The Sound of Learning

Cabbage plant, Richard Griffin /

Cabbage plant, Richard Griffin /

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  /

Boy reading a book, Valeriy Lebedev /

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. 

The Pages in the Book Go 'Flip, Flip, Flip'

Photo: Child sitting on stack of books, olly /

Photo: Child sitting on stack of books, olly /

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. 

Common sense tells us that children who don't learn to read can't read to learn. They often reach a frustration level with school by the time they're in the third grade. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 70 percent of low-income fourth-grade students can't read at a basic level. I often wonder, "What can I do in my day-to-day work as a teacher to help?"

Riding the Bus to Equality

School bus interior, Suzanne Tucker /

School bus interior, Suzanne Tucker /

Every morning at 7:15, the doors of our school open wide to a line of bus riders ready to come inside. "Hello, Jaheem. Hi, Kiara. Hey, Imani. Hope you're having a good day, Omar," I call out as the students walk past me to the cafeteria for breakfast. I stand at the doors for a moment and watch the big, yellow buses puff their diesel exhaust and chug their way to the garage until it's time for their afternoon run.

Is there a more universal symbol for public schools than a big, yellow school bus?

(Home) Schooling Bill Maher

Tim King with his youth group's worship band. Photo courtesy Tim King

Tim King (middle on guitar with the 'fro) with his youth group's worship band. Photo courtesy Tim King

Last Friday, on his weekly show Real Time with Bill Maher, the not-so friendly atheist, Mr. Maher took issue with the Santorum families decision to homeschool their children. Here’s what he said:

"But I bring up the old tale of the poisoned apple — no, not "Snow White," that's a fairy tale — because the Adam and Eve story is taken literally by half the country and it's no coincidence that the type of tree which god forbade Adam and Eve eating from was the Tree of Knowledge. Rick Santorum homeschools his children because he does not want them eating that f--king apple. He wants them locked up in the Christian madrassa that is the family living room not out in public where they could be infected by the virus of reason. If you're a kid and the only adults you've ever met are mom and dad, and then they're also the smartest adults you've met, why not keep it that way? Why mess up paradise with a lot knowledge? After all, a mind is a terrible thing to open."

Santorum took exception to these comments. For good reason.

My parents made the decision to homeschool three out of four of their children at some point during our K-12 years. They invested both time and resources because they believed it was the best thing they could do for our development and education at that time.

Education for ALL: A “Sweeping, Disruptive Technology”

Arches of the Quad at Stanford University. Image via Wiki Commons

Arches of the Quad at Stanford University. Image via Wiki Commons

Earlier this week, I wrote about how nostalgia expressed in contemporary politics points to the privilege of those longing for the “good old days.” In doing so, I stumbled onto a theme I’ve decided to explore throughout the week. Namely, I’m interested in how it is that inspired vision – unconstrained by “what ifs” or fear of change – might break down barriers to opportunity and help overcome systemic privilege that holds some people back from realizing the same potential as others who are more fortunate.

I wrote an article a little while back about the lingering effects of colonial power on institutional education, and how it continues to limit access for those without certain privilege to connect with it. Well, it turns out there are some folks already trying to do something about this, and it’s pretty exciting.

Sebastian Thrun, a professor at Stanford in computer science, worked recently with Google to create a revolutionary self-driving car. As if this wasn’t enough, Thrun went on to develop an idea that would at once shift the educational landscape across the planet.