Sojomail - August 23, 2012
I've been involved in public education for more than 15 years—as an urban public school teacher, a researcher and policy analyst, a teacher trainer, a parent, and an advocate. I never dreamed I’d live to witness such raucous and juicy debates about how to improve our nation’s lowest-performing public schools. Throughout my career, public education garnered the occasional feel-good story about a phenomenal, mythical “inner city teacher” and, more often, the litany of stories about how urban and rural schools are in complete disarray.
But during the last few years—oh my! We’ve witnessed the onslaught of message-laden documentaries such as Waiting for “Superman” and The Lottery, which are celebrated by many and derided as teacher-bashing propaganda by others. The birth of the “education reform” movement has generated such groups as Democrats for Education Reform, Students for Education Reform, and Stand For Children. Again, lauded by many, these groups are vigorously criticized by others because of the way they push against policies, structures, and institutions in public education.
Regardless of what side of the education reform debate we may choose, most Americans agree on one thing: Public schools must improve. The academic achievement gap between wealthy white students and low-income students of color must be eliminated. It’s unconscionable that 50 percent of kids growing up in poverty drop out of high school. How do we allow a system to exist where poor children in the fourth grade are already performing three grade levels behind children in wealthier neighborhoods? What future do we anticipate poor and minority children will have with these academic outcomes?
As a Christian, like many other people of faith, I’m propelled by my religious convictions to work on behalf of the most disenfranchised children. My biblical beliefs about poverty and inequity cause me to try and fix systems that perpetuate the inequities we see in public education. People of faith should be prophetic voices to lift up examples of what’s possible in the face of seeming impossibility. Our Christian beliefs compel us to view all children as made in God’s image and likeness—and there’s no plausible way that God would give all of the academic skills and intellect to wealthy, white suburban children.
At first glance, this all seems like fairly benign stuff. The system isn’t ensuring that all children fulfill their God-given academic potential. So why is today’s public education reform so emotional and complex? What’s happening with public education reform in this country, and how can faith communities play a role in bringing about much-needed change? Do we even dare to step into the debate? Unequivocally—yes. We must get involved; standing on the sidelines is no longer an option.
I believe we need to focus on two concepts in order to develop a faithful vision for public education reform: The What and The How.
The best way to identify what we need to reform in public education is to take lessons from highly successful teachers, schools, and school districts. Where is the achievement gap closing? Where do we see teachers, schools, and communities producing scholars who perform at incredibly high levels even when they’re growing up in poverty? Those examples have to be our nation’s blueprint for change because they’re achieving success in the face of enormous challenge.
Fortunately, when we look across the nation we can find a growing number of outstanding low-income public schools that defy the odds every day. And they share several key traits: ...
Nicole Baker Fulgham is founder and president of The Expectations Project (www.theexpectationsproject.org), which mobilizes people of faith to help close the academic achievement gap in public schools.
I've been having little arguments with myself all week: on one hand, like many good Americans, I believe in the idea and potential and creativity and wonder of individuals. I believe that the mind, for example, is a fathomless miracle. I believe that individuals have certain rights to freedom and self-determination.
Yet at the same time, everything that we are has been given us. We carry in our bodies the genes of thousands if not millions of ancestors; we have been brought to this moment — every moment — by people whose care and attention and patience have loved us imperfectly along. And, of course, by the God who has loved us into being.
Ad Campaign Calls on Christians to 'Love Your Neighbors' of All Faiths
The response was overwhelming. As a result of generous contributions, Sojourners not only took out an ad in The Joplin Globe, but also erected billboards with the same message, both in Joplin and in Oak Creek, Wis., three blocks from the Sikh gurudwara.
The message is simple. "Love your Muslim neighbors." "Love your Sikh neighbors." It's not radical in language, but it is a radical love that Jesus extends to us and asks us to show others.
Editor's Note: Over the next two weeks, Sojourners is celebrating our teachers, parents, and mentors as children across the country head back to school. We'll offer a series of reflections on different aspects of education in our country.
My elementary school is a Title I school. About 97 percent of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch and Medicaid. Research shows us that many children raised in poverty struggle to learn to read.
My family was less than thrilled when I presented the idea of living on the equivalent of what a family of four would receive on food stamps for a week. Actually, the program is now called "SNAP," which stands for "Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program," and involves government-issued vouchers or debit cards, rather than the antiquated stamp method. But the result is the same; we have a lot less to spend on food this week than usual.
Gov. Jan Brewer Tries to Stop the DREAM in Arizona
Apparently Jan Brewer, the governor of Arizona, had a different reaction to the compassion and progress embodied by this new policy. On the day it went into effect, Brewer issued an executive order denying driver's licenses to young people in Arizona qualifying for the relief being offered by the federal government.
Putting aside the logical fallacy that criticism = giving someone a license to shoot, the fact is the Southern Poverty Law Center didn't label the Family Research Council as a hate group because "they disagree with them on policy" or because they "defend the classic American values of faith, family, and freedom." If that were the case, they would have put Focus on the Family on the hate group list, or the National Organization for Marriage. Both of these groups teach that homosexuality is a sin and lobby against gay marriage.
The stated reason the Southern Poverty Law Center has put the Family Research Council on the hate group list since 2010 is, according to their website:
"because it has knowingly spread false and denigrating propaganda about LGBT people — not, as some claim, because it opposes same-sex marriage……We criticize the FRC for claiming, in Perkins' words, that pedophilia is 'a homosexual problem'"
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