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FIRST-PERSON: God can still be seen in our public schools

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–I see Jesus every day at school. Really, Jesus. He lives inside the countless students whose Club 121 T-shirts attest to their faith. He is personified by the top high school quarterback in the state, strolling through our halls. He peeks out from behind the Scripture verse atop the school secretary’s computer monitor.

He is there. Despite the almost daily references to our “godless public school system,” I continue to see Jesus all around me, every day, in the hallways or classrooms of my school. Sometimes he comes in a blinking electronic message, telling me my Bible verse for the day has arrived from the science teacher down the hall. Sometimes it’s in a conversation I’m having with a student about some aspect of our literature, history or culture.

Of course, maybe I’m looking and maybe that’s the key.

The majority of Americans still send their children to public schools, and that includes scores of kids whose families, whose parents, profess a living God. As long as Christians are in our schools, God won’t hide and his attributes will be apparent. If I refuse to believe that, then I am discounting the very presence of God and his ability to be at work in our larger culture.

While it may be hard to not confuse the quality of education a student receives at a public school with the lack of a distinctly Christian environment, it is unfair to confuse the two when trying to explain the problem of a popular culture that denies the claims of Christ. Although there is overcrowding, there are underskilled teachers, and we see unprepared students in our schools, God is still there, if a solid education may not be in various schools. If God is not there, then we had better tell that to our precious and innocent children who proclaim his likeness every day on the playground. We had better muzzle the actions of our teachers whom the kids desperately look to for knowledge, for wisdom and for support.

Instead of decrying our public schools, how I long for a day when believers will step forth and through their deeds and actions begin to show tangible support for the quality educators we might produce through our systems of higher education. In hundreds of Baptist-affiliated schools around the country, young people are being prepared to teach in the classrooms of America. Let’s take our role seriously as we arm these brave individuals with the skills they need to succeed.

One of the things I have discovered in my five short years of teaching is that to be prepared with the truth goes a long way. Reading up on education law from both a secular and a godly perspective has made me confident that I will not break the law when I simply tell students what people from different faith backgrounds might believe about a certain topic. Can I do this intelligently? Sure. Can I do this without compromising my faith or my position of trust as an “agent of the government (teacher)?” Sure. Is it easy? Not always.

As a more mature teacher (in my 30s) entering the field of education, I had a solid biblical worldview before I even began teaching. Additionally, because I am interested in following God’s mandate to spread the gospel, I regularly studied different religions and cultures through the interfaith witness resources of the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board. Finally, I attended Hannibal-LaGrange College, a small Baptist school in northeast Missouri, where my professors had firsthand experience in teaching in public schools.

While I recognize that teaching on the secondary level may be more conducive to being able to openly share my worldview with students when the curriculum involves cultural relationships and nuances, I do believe many students also see Jesus every day on elementary campuses across our land. My own two children, supported and bolstered by their parents, church and believer friends, made inroads in impacting other children for Christ all throughout their public school education. Both say they saw Jesus, if they looked every day at every campus in every city and in every state in which we lived. In fact, my two children, who were in public school except for one year at a Baptist boarding school, said they found little difference in the educational process in a Christian school classroom, although they did enjoy the presence of believing teachers and administrators.

My 19-year-old daughter Belinda, a sophomore elementary education major at Union University, a Tennessee Baptist school, finds similar comforts at her college of choice, but still must attempt to maintain a strong witness in an atmosphere that can appear to be somewhat hypocritical by its mix of both believing and non-believing students. My son John will enroll at Brewton-Parker College, a Georgia Baptist school, next fall. Belinda and John acknowledge that a Christian worldview furthered and fostered by these particular Baptist institutions is an appropriate choice for them at this stage of their lives. But choosing a school, at any level of education, requires careful prayer and reflection.

Whether it be a public school or a private workplace, we venture forth into a godless culture every day, prepared and armed not only with the gospel, but with Christ himself. Let us make sure to shine forth our light and be salt in an otherwise tasteless and dark existence. No one took God out of our schools. We took God out of our lives, and the mess we have in our schools is no better or worse than the mess we have in our world at large. Look for the light in the darkness, whatever your condition, and come alongside and look for ways to add fuel to make the light shine even brighter.
Hannigan is a high school English and journalism teacher in Kansas City, Mo. and a national correspondent for Baptist Press.

    About the Author

  • Joni B. Hannigan