August 2018 – “As an English teacher,” Bernie noticed, “I often come across passages in our grammar textbooks that use evolution-themed sentences and paragraphs as examples for grammar.” He wondered how he could talk more about faith, freedom, and moral principles in his classes – legally and with integrity.
Bernie found the answer in Faith, Freedom, and Public Schools: Addressing the Bible and Christianity Without Mixing Church and State, an online professional development workshop for public school teachers.
“This course has opened my eyes to my legal freedoms and how those freedoms allow me to teach about religion,” Bernie told Eric Buehrer. “While the godless secularism in our textbooks is pervasive, I want to thank you for allowing me to have the tools to reach my students with the truth.” Buehrer, a 23-year teaching veteran, is founder and president of Gateways to Better Education, which produces the workshop.
Now, Bernie knows he can legally:
▶ Put a Bible in the classroom library.
▶ Teach biblical symbolism and metaphor in literature.
▶ Teach the meaning of “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.
▶ Inform students of their religious freedoms at school.
▶ Explain the limits of science and introduce perspectives other than evolution.
For Christian students, parents, and educators, navigating public education without forfeiting Christian history and heritage is a daunting task. Since 1991, Gateways has been making that task easier. Buehrer spoke to AFA Journal about the issues and resources to help teachers restore constitutional religious freedoms in public schools.
AFA Journal: Outline the purpose and objectives of Gateways to Better Education.
Eric Buehrer: Our mission is to create a better future for children by keeping God in their schools. We do this by equipping public school educators, parents, and students to protect and promote religious and academic freedom regarding the Bible and Christianity.
We want public schools to be places where students know they can freely express their faith while gaining an academic appreciation for the Bible and Christianity across the whole curriculum as it relates to history, culture, and values.
We also empower parents and school leaders with tools to accomplish that mission.
AFAJ: What religious liberties are guaranteed to each American public school student?
EB: For over 20 years the U.S. Department of Education has issued guidelines explaining students’ religious liberties. Sadly, too few educators know such liberties exist in students’ constitutional rights to free speech and free association. According to the federal government, students can pray, read their Bibles or other religious material, and talk about their faith at school.
AFAJ: Give us some specifics.
EB: Students can express their faith at a school event, like a talent show. They can organize prayer groups and religious clubs, and promote their meetings just like any campus club.
Students can express their faith in classwork and homework. The government is clear, if students are free to choose a writing topic and they choose something about their faith, teachers cannot discriminate against those students’ work.
AFAJ: How should parents approach teachers with concerns about religious liberty?
EB: I recommend parents use a four-step approach to discuss concerns with a teacher:
1. Start the conversation by using the phrase “Help me understand...” For example, a parent concerned about a reading assignment might start by saying, “Help me understand why you chose this book for the students to read.”
2. Affirm the teacher’s efforts; find common ground. For example, show appreciation that the teacher wants students to learn about the environment. At this point in the conversation, don’t start explaining concerns over possible assignment bias.
3. Transition to specific concerns by using the phrase, “But have you considered....” Don’t assume teacher opposition or use an adversarial tone. Instead, assume the teacher will agree once your concerns are explained.
4. If the teacher agrees, seek suggestions on an alternative book, assignment, or activity for the class.
AFAJ: How can Christian parents teach children to be discerning in a classroom?
EB: Parents cannot presume teachers and textbooks will convey the same cultural, spiritual, or political values as their family. Therefore, parents must read children’s textbooks, discuss class lessons daily, and review homework assignments. If something seems biased, parents might search conservative internet sites for various perspectives on the subject.
Talk to other parents with older students in the school about past experiences and what to watch for. Parents should also use what I call “predict and pre-teach:” (1) Tell children what might be learned in class on a topic; (2) Ask them to try and detect any bias as the subject is presented; (3) Discuss with them, in advance, a biblical worldview on the topic.
By doing this, students will be actively listening with discerning minds rather than absorbing without question what the teacher or textbook asserts.
AFAJ: Explain Gateways’ research on how the Bible and Christianity are already in each U.S. state’s education standards.
EB: Many people are surprised to discover their state’s academic standards expect students to learn about the Bible and Christianity. For example, in California, sixth-grade students are expected to:
“Note the origins of Christianity in the Jewish Messianic prophecies, the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as described in the New Testament, and the contribution of St. Paul the Apostle to the definition and spread of Christian beliefs (e.g., belief in the Trinity, resurrection, salvation).”
Only one of many examples, this California standard demonstrates the importance of educators teaching academically, not devotionally, about the Bible.
AFAJ: Explain Gateways’ belief that parents should not view school as a battleground.
EB: For many years, public schools have been seen as battlefields. However, nothing much grows on a battlefield. Instead, we can look at our schools and our children as gardens to cultivate. God wants us to plant seeds of love and truth in the lives of people He has put within our sphere of influence at school and at home. This doesn’t mean we avoid challenges to our faith and values. Instead, our “salt and light” needs to make things better, not bitter. I call it “relational activism.”
AFAJ: How do parents do that?
EB: Since we don’t know what God has planned for the people we encounter in our children’s schools, our prayers should include seeking His direction – asking Him questions:
“Lord, help me see why You put this person in my path. How can I be a blessing to her? Lord, what are You doing in her life, and how do You want me to be part of that?”
I also recommend parents make a list of the teachers and parents they regularly come in contact with in their children’s schools. They can put that list in their Bible and pray weekly that God will open doors of opportunity to bless them with love and truth.
Gateways offers a rich variety of books, DVDs, posters, prayer cards, and holiday restoration cards beginning at $4.00/item.
The Teacher-Reacher Packet gives a parent a year-long outreach to the child's teacher with a set of three holiday cards, two note cards, a prayer sheet for recording school-related prayer requests, and more.
Creative, colorful cards (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter) are great gifts for teachers. Each contains eight pages of humorous stories, legal guidelines, and biblically based lesson plans. Learn more at gogateways.org, and click on the SHOP tab to see resources.