Why would America’s leading young-earth creation ministry go to the National Education Association convention? After all, Answers In Genesis castigates the NEA for its “godless, liberal agenda.” AIG frets that the NEA combats conservatives’ right to homeschool their children and to teach godly creationism.
But that anti-God bias is exactly why the creationists go every year. Answers In Genesis tries to engage NEA attendees with the gospel of creationism. The creationist outreach at the NEA convention hopes to explain the goals of creationists and melt the hard hearts of some secular teachers.
The folks at AIG are not the first conservatives to try such tactics. For generations now, the National Education Association has been perceived by conservative education activists as the enemy. The NEA is seen as promoting secularism and a wrong-headed moral relativism. As conservative gadflies Mel and Norma Gabler argued in the 1970s, the NEA had always tried to get public schools to teach that “there was no absolute transcendental God, Bible, or system of beliefs.”
And even long before the Gablers, conservatives tried to maintain their influence with the NEA. As I note in my upcoming book about conservative educational activism in the twentieth century, the patriotic school activists in the American Legion pioneered this approach. For the stalwart conservatives in the American Legion, the NEA offered the best way to influence American public education. Therefore, they held their noses and collaborated on American Education Week. Starting in 1921, the Legion and the NEA encouraged schools nationwide to focus on a certain theme for a week. They tried to get everyone in every community engaged with their public schools. For the conservative leaders of the American Legion, this was a way to promote patriotism and religion in public schools. For the leaders of the NEA, this seemed like a good way to direct the public’s attention toward its schools.
For conservatives, then, the NEA has long been a target. Generations of conservatives have hoped to influence the NEA with conservative educational ideas. Does it work? The conservative creationists at AIG seem to think so. One missionary to the NEA relates the story of “Tom,” a hostile secular science teacher. After spending time with the creationists at the NEA convention, Tom was able to understand more about the wholesome gospel mission of the creationists. Walls were broken down, hearts were touched.