For the nation’s 50 million public school students, another school year is about to begin. Are they ready? Even if they get new backpacks, notebooks, and pencils, most of our students are not prepared to do the schoolwork expected of them.
Two out of three American eighth graders can neither read nor do math at grade level. Schools serving low-income communities perform particularly poorly on a whole range of measurable outcomes including language, reading, and mathematics — critical skills for performing well and succeeding in society.
Almost a decade ago, members of the faculty, administration, and student body at Hope College started a conversation about adding a program of peace studies at the Holland, Mich. campus. Last fall, the process reached an important milestone when the first “introduction to peace studies” course was offered to Hope’s 3,400 students, part of the school’s first ever peace and justice minor.
Administration officials talked about the difficulties in starting any new program at the college level. “First, you have to make a good argument as to why the program is needed at all,” said Alfredo Gonzales, Hope’s dean for international and multicultural education, who took part in those early discussions. “It’s difficult to introduce one more program at a liberal arts institute where there’s just an abundance of programs. In what ways are we going to add a program without adding another burden to our students?”
And that’s just the start of the process.
Once people at Hope decided that a peace and justice curriculum was indeed a good idea, Gonzales said they dove headfirst into logistical questions, such as whether Hope wanted to start with a full-fledged program or if they wanted to introduce it incrementally. Furthermore, they had to figure out which departments ought to be involved in creating such a multidisciplinary effort and what the academic requirements would be.
The process included many conversations among a lot of people, Gonzales told Sojourners, but he said he knew it would be worth it, and that a peace studies program was a natural fit for a school affiliated with the Reformed Church in America. “If we look at our mission statement, it says that Hope College is to educate students for lives of service and leadership in global society,” he said. “So in that framework, this program looks at questions of reconciliation in a world that is deeply torn and is injuring people from the very youngest to the very oldest in ways that we don’t even understand yet.”
Drawing on best practices
In a sense, peace studies is part of Hope College’s legacy: Iconic peace activist A.J. Muste graduated from Hope in 1905. The Dutch-American Muste would go on to be executive director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation—an interfaith peace organization—and to mentor Martin Luther King Jr. In the late ’50s, Muste protested New York City’s civil defense drills alongside Catholic Worker co-founder Dorothy Day, and in 1964, Muste participated in a retreat with a group of renowned peace activists, including Trappist monk Thomas Merton and Jesuit priest Daniel Berrigan.
As an academic field, irenology—the study of peace—is thought to have its formal genesis in mid-20th century Europe with the advent of peace research institutes. In the United States, the first institutions to teach peace were colleges and universities with ties to the historic peace churches: the Mennonites, the Quakers, and the Church of the Brethren.
A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO, while doing research on social privilege for an introductory ministry course, I came across an article titled “White Fragility.” Even a skim of the first few pages was enough to pique my excitement. In it, author Robin DiAngelo—an expert in multicultural education—describes in sociological detail a common set of defensive and destructive responses that people have when facing the reality of their own privilege.
I recognized each response she described from those my students had whenever I asked them simply to face—let alone begin to dismantle—the various forms of social privilege they each embody. Where, I began to wonder, could I squeeze this article into an already over-packed course syllabus? How could it best help us navigate the difficult issues we were trying to engage?
Social privilege is a daunting topic to engage. When teaching it, I draw heavily on Peggy McIntosh’s now famous definition of its racial manifestation:
I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, assurances, tools, maps, guides, codebooks, passports, visas, clothes, compass, emergency gear, and blank checks.
What McIntosh helps us see is that social patterns of privilege are maintained because people carry them about and use them while, at the same time, people are able to carry about and use their privilege because those social patterns are maintained. The effect is cyclical, and it happens without any of us being particularly aware of our own complicity in the system.
Society confers unearned gifts on people who embody particular privileged traits—straight, white, able-bodied, middle-class men, for example—while neglecting to confer them on others. This isn’t to say that people who embody more privilege are explicitly homophobic, racist, ableist, classist, or sexist. It doesn’t mean they don’t work hard for the goods they accumulate in life—of course, many do. It’s just that it feels perfectly natural to walk through an open door without ever noticing how it swings shut in the face of the equally hardworking genderqueer Latinx whose wheelchair wouldn’t even fit.
Black Americans’ educational equality has improved in the last year, but college graduation rates and access to high-quality elementary and secondary education remains a problem, according to a major survey by the National Urban League — which wants Congress to ramp up early childhood education and provide more federal aid to black college students.
South Carolina sheriff Leon Lott announced Wednesday afternoon that Ben Fields, the police officer who violently arrested a 15-year-old black female student at Spring Valley High School, has been fired.
"It's not what I expect from my deputies, and it's not what I tolerate from my deputies," said Lott.
Although Lott removed Fields from his police force, he also commented on the behavior of the student.
On Oct. 27, 1994 — 21 years ago today — the U.S. Department of Justice reported that the United States’ prison population had reached over 1 million people. By comparison, that’s the same size as San Jose, Calif.— the tenth biggest city in the US.
