primary aspect of Jesus’ ministry.
WHEREAS: The quality and nature of our public education has a strong influence on our society as a whole.
WHEREAS: Impetus for change can come from a broad based group with a high level of ownership working on a common objective.
THEREFORE: We request that the Annual Conference appoint a committee to make recommendations as to how members of the Church of the Brethren in our individual communities and as a denomination, can work most effectively to ensure education excellence for our children and youth, and to promote respect for persons who are called to serve God through teaching.
Approved and passed to Northern Indiana District Conference by the Plymouth Church of the Brethren Council meeting, Plymouth, Indiana, October 14, 1984.
Paul Nye, Moderator; Mary Ann Miller, Church Clerk
Action of the Northern Indiana District Conference: Approved and passed to the Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren meeting in Norfolk, Virginia, June, 1986, by the Northern Indiana District Conference of the Church of the Brethren, meeting at Camp Alexander Mack, Milford, Indiana, on August 16-17, 1985.
Arden K. Ball, Moderator; James W. Simmons, Clerk
Action of 1986 Annual Conference: Ramona Pence, a Standing Committee delegate from the Shenandoah district, presented the recommendation from Standing Committee. The query, EDUCATION OF THE PUBLIC, be adopted and that the General Board be directed to bring to the 1987 Annual Conference recommendations as to how members of the Church of the Brethren in our individual communities, and as a denomination, can work most effectively to ensure educational excellence for all children and youth and to promote respect for persons who are called to serve God through teaching.
The General Board referred its assignment, EDUCATION OF THE PUBLIC, from the 1986 Annual Conference to the Parish Ministries Commission. Because of staff reductions in that Commission, the General Board requests an extension of time, one year, in which to complete the assignment.
Phillip C. Stone, Chairman; Donald E. Miller, General Secretary
Action of the 1987 Annual Conference: The moderator reported that the General Board was requesting an extension of time of one year in which to complete the assignment. The extension of time was granted to the General Board with no objections from the delegate body. The General Board is to report to the 1988 Annual Conference.
Because of his expertise in education, William Robinson, President of Manchester College, has been asked by the General Board to develop and edit an answer to the query entitled “Education of the Public.” President Robinson has agreed to accept this assignment, and has begun enlisting the help of other educators in researching and drafting an answer. Change in Parish Ministries personnel delayed work on this query. Since President Robinson accepted the assignment in January of this year, the General Board requests an additional year in which to complete the report.
Anita Smith Buckwalter, Chair; Donald E. Miller, General Secretary
Action of the 1988 Annual Conference: The General Board requested an extension of time of one year in which to complete its assignment. The extension of time was granted to the General Board with no objections from the delegate body. The General Board is to report to the 1989 Annual Conference.
A Response to the Query on How Brethren Should Support Education for Their Children and Youth
The scriptures provide a strong foundation for the importance of teaching and learning. Biblical references about teaching children and youth are found throughout the Bible, in both the Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament. These teachings call the church to educate their children and to transmit to children their culture and faith. A few of these references are given here.
Never forget these commands that I am giving you today. Teach them to your children. Repeat them when you are at home and when you are away, when you are resting and when you are working.
Teach me your ways, O Lord; make them known to me. Teach me to live according to your truth, for you are my God, who saves me. I always trust in you.
Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a real blessing.
Teach a child how he should live, and he will remember it all his life.
Homes are built on the foundation of wisdom and understanding. Where there is knowledge, the rooms are furnished with valuable, beautiful things. Being wise is better than being strong; yes, knowledge is more important than strength. After all, you must make careful plans before you fight a battle, and the more good advice you get, the more likely you are to win. Wise sayings are too deep for a stupid person to understand. He has nothing to say when important matters are being discussed.
When Jesus finished telling these parables, he left that place and went back to his hometown. He taught in the synagogue, and those who heard him were amazed. “Where did he get such wisdom?” they asked. “And what about his miracles?”
The scriptures instruct us to teach children, through the example and model of Jesus, the foremost teacher. Throughout the scriptures wisdom and learning are cherished and valued as necessary for the strength of God’s people.
