Paige Comments Insult Role Of Public Education
Apr 10 2003
Comments by Secretary of Education Rod Paige, which were published recently by the Baptist Press, the denomination's news service, are an insult to teachers and students in the nation's public schools. Paige should apologize. He also deserves a reprimand from the Bush administration.
In an interview with Jackson's Union University, Paige expressed a preference for schools that appreciate "the values of the Christian community."
"The reason Christian schools and Christian universities are growing is a result of a strong value system. In a religious environment, the value system is set. That's not the case in a public school, where there are so many different kids with different kinds of values," Paige said.
We certainly have nothing against Christian schools and universities. But the secretary's comments leave us wondering where his head is. In trying to praise Christian schools, he has insulted the values of student and parents in public schools. He also insulted every teacher and every administrator who work hard each day to provide students with a good education and sound values.
Paige is aspiring to an impossible ideal. Public schools cannot become purveyors of Christianity as he espouses. That would go against decades of Supreme Court precedent demanding that church and state be kept separate.
Paige ignores a simple fact. This nation was founded on the idea of freedom. That includes freedom of speech, as well as freedom of religion. Our nation welcomes people of diverse backgrounds and diverse ideas. That diversity has made America great.
Paige already faces a mammoth task trying to improve public education in America. That, not cheap moralizing, should be his primary focus.
Church-State Furor Engulfs Education Chief
WASHINGTON, April 9 ? After raising a storm of criticism with remarks praising the values of Christian schools, Education Secretary Rod Paige said today that he was expressing a personal preference, not a prescription for the nation's public schools.
In a recent interview, Dr. Paige was quoted as saying, "All things equal, I would prefer to have a child in a school that has a strong appreciation for the values of the Christian community, where a child is taught to have a strong faith," and going on to assert: "In a religious environment the value system is set. That's not the case in a public school where there are so many different kids with different kinds of values."
The remarks, first reported on The Baptist Press news service and picked up by The Washington Post, were taken out of context, Dr. Paige said late this afternoon at a hastily called news conference.
"I understand completely and respect the separation of church and state," Dr. Paige said. He said the interviewer had asked for his personal views on "how I would deal with issues," adding, "This has no connection to how I perform my duties as secretary of education."
Representative Nita M. Lowey, Democrat of New York, called on Dr. Paige to apologize, saying, "It is offensive to those of many faiths in this country to imply that Christian values turn out better kids than do other religious or moral codes."
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, also called on the secretary to repudiate his comments. "Religious pluralism has enriched the educational experience in America," Mr. Lynn said. "We should celebrate this achievement, not denigrate it."
Dr. Paige has long been a supporter of charter schools and vouchers, which would pour taxpayer money into religious schools. His department recently advised the nation's school districts that public schools that blocked the religious expression of students on school grounds risked losing federal money. The guidance is largely seen as carving a larger role for religion in public schools.
Today, the secretary said those steps had nothing to do with his interview with The Baptist Press, which is the official news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.
A spokesman for Dr. Paige initially said the quotations were accurate and the secretary stood by them. But today, aides to Dr. Paige distributed what they said was the exact quotation, based on a tape of the interview.
The question mentioned private, public, secular and religious universities, and asked the secretary, "Who do you think has the best deal?"
The transcript quotes him as answering, "Each of them have real strong points and some of them have some vulnerabilities, but you know, all things being equal, I'd prefer to have a child in a school where there's a strong appreciation for values, the kinds of values that I think are associated with the Christian communities, so that this child can be brought up in an environment that teaches them to have strong faith and to understand that there is a force greater than them personally."
Dr. Paige said he would not repudiate or retract his remarks.
"I'm clarifying those remarks," he said. "I think that would be acceptable, assuming there's no other agenda behind" the criticism.