Eric Buehrer, President of Gateways to Better Education talks about a great new opportunity here in North Carolina for parents, teachers, school leaders, and churches to learn about and promote religious freedom in their local schools.
YOU ARE INVITED!
Teacher training: Saturday, February 4, 9am to 12:30pm.
Continental breakfast is included.
Early registration (until January 15) is only $15!
Download a brochure on the teacher training here.
505 Muirs Chapel Road
Greensboro, NC 27410
INTRODUCTION: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. I’m Traci Griggs, Director of Communications at NC Family. I’m sitting in this week for John Rustin. Our guest today is Eric Buehrer, Founder and President of Gateways to Better Education. We will be talking with Eric about a great new opportunity here in North Carolina for parents, teachers, school leaders, and churches to learn about and promote religious freedom in our local schools.
Eric is a former public school teacher and now a licensed minister, who writes and lectures extensively on the subject of religion and public education, including with Focus on the Family, BreakPoint, American Family Association Journal, and he’s been seen and heard on CBS This Morning, The 700 Club, and Family News in Focus. Eric, you get around.
ERIC BUEHRER: I’ve been doing this quite a while.
TRACI GRIGGS: Yes! Welcome to Family Policy Matters.
ERIC BUEHRER: Thank you! Good to be with you.
TRACI GRIGGS: Let’s open by talking about the mission of Gateways to Better Education, which is to “create a better future for our children by keeping God in our schools.” What motivated you to start an organization with this mission and what are the main ways you work to achieve the goal?
ERIC BUEHRER: My wife and I were concerned about what we saw happening in our culture, what I saw happening in my own profession, and how there was this myth that somehow you had to take religion, and especially Christianity, out of the public school context, and there was just a lot of misinformation regarding the separation of church and state, and how that applied to classrooms. And we realized that if we’re going to restore America, as the Founders said: “Religion, Morality, and Knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” That was written in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. The Founders were basically saying, look if we’re going to sustain this wonderful American experiment that we’ve set up, we need to have religion, morality and knowledge, and the schools are a means of delivering that. But what we’ve done today is said “No, no, we’ve got to take religion out, we’re not even sure about morality anymore, only knowledge is necessary.” And, as I ask my audiences all over the country, “How’s that working out for us?” Not too well. And so, we said, “Look, there is an appropriate way to bring God back into a public school setting, and do it in a way that doesn’t violate any Establishment Clause, and simply recognize it as a deep and significant part of our culture, and our history, and our values.” And so that is what Gateways is about doing, is helping teachers know how to do it appropriately, within the law, within Constitutional boundaries, and then have the confidence to do it with academic integrity.
TRACI GRIGGS: It’s painfully obvious by decisions made from time to time in public schools around the nation that teachers and administrators, and even parents, can be very confused over what kind of religious expression is legal in public schools. I know you cover this at great length in your workshops, but could you briefly explain our First Amendment protections in regard to what happens in schools, and why do people so often misuse that term “separation of church and state?”
ERIC BUEHRER: You know we always advise people, when the issue comes up and people say, “Well separation of church and state, we can’t do that, ” we say, “Well wait, let’s unpack that a little bit, what does separation of church and state really mean?” “Does that mean that a church or a synagogue has to have its own fire and policy department because the state’s police department and fire department can’t help a religious organization?” “Well, no, no, no, I don’t believe that,” they’ll say. OK, well then you know it’s not as hermetically sealed off as we often think, this wall of separation. Our state standards expect us to teach about religion, the federal government has said students have religious liberties, they’re not agents of the state, they’re citizens who are free to express themselves and they can do so in the classroom. And as you begin to unpack that term, ‘separation of church and state,’ people begin to realize, OK it’s not as solid wall as I once thought. We’re not advocating that our public schools become Christian schools but we do expect them to honor and welcome students of faith, and of all faiths, and how they express that in the classroom, in their values, in their homework, and artwork, and presentations, that our schools become faith-friendly places. And where teachers don’t shy away from teaching about the significant role of religion in history and culture and values. We find that teachers often don’t have a problem doing that when it comes to other religions, world religions, but when it comes to Christianity, they tend to “Oh well, I’m not sure we can do that, ‘separation of church and state’……” and they get real hesitant, and so we help them see how they can do that with academic integrity, within the law, but still do it robustly.
TRACI GRIGGS: Great, I understand that you’re going to personally be bringing some of that information to North Carolina. We’re very excited here at NC Family that you are going to be bringing your Faith, Freedom & Public Schools workshops to North Carolina next month. And I understand there are two parts: One for educators and one for parents. Tell us about the one first designed for teachers and administrators.
