Problems in American Public Education

Stable Family and Public Education

Sometimes I have the opportunity to speak to groups of teachers or community groups interested in public education. One of my comments in those presentations is that I know what the basic problem is in American public education. I can give it to you in a very simple personal statistic. In 1959 when I began teaching at James Whitcomb Riley High School in South Bend, Indiana, I had a freshman homeroom with 32 kids. Four of those kids did not have the same last name as the person who was listed as their parent or guardian. When I retired from Riley 41 years later, I had a freshman homeroom with 32 kids in it. Only four of those kids did have the same last name as their parent or guardian. Kids who grow up in a stable nuclear family have a distinct advantage over kids who grow up in a climate of change and insecurity.

I was reminded of that fact when our local paper came out on Mother’s Day with a list of the 12 valedictorians of Mishawaka High School—a large public high school in our area. All 12 of them had the same last name as their parent or guardian. Please do not misunderstand these comments. We are not saying that kids who come from homes where there has been divorce or death are doomed to failure. Many of our children turn out well in spite of us, not because of us.

The fact is that God’s plan for the family provides the ideal environment for kids to grow up with the drive and motivation to be productive adults. Ephesians 5:15-6:4 instructs Christians in these matters. As a public school teacher, I have seen the wisdom of that teaching over and over. No politician will ever be able to solve the problems of public education until the problems of the American family are resolved, and I would suggest that only Jesus Christ has the power to do that.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Mary Mother of Jesus and Choices

Mother and Son

Christians see Mary mother of Jesus as a woman who demonstrates what a mother should be. The angel told Mary, “Hail O favored one, the Lord is with you: blessed are you among women” (Luke 1:30). Mary’s response was “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38). That is an incredible response because it is so unselfish and full of faith.

Mary’s name comes from a Hebrew word meaning “bitter.” Indeed what Mary was about to endure in the culture of her day would be bitter. She was going to be pregnant with a child when she was not married. Her husband-to-be would be under pressure to break off their relationship. She would have no visible means of support. Jesus would be born as an illegitimate child and would have the scorn of those around him. People would ridicule Mary’s claim that the baby was conceived by the Holy Spirit.

Even after Jesus was born, Mary’s life would not be easy. Shortly after the birth of the baby, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus would have to flee to Egypt. There she would experience a culture and a language she did not know. Joseph’s occupation was carpentry, which was not financially or socially prestigious. Matthew 13:55 shows the attitude of people to Joseph’s common trade and his family of four sons and more than one daughter, in addition to Jesus. Joseph apparently died before Jesus began his ministry and Jesus was required by law to care for his mother. At his crucifixion, Jesus turned Mary’s care over to his disciple John (John 19:26).

Portrayals of Mary by artists show her as a beautiful woman, but physical beauty is not the emphasis given to us in the Bible. Proverbs 31:30 tells us, “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain.” What we see in Mary is a spiritual woman whose first love is God. She was praised by Elizabeth saying, “Blessed are you for believing that the things that the Lord has said to you will be done” (Luke 1:45). Mary responded by saying, “My heart is overflowing with the praise of the Lord and my spirit has found joy in God for He has regarded the humble state of His bondslave” (Luke 1:46- 48).

Christianity has elevated all women, and the Bible portrays Mary as a woman who is everything God calls women to be. When Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 2:15 about women being saved through childbirth, he gave us a picture of a role that women can choose. Mary had the strength to accept and live that role. She did it by choice, not because she was forced to accept it. No man can ever have such an opportunity. The Bible makes it clear that Mary had a choice, and she chose well.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Religious Freedom and Equal Rights

Elementary Classroom and Religious Freedom
The US Constitution guarantees religious freedom. At the same time, there have been constant attempts from a variety of sources to muzzle Christians and persecute those who openly profess their faith. Over and over we see Christians prevented from doing things that other religious groups or anti-religious groups are free to do. This can create a tendency for us to over-react when a problem arises.

The school board in Bartlett, Tennessee, shut down a Bible Club because of threats by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The Bible Club was for first and second graders, and the stated purpose was to read the Bible and pray. When I was teaching at Riley High School in South Bend, Indiana, we had a Gospel Chorus made up of students that met in the school outside of class time. I was part of a before-school program where I presented my lectures to students who wished to hear them and discuss the content. When I taught at Jackson High School in South Bend, we had mini-courses where for a week during homeroom, students could choose from a variety of activities. They could listen to my presentations in Christian apologetics, go swimming in the school pool, attend a class on ballroom dancing, play basketball, or attend a variety of other classes including a class on Islam taught by a Muslim cleric.

