Charles Foster Johnson: Godless? Many public school educators are also faith leaders
Anyone shocked by the assault on public education this legislative session was delivered clear rationale for the attack by those closest to the one leading it, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
On April 21, Patrick’s hand-picked advisory board condemned Gov. Greg Abbott’s emergency prekindergarten agenda item by labeling our public schools “a Godless environment.”
Pastors for Texas Children are compelled to strenuously confront this lie.
As ministers and faith leaders mobilizing in support of our neighborhood and community schools, we have been silent too long while those purporting to speak for God demean, belittle and slander Texas teachers as “Godless.” This could not be further from the truth.
Many public school educators are faith leaders themselves. They serve as pastors, ministers, elders, deacons, Sunday school teachers, youth leaders, committee chairpersons, mission and music directors, accompanists and in many other positions in their churches.
It is axiomatic among pastors that we often turn to public school teachers to provide religious instruction — to rely, for example, on teachers who work long hours for low pay all week to teach our Sunday school classes.
Further, it is common for the pastor’s spouse to teach in the local public school. Our sons and daughters also are employed in public schools as coaches, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and custodians.
My daughter-in-law, who is a public school educator, did not get the memo that God has been taken out of our schools. She takes the love she showers on our grandchildren into the classroom and pours it out on students all day long.
We see our local classrooms as a center of God’s love. Education is a gift from Almighty God accorded to every human being regardless of race, religion, economic status and special need. The public school, unlike the private school, receives and accepts every child and meets that child’s needs as sensitively and lovingly as possible.
Our loved ones and fellow church members carry the love and grace of God with them every hour of every day. Indeed, those who labor in our schools show love, unconditional acceptance and physical assistance to children who have special needs, come from emotionally deprived circumstances and suffer the ill effects of crushing poverty.
It’s what a teacher does. It’s a calling before God.
So, we are more than a little outraged to learn that those personally chosen to counsel Lt. Gov. Patrick on matters of public policy have determined that our public schools are Godless.
We have witnessed firsthand the attack on public education this session and heard it called a “monstrosity” by one member of the Senate Education Committee. We have heard loose talk, calling our schools “failed” and our teachers “incompetent.” When we testified our shock at this language, we were rebuked by two members of the committee.
When numerous rural Republican senators confessed to us their personal opposition to a tuition tax credit voucher bill, acknowledging it contrary to the will of their constituents, we were told they felt forced to vote for a policy that is harmful to their districts.
Then, when the Senate Education Committee began churning out bills designed specifically to demoralize teachers — opportunity school districts, A-F ratings, parent trigger — we came to the unpleasant conclusion that something more insidious was unfolding before our eyes — the intentional dismantling of a constitutionally mandated public trust: universal education.
The accusation from the lieutenant governor’s selected advisers that our schools constitute a “Godless environment” isn’t just the harmless political theater that hardened legislative observers often consider politics as usual.
Rather, it a lie designed to demonize a system in which educators do the Lord’s work most faithfully. Is this being done to allow public schools to be replaced, privatized and turned into a profit-making enterprise? In the buckle of the Bible Belt, would the accusers seek to turn our classrooms into markets and our kids into commodities by calling our local schools Godless?
We ask Lt. Gov. Patrick to publicly repudiate this absurd statement from his chosen advisers and issue an apology to all faithful women and men who serve God’s common good by nurturing and shaping the “least of these” among us — our precious children — as public school educators.
Johnson is pastor of Bread Fellowship in Fort Worth and the executive director of Pastors for Texas Children.