Christian churches have shared in the education of children and youth for centuries. In some societies in earlier times, churches took the responsibility for educating children, following the biblical admonitions that children “are a gift from the Lord; they are a real blessing” (Psalm 127:3) and that Christians have the responsibility to rear their children in the faith. When publicly supported schools were established, Christians joined with their neighbors to support the schools through taxes, elected representatives, and parental influence. In addition many Christian people saw careers in teaching, counselling, and school administration as appropriate and meaningful ways to apply their Christian principles of service to society. Christians have seen involvement in public education at all levels, as a field of mission, an opportunity for ministry, an avenue of service.
The role of the Church in relationship to the public schools has undergone constant review and evaluation, affected by needs of youth, societal influences, and court interpretations of the first amendment requiring separation of the church from the state. The Church of the Brethren has responded and adjusted to these influences in its efforts to maintain its support of public education (see next section).
The 1980’s brought a barrage of criticism and cries for reform of the public schools, beginning with the highly publicized President’s National Commission on Excellence in Education report, “Nation at Risk.” Dozens of reports and calls for reform have followed, seriously eroding public confidence in our schools. The following are some of the more frequently heard criticisms directed at public schools:
- Nationally standardized achievement test scores have declined.
- Discipline and order have broken down.
- Drug abuse, violence, and sexual misbehavior have been excessive.
- Teacher morale, resulting from low pay, little recognition, and few incentives has fallen to a point that discourages capable people from entering the profession.
- Parental influence has deteriorated, corresponding with a rise in broken homes, single-parent families, and working parents.
- Schools have allowed standards to decline, promoting students from grade to grade because of age and social needs rather than for achievement.
- American students’ achievement in basic skill areas has compared unfavorably with those in other highly developed countries.
- Financial support has dissipated with the competition for tax dollars depriving the schools of adequate support.
As a result of this heightened attention to the problems and challenges for the public schools, public education has become a major issue on the agenda of local communities, state legislatures, and the federal government. Strengthening public schools must be high on the agenda of Christian churches, including the Church of the Brethren.
In this spirit, this response includes: (1) a review of the Church of the Brethren’s past actions and positions on public education, (2) a description of the conditions and influences which have prompted this crisis, and (3) suggestions on how the Church of the Brethren as a denomination, its congregations and individual members can and should support public education.
I. CHURCH OF THE BRETHREN STATEMENTS OF BELIEF AND ACTION REGARDING PUBLIC EDUCATION
The Parish Ministries Commission Paper, 1979
The Parish Ministries Commission in February of 1979 prepared a paper entitled “The Church’s Responsibility for the Education of the Public.” Included in this paper was a review of the history of the Church of the Brethren’s response to public education, beginning with the very earliest records and concluding with the 1977 committee report adopted by the Annual Conference. The review is quoted here almost in its entirety, describing the historical positions of the church relating to issues of public education.
From the Revolutionary War to the beginning of the twentieth century, the Brethren experienced struggles with both the external world and their internal world.
“The struggle of the Brethren with the external forces was one of paradox, for while they sought generally to avoid involvement with the external world, one of the external world’s primary institutions—the public school—was quite readily accepted by the Brethren . . . The public schools came to be accepted earlier and with less traumatic repercussion than did any other area of educational transition experienced by the Brethren.” (Boyers, Auburn A., “Changing Conceptions of Education in the Church of the Brethren.” Unpublished Doctor of Education dissertation. University of Pittsburgh, 1969, p.50)
Evidence of the regard for education and the possibilities within the public school can be seen in articles in the Brethren periodicals during the nineteenth century. Usually approval of public or common schools was expressed even though the writer might have been opposing some other dimension of education. For instance:
Evidence of the regard for education and the possibilities within the public school can be seen in articles in the Brethren periodicals during the nineteenth century. Usually approval of public or common schools was expressed even though the writer might have been opposing some other dimension of education. For instance:
“Our common public school system is a noble institution. The state thus provides for the education of all of our youth. Children of the poor as well as the rich enjoy its privileges without expense to their parents, excepting for books. The common school is free for children (at least of white color) whether their parents are native citizens, or emigrants from foreign countries, and children, whose native language is English, can obtain there an education sufficient for all the ordinary purposes of life.” (Henry Kurtz, editor of the Monthly Gospel Visitor, writing in 1856 (June, p. 159-160) went on to recommend that bilingual education is necessary for those who speak German or French and called for teachers who could work easily in both languages involved.)
