The Wall Street Journal ran a revealing piece this weekend about the creative ways public schools around the nation are dealing with drastically reduced budgets. At the heart of the piece is Combee Elementary School in Lakeland, Fl., which has developed a charitable partnership with a local house of worship, The First Baptist Church at the Mall. (Real name, swear to God. I guess Our Lady of the Waffle House was too busy with other projects.)
In their initial gesture of goodwill, the church “stocked a resource room with $5,000 worth of supplies.” Now it “caters spaghetti dinners at evening school events, buys sneakers for poor students, and sends in math and English tutors.” All in exchange for the hearts and minds of the children who attend class there.
“We have inroads into public schools that we had not had before,” says Pastor Dave McClamma. “By befriending the students, we have the opportunity to visit homes to talk to parents about Jesus Christ.”
From his mouth to God’s ears, as they say. Yikes.
“At Christmas, the school connected the church with parents who said they wouldn’t mind being visited at home by First Baptist. The church brought gifts, food and the gospel. Of about 30 families visited over two weekends in December, 13 came to the Lord,” McClamma said. The church’s purpose in adopting the school, he says, “is to show them the church cares, and that there is hope, and hope is found in Jesus Christ.”
One can hardly fault a religious man for his zeal, and I don’t blame the school for taking donations from a religious organization. But what is literally making me sick right now is that the school gave away the home addresses of its students in order to have them proselytised. Combee Principal Steve Comparato told the Journal, “My personal conviction is that I hope through this they’ll know Jesus and they’ll get saved.”
Get saved from what? A school principal abusing his power? This is spiritual extortion hiding behind a friendly smile. “Hey kid, I bet you’d love a pair of fancy new sneakers, huh? Jesus wants you to have them, too.”
Jennifer Levitz and Stephanie Simon, who wrote the article, asked the county superintendent, Gail McKinzie, if she thought “the Principal’s comments indicated he was promoting one particular religion.” She replied, “He personally can hope anything he wants, as long as he offers programs at the school for parents who don’t believe in the Baptist faith or anything at all.”
Schools shouldn’t be offering programs that have anything to do with religion! When I was a kid, I was allowed to leave school a bit early once a week to attend religious instruction – that was offered by my church, not my school. Yes, public schools should be teaching kids about world religions, but not about God. And they most certainly should not be encouraging them to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. Since most public school kids are forced to sing generic Wintertime carols at their chorus concerts instead of songs about Secular Santa at Corporate Christmas, they should not be given Holy Ghost microscopes and The Way The Truth and The Light colored pencils by The First Baptist Church at the Mall.
Thankfully, not all clergymen think this breach of separation of church and state is a good idea. Harry Parrott, a retired Baptist minister, says, ”I have great concerns about churches who see public schools as, well, what shall I say, church membership.”
The article goes on to illuminate numerous examples of ”public schools across the nation seeking corporate and charitable sponsors, promising them marketing opportunities and access to students in exchange for desperately needed donations.” A school promoting “McTeacher’s Night” at the local McDonald’s, a cucumber farmer who made a $20,000 donation to name the school’s engineering program after himself, a San Diego district that’s thinking of allowing corporate advertising – from companies like Nike – in its middle and high school cafeterias and gyms. A district in Newton, Mass “is considering selling naming rights to the theater, gym, swimming pool and athletic fields at its newest high school.”
I don’t know much about money, but I like to think I know a thing or two about soul. And what I know is that when you start giving cultural institutions over to corporations, they lose a bit of their soul. The American Airlines Theatre. Dunn Tire Field. These don’t sound like inspirational spaces filled with creativity. Sure, Carnegie Hall is named after a famous banker, but imagine if The Metropolitan Opera were renamed Opera Wal*Mart?
The Oklahoma Senate is the only authoritative body mentioned in the piece that seems to have any objection to schools receiving corporate funds in exchange for advertising. Republican Senator Steve Russell, who voted against a bill allowing for ads on school buses, said, ”Do we want our school buses to look like Dale Jr. is driving them? What’s next? How about Starbucks on the side of our M1 tanks?”
This is what the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood calls “ad creep,” or “marketing without borders.” Is nothing sacred anymore? If the roles were reversed, I bet the The First Baptist Church at the Mall would not allow its 9,000 congregants to be preached Darwinism by the science teachers at Combee Elementary. Just because Combee Elementary is advertising eternal life doesn’t mean its students aren’t being sold.
Photo: borman818 via Flickr