So what is the difference between all of these cases and what was going on in Bartlett? The chorus, the mini-courses, and the before school classes were all initiated by the students. Attendance was their choice, and their parents could come and sit in on what was taking place. In the Bartlett situation, the classes were set up and taught by adults. Students did not elect to participate in the Bible reading. The teacher decided that. Adults also would lead the prayer and decide its content. At Jackson High, the students could choose whether to participate. In Bartlett, pressure on children to participate was an inevitable consequence of the program. One wonders as to who was reading the Bible, what translation they were using, and who chose what part of the Bible to study.

Christians should stand up for our religious freedom, but that does not mean we have the right to force the Bible on first and second graders in the public schools. We need to be careful not to deny the rights of others in the process of standing up for our own rights.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Mike Pence and Moral Values

Vice-President Mike Pence
Vice-President Mike Pence

Mike Pence is Vice-President of the United States. Before being elected to that job, he was governor of the state of Indiana. Being from Indiana, we have followed him rather closely. President Trump’s dismal record with the press and his relationship with women are well-known. What has not gotten much attention until recently is the fact that Mike Pence has always been extremely careful in his relationships with women. He will not put himself in a compromising position with his women co-workers in politics. Pence has always refused to dine alone with a woman other than his wife. He never works late with a female aide. He never attends any party where alcohol is being served unless his wife is with him. His basis for these careful controls of his personal life with female co-workers is that he is a Christian and he takes his Christian faith seriously.

The press has been extremely hostile toward Pence’s lifestyle. The Washington Post claims Pence is helpless in the face of female temptation. Slate.com calls Pence a radical retrograde and claims that Pence sees women as sexual temptations rather than as peers whose ideas might be worth discussing. Cosmopolitan claims that Pence’s Christian values put the women who work with him and a huge disadvantage and allow men to keep running the show.

National Review calls all of this anti-Christian bigotry and accuses liberals of loathing America’s traditional culture. Understanding the Bible’s teachings about avoiding sin and destructive behaviors is far from the mainstream media’s values. They just cannot understand Pence’s morality. When alcohol and social events are the way our government works, one has to wonder how the United States has survived into the twenty-first century. Leviticus 18 might be good reading for those who challenge the moral values of our vice-president.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

More Church-State Issues

Church and StateOne of the delicate areas in our culture today is the issue of the separation of church and state. It might appear on the surface that this is a no-brainer, but like most things, it isn’t that simple. Romans 13:6-7 instructs Christians to pay taxes and obey civil authority, and in Luke 20:25 Jesus tells us “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” The Constitution of the United States is clear about the government not sponsoring a religion but also guarantees religious freedom. Every nation with a state religion has had enormous problems with what evolved from that endorsement. It is biblical and logical to keep the state and religion separate.

The current crisis which appears to be headed for the Supreme Court is the situation where a church is handling an issue too big for the state and needs money that the state has available to meet the need. In 2012 Trinity Lutheran Child Learning Center in Columbia, Missouri, needed to replace the gravel that was under their playground with safer and cleaner material made from recycled tires. This material was available from the state by simply applying for a grant to get the material. The state denied the grant to the church saying that public funds cannot be given to religious organizations according to the Missouri state constitution. The case went to an appeals court which had a tie vote.

It would seem logical that the state should not fund a theology major’s education in religion, but protecting children from physical damage would seem to be a different kind of issue. When Trinity was evaluated by the state on its physical facilities and its program, which does not include religious instruction, it placed fifth among 44 applicants for the state funds. The “slippery slope” issue becomes a part of this, because if Trinity is given money for its playground, what comes next? Isn’t saving the church money freeing up their funds for religious purposes? If the church accepts money from the government isn’t it potentially allowing the government to make rules that it will have to follow? It will be interesting to see if and when the Supreme Court decides.
Data from USA Today, April 19, 2017, page 3A.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

The Bystander Effect and Christians

No More Bystanding
No More Bystanding

Several years ago there was an incident in which a young woman on a New York street was attacked, beaten, and eventually killed by a young man while over 100 people stood around and watched. No one came to the young woman’s aid, and there have been similar incidents in other places in the United States. Psychologists have labeled this the “bystander effect.” There have been numerous studies done to answer the question of why this happens. Our culture seems to fear involvement, and the “lawyer effect” where people are afraid they will get sued or hurt is only part of the issue. Thanks to cell phones we now can assume that everyone can call for whatever help they need, and our view of others is becoming an isolationist view.

If your religious view is “survival of the fittest,” then anyone who needs help is simply not fit and endangering your fitness by helping them is not going to happen. When I was an atheist, I would be likely to stop and help a woman who was having car trouble, but my motives were less than altruistic. I would be very unlikely to help a man in the same situation. Not all atheists are so selfishly guided, but the logic of atheistic beliefs would deny endangering oneself to benefit another. Some religions would push a person to help others of the same faith, but people of a different faith are considered to be enemies and would not be helped. The “golden rule” is recognized by almost everyone as a nice philosophy, but the bystander effect seems to be more widely practiced in today’s world.

In Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37, the bystanders were the people most qualified to give aid. The twist is that the outcast Samaritan, rejected by the people to whom Jesus was speaking, refused to be a bystander and give aid to the wounded man. The first century Church stood out in the society in which it functioned by responding to the needs of everyone in Jerusalem (Acts 3-5). Throughout the New Testament, we see the emphasis on doing good to everyone.

How do we as individuals take the “bystander effect” out of our thinking? I would suggest that we need to spend some time looking at what Jesus taught, and how the early Church responded to the culture of the day. When you read James 5, you get the picture of Christians not only addressing the physical needs of those around them but also being a part of the emotional and spiritual struggles of daily living as well. The entire “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5-7) moves us to think differently by allowing God’s Word to permeate our hearts. Second Timothy 3:15-17 tells us that Scripture has value in molding and shaping our attitudes and thoughts. We can be the light of the world that Jesus talks about. The people of Jesus’ day were astonished at his doctrine. Our world today will also be astonished when Christians live as God calls us to live. The deeper our world sinks into secularism and selfish bystander non-involvement, the brighter the Christian light will become.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Caring for the Environment

Admiring the Beauty of Earth
Admiring the Beauty of Earth

We live at a time where there is great concern about the environment. We have seen the effect of human carelessness in dumping wastes into the atmosphere, rivers, and lakes. As an earth science teacher in the public schools, I always was disturbed by the complacency of students and administrators toward this critical issue. In my lectureships, I have sometimes had skeptics suggest that the problems of ecology are due to Christianity. In Genesis 1:28 God told the first humans, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Someone has commented that this is the only command God ever gave that man completely obeyed, and there might be some truth to that. Atheists have maintained that this is the cause of human abuse of the natural world in which we live.

From a biblical standpoint, this is a misuse of the message of the Scriptures. Any statement in the Bible can only be properly understood if you look at who write it, to whom, why, and how the people it was written to would have understood it. Genesis 1:28 was written to let us know that God expects us to control the Earth and its resources, but it gives no indication of how to do that. In Genesis 2:15, God told the man to, “take care of the Garden, to dress it and to keep it.” In Genesis 3:23 we are told that after the man had left the garden, he was to “work the ground from which he was taken.”

Throughout the Old and New Testaments, a great emphasis is placed on the beauty of the creation and the great wisdom and power that created it. Proverbs 8:22-31 puts an emphasis on the wisdom involved in all that was done to prepare the Earth for human life. The Psalms are full of references to God’s creation, and Jesus in Matthew 6:26-30 calls his followers to consider the beauty of the creation. Even more important, throughout the Bible humans are viewed as caretakers and guardians of what God has given us. Nowhere is there an instruction or suggestion that the creation is to be exploited or abused.

We are bringing enormous pain upon ourselves and on our children by the way we have mismanaged what God has given us. A great amount of disease, including cancer, is caused by man-made poisons and carcinogens dumped into the environment. The medical effects of mercury, lead, and asbestos cannot be denied. Most of the entry of these materials into our oceans, lakes, and rivers has come from human greed and irresponsibility. God does not cause these things, and a failure to live as God has called us to live is a major part of why these problems exist. Christians are called to take care of the environment, and Christian teachings are not the cause of our ecological issues. We are, however, even more concerned about mental, emotional, and spiritual pollution. If we could bring men and women into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, their change in attitude would resolve most of our social and environmental issues.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

The Church-State Problem

Religious Separation
Religious Separation

The polarization that has taken place in America in the past 25 years is appalling. That statement is true on many levels with the political situation being the one that gets the most attention in the media. The relationship between the Church and the State has strong advocates that have very different agendas.

On one side of the issue are groups who advocate freedom FROM religion. They don’t want religious people to take a public stand on moral issues. Americans United for Separation of Church and State is an example of such a group. They say: “We envision an America where everyone can freely choose a faith and support it voluntarily, or follow no religious or spiritual path at all, and where the government does not promote religion over non-religion or favor one faith over another.” That sounds good, but the problem with groups like this is that they do not want any attempt on the part of religious people to evangelize or to promote moral agendas. You can go to church if you wish, but don’t say or do anything outside of the church walls that demonstrates your faith. Any religious group opposing gay marriage, abortion, euthanasia, legalizing marijuana, or any other moral issue is considered to be violating the separation of Church and State. Also when a church congregation helps families with food shortages they cannot let the families know that they are doing so because of their religious convictions or invite them to any church events if they use any government commodities, even if the church purchases those commodities. A Christian can be fined or jailed in America for publicly living out their faith in opposition to gay marriage or other moral issues.