An anonymous writer called Rufus (Monthly Gospel Visitor, p. 10-11) wrote in an article in January 1855:
“. . . neither would I attempt to argue against a good, common school education, but believe it to be the duty of parents and others, having children under their care to give them a good common school education, so that they may be able to read, understand, and judge for themselves, between right and wrong.”
None of the queries before Annual Conference in the nineteenth century questioned the presence of Brethren in the public schools. Rather, their participation was assumed in the inquiries brought. Questions were raised whether Brethren should participate in exhibitions, debates, or singing classes, use musical instruments, or be involved with the government in relation to the schools.
Actions of Annual Conference in the twentieth century have endorsed and supported the ongoing program of the public schools. They have encouraged the study of the Bible and of religion, advocated equal opportunity for all, and opposed practices which would benefit a few or unjustly discriminate against any.
In 1912, a petition asked the Congress to permit and urge reading of the Bible in the public schools. However, in 1964, a resolution did not criticize the Supreme Court decision forbidding prescribed prayers or Bible reading in the public schools, stating: “Although we may now regard ourselves as the American majority, we must remain zealous in protecting the rights of all minorities.” In a 1965 report, Brethren who teach in public schools were urged “to give and work in such a manner that their faith may be sincerely and helpfully shown as a vital part of their lives without attempting indoctrination along sectarian lines.” The Brethren were also encouraged “to give support to efforts to carry on in the schools an objective study of the Bible and of religion, for the purpose of increasing an understanding of and appreciation for their contribution to human history and culture.” The report of a study committee adopted in 1977 reaffirmed the 1964 resolution and suggested ways in which individuals, congregations and the denomination could encourage the teaching of religion and the development of ethical and moral values.
An Annual Conference resolution in 1921 encouraged and endorsed the establishing of a department of public education in the national government and cited a particular bill to be supported for “its program of general enlightenment for our people and the education of foreigners in the spirit and ideals of our free and democratic American institutions.”
In response to concern about the teaching of evolution in the schools, a report adopted in 1931 stated “With this knowledge (of the information provided by Genesis on the subject) and with the assurance of the truth of our Christian faith from the Bible and from history, reason, and experience, the church should not be disturbed over evolution or any other scientific theory . . . Rather we would recommend that the church increase her efforts to teach, preach and to demonstrate the truth of the gospel of Christ as the power of God unto salvation of all who believe.”
Resolutions adopted in 1956 and 1957 state convictions of the Church of the Brethren which we still hold today:
While we recognize the crucial importance of the family and the church in the educational process, we also hold to the traditional American position regarding the function and support of our public school system. The critical shortage of teachers and facilities and the needs of our growing youth compel us to do what we can to increase respect for the teaching profession and to strengthen public education in our communities and states. (1956 resolution)
We regard the public school as an ally of home and church in the training of our youth for responsible citizenship. We are, therefore, concerned when short-sighted economics deny our schools adequate financial support. We note the mounting pressures to use tax funds to pay for private education, either for those private schools conducted by churches or those which are planned to circumvent the Supreme Court decision on integration. We commend those communities which have put into practice the policy of integration, resulting in strengthening public education in their home communities. We urge our youth to enter the teaching profession as a Christian vocation. (1957 resolution).
Response to Query on Ethical Teachings in the Schools, 1977
In 1977, the Annual Conference adopted a committee report entitled, “Ethical Teachings of Jesus in Public Schools.” This report was prepared in response to a query from Northern Indiana district asking the General Board to “establish a committee to study ways in which the Church of the Brethren can work for the presence in the curriculum of our public schools, both secondary and elementary, of the ethical teachings of Jesus Christ.” The Annual Conference re-directed the committee’s study to discuss two issues, “teaching about religion” and “teaching ethics and morals” (leaving out “teachings of Jesus”). The Annual Conference’s purpose was to respond to the confusion and misinformation surrounding legal and constitutional situations regarding the teaching of religion and related subjects in the public schools.
