For further reading, see Matthew and Timothy Denney’s article “3 Opportunities for Gospel Outreach in Public Schools.”
Arnie was a sixth-grade teacher who had a problem. He called me to explain that as part of his lessons on vocabulary words, he would read to his students from a variety of sources that introduced them to new words. Occasionally, he would read from the Bible.
“I have a mom who has complained to my principal,” he said. She let the principal know in no uncertain terms that she didn’t want her child’s teacher reading from the Bible. She didn’t want the Bible used in any way at school.
“The principal is a nice guy and wants to support me,” Arnie continued, “but he’s going to have a second meeting with this mom and needs to tell her what he’s going to do about her complaint.”
Arnie was frustrated and concerned. Could he defend his actions, or would he have to stop reading the Bible to his students? I referred him to the California state standards that expect sixth-grade educators to have students read many Old Testament stories.
“Not only can you use the Bible for vocabulary words,” I explained, “you can read the story of creation, the Exodus, the giving of the 10 Commandments, and David and Goliath. Plus, you’re supposed to teach them about the life and teachings of Jesus ‘as described in the New Testament.’”
Arnie had never heard of this and quickly found a copy of the state standards at his school.
Now, well equipped, he was able to defend his actions.
Growing a Garden
Over the years, a vocal minority has intimidated many educators and school officials into thinking there’s little room for expression of or teaching about Christianity. It’s time for people to restore what the law already allows: freedom of religious expression and appropriate inclusion of religion in the curriculum.
For many years, our public schools have been seen as battlefields. Nothing much grows on a battlefield, though. Instead, our schools should be viewed as gardens to cultivate. Tending your garden involves nurturing relationships with a small number of people within your immediate sphere of responsibility.
Teachers, you can tend the garden where God has placed you and begin to see real change: Christmas restored, Christian clubs started, students freely expressing their faith in class, and instructors teaching about Christianity and biblical values from their lesson plans.
Getting Started in the Garden
So how do you tend the garden? First, identify the people God has placed in your garden. This may only include five or six people—teachers, parents, administrators, and school staff. Regularly pray for them. Ask the Lord for opportunities to cultivate relationships and plant seeds of love and truth.
Second, prepare to work in your garden. You can be a messenger of good news to people at your school—and you’ll be surprised that many are delighted to receive it. You don’t need to be an education expert. You just need to pass along helpful information to those in your sphere of activity.
By distributing helpful information, you can serve educators, parents, and students in these four key issues:
1. Your students’ freedom of religious expression
Since 1995, the U.S. Department of Education has issued guidelines explaining the religious liberties of students. Unfortunately, the vast majority of teachers and administrators are unaware of them. Consequently, students’ freedom of religious expression at school is unnecessarily stifled.
2. Your state’s academic standards related to the Bible and Christianity
We’ve researched and published a summary of every state’s academic standards to find where the Bible and Christianity can be taught in public schools. In California, for example, every sixth-grader is expected to know the gospel as taught by the apostle Paul. In Massachusetts, when learning about the birth of Christianity, every seventh-grader is expected to learn “the concept of salvation.” When studying Judaism in Virginia, high school students are to learn about the “Ten Commandments, which state moral and religious conduct.”
Yet, just as is the case with the religious liberties of students, teachers are woefully unaware of their freedom—even expectation—to teach about the Bible and Christianity.
3. The freedom to teach about the religious aspects of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter
Misinformation about the “separation of church and state” has led many educators and school officials to censor any mention that Thanksgiving is about thankfulness to God, Christmas the birth of Christ, and Easter his death and resurrection. Equipped with the legal truth, however, you can bring joy to the teachers at your school who wish they could recognize such holidays like their schools did when they were young. The good news is they can. The sad news is they don’t know it.
Judy Johnson of Novi, Michigan, helped restore teaching about Jesus in her child’s elementary school at Christmastime by using our booklet on holidays. “It was easier than I thought,” Judy said, “I was truly amazed. It really boosted morale in our school. I never really thought I could make a difference in my little corner of the world, but God saw fit to use me.”
4. Religious Freedom Day
Since 1993 every president, whether Republican or Democrat, has recognized January 16 as Religious Freedom Day. It’s a day for schools and churches to celebrate the First Amendment. Combine the president’s proclamation with the U.S. Department of Education’s guidelines for the religious freedom of students, and your school could have an easy civics lesson on what’s been called our first freedom.
God has placed you where you are for a reason, teachers. Are you watching for opportunities to sow seeds of truth in your school this year?