I’m so thankful that Megan Westra has agreed to write about a topic in which we both care deeply about. Thanks for this contribution, Megan!:
Evangelical Christians often champion the ‘sanctity of life.’ This phrase typically refers only to abortion. Many Evangelicals argue that a culture that allows legal abortion does not truly value human life. While many Evangelicals have fought against abortion for decades, we have yet to see a movement that expands the idea of ‘sanctity of life’ to fighting for the ‘quality of life.’ If we truly believe that all life is sacred, then the logical conclusion is that once a life is born we continue to fight for that life to have equal opportunities to live up to its potential.* – Nicole Baker Fulgham
When I think about the disparities in the education system, I don’t just think about how some schools succeed and others fail, I think about the ways that our perceptions skew which schools are capable of success or failure. How the way we perceive certain students or certain neighborhoods determines whether or not we ascribe value and sacredness to their lives.
We can talk for days about funding and teacher salaries and which technologies classrooms need to be competitive, the need for more art and music programs and so on, but before we talk about any of that, I think we need to start asking, “Do we truly think anything good can come from the impoverished neighborhood schools in our inner cities and rural communities?”
In the deepest recesses of our hearts, “Do we really believe that each child has value? That each child deserves the potential to succeed?” Or furthermore, “Do we consider that ‘success’ may be a much bigger idea than how we’d like to define it?” Or do we swallow the predominating view of our culture: that some people count and others do not. That some people have potential and some do not.
I grew up in a town of just under 10,000 people and moved to a metro of approximately 1,000,000. The populations are different, but the problems are similar. In both places, it seems like there aren’t enough resources to go around, text books are out of date, classrooms are overcrowded and dilapidated, and teachers are under appreciated, under paid and running on fumes. It seems to me that many of the students and teachers in under-resourced schools absolutely fit the bill for “the least of these,” the marginalized, and the downtrodden we are scripturally mandated to care for and take up their cause.
However, in both of these contexts – rural and urban – I’ve seen a similar phenomenon, rather than engage the public education system and the injustices within the structure, the Church has (by and large) either ignored the schools, or pulled out of the failing schools either to a.) bus their children to a good school in a more resourced community or b.) start a school of their own. This is not to say that sending your child to a good public school or a private Christian school is in and of itself a bad thing, but as Nicole Baker Fulgham points out in her fantastic book Educating All God’s Children, regardless of whether or not you have children and whatever school they attend, the children in our communities are suffering in these failing schools, and we are scripturally mandated to care for the suffering, for the least of these, and to take up their cause. Christians should be concerned about the public education system whether it effects their kids or not. We must respond to the many kids who do not have alternative choices for where they attend school.
Roughly 48% of all public schools in the U.S. are failing or struggling**, so it’s safe to assume that there is probably a hurting school in or nearby your community. With these things in mind, there are a few ways everyone can get involved with the struggling schools in their communities, regardless of whether or not you have children that attend a failing school:
1) Listen. Get to know the principal, teachers or students in a nearby school. Ask them what they like about their school, ask them about the ways in which their school struggles. Ask what they wish other people knew about their school. Listen. Listen. Listen.
2) Pray for the schools. Pray for the schools in your community to be places where knowledge, imagination and innovation are nurtured, where gifting and creativity are discovered and passions are ignited. Pray for the schools in your community to be places of peace.
3) Volunteer. There are countless opportunities to volunteer with local schools. Whatever it is that you’re good at or passionate about, your local school could probably use your help.
4) Support a teacher. Teaching is a difficult and is often thankless job. Find ways to connect with and support teachers in your local school. Bake muffins, write encouraging notes, or drop off Costco-size bottles of hand sanitizer. Find out what their classroom supplies wish list is and then work together with your church or small group to fill as much of it as you can.
*Quote taken from Educating All God’s Children: What Christians Can – And Should – Do to Improve Education for Low-Income Kids by Nicole Baker Fulgham.
** Statistics from the Center on Education Policy from their 2010-2011 Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) Report.