The report reviewed the biblical sources on instruction of children; many are the same as cited in Section II. of this report. The report provided a review of the legal interpretations relating to the separation of church and state, as suggested by the first amendment. In addition, the 1977 report reacted to the many extant proposals to amend the constitution to allow prayer and Bible reading in the public schools.
The study committee concluded that “. . . the framework of our Constitution has guaranteed our own religious freedom for two hundred years and any amendment may jeopardize the strict neutrality of the government in reference to any specific religious group. We believe in freedom of belief for all, and historically our denomination has sought to limit the impact of government on our own religious beliefs and practices.”
Their report re-affirmed a 1964 resolution of the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference which stated: “We do not believe that the church should be unduly alarmed by these decisions (forbidding prescribed prayers or Bible reading in the public schools). They are in harmony with the basic doctrine which we have always favored—the separation of church and state.”
The committee also “viewed with concern” attempts by individuals or groups to censor or control student reading materials on the basis of religious objections. The report reviewed the historical role of education in the development of moral values in children, as early as the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 which said, “Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” In 1918 the National Committee on the Reorganization of Secondary Education included among its famous and influential Seven Cardinal Principles—“ethical character.” More recent pronouncements have placed responsibility on the schools for “ethical values and principles” in order to “strengthen the moral fabric of society.” A commission on religion in the public schools in 1964 took the position that “. . . the schools have an important part to play in the building of character and in the development and reinforcement of value systems that are consonant with the values commonly expressed in the larger society.”
At the same time, however, the 1977 query response recognized and stressed that the schools’ responsibilities “must be placed in perspective with that of other basic social institutions.” The response placed the primary responsibility for the development of moral values in children on the home and parents, with a secondary role for churches and religious groups. The response saw the public schools as “already overburdened and underfunded” and not to be expected “to make up for the loss of stability or lack of control of parents for their own children.”
The response supported the historical efforts of the church and its colleges and seminary to continue to educate teachers and administrators for the public schools, who would in turn be willing to “impart a sense of individual worth and moral commitment to the children they come in contact with.” The response makes two recommendations: (1) A study unit should be included in each church’s educational program on the teaching of morals and ethics in the public schools (study questions included), and (2) the outcome of these discussions should be shared with the appropriate school administrators in each community, recognizing the decisions in this regard are appropriately made at the local level. Options available for these overtures were explained: (1) “Values clarification” courses or units within courses. (2) Courses on current moral dilemmas or problems (e.g. alcoholism, drug abuse.) (3) Religion studies such as Bible as literature, courses on world religions. (4) Released time from regular class time for religious instruction off of school premises. Additional denominational efforts are described, along with lists of resources, and suggestions for meetings with school officials.
Brethren Reactions to the School Prayer Proposals
During the 1980’s President Reagan proposed a constitutional amendment permitting public schools to sponsor and oversee prayer in the nation’s public school classrooms. In a brief paper, entitled “The School Prayer Debate: Clarifying the Issue,” Anna Speicher from the Washington office of the Church of the Brethren outlined a position on the “Prayer in School” issue. This paper reviewed the current Supreme Court interpretations of the 1960’s which held that government (as represented by the public schools) could not compose or sponsor religious exercises, such as group prayer or scripture reading. Private, individual prayer, however, could be permitted. The courts also ruled that schools could teach about religion, using religious texts in studies about religion. Religious training was seen by the courts as the business of the church and family, not the government.
The Speicher paper gives the rationale for the separation of the church and state, pointing out the difference between group worship within a community of believers and a group brought together for another purpose (i.e., a school).
The paper explains that the Church of the Brethren has “long recognized that faith must be a matter of personal commitment and that expression of faith must be voluntary if it is to be meaningful,” insisting it would be impossible to compose prayers that would reflect the breadth and depth of every person’s faith.
The paper concludes, “. . . the position of the Church of the Brethren Washington office is to oppose the proposed constitutional amendment and all other legislation that would permit public schools to sponsor and supervise prayer in the classroom.”1
The above review of the historical beliefs and actions of the Church of the Brethren regarding public education provides the background for the response to the query “Education of the Public” (1984)
II. REVIEW OF CONDITIONS AND INFLUENCES WHICH HAVE CREATED THE PERCEIVED CRISIS IN EDUCATION
The introduction to this response listed some common and strident criticisms of our present day public schools. A number of factors have contributed to the problems named. Thirteen are suggested below. The nature of these influences varies considerably. Some represent important advances, but all have produced some negative effects on the public schools over the past 15-20 years.
