Monday, March 3, 2008

Destination Graduation Summit Ignores Ignorance-Religion Link

A state education summit held in Jackson last week marks a step in the right direction. Mississippi lags most other states in education, helping to explain the levels of fundamentalist Christianity one finds here. Improving Mississippi's rate of high school graduation is a worthy goal, as long as it does not entail weaker educational standards. After all, it would be nice if our high school graduates could compete with those of other states.

Some may accuse me of nitpicking here, but I am having a great deal of trouble wrapping my mind around the fact that this statewide Destination Graduation summit was held in a Baptist church. Yes, the summit was held at First Baptist Church in downtown Jackson. I cannot think of a less fitting destination.

Forget for a second that summit attendees included many public school representatives and that holding something like this in a church raises important questions about the lack of church-state separation in Mississippi. Forget that a variety of faith-based organizations were invited to the summit. Selecting such a temple of ignorance as the location for an educational summit shines a spotlight on one of the important things wrong with education in Mississippi.

According to the Hattiesburg American, Gov. Barbour said that future Mississippi jobs will "demand strong minds." And if there is one antidote to strong minds, it is religion.

I recognize the complexity of fixing an educational system which is truly in shambles and would not suggest that any one factor is responsible. Still, to ignore the relationship between ignorance and religion seems counterproductive here. Like most Americans, we Mississippians are willing to work hard for what we value. It is time to value a strong secular education.

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