Thousands of Southern Baptist leaders assemble in North Carolina next week for the denomination’s annual meeting. They plan to discuss and vote on a bunch of resolutions, including one particularly fascinating one: a call for Southern Baptist agencies to develop an "exit strategy from the public schools that would give particular attention to the needs of orphans, single parents, and the disadvantaged."
That resolution includes something old and something new. Some Southern Baptists have long proposed an exodus from public schools, and an attempt last year to make that denominational policy failed. This resolution, though, combines a desire for Christian education of church kids with mercy toward those whom some churches ignore — but God does not.
We have a similar combo approach in Austin: Our 75-student City School brings together children of privilege with those facing economic or academic obstacles. Keeping it running has been hard work, but we’ve just finished our fourth year, and reports from the children themselves are worth passing on to those who wonder whether to support the "exit strategy."
Our kindergarten kids, asked for their "favorite thing about City School," offered statements like "learning about God in Bible," "worshipping in chapel," "reading Bible stories." Similar responses could not come from public school students.
First-grader Zach wrote, "Math time is really awesome. Reading is really cool. We learn from books. Praying time is really cool. We get to learn more about God." His classmate Genesis declared, "When we read it’s like family and it is fun being together. I like field trips. I like science so I can learn about Jesus’ creations. I like Bible and praying for people."
Second and third graders mentioned spiritual growth but also their challenges. David wrote that "City School inspires me to read." Stephen recalled, "I ran in the half-mile run at Field Day and thought I would collapse if I didn’t have a drink of water."
Fifth and sixth graders relayed some personal history. Julia stated, "I learned more in one year here than I learned in three years at my old school. I can now read a whole book on my own. I am almost caught up in my math." Zachary remembered, "When I first came here, I was eight and I was scared. But after a few minutes I realized that the people were nice. The thing that I have enjoyed learning most is the Civil War. It is very interesting."
The 7th and 8th graders showed the most self-awareness. Denise reflected, "At my old school I hated learning, but when I came to City School I got the one-on-one instruction I needed, and now I love learning." Raul wrote, "I like City School because it has helped me on my English. When I got here five years ago I went to a different school, and I couldn’t learn any English. Then I came to City School, and now look at me: I’m writing in English."
Armando observed, "At my old school I didn’t understand the way they did math, but when I came to City School, I began to understand math better and I started liking it more. City School also has helped me learn to be a gentleman and to be respectful." And Michelle summarized an even more important lesson: "I have learned to love people and see through their color, looks, athletic ability, and learning disabilities."
So, back to the choice Southern Baptists face: Should the 2006 Annual Meeting resolve to begin the hard process of creating thousands of new schools? The resolution suggests the development of partnerships between churches in high and low income areas, with the goal of giving both the affluent and the disadvantaged alternatives to public schools.
It will be very hard work.
It will demand a reordering of priorities.
But what’s a child’s future worth?