- Public schools have been made accessible to all children of school age, the expectation being that schools stretch existing resources and provide appropriate programs for the handicapped, talented, learning disabled, underprivileged, and non-English speaking students.
- Court-ordered desegregation, requiring bussing of students across traditional school district boundaries, brought a backlash of objection, resulting in families moving to suburbs or removing children from the public system. Large inner city schools are left with inadequate resources to accommodate a population which includes large numbers of disadvantaged children.
- Many schools during the restless years of the 1960s and 1970s made changes in response to student protests, court decisions, legislative mandates, and teacher bargaining, which challenged and altered the traditional authority structures.
- Substance abuse among schoolage youth has had ruinous effects on their physical and emotional beings, attitudes, and abilities to learn. Antithetical to all that schools represent, drugs and alcohol have been cancers in the midst of our children’s center of learning.
- The relatively low pay and difficult working conditions continue to have a negative influence on attracting persons into the teaching profession. In addition, a reduced number of capable people are choosing teaching as a career because of the expanded opportunities in business and other professions now open to them.
- The competition for tax dollars has handicapped school systems’ efforts to maintain buildings, modernize equipment, adopt the latest technologies for teaching and learning, and provide special services for the handicapped and disabled.
- Responding to challenges coming from employee groups, civil rights groups, parent organizations, legislative bodies, and some religious groups has distracted the efforts, energies, and resources of the public schools from the primary mission of educating children.
- Disruptions in family support systems have often undermined children’s security and emotional wellbeing, impairing their ability to focus attention on their schooling.
- Homelessness and other manifestations of poverty have been powerful forces in undermining basic educational preparedness and an ongoing readiness for learning.
- The electronic media have encouraged violence and consumerism, have affected children’s total value systems, their time usage, and responsiveness to traditional classroom education.
- Schools have been asked to shoulder responsibilities traditionally assigned to the home, the church, or other community agencies. Drug and alcohol education, sex education, driver and safety education, health and physical education, and moral and ethical values education are examples of the additional tasks given to schools. These responsibilities have reduced the amount of time available for teaching basic skills and subjects.
- Competition among professionals within the public schools has resulted in power struggles over the rights and responsibilities of classroom teachers, administrators, school board members, and legislators, providing a counter-productive environment for educating the students.
- The number of students pursuing college degrees in education has declined dramatically during the past twenty years. In 1972-73, 21.1 percent of all degrees awarded in the United States were in the field of education. By 1985-86 this figure had dropped to 8.9 percent. In 1985-86, 34,000 prepared to teach elementary groups compared to 89,000 in 1972-73 and for secondary fields the comparable numbers were 3,200 and 5,500 respectively.2
A clear understanding of the above conditions and influences, which have affected public schools in the last two decades, forms a basis for suggesting the support and participation necessary to improve public education.
III. RECOMMENDATIONS FOR CHURCH OF THE BRETHREN SUPPORT OF PUBLIC EDUCATION
The query before the Annual Conference acknowledges the valuable contributions made by the public schools. Strong and effective public schools are essential to the future wellbeing of our people and to the perpetuation of democracy. The query rightly states that, “The proper education of its children and youth has always been of primary importance to the Church of the Brethren.” One important mission of the church is to support a strong system of public schools and work at their continual improvement. During this period of critical evaluation of the schools and national attention to their problems. Brethren should be actively involved in efforts to reform and improve the schools. The following are suggestions for action at the denominational and congregational level:
At the Denominational Level:
- Keep the subject of public education on the denomination’s agenda, using every reasonable opportunity to be involved in the support of our system of public schools.
- Encourage our educational institutions to provide information and research for congregations, informing members about issues facing the public schools. Publications, conferences, and special activities at Annual Conference are possible vehicles.
- Use church media to articulate denominational positions on important issues in public education and religion. An issue of the Messenger or Brethren Life and Thought be devoted to public education.
