Education

Defining Identity: Person of Color. Woman. Poor. Fatherless. Undocumented.

Handprint identity concept, Cbenjasuwan / Shutterstock.com

Handprint identity concept, Cbenjasuwan / Shutterstock.com

Some of you may know the experience of having a secret about yourself that when revealed makes you have to completely reframe your identity. This happened for me in my junior year of high school when I was offered the opportunity to travel through a college bound program. That is when I learned I was “undocumented.” The reality of the broad impact of this label set in with each evasive answer my mother gave when I asked if I’d be able to not only travel, but drive, or work to help pay the bills. Being undocumented threatened my dreams of going to college; it threatened the possibility of a better future.

I was born in Mexico, and as proud as I am about my ethnicity, there is only one place I know as home, the United States. My father abandoned us when I was 3 years old and this set everything in motion that would lead me and my family to the U.S. When we struggled without his support, my older brother left for the U.S. in search of a better life at the age of 14. My mother’s love for her oldest son drove her to leave her home as well. When my brother learned she was considering leaving me, his young sister, in the care of my uncle while she visited him, he insisted she brought me along. I have now been in the U.S. for 25 years.

The Expectation Deficit

RECENTLY, the U.S. celebrated the 60th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court case Brown vs. Board of Education that declared unconstitutional state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students. By winning the Brown case, Thurgood Marshall broke the rock-hard foundation of racial barriers between black and white schools in the U.S.

But the civil right of equal opportunity for equal education never ensured the human right of equal access to it. Thus the explicitly racial divide, reinforced by law, was replaced by a close kin: the poverty divide, reinforced by economic blight entrenched by white flight to the suburbs.

Ten years later President Lyndon B. Johnson took a bulldozer to that new economic divide by declaring, in his January 1964 State of the Union address, an unconditional “War on Poverty.” He said, “Let this session of Congress be known as the session which did more for civil rights than the last hundred sessions combined.” And it did.

EVERY WAR HAS multiple fronts. Johnson’s fight against poverty was a legislative one, which played out in states, cities, and school districts across the country. Within two years Congress had passed the Civil Rights Act, the Food Stamp Act, the Economic Opportunity Act, and the Social Security Act. Each act was a legislative beachhead in the assault against U.S. poverty.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 represented a major shift in the way the U.S. conceived public education. In this act, Johnson took direct aim at the economic infrastructure that barred blacks and other impoverished people from accessing equal education.

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Who is Allah? #BringBackOurGirls

Michael Fleshman/Flickr

Hudreds of people gathered at Union Square in New York May 3 to demand the release of schoolgirls. Michael Fleshman/Flickr

On April 15, terrorists from Boko Haram abducted more than 200 Nigerian girls sleeping in their high school dormitory. The girls awoke to a nightmare of violent gunfire as the terrorists forced them into their vehicles and vanished.

Recently the leader of Boko Haram has garnered media attention with his video arrogantly taking credit for the kidnapping. He added a religious element to his repulsive actions:

“I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah. There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell. I will sell women.”

Omid Safi, professor of Islamic Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, wrote an impassioned response to Boko Haram’s leader that speaks for me: “Human beings are not for sale…This is the bastardization of Islam, of decency, of liberation, of all that is good and beautiful.”

In a Nutshell: What Is Boko Haram?

Illustration of Boko Haram. Photo courtesy of AK Rockefeller via Flickr.

Boko Haram is among the most vicious terrorist groups operating in North Africa, home to some of the worst Islamist extremists in the world.

The group is responsible for more than 4,000 deaths in 2014, according to the Nigeria Security Tracker at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The group was begun in 2002 by Mohammed Yusuf, a cleric whose aim is an Islamic state in Nigeria. He was killed in 2009. The group’s current leader, Abubakar Shekau, surfaces sporadically in videotaped messages.

Shakira, Jude Law, Goldie Hawn And Lang Lang Join Education Emergency Coalition

Other members of the Emergency Coalition include: • Raj Shah, Administrator, US Agency for International Development • Alice Albright, CEO, Global Partnership for Education • Strive Masiyiwa, CEO, Econet Wireless • Kailash Satyarthi, Chairperson, Global March Against Child Labour • Aliko Dangote, Chair, Dangote Group and Founding Member, Global Business Coalition for Education • Jim Wallis, Founder, Sojourner • Archbishop Desmond Tutu • Ricken Patel, Executive Director, Avaaz • Fred van Leeuwen, General-Secretary, Education International • Isha Isatu Sesay, Anchor, CNN International and HLN • Mabel van Oranje, Chair, Girls Not Brides

Studying Interfaith Leadership

CAN YOU GO to school to become an interfaith leader? An increasing number of faculty, staff, and students on campuses believe the answer is “yes.”

