Education

Helping Billy Inherit the Earth

Child holding the earth, olly, Shutterstock.com
Child holding the earth, olly, Shutterstock.com

I try to teach in the present. With Billy, though, I found myself thinking about the future. Will middle school be a challenge for him? Will he be an outcast in high school? Or a target for bullies?

I wondered what contributions he might make to society as an adult. Would he start a revolution in the art world?

If his peers constantly slap their hands down and say there's no room for him, how will he react? Will he become a part of what author Alexandra Robbins calls the "cafeteria fringe, those people who are not a part of the school's or society's in-crowd? Because he seems different, will he be labeled geek, nerd or weirdo?

As a teacher I want to help him overcome. But what can I do?

A Revolutionary Picture

Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images
Outfielder Larry Doby of the Chicago White Sox in 1957. Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images

Baseball players Larry Doby was black and Steve Gromek was white. Gromek was from the working-class culture of Hamtramck, Mich., and Doby from the Jim Crow culture of Camden, S.C.

One year earlier, on July 5, 1947, at Comiskey Park in Chicago, Doby had become the second African-American behind the great Jackie Robinson of the immortal Brooklyn Dodgers to play for a major league baseball team and the first African-American to play in the American League.

It was a revolutionary picture because it showed the world a way white supremacy and racism could be overcome.

Education and the Wealth Gap

 

Ask a random group of people, “How do we improve our public schools?” and you’re apt to get divergent, passionate answers. Christians, like other citizens, have different opinions on how to heal what’s hurting in our education system. What we can share is a belief that all children are truly precious in God’s sight and an understanding that public education is a key component of the common good—that a healthy school system has the potential to bring opportunity and uplift to children regardless of their economic status. Jan Resseger is the minister for public education and witness with the national Justice and Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ. She spoke with Sojourners associate editor Julie Polter in June.

Sojourners: Why is public education a commitment for the United Church of Christ?
Jan Resseger: The commitment to education is a long tradition for us. Our pilgrim forebears brought community schooling and higher education to the New England colonies—New England congregationalism is one of our denominational roots. Another root is the American Missionary Association (AMA), an abolitionist society that grew out of the defense committee for the Africans on the slave ship Amistad. The AMA founded schools for freed slaves as a path to citizenship across the South during and after the Civil War.

Several denominations came together as the UCC in 1957, and our general synods since then have taken stands on issues such as the protection of the First Amendment in public schools and supporting school desegregation through the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. From 1958 to the present, we have spoken to institutional and structural racism and classism in schools. We also have addressed privatization, because we’ve been strong supporters for many, many years of public schools as key to the strength of our society and democracy.

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What Can Churches Do?

JUST OVER A year ago, I attended a retreat sponsored by the Fund for Theological Education. During the retreat we were encouraged to look at our lives and to find a personal story that captured the essence of what led us to our particular ministries. That led me to reflect on my childhood: growing up in poverty, attending a different school every year, walking to school with cardboard in the bottom of my shoes because the soles were worn out, wondering how I was going to eat, lacking school supplies at times, and dealing with the stress of a single mother who was a substance abuser.

By reminding me of those things I endured and had to overcome as a child, that exercise helped me tap into my real passion. I wanted to find ways to help children growing up in similar circumstances. I wanted to inspire them to believe in themselves and know that they can make it.

At-risk youth and under-performing students need to be inspired, but equally important is their need for adults who are willing to do the work of helping them succeed academically. Education continues to be our most reliable tool for creating upward life trajectories and optimal opportunities. Churches are more than places where people come in search of a deeper relationship with God; they are also places where people come to find deeper connections with their communities and the possibility of using their gifts and talents to help those in need.

All these forces together compelled me to act on an idea I had more than a year ago: to call on friends from across the country to help create Faith for Change. Faith for Change builds a national network of churches and people of faith committed to implementing proven educational strategies for improving children’s lives.

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Protecting Immigrant Families: Webinar on Family Unity Waivers

Whether encouraging children to succeed, caring for elders at the end of life, or investing in struggling communities, strong families can make all the difference. Unfortunately, our broken immigration system often negatively affects families, increasing both their emotional stress and financial burden. Too often our laws actually separate family members from each other in ways that create lasting damage. 