- Call one or more volunteers to coordinate the interests and energies of the Church toward strengthening public education. This person or these persons could also serve as the denomination’s liaison and advocate in any national arena (including Congress) where the Church’s influence and position should be heard (for example, the church express its opinion on a federal budget (FY89) in which education is allotted less than two percent of expense while defence represents over one third of spending).
- Provide a national forum for the discussion and resolution of the troublesome challenges that confront public schools. A gathering of educators and other resource people could prepare study material and identify the additional resources which could be used for discussion and dialogue at the local level. Such a gathering might take place at the Annual Conference.
- Encourage church members to become directly involved in leadership in the public schools, e.g., leading parent support groups, running for elective office, leading local advisory groups and task forces.
- Expect the colleges and seminary to continue to provide opportunities, support, and strong preparation for those who choose to enter the education profession. The colleges also should be centers for continuing education to assist teachers and administrators to cope with the new, complex demands of improvement and reform in the public schools.
At the Local Church and Community Level:
- Establish contacts and reliable channels of communication with those who work in and/or have decisionmaking authority in the public schools. A specific person in the congregation might be appointed to serve as a liaison and a representative to the schools, becoming involved in efforts to improve local schools.
- Be alert to issues which touch on churchstate relationships or the place of religion in the schools.
- Seek and encourage members to serve and assume leadership in the schools—as board members, advisory group members, members and officers of boosters or parent support groups, “search” committees, volunteers and volunteer coordinators in the schools, room parents, task forces, and study groups; discover the opportunities in every school community for parents and other citizens to be strong contributors to high quality public education.
- Encourage capable persons to prepare for and enter the education profession. Direct assistance in the form of scholarships, work opportunities, or loans would be possibilities.
- Recognize, honor, and reward those members who serve in K-12 education, e.g. “teacher recognition days”, “education is a Christian priority” sermons or workshops. Invite local school officials to participate.
- Offer facilities and resources for school-related activities such as released time for religious instruction, in-service meetings for professional staff, youth recreational activities, community-wide school study forums, or after-school supervision of “latchkey” children.
- Participate in discussions in the schools concerning values education, teaching the Bible as literature, teaching about religion, selection of instructional material on sensitive subjects, or on any other issue that touches on an interest of the church.
- Support adequate financing of local public schools to insure that all students have a full opportunity for an education of high quality.
- Recruit volunteers, including older adults, and provide space and program leadership for youth who need tutoring in basic skills, help with a second language, counselling (sometimes by peers) on substance abuse, human sexuality, or school adjustment.
- Aid parents of school-age children by sponsoring family-life programs which deal with child-rearing, home life, and the role parents have in supporting their children in school.
- Provide child-care services for parents who are volunteering in the schools, attending meetings, or serving on committees.
- Encourage members who work in business and industry in the community to enter into school-business partnerships to enhance educational opportunities for students.
- Encourage a strong component of global awareness education in school curricula, which may include the willingness of Brethren with international experience to volunteer to serve as resource persons in local schools.
Parents and Other Church Members:
- Make it a primary goal to keep informed about problems and issues that are being dealt with in the local schools: read school publications, follow news stories, attend school events and board of education meetings.
- Know local school policies, programs, and personnel, being willing to become involved in issues that will affect their children.
- Offer service as volunteers in the schools, serve on school advisory committees, participate in parent or community school support groups, or run for office on school boards.
- Help children develop a wholesome, positive attitude toward school and learning by maintaining support of the school and its mission, its authority, its standards and expectations. Such attitudes can be taught without discouraging critical and discriminating analysis.
- Promote programs and provide opportunities to recognize and honor those who have chosen careers in teaching, counselling, and administration, particularly professional educators among the church membership. This support is vital whenever teachers are criticized, blamed, and poorly compensated.
- Support adequate funding of public education even it if means paying higher taxes.
- Become advocates for excellence in every local public school. A community informed about changes and improvements and about what is considered best for children is critical in moving local schools toward higher standards.
- Provide a home, community, and church environment that encourages and enhances learning and growth for children of school age. Children need supervision and support, and some need special assistance in becoming learners and seekers for their lifetimes.
- Support efforts to provide education for every nonEnglish speaking person through bilingual education and/or teaching English as a second language.
