Along the Tracks

Friday, April 11, 2003
 

How dare you speak of ‘values’


The New York Times’ editorial writers are throwing another hissy fit, this time over Education Secretary Rod Paige’s statement that he’d personally prefer to have a child in a school which teaches values “associated with Christian communities.” For the Times, this is a firing offense.

“The secretary’s blithe avowal is a terrible blow to the Bush administration’s much-touted education initiative,” rails the Times. “The secretary of education needs either to do some fast fence-mending or step down.”

I’m sure at this point you are as confused as I was when I first read this editorial. Why, exactly, does stating one’s trust in Christian values disqualify a person from public service? Why should any reference to, or even proclamation of faith be grounds for a pink slip? The secretary has no authority to break down the “wall” between church and state - and frankly, the majority of Americans would agree that teaching values (Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist - the faiths are different, but the underlying values are pretty much in line), not as a curriculum item, but as part of the underlying atmosphere of the school, is welcome. I’m not necessarily saying putting the 10 Commandments in every classroom, but most people would agree that building future successful citizens involves general training in respect for others and themselves, i.e., the Golden Rule and its various versions found in almost all cultures. That is what underlies the Christian message, when it comes to “values.”

As Paige points out in the Times-cited interview with the Baptist Press, in many public schools, kids come in with a variety of “values,” which is a diplomatic way of saying no values at all. I’ll state what he didn’t: That is the fault of parents. What Paige was getting at is that he would prefer to see his own child in a school where the Christian community’s values are the base for relationships inside. Frankly, that is exactly what many, if not most, public school students experience, since most communities are fairly homogenous in such basic beliefs - even if their particular brand of faith differs.

Unfortunately, the horrid public school systems of many poor urban areas are run and dominated by outsiders which try to implement their own “values,” which generally come down to moral relativism. Again, although it’s not PC to say it, where there are large numbers of students in moral drift, parents are to blame. But the issue becomes a problem for public schools when the children enter the doors of the building, and at that point, some basic responsibilities for maintaining an orderly social system based on respect is inherited. Many - maybe most - public schools in poor urban areas are failing this by acquiescing to the “different values” of parents who teach no values at all. Who suffers from this failure? The valueless students shoved out into a world where they are suddenly held responsible for their actions.

Another point the Times completely misses is the concept of leadership. Running a department isn’t just about signing papers, hiring staff and working over budgets. It is about vision, direction and goal setting - facets of leadership. One of the ways to display that leadership is to speak out in defense of that larger vision. As I stated earlier, Paige has no power to implement a Christian values program inside public schools, and he never proposed doing so. But he does have the power of persuasion, to bring people to the realization that, to really improve America’s education system, we need to change the social environment of failing schools - not just the curriculum or the teacher-student ratio.

Finally, as a member of the press, one would think the Times would defend a government leader in speaking out on an important subject of debate, even if his views were potentially controversial. Does anyone doubt that if Paige had said all these same things - but he were a Muslim - the Times would have risen to his defense? This aptly demonstrates that, despite the overwrought language pointed at Paige’s statement of values, the Times problem has little to do with the message and much to do with the brand of faith Paige holds.


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