On the other side are groups advocating freedom OF religion. An example is Alliance Defending Freedom who strongly oppose any government interference with individual expressions of religious belief. Groups like this are fighting in courts for the right of religious people to live out their faith in the public arena. The problem is that some fringe religious groups hold to something that clashes with the safety and well-being of innocent people. An example is those who oppose medical treatment for disease. We had a case in Indiana in which a child was an insulin-dependent diabetic, and the parents refused to allow the child to have insulin shots on religious grounds.

These are tough questions. The lesson of history is that when a religion gains control of the government, the result is always a disaster. It is also a lesson from history that when a government embraces atheism and enforces it, the result is anarchy and chaos. America has become more and more antagonistic to religious belief and expression, and the result is chaos and conflict tearing at the very fabric of our existence as a nation. The founding fathers had no desire to make America an atheist state. Some people today want to allow any kind of dissent as long as God is not mentioned or involved in any way. Rendering to “Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” should not be that difficult, but vested interests are making it difficult for religious freedom to exist. Romans 13:1-7 spells out the solution. Whether America will officially adopt the atheist religion or turn back to the ideal of our founding fathers remains to be seen.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Time: God’s Prozac

Multiple Medicines

A comic strip called “Close to Home” is carried in daily newspapers around the country. On April 1, 2017, the cartoon showed a huge pipeline labeled “Prozac” running into a town named “Gurgeville.” A television news reporter is shown giving a report and saying, “Since adding the pipeline, Gurgeville has had a 30% drop in crime, divorces are down 40%, and student grades are up 28%.” I thought it was appropriate that our newspaper, The South Bend Tribune, ran the cartoon on April Fool’s Day. But for many people in our culture, the message that drugs are the solution to all our problems is real.

God’s solution to most of the things we try to medicate away is TIME. Dr. Stephen Eckstein wrote a wonderful article titled “Quality Time is LOTS of Time.” Eckstein points out that for the first few months after birth a baby requires almost all of the mother’s time. If the mother is sincere in her love, she will change her activities so that the baby can grow and develop. Any child deprived of this time and of both parents engaging in cuddling, kissing, and expressing love to the child is irreparably harmed. As the child grows, there must be time in which the parents play with the child, read to the child, and give the child enormous attention. We public school teachers see an amazing number of children on medications that are simply addressing the problems that result from their growing up without time from their parents.

We adults also need the time of others to be stable, productive adults. Jesus set the example of maturing and growing stable adults. Can you imagine Jesus and his disciples meeting one time a week for an hour? For three years the disciples walked, talked, traveled, ate, and lived together. The Passover meal of John 13:25 portrays an intimate social setting where teaching and sharing took place. The members of the early Church described in Acts 2:42-47 were together daily, sharing, eating, praying, and enjoying the stability of a common faith and experience.

For many of us, Church today involves parading into a building, watching a performance for an hour, being told to come back 167 hours later, and then returning to the struggles and challenges of the modern world. This simply doesn’t work, and people quit coming because their needs are not met. The Church is people, not a building. Passages like 1 Corinthians 3:11-23 make it clear that what most of us experience as “church” is not even close to what God planned for us. There are times when a medication is needed because of chemical imbalances and medical conditions, but for most of us, pharmaceutical Prozac is not the answer. God’s Prozac involves having large amounts of time with those who love us and with those whose values will lead us to good choices in life.

For a copy of Stephen Eckstein’s article, you can contact him at sdeckstein@juno.com. Or contact us with your mailing address, and we will send it to you.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

“I Told You So.” Here Comes Sologamy

Self Marriage
Self Marriage

One of the problems involved in the gay marriage movement is that once the definition of marriage is changed, anything is possible. One of the newest examples of this is self-marriage. Anderson Cooper on CNN interviewed a North Dakota woman who married herself in front of forty friends. Cosmopolitan magazine published an article titled “Why I Married Myself.” It said, “Self-marriage is a small but growing movement, with consultants and self-wedding planners popping up across the world.” Some self-marriages have been lavish, expensive affairs with many bridesmaids. (It’s usually women who self-marry.) To go the cheap way, there is a website where you can get a self-marriage kit for $50.

What is incredible about all this is not the fact that creative people will develop items to fit a growing social trend, but that people actually think that all marriage consists of is a ceremony and a piece of paper. God’s plan in Genesis 2:20-24 was initiated at least in part because “it is not good for man to be alone.” When people try to substitute same-sex marriage, polygamy, marrying their pets, or themselves for God’s planned relationship the result is always disaster and frustration.
–John N. Clayton © 2017