CONCLUSION AND SUMMARY
This paper suggests ways in which members of the Church of the Brethren, individually and as a denomination, can improve educational excellence for our children and youth, and promote respect for those who are called to serve God through teaching. There is wholehearted support for the basic premise of the query—that the Church of the Brethren believes in a strong system of public education capable of providing every child, regardless of age, race, religion, or origin, with an “excellent” education. “Excellence” is here interpreted as an educational opportunity for all students to reach their full potential as learners and as persons, regardless of their abilities, family backgrounds, or career goals.
This statement is based on the belief that God’s people must support education for their children. The biblical basis for this belief is clear and unequivocal. The Church of the Brethren’s stand on public education has been consistently strong throughout its history. Nothing in the current environment justifies the church backing away from this interest. In light of the current crisis of credibility and performance of the public schools, this is not a good time for withdrawal of support or even a laissezfaire attitude. The suggestions and proposals offered do not exhaust all of the possibilities. There are many creative avenues that can be developed by the Church’s leadership and by individual members.
This response is not an attempt to address every concern raised in all of the reform reports, nor to list all of the ways that public education could and should be improved. Rather, ways Christian people through their churches and through their individual efforts might address problems and issues of concern to them have been identified. While improving the public schools is not the primary responsibility of the church, the church has an important stake in reform and a responsibility to help bring it about.
There are clearly many issues that involve the constitutional first amendment right of the separation of church and state. Based on the historic positions of the Church of the Brethren, the following positions on some of the more volatile issues in the area of church-school relationships are suggested:
- Favor teaching about religion in appropriate courses and teaching the Bible as literature.
- Oppose a system of financial support for public education that would encourage a system of purchasing and competing for basic educational opportunities. Favor the financial support for private and parochial schools coming from private sources, and the financial support for public schools coming from public sources.
- Favor “values education” in which moral and ethical values are consistent with JudeoChristian principles and beliefs.
- Oppose censorship of educational materials and programs which have been selected for use by appropriate state and local boards of public schools.
- Favor the raising of cultural literacy through the display of religious symbols at holiday periods, making certain all religions and holidays are fairly represented.
- Favor voluntary programs that allow released time for religious instruction outside the public school.
- Oppose preferential treatment for any religious groups, including the opportunity for proselytizing within the public schools.
- Support religious observances in the schools, representing equally all the religious groups in the community.
- Support voluntary prayer in the public schools.
- Oppose mandatory, supervised prayers in the public schools.
- Support initiatives by persons of faith who provide and offer counseling in the public schools with regard to volunteer service opportunities and present alternatives to military recruitment efforts and ROTC programs.
- Promote the inclusion of Brethren values, especially peace, social justice and anticonsumerism in the curricula of our public schools.
Our nation and our church have considerable investment in the public education system. The Church of the Brethren continues its long standing support for public schools, while continually working for increased commitment to excellence.
This statement provides suggestions for the church and sets an agenda for future research. It is hoped that the Church as a denomination, its congregations, and individual members will grow in their active support of public education in the years ahead.
William P. Robinson, President, Manchester College
Ronald C. Arnett, Dean of Academic Affairs; Manchester College
Warren K. Garner; Chairman, Education Department Manchester College
Jack W. Lowe, Associate Pastor, Goshen City Church of the Brethren
Gilbert R. Weldy, Retired Public School Administrator (Writer)
Joan Deeter, Executive Parish Ministries Commission, Editorial Consultant
1 Anna Speicher, “The School Prayer Debate: Clarifying the Issue.” Church of the Brethren Washington Office, 2 pages, no date.
2 “The Rise and Fall of Education as a Major” Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching: Change Magazine July/August, 1988.
Action of the General Board, March 1989: Approved the paper and directed that it be sent to Annual Conference as its response to the assignment from the 1986 Annual Conference.
Judy Mills Reimer, Chair; Donald E. Miller. General Secretary
Action of the 1989 Annual Conference: The report of the General Board study committee on EDUCATION OF THE PUBLIC was presented by William P. Robinson with other members of the committee present. The report was adopted with two amendments from the delegate body, which have been incorporated into the wording of the preceding text.