Christian Teachers in Public Schools: 13 Essentials for the Classroom. Dalene Vickery Parker (Kansas City: Beacon Hill, 2012). 157 pages. Paper.
Dalene Parker is a Christian. She has significant experience in teaching in public schools in the Southeast part of the United States. She strives to live out her faith genuinely and authentically within that setting without contravening civil laws or standards preventing a teacher from proselytizing or otherwise abusing her position of authority in order to promote Christianity.
All of the above being true, in making an assessment of the title of this volume as compared to its contents, one is led to the conclusion that, at best, the title is very poorly chosen, or, at worst, there is some level of misdirection at work.
On its surface the title seems to indicate the reader will be engaged in a discussion about how a Christian could carry out her or his religious vocation within the setting of a public school system. The choice of the word “essentials” in the title suggests thirteen important and pertinent points dealing with the tension of living out one’s Christian vocation authentically without violating the trust the public grants to teachers to carry out their role for the civic good.
Disappointingly, the above description is not this volume. Instead, what one finds are thirteen chapters rather breezily written in which Parker shares anecdotes and experiences from her career about how to teach students well and engagingly. Except for the first two chapters (dealing with prayer and spiritual oppression, respectively), the rest of the chapters could have been included in any book on tips for teaching from an experienced teacher. While each chapter has a Bible passage associated with it, and while each chapter has some spiritual elements to it, the book simply does not engage in a meaningful way the complexity of issues concerning how a Christian can live and work as a Christian in an overtly non-sectarian (and perhaps covertly irreligious) environment such as a public school.
Furthermore, the “spiritual” elements that are included are typified by this incident: Once while at a particularly low point in her teaching career, Parker entered her classroom where she saw sunlight coming in through the windows shining upon a sheet of paper Parker had taped to a box. The paper was from the Weight Watchers organization, containing seventeen words the organization regarded as important for succeeding in achieving and maintaining weight loss. Upon entering the room at that particular moment Parker saw the sun shining on two words from among the seventeen: “pray” and “persist.” Parker writes, “It took my breath away to think that God would give me such a personal and direct word of encouragement. I had to smile. God has always used the written word to speak to my heart, and I believe he wants me to do the same for others” (p. 130). Such a description took this reviewer’s breath away too.
Why review a book such as this? Our review highlights the need for a serious discussion about the place of Christian teachers in public school settings, including a thoughtful analysis of the issues involved and how being a public school teacher is a fruitful vocation for a Christian to pursue. In addition, a review such as this one says to the publisher that there is an expectation by potential buyers of a book to find an alignment of content and title. For someone interested in the subject of Christianity in the sphere of public education who conducts an Amazon search for titles, the book under review will be one of the first given in the search results. However, Parker’s volume only very loosely delivers what the title suggests. That is sad. Caveat emptor.
Charles W. Blanco
Associate Professor of Theology
Concordia University, Nebraska