Recently, the federal government announced a policy change designed to keep families together as they navigate the process of applying for green cards. While this shift will also streamline the process and reduce the complexity of application, the new rules can still be confusing to those seeking help. That is why the Interfaith Immigration Coalition is working to educate the faith community about these developments. On September 10, the Coalition will host a webinar from 4-5 p.m. EDT for faith leaders interested in learning more. Take this opportunity to hear from policy experts, legal advocates, and faith leaders about this important topic.

When: Monday, September 10th from 4- 5 p.m. EDT

Where: Phone

RSVP here.

Living Letters

Photo of pile of letters, Kudryashka / Shutterstock.com
Photo of pile of letters, Kudryashka / Shutterstock.com

I love to receive letters. When I was a little boy, I lived on a long, straight street and I could see the mail truck coming from a long way off. After the mailman stopped in front of our house, I ran with hope in my heart down our front walkway, between our two giant maple trees and across the street to our mailbox. Would there be a letter for me? Was someone in the world thinking of me?

One day last year it was not the mailman, but a second-grader on the school playground, who handed a letter to me. I unfolded it.

"Dear Mr. Barton, hi it Odeth from 2th grade I miss you a lot I wanted to know about you so much I am being good I am in 4th grade Do you miss me.  I live in __________  I go to school in __________  I hope you will come to my school … can you come visit me in school ask for my name…I am 10 year old I want you to come to my school.

Your best student,

Odeth"

What a wonderful thing, to be remembered by a student.

The Sound of Learning

Cabbage plant, Richard Griffin / Shutterstock.com
Cabbage plant, Richard Griffin / Shutterstock.com

Imani walked down the hall with a paper cup in her hands.

She stopped and held up the cup to me. Inside of its paper walls were soil, water, and seeds — all those humble and elemental things that build a third-grader's scientific knowledge.

Imani was growing cabbage.

She was my student last year. She loved science and writing. I remember the look of wonder in her eyes when we studied weather. We learned about tornadoes. In my classroom, I had two 2-liter bottles connected by a tornado tube, a plastic piece that allows you to make a tornado by swirling the water around and around in one of the bottles. Imani held the bottles in her hands and marveled as her water formed into a giant, powerful funnel cloud. 

"Wow," she whispered.

I love the sound of learning.

James and the Giant Book

Boy reading a book, Valeriy Lebedev  / Shutterstock.com
Boy reading a book, Valeriy Lebedev / Shutterstock.com

In Roald Dahl's classic children's book James and the Giant Peach, 7-year-old orphan James Henry Trotter escapes his two rotten, abusive aunts by crawling into a giant peach. The peach rolls, floats, and flies him to a new life of wonder and love.

I'm reading this book aloud for the first time, and my listeners are spellbound by the story, especially the part where the very small old man opens the bag filled with magical crocodile tongues that will help a barren, broken peach tree grow fruit as big as a house.

"There's more power and magic in those things in there than in all the rest of the world put together," says the man. 

There is.

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

“What do you want to be when you grow-up?” is the pressure filled question that people begin asking as soon as they feel young people are old enough to answer. 

From there it only gets worse. It’s a question I hated answering. Adults and media filled my mind with careers that would make me financially secure and, in their minds, happy. So these careers filled my answers: doctor, lawyer, and pharmacist. I would be something important, and life after college would be financially easy. 

I babysat often through high school and remember a mom asking the dreaded questio

Music for Small and Tall

Bryan Moyer leading children in song
Bryan Moyer leading children in song

This year, as we start Sunday School and churches come back from summer schedule, I want to introduce you to one of my favorite singer/songwriters, Bryan Moyer Suderman. It’s rare that you find music that appeals to all ages with a strong social justice focus, healthy theology, inclusive language, environmental concern, and really good musicianship. 

As Brian McLaren and Dave Csinos wrote in the intro to Bryan’s new CD:

Bryan takes up the challenge of uniting the old and the young, the tall and the small, with songs of faith that echo the depth, beauty, struggle, complexity, and unconventionality of walking in the way of Jesus.

Bryan is a minstrel, a prophet, a visionary, and a follower of Jesus who invites listeners of all ages to join him in “infiltrating the world with the love of God.” His music is captivating, his lyrics are theologically-rich and thought-provoking, and his voice invites us all to live God’s kingdom wherever we are. 

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