ERIC BUEHRER: That’s on a Saturday morning from 9:00-12:30, and we go over two major portions. One is the first part we deal with the foundation, and that is what the law says, what North Carolina’s academic standards expect, the fact that it’s part of our culture. And then we show the research that ties religious upbringing with moral development of students, and so that helps the teachers right away, have a confidence that this is a good thing. We show them that this is not about how I reach my kids for Christ, how do I smuggle Bibles behind a closed country, how do I somehow do something that’s sneaky regarding evangelism, that’s not what this is about. This is about how do I teach robustly to my students about the impact of the Bible and Christianity in history, culture and values. So then the second half is where we actually give them very practical inclusion strategies. How do you actually make this work. It’s good in theory—we know the law supports it—we know it’s part of our academic standards, but how do I actually make that work? And then we go and give very practical strategies that they can immediately apply the next week in their classrooms. Everything from how to teach the Pledge of Allegiance and what it means to be a nation under God, to getting very specific in their academic subjects. We show them about students’ religious liberties so they can create faith-friendly classrooms. We show them how to address the holidays in very practical terms, teaching the religious nature of the holidays. So there are two portions, one is the foundation of the legal and academic, and then the other is the practical application of that. And every teacher’s gonna come away with one or two or three or even more ideas that they can immediately apply in their classrooms.
TRACI GRIGGS: So, that’s the educator part of your workshop and that happens on a Saturday morning, but you also provide a parent conference as well, right?
ERIC BUEHRER: That’s right. Friday evening, we do “Keeping Their Faith in Public Schools: How to help your children graduate with their faith and values intact. And there we help the parents understand how to teach their kids discernment about: what they’re gonna be learning in class, how to think discerningly about what the teacher says, how to think scripturally. And the scripture addresses every area of academic pursuit, and so we actually provide the parents with Bible verses that they can walk their kids through to help them understand: how Jesus would think as he’s sitting in the class with the student, because he is, sitting there with the student; how’s He’s thinking about this subject. And then, secondly, how to talk to a teacher when you have a concern, because every parent has concerns about how their kids are being taught and the environment they’re in. And yet there are good ways and there are not so good says to approach that issue. We often say, you know we’re called to be salt and light, but we use salt to make something better not bitter, and we use light as a lamp, not a blow torch. And too often when it comes to public schools, Christians get a reputation for being salt that makes people bitter, and light that really burns everything in its path. And we show them how to use what we call “relational activism.” How to use the relationships God’s given you to really influence for the good, not only your own child’s education, but all the children in that classroom. So, it’s very practical strategies.
TRACI GRIGGS: It looks to me that you most often offer your workshops through local churches, so why is that and what role do churches play in preserving freedom of religion in our local schools?
ERIC BUEHRER: Recent research has shown that over 80 percent of church-attending families send their kids to public schools. So that’s a huge population. Even with all the building of Christian schools, and homeschooling, the vast majority of Christians send their kids to the public schools. And yet churches oftentimes are not sure how to address that issue, how to minister to the very families that are in their congregations that have kids in public schools. And so churches often are the ones that are interested in bring us in to give their people an understanding of what they can do. And, local churches are also interested in helping school leaders and educators understand how to be culturally sensitive and responsive, and aware of the many students that those churches are sending into the public schools. So, it’s a great way for the church to reach out to the school and help the school understand how they can be more sensitive and responsive to the many students that they send them.
TRACI GRIGGS: And I understand that you are videotaping the event coming up in February, and this is good news right, for a lot of the small churches spread all across North Carolina, and really beyond North Carolina?
ERIC BUEHRER: That’s right. We want to be able to make this available. I think a lot of people want to have a live experience. They want to be able to go in and ask questions and those sorts of things, but then there are smaller communities and smaller churches that simply cannot afford to put on a big event like this. We are so thankful to Westover who is putting this on, it’s going to be such a great event in such a magnificent church. But a lot of churches are smaller and they may have just a dozen or so teachers in their congregation or in their community that would be interested in this, and we want to be able to make it available to them as well.
TRACI GRIGGS: Great! The event you’re offering in February, it’s right in the middle of the state. Give us the details on that, and we’ll close up because we’re about at the end of our time.
ERIC BUEHRER: The parent event is Friday evening on February 3 and the educators’ seminar will be Saturday morning from 9-12:30, February 4. Westover Church is in Greensboro, North Carolina, so we look forward to anybody coming. You can register for it by going to gogateways.org/events then simply look up the Westover Greensboro events, February 3 and February 4. The parent seminar is complimentary and the teachers’ event is $15 if you sign-up before January 15, and then it goes up to $20 on January 16.
TRACI GRIGGS: That’s very reasonable! And I’m assuming parents could ask some teachers, churches could offer scholarships to teachers and that kind of thing too, if they want to get their local teachers in there.
ERIC BUEHRER: That’s right. The reason we’re able to offer it as such a low rate is because Westover Church is subsidizing the entire seminar. It’s normally a $120 value, and Westover’s committed to this and they’ve said, “No, we’re going to cover it, we’re just asking a small amount form each teacher.” There will be some refreshments and those sorts of things there. And so this is a great opportunity and really an opportunity that I think you’re going to come away from and it’s gonna change the way you teach in the classroom. You’re going to learn things in that seminar that you never thought you could do in your classroom, and we’re going to show you how to do that so you can defend yourself to any parent or any administrator.
TRACI GRIGGS: It does sound like a wonderful opportunity. Thank you so much for coming, and of course, thank you to Westover Church for helping to bring you into town. Why don’t you give us your web address one more time in case people missed that.
ERIC BUEHRER: Sure. They can visit gogateways.org/events and search for the Greensboro event.
TRACI GRIGGS: Eric Beuhrer, thank you so much for joining us on Family Policy Matters, and for your great work to preserve our country’s commitment to religious freedom, particularly in our schools.
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