It’s time to honor those who have not retreated from the public schools.

Christians have long been influencing the moral climate of our nation’s schools, but it has sometimes been a rugged road. And if the incidents we hear about are typical, the church must continue to support and recognize those who work for change.

When a high school in San Marcos, California, for example, became infamous for its high rate of student pregnancy and drug abuse, junior high school teacher Jerry Harrington’s Christian convictions compelled him to act. Harrington led the way in developing a curriculum that injects a healthy dose of moral values into classroom discussions of sex and drugs. Administrators greeted his initial suggestions with raised eyebrows, but the program is now hailed by Christian and secular educators alike.

For every teacher like Harrington, there are scores of Christian parents letting their lights shine. Take Visalia, California, pastor Wayne Jacobsen. When their children reached school age, the Jacobsens realized they could not just bundle their children off to their classes: “We had to go there ourselves, helping out where we could, making those schools better places for our children and their classmates.” That meant substantial investment in PTA leadership, classroom volunteering, and parent-teacher advisory committee meetings, but the Jacobsens found others in their congregation pitching in as well.

Students need support, too, when they try to make a difference. When officials of two neighboring high schools in Downers Grove, Illinois, canceled the schools’ traditional joint baccalaureate service “for lack of interest,” Christian students went into action. After securing grudging approval from school administrators, Nancy Bushy and her friends organized a community-based religious service for the seniors. School administrators may have predicted a lack of interest in a religious graduation service, but the baccalaureate’s popularity has guaranteed its continuity.

Celebrating Unsung Heroes

Educators, parents, and students are infusing Christian convictions and values into the public arena. They may just be what Christian Educators Association International director Forrest Turpen calls the church’s “unsung heroes.” Which is not to say Christians have no legitimate place in private Christian and home schools. It is to argue that churches have too often been slow to encourage and support those scoring moral victories on public-school turf.

The opportunities are many. One Christian parent in a Houston suburb, for example, organized a group of mothers to pray about the pressures their children’s teachers faced. Some churches have invited school officials to adult Sunday school meetings to talk about their frustrations, hopes, and concerns. Other churches might consider highlighting the accomplishments of teachers and school volunteers through church newsletters or pulpit announcements.

There may be no better time for the church to honor these quiet witnesses. Recently, leaders from Ronald Reagan to Mario Cuomo have been calling schools to pay more attention to the moral development of youngsters. Some observers point to a national “ground swell of enthusiasm for moral education.”

If “the battle for the hearts and minds of our children is being fought in our public schools,” as Turpen suggests, the church must not abandon those who feel called to be salt and light in the secular classroom. The moral development of a generation will be jeopardized if we do.

By Timothy K. Jones.

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