Older adults can remember schoolrooms that displayed the Ten Commandments prominently in every classroom. Modern classrooms, however, make an effort to welcome equally children from a great variety of religious and spiritual backgrounds. In addition to Jewish, Christian, and Muslim children - who at least share the Ten Commandments-a classroom may contain Hindu, Buddhist, Wiccan, and atheist children. The parents of these children often object to displays of the Ten Commandments, and the courts have generally agreed that public money cannot fund religious teaching. Interestingly, however, these parents do not often object to the principles embodied in the Ten Commandments. Because God gave humanity such excellent advice, the advice itself is welcome even among those who object to the form.
This means that the Ten Commandments can be kept alive in the awareness of
schoolchildren without posting them on the school walls. Christian parents can teach their children to live lives that exemplify the first commandment, recognition of the sovereignty of God, in ways that welcome nonbelievers to ask openly about their source of strength. Christians can agree with and support other parents in ensuring that no idols or inappropriate images-including those from other religions-are permitted in their children's classrooms. Nonchristian parents also agree that taking the Lord's name in vain, codified in a child's mind as "swearing" or "cussing," is inappropriate behavior in school and reasonably prohibited. The schools already dismiss children for the Sabbath (recognized on Saturday or Sunday, depending on tradition), and nobody seems to be offering a serious challenge to this embedded cultural tradition. Rounding out the first half of the Ten Commandments, the law calling for Christians to honor their parents is as easily supported by other families, and the schools often welcome strong Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs), honor parents as guests at various performances and celebrations, and recognize the parent's first claim to a child.
Most of the second half of the Ten Commandments is even easier. Christian and nonChristian parents alike agree that killing should most certainly be kept out of the schools, as should acts of marital infidelity (adultery). Theft and bearing false witness are likewise prohibited without question.
This leaves only the final commandment, "Thou shalt not covet," to be given a true home in a child's school environment. Surprisingly, this can provide perhaps the best starting point for building community with a diverse school population, when the principle is shared without the baggage-ridden language of Christianity-which can, ironically, steer some nonChristians away from discovering and embracing the living Christ. Without drawing attention to the Biblical origin of this principle, Christian parents can often attract previously argumentative nonChristians as unexpected allies in helping to reduce covetousness among their children. Parent organizations have lobbied school districts to remove classroom advertising, which inspires in children a lust for material possessions. They have worked to institute school uniform policies to reduce label-consciousness among children.
The Ten Commandments still provide appropriate moral guidance in a modern setting, but they also provide far more. When accepted with humility and obedience, and promoted without the need for material displays (which can themselves become idols) or personal recognition (which commonly motivates covetousness), the principles described by the Ten Commandments can help bridge the chasm between Christian and nonChristian families, offering the latter the opportunity to see the pure light of God unshaded by material forms.