Paige’s ‘Values’ Are America’s Values

As published in The Washington Post, Sunday, April 13, 2003

In an editorial on Thursday titled “Preacher Paige,” The Post joined a chorus of voices criticizing recent comments made by Secretary of Education Rod Paige on Christian values in education.

Today it’s called conflict resolution, anger management and school discipline. Not so long ago it was called loving your enemy, turning the other cheek and respecting your elders.

Whatever terms are used to describe them, Christian values — that is, values that were born of or nurtured by the Christian faith — form a strong basis for good citizenship in school and beyond. Public schools would do well to teach them. That is the case Paige made in a recent interview that appeared in the Baptist Press. But Barry Lynn of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State would like to portray these basic Christian principles — and anyone who, like Paige, publicly esteems them — as a menace to society.

So what was the education secretary’s great offense? He said, “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. Where a child is taught that there is a great source of strength greater than themselves.” Note: He did not say “teaching Christian doctrine or theology,” only the values associated with the Christian community.

For these comments, Lynn issued a call for Paige to repudiate his comments or resign. Barry Lynn should resign for being so ridiculous. Sandra Feldman of the American Federation of Teachers scolded Paige and insisted he recant, demanding allegiance to the dominant secular ideology of today’s public school system.

But it is this very crusading secularism that has served to undermine the consensus about basic principles of virtue that existed in the public schools before the reign of the modernist creed took over. Indeed, the very idea behind the creation of the American common school — the forerunner to today’s public school — was to keep our society together based on common virtues, many of them Christian. The new theology and creed has sought to stigmatize the virtues curriculum as well as to eliminate any vestige of religious influence in teaching reliable standards of right and wrong. And this should not stand.

Most of what we revere as the best of our ethics originated in religion — in either Judaism, Christianity or both. Where do Lynn and Feldman think our moral code comes from? Our nation’s greatest founding sentence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” is antecedent to the idea that the people are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” This was a message to and for all people, whether they be Jews, Christians, Muslims, pagans or anyone else. An appeal to God’s teachings (hailed in the Declaration of Independence as the “Supreme Judge of the World”) was not anathema to our Founders or Founding, or to the establishment of the public school. It should not be anathema to our nation’s secretary of education.

Paige should in no way resign, recant or back down from his statements. His boldness in expressing his beliefs is characteristic of the leadership qualities that have merited him his current role. These qualities are, in fact, among the same Christian values Paige referenced admiringly. He is a good man with a good point of view, and we all know where that notion of good comes from.

The writer is co-director of Empower America. He was secretary of education from 1985 to 1988.