Today, the United States’ prison population is over 1.5 million — the size of Philadelphia, Pa., our nation’s fifth largest city.
Yet the size of our prison population — the largest in the world — is only part of the problem. Communities of color and poorer communities are disproportionally sentenced to prison — the result of systemic injustices including income inequality, school-to-prison pipelines, and racial profiling.
We mark many positive anniversaries here at Sojourners, but the work of justice also necessitates recognizing ongoing abuses of human dignity over time. So today, on the grim anniversary of 1 million people housed in our prison system, we choose to remember them and all those still behind bars. Here are ten articles we’re re-reading today about mass incarceration — and how to end it.
The story of Malala Yousafzai is well beloved by Western media, with news outlets having followed her life closely for the past three years. And rightly so. The Pakistani teen is an activist for girls’ education and a well-respected world leader in promoting the voices of women and girls around the globe.
It was her belief that all girls have a right to an education that made her a target of the Taliban, resulting in Malala losing hearing in her left ear and being forced out of her beloved home in the Swat Valley, Pakistan. Malala celebrated her sixteenth birthday by addressing the United Nations in 2013, the same year she released her memoir, I Am Malala. And most recently, she was named the Nobel Peace Prize recipient of 2014. Her non-profit, The Malala Fund, invests and advocates for girls’ secondary education, in order to amplify the voices of girls around the world who have been ignored.
It would be hard to create a stronger superhero for girls and boys in anyone’s imagination.
CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM in the United States is gaining momentum with each graphic video showing fatal police abuse. In the aftermath of the many deaths of unarmed black men and women and the city-wide protests that erupted in Ferguson, Baltimore, and Cleveland, it is not surprising that presidential hopefuls are making bold public statements about the need to change a system that is profoundly unjust, overly punitive, and excessively costly to run.
At the other end of the spectrum, away from TV cameras and political wrangling, activists such as Tara Libert and Kelli Taylor, co-founders of the Free Minds Book Club and Writing Workshop, are dealing with decades of draconian anti-crime policies that have resulted in mass incarceration rates marked by racial disparities that have had a devastating impact on families and communities.
The numbers speak for themselves. Although the United States makes up less than 5 percent of the world’s population, it has nearly 25 percent of its prison population. According to The Sentencing Project, a research and advocacy organization working to reform the U.S. criminal justice system, more than 2.2 million Americans are now locked up in prisons and jails across the country—a 500-percent increase over the past 30 years. Furthermore, those who are incarcerated come largely from the most disadvantaged segments of the population.
The Comedy Central duo has long been using comedy to challenge injustice. Now they’re tackling education.
The new skit portrays Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele as primetime anchors of “TeachingCenter,” a show meant to mimic ESPN’s flagship athletic program, SportsCenter. The two hosts obsess over new teaching trades, a live draft for teachers, and an in-depth analysis of pedagogical technique. We even get a glimpse at a BMW commercial starring an educator.
On this fast day, I remember that many U.S. people worry — like anyone anywhere — about the hardships a new day may bring, in a dangerous and uncertain time that seems to be dawning on every nation and the species as a whole. In the U.S., we carry the added knowledge that most of the world lives much more poorly — in a material sense, at least — than we do, and that were the sun to truly rise upon the U.S., with familiar words of equality and justice truly realized, we would have to share much of our wealth with a suffering world.
We would learn to "live simply so that others might simply live." We would find deep satisfaction in beholding faces like those of my friends gathered for a friendly morning meal before a day of voluntary fasting. Or, like Mohamedou, we would find warmth in the imagined breath of others sharing involuntary hardships.
"Another world is not only possible," writes author and activist Arundhati Roy, "she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing."
People living in the U.S. must know that life in the daylight might also be the start of an unaccustomed fast.
Baltimore, like Ferguson, is a parable — a story that can teach us important lessons. It's one in which we should see that we are, for the most part, still missing the most important lessons.
Decades of bad behavior on the part of Baltimore's police force in relation to the black community were brought to light, as in other circumstances of young black men dying at the hands of police. But the parable of Baltimore needs to go deeper.
Patricia Jannuzzi, the veteran Catholic high school teacher from New Jersey suspended for her anti-gay Facebook posts, will be reinstated immediately, school principal Jean Kline said in a letter.
Jannuzzi, a 33-year theology teacher at Immaculata High School in Sommerville, N.J., was forced to deactivate her Facebook page last month after several alumni started circulating screen shots of her sharply worded posts against gay marriage and gay rights. Two days later, the school placed her on administrative leave.
The letter to students and parents, quoting school director Msgr. Seamus Brennan states in part:
“Immaculata High School has reached an understanding with Mrs. Patricia Jannuzzi. It is the School’s position that a Catholic school teacher must always communicate the faith in a way that is positive and never hurtful. Tone and choice of words matter and I trust Mrs. Jannuzzi’s stated promise to strive always to teach in a spirit of truth and charity.”
