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The ‘Stinking Thinking’ of Politicians on Education

Recently, I sat in a meeting with some politicians and couldn’t help but think about what a Christian lawyer discussing religious liberty litigation said a few years ago, “Stupid for Jesus is still stupid.” It has stuck with me ever since. What I’ve heard from some politicians over the past several months is “stinking thinking,” and it would be good to consider how it applies to an issue in the Republican gubernatorial primary.

The Stinking Thinking of Christian Candidates on Education

To lay the groundwork for discussing the gubernatorial primary, I’ll put the concept of stinking thinking in regard to education in the context of a recent exchange among several state legislative candidates arising out of one candidate’s emphasis on children having an education that instills in them Christian ethical/moral values.

I think that candidate was probably thinking of the state providing more educational choices for parents outside of public education, but the context in which the subject was raised probably left some wondering if the candidate thought public schools should teach those values.

Opponents quickly jumped on the point by saying that public schools can’t teach values and that values have to be taught in the home. I think I understand that comment, too—public schools can’t say, “God and the Bible teach us not to steal, kill, or bear false witness.”

But stinking thinking applauds these latter statements without realizing that public schools teach values every day and that they implicitly, if not explicitly, teach some bad values.

The Values Public Schools Teach Every Day

A candidate who says public schools can’t teach students that God does not want us stealing, killing, and bearing false witness is legally correct, but any candidate who would make the more general statement that schools can’t  or don’t teach values doesn’t understand that public schools, in general, teach values all the time. One thing they implicitly teach children is that “values” are private things, not public things. Should we be surprised, then, that so many young adults now think that “values” are private things that should not influence public policy?

Of course, some public schools do teach “character education,” but it is necessarily divorced from God, because to connect those values to any foundation other than practical atheism is viewed as the “establishment” of religion.

Those blinded by stinking thinking don’t understand that this way of teaching values teaches children that “good” values exist apart from a God whose nature is the basis of those values and the authority that makes them binding on us.

This kind of stinking thinking upholds the belief that “we can be good without God,” which is what atheists think. If the child asks why these values are good, the most a public school can do is share the worldview of pragmatism that says these values seem to “work,” which only means they work for most people and at most times. Of course, to say that, in turn, tells the thinking student that those values may not work for him or her and they are not real values that transcend time, place, and cultures. That kind of stinking thinking by a professing Christian candidate is quite a departure from what the Bible actually says is true about fallen humanity.

The Root of Stinking Thinking About Values

In the early ‘60s, I went to a public school that did many things that would subject them to lawsuits, like having a Bible teacher come to class once a week and having students memorize the Christmas story in Luke.

Today, public schools operate on the stinking thinking that education can be value neutral with respect to God. That kind of thinking is impossible. Even the cry of the French Revolution’s atheistic leaders—“No God, No Master”—rested on a religious presupposition.

Once Christians and Christian politicians wake up to the fact that the God revealed in the Bible means necessarily that nothing can be religiously neutral, that everything must be understood in relation to the Creator God, then we’ll begin to make improvements in the education of our children.

Avoid Stinking Thinking on Education in the Republican Gubernatorial Primary

The foregoing relates to what I heard state legislative candidates discussing, but voters need to think about how our gubernatorial candidates talk about public education and what, by implication, they think its purpose is.

Do the ways in which they speak of public education tend to reflect a view that education produces human “widgets” to plug into the economy or an understanding that a good education addresses the whole of the human being?

For example, look at how open they are to allowing parents (and only some or all?) means by which they can minimize the impact of today’s public schools on their children’s values. By this, however, I don’t just mean whether a candidate supports vouchers and charter schools. The real issue is why he or she supports those policies; those policies can still rest on a belief that government, not parents, must be in control of the education of children.

Consider, too, how they think about sex education and parental rights to exempt their children from the teaching of certain materials; parental access to other types of student materials, especially digital and online materials used in the classroom; and parental consent to (or only notice of?) psychological or values testing. Think of where they stand on the “transgender” issues in connection with public school locker rooms and bathrooms. As I explained in a previous commentary, this is a huge worldview indicator; a school’s policy on this issue (and even the absence of such a policy) sends a clear message to students about the nature of human sexuality.

At this link you can click on the name of the leading Republican gubernatorial candidates and access their campaign websites for their views on education and compare, at this link, how they responded to a question about school systems being protected by the state if they refuse to affirm “transgender” ideology that disregards biological realities when it comes to the use of locker rooms and bathrooms.

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David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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6 replies
  1. Rebecca Ann Burke
    Rebecca Ann Burke says:

    David, I think you missed the entire point of the conversation on “spiritual” values expressed by one of the State House candidates. I do not believe, as a professing Christian, that it is the role of government-run schools, ie. public schools, to teach “spiritual” values. We do indeed teach character values of honesty, humility, empathy, care of others, hard work, perseverance etc. I DO NOT want my public school teacher teaching spiritual values and values taught in our faith community. Why? Because we have Muslim teachers, Hindi teachers, agnostic teachers, atheist teachers, Morman teachers, Jewish teachers etc. You get the point. In our government run and curriculum-defined schools our students represent any of a dozen faiths, or none. So do our teachers. Do I want these teachers instructing my child on THEIR version of spiritual values? NO! My goal as a Christian is to model Christ-like behavior and in so doing, perhaps inspire my students. If I can’t do something so simple as to pray for my students, out loud, or ask them to pray, what kind of a receptive environment is it that you think we teach in? If I cannot insist on respect for our flag, the sacrifice of those who died for it, or to stand with one’s hand on their heart when they hear the Anthem, how is it that you think we can teach spiritual values? The only safe place and the appropriate place for that to be taught is in the formative years, in the family home and in the family’s place of worship. At tenth grade, I would be hard-pressed to correct untaught or far-afield value lessons that did or did not happen before age five. That is why, for many families, home-schooling is superior. That is why, for many families, parochial schooling is superior. By the time a child has left elementary school, those values need to be in place. When I see them as a teen, they already have a belief system that science says is next to impossible to change, especially with our hands tied. Disagree? See how many ACLU lawsuits you can attract as a public school teacher and still keep your job. That’s stinking thinking.

  2. Lill Coker
    Lill Coker says:

    I have every reason now to know I will be voting for Bill Lee. I know who He turns to for direction in his life and for his children.

  3. Myra
    Myra says:

    I read your article about stinking thinking and watched the videos on this email
    I am an educator and watched the live gubernatorial debate in early spring
    I didn’t get much information about the candidates from the videos you provided
    Maybe I missed something
    However I’m in agreement with your stance on education

    I am voting for Bill Lee
    He is the only one I can support due to my conservative views on education and abortion

    Thank you for listening

    • David
      David says:

      Thank you for taking advantage of what we were able to provide and providing helpful feedback as we consider voter education efforts in the future.

    • Joi Wasill
      Joi Wasill says:

      What about his refusal to address the transgender bathroom issue? Or Diane’s 20 year record of strong and effective leadership on the issue of abortion that propelled TN forward in promoting and protecting the unborn?

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