Interfaith leadership courses are starting to crop up at colleges across the country. At New York University and Nazareth College, you can even get a minor in the area. The organization I lead, Interfaith Youth Core, recently organized a conference for university faculty interested in this area. We expected 30 people to show up, and got nearly 120. This all suggests that this may be a field whose time has come.

Academically speaking, “interfaith leadership” is part of the larger field of “interfaith studies.” Just as you might study education at a university to become a teacher, in the future you will be able to take coursework in interfaith studies in preparation for a career in interfaith leadership.

Interfaith studies looks at the myriad ways that people who orient around religion differently interact with one another and considers the implications of that interaction for everything from personal lives to global politics. It’s a field that asks questions such as: In what religious groups is the intermarriage rate growing fastest, and what are the distinctive dynamics of such relationships? What types of political arrangements seem to foster positive interaction between faith communities, and what types are associated with interreligious tension? How effective are current religious education programs in forming young people in faith traditions?

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VIDEO: "American Promise"

In “Enduring Family Values” (Sojourners, April 2014), Lisa Sharon Harper highlights the U.S. Center for Disease Control’s report, “Fathers’ Involvements with their Children.” According to Harper, “black men were actually more likely than any other group to maintain contact and involvement in their children’s daily lives while living apart,” as well as feed, bathe, diaper, and read to them daily.

Though the report reinforces that African-American men are responsible fathers, a recent documentary shows that their children are often facing issues of inequality and implicit biases in their private lives and education.

American Promise, a PBS POV film, follows two African-American boys from kindergarten through high school as they experience assumptions and stereotypes in their education systems. Watch below to explore the complex reality of what it takes to educate and parent African-American children—all while maintaining family values.

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Supreme Court Rejects Asylum Bid for German Home-schooling Family

The Romeike family studies around a table at home. Photo courtesy Home School Legal Defense Association. Via RNS

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an appeal from a family seeking asylum in the United States because home schooling is not allowed in their native Germany.

The case involves Uwe and Hannelore Romeike, Christians who believe German schools would have a bad influence on their six children. The family’s case became a rallying point for many American Christians.

As is their custom, the justices on the high court declined to give a reason for not hearing the case.

Michael Farris, chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association that represents the family, said the group would pursue legislation in Congress to allow the family to stay. But the Romeikes will likely face deportation.

7 Things Churches No Longer Do (But Should)

Pastor with Bible, Rob Marmion / Shutterstock.com

Pastor with Bible, Rob Marmion / Shutterstock.com

Our changing cultural values continually affect our spiritual lives and often shape our church experiences. Today’s churches aren’t immune from social trends and factors, and here are a few traditional practices that are becoming extinct within faith communities:

1. Discipline:

In a spiritual climate that’s extremely sensitive and wary of legalism, any type of authoritative action taken by a pastor or church can be highly explosive — often interpreted as aggressive, controversial, and hurtful.

Previous church models of authority and discipline have been so abused, and have such a bad historical reputation, that many Christian communities have simply abandoned the practice of church discipline.

Combine these factors with an overwhelming selection of churches to attend — where any type of discomfort can result in parishioners leaving to go elsewhere — and you can understand why spiritual leaders are reluctant to enforce any type of accountability.

Is Poverty Killing our Kids?

Child sitting alone, Suzanne Tucker / Shutterstock.com

Child sitting alone, Suzanne Tucker / Shutterstock.com

Despite all the modern conveniences of the 21st century, our information-saturated culture, an exhaustive supply of self-help books, and giant advances in medical technology, doesn’t it seem like our society is more stressed, our anxiety higher, and more of our kids prescribed behavior modification drugs?

What if one of the reasons for our strung-out culture was the social, emotional, mental, and physiological outworking of the effects of poverty?

In the latest release of the Shriver Report, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, founder of the California Pacific Medical Center’s Bayview Child Health Center, has found through medical research and experiences of her patients that the stress of poverty can be manifested in alarming behaviors and predispositions.

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