Harvard professor Robert Putnam jokingly calls himself “a nice Jewish formerly Methodist boy.”
But the public policy expert’s new book, Our Kids, reads more like a tent meeting revival, complete with an “altar call” at the end. His private meetings and public appearances at the White House and Capitol Hill, and meetings with civic and faith leaders across the country, carry the same fervor.
While evangelists convict people of their sinful ways and then convert them to the path of salvation for the hereafter, Putnam’s focus is more on this side of heaven.
His goal: to awaken and inspire Americans to “save” young people from a future trapped in a spiral of fractured families, poor schooling, and a grim economic future that Putnam says will cost taxpayers trillions of dollars. Trillions.
He is not only aiming for political, social, and religious elites. He’s also aiming at the everyday reader from Boston to Dubuque with a message that failure to act will “undermine democracy and political stability for all.” That’s why the book is subtitled, “The American Dream in Crisis.”
“I’m writing for ordinary people, not the political class. I’m holding up a mirror of American society to the ‘haves’ to say ‘look what we’ve become,’” he said.
Sitting in Prajwala's small conference room adjacent to a chaotic market, I asked Sunitha where the strength came from to charge ahead into danger, violence, and sometimes even rejection by the women Prajwala served. I don't remember her exact words - but the gist was that the strength came not from herself, but from faith in her own experience of God. Not a God owned by some religious denomination, but the real One. That One who never let Sunitha down when it was time to pay the staff, deal with the mob, handle corrupt police, or remain resolute in the face of failure.
I have been blessed and humbled to have met these three women and remain inspired by what they do, particularly their commitment to empowering other women and girls. Sunitha told me to not just show up and feel sorry. Send money if you are inclined, but most importantly, speak about sexual slavery and trafficking to everyone you know. Don't allow anyone to pretend it isn't going on in your own community. Only when all men are vocal about this and intolerant of any abuse of women will things improve.
I pray that I may develop a sliver of the courage Anna, Anna, and Sunitha model.
While some people may have heard of the great work of Nuns on the Bus to engage people on pressing social issues, there’s also the “Nuns on the Underground Railroad”—a quiet movement of nuns working together to restore dignity and healing for victims of labor and sex trafficking across the nation and the world...
For several years now, Catholic nuns have been proactive in preventing sex trafficking before, during, and after major sporting events like the Super Bowl by raising public awareness and conducting personal visits to hotels to alert them to the signs of human trafficking. Nuns have also placed full-page ads in airline magazines to educate the public about the dangers of child trafficking.
A fundamental theological and scriptural principle for Christians is that each human person is made in the image and likeness of God. This belief in the imago Dei helps us to see the face of God even when the person doubts her own beauty and worth because of oppression. “Nuns on the Underground Railroad” seeks to restore a person’s sense of dignity and beauty through two rails of freedom: healing through programs and shelters and empowerment through education and employment.
As we move toward the Lenten season, the prophet Isaiah reminds us: "Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?" (Isaiah 58:6)
How is God moving your heart as you awaken to the stories of human trafficking victims? What action can you take for your enslaved sister and brother? What will you bring to your faith community to stir up concern? One single action to educate others and liberate the oppressed strengthens freedom throughout the world. As our mission affirms, “Ending slavery is everyone’s work.”
People of faith can play an important role in helping each child of God realize his/her potential. Join us in standing up for education by signing the #UpForSchool petition, an urgent appeal to get every child into school—no matter who they are or where they are born.
When we invest in schooling for all children, lives are transformed for generations to come. For example, closing the education gap for girls reduces child marriage rates, leads to more income later in life, and lowers the rate of HIV/AIDs. Access to equal education is not only essential to building stronger economies and a healthy society, but it honors the God-given dignity of children.
My mom would agree: education is empowerment. It provides freedom and a better future—and no child in the world should be denied it.
Let us all pray that every child can go to school.
And let’s join other faith communities to make sure it happens—sign the petition now.
In the past few months I have come to a rather substantial conclusion: I cannot slow down time. Try as I might, my oldest daughter is now four and a half and is practically sprinting her way to "big kid school." My wife and I have been discussing this next phase of our daughter’s life. Sadly, school districts are falling into massive debt, being subjected to low performance in the classroom and even apathy in educating the next generation. Schools have become too focused on state test scores and benchmarks and have removed the art of learning from many classrooms.
Now private schools are becoming more mainstream, offering alternatives to public education, more flexibility, and more opportunities to the students. For many private schools there is a common element: they are associated with a religious group or Christian denomination. These schools started out as an extension of the ministry of the church as a way to respond to the needs of the community. But over time many popped up as a rejection of the educational system and their "removal" of God or prayer the school. Many parents see disconnect between the mainstream educational system and their Christian households.
But I see a certain danger in some of these Christian alternatives. It might sound counterintuitive for an ordained Christian minister to say, but there are a few reasons I would not send my daughter to some Christian schools.