Over the past several decades, public education has been uprooted from its biblical beginnings. Prayer was removed, conversations about God are taboo, and Bibles are seen as a threat. One woman who interviewed for a job at my school was turned down simply because her only experience was in a private Christian school, and the principal and teachers were afraid she would bring God into her classroom. There must be separation of church and state, they say. My first year of teaching 5th grade I was questioned because I hung a student’s drawing of a Bible on my wall. I was pulled aside by the principal months later during our “Fairy Tales on Trial” unit, and he made it very clear that there would be NO swearing on the Bible during our classroom trial. These things make public schools somewhat oppressive to Christian teachers who want to make an eternal difference in their students’ lives.
Right now there is great controversy over Common Core, which has arrived to dominate our system. We are encouraged to abandon some very good parts of our teaching because “it’s not part of Common Core.” And we need to embrace the new ways of teaching. It’s a complete shift in education. Christians, especially, seem quite upset with the implementation of Common Core. Being right in the middle of it myself, I have been keeping my eyes and ears open for anything that goes against the Bible and what I believe.
A few weeks ago, we just began teaching from the Engage New York Language Arts curriculum. It was our choice, though strongly encouraged by higher authority. The strategies of teaching students to read carefully does not seem bad at all. It’s the content that is controversial. For example, the first text we are digging into is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which is a document created by the United Nations and adopted by our country in 1948 after World War II. The difference between this document and our country’s Declaration of Independence: any hint of God has been removed. That really does not surprise me. I’m at a public school and do not expect to be allowed to explicitly teach about God. That does not mean He doesn’t influence my actions and the impact I can have on my students.
I did some research to find out the details about this newer document we were studying compared to our original Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence begins, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The key words here are created and by their Creator, as these words are not part of the UDHR. Instead, Article 1 of the UDHR states, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” Using the word born takes away the fact that we are created and could imply that life begins at birth and not conception. In addition, some of the questions further into the unit encourage discussion about the definition of marriage and other rights we should have. This is big stuff. The controversies of our nation are entering our elementary schools. My initial reaction was fear in having to teach this …until I remembered that God is in control of this, and He is on my side.
Interestingly, God made Himself very present in my classroom while were studying this first article of the UDHR. We had a discussion about the words endowed and conscience, since many students stumbled over them while reading. We came to the conclusion that all human beings are given the ability to determine what is right and wrong. Therefore, I was able to teach the biblical principle found in Romans 2:14-15 which says, “Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.”
After understanding the meaning of Article 1, we drew a picture to help us remember it. One of my students shared, “I think we should draw a cross for freedom!” Another student added, “Yes! A cross because Jesus died on the cross for our freedom.” It just made me smile. Here I was teaching a document that tried to remove God, but He was coming right back into the conversation anyway.
I am not against speaking out against things like this when necessary, but we need not fear. When God’s people are persecuted, He is right by their side. His purposes will be fulfilled despite the “power” of man that tries to rule over Him. We already know that God will win in the end. He is jealous for His glory and is continuing to grow up people for Himself in the midst of the evil that is surrounding us.
Is God absent from our public schools? I can confidently answer, “NO!” He is as present as ever, and His work isn’t finished yet.