I heard Dr. Nicole Baker Fulgham speak at The Justice Conference earlier this year and I really wanted to read this book. I also have a passion for education and often struggle with how best to address the many challenges that hinder a child’s academic success. I wanted to know Dr. Fulgham’s perspective concerning how Christians can be part of the solution and support the education progress of children in low-income communities.
Who Should Read Educating All God’s Children: What Christians Can–and Should–Do to Improve Public Education for Low Income Kids:
Christians who love children, education, or justice. Christians who are educators, parents, mentors, or tutors. Christians who minister to youth. Christians who are politicians and volunteers. Christians who have financial resources. Maybe all Christians should crack open this one.
What’s in Store for You:
Some truth telling. Some education. Some conviction. Some hope.
Let there be no doubt education equality is a racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic issue. While African-American and Hispanic churches have a long history of supporting community children, “the achievement gap isn’t an issue just for Christians in African-American and Latino churches.” Education equality is an American issue. It is a humanitarian issue, and therefore, it is a universal church issue. With this understanding, we read. When we talk about education, we are also having a conversation about the value of a human life for according to Dr. Fulgham, “humans have long struggled to create societies with inherently equal systems and structures. We’ve almost always erred on the side of favoring the wealthy and slowly crushing the poor and voiceless.”
This book includes initial research conducted for Barna Frames which reveals that over the past five years, American schools are on the decline. “Only 26% of parents with children say that public school is their first choice for their child’s education.” However, “95% of pastors believe that Christians should get more involved in public schools, and 85% of practicing Christians agreed with the pastors.” If this is the case, why aren’t 85-95% of our churches consistently supporting their community school(s) as a missional, justice, or outreach program?
The good news is that many Christians are getting involved as educators, volunteers, and community leaders. In her article titled, “The New School Choice Agenda,” Amy Julia Becker documents what is possible.
Dr. Fulgham also shares many stories of hope. This book is filled with success stories of teachers who have turned students around and pulled their classrooms back from the brink of disaster. There are stories of teachers who sacrifice, unwilling to accept the status quo and refuse to give up on students. The book includes stories of educational leaders and trailblazers who won’t allow our children to fail. It includes stories and a word of thanks for national faith leaders like Bill Hybels, John Perkins, Rick Warren, and Noel Castellanos who are keeping education at the forefront as an important justice issue for the church.
Dr. Fulgham also offers many suggestions for how we can become part of the solution. She first addresses some challenges that hold Christians back from education engagement. Among these include: “I don’t have children in public school (44%), I don’t think public schools want religious people to help (18%), education is too political (18%), I’m unsure how to help (17%), schools need more prayer and religious values, not academic support (16%), and public school culture is contrary to religious beliefs (9%).” In short, education and support of schools are often not on our agenda.
The simple call of the gospel for Christians is to lay down our lives and rights for the sake of Christ and others. We are called to a faithful and righteous response whether or not our biological children are negatively impacted. We are called to shine light in the midst of darkness whether or not people accept our religious beliefs or follow our rules.
At one point in the book, she shares the conclusion of an elementary school principal. When asked about a potential partnership between public schools and churches, he reflected on the limited score of some churches and said quite pointedly “Taking evolution out of my textbooks won’t change a thing for my kids. They’ll still be poor, uneducated, and stuck in the cycle of poverty.” Whether its evolution or prayer in school, Christians should always be cautious when we become more concerned about our self-interests or politics than we are about people.
With her biblical convictions and passion for education and kids, Dr. Fulgham has launched The Expectations Project. “The Expectations Project’s mission is to help engage Christians & people of faith in the broader movement to eliminate educational inequality, seeking to build a network of faith-motivated advocates.” They accomplish this mission by building “bridges between racial groups and between individuals from diverse economic backgrounds.”
The book is encouraging. It challenges churches, individuals, and national leaders to take action. It offers practical solutions. It also includes stories of what regular people like you and I can do to take small steps in our local communities.
My personal take-aways?
With this book, Dr. Fulgham is not trying to draw a line in the sand or pick sides in the education or political debates. In Chapter 5, she does what I believe is important when discussing any justice issue in which we desire to raise up Christian advocates. She provides a biblical framework for confronting the issue. Addressing education inequality requires Christians to accept:
1. God’s concern for children.
2. God’s focus on the poor and disenfranchised
3. God’s heart for justice.
I hope we can all agree on that. If we agree that education equality is indeed a problem, and if we also agree that God cares about this problem and all children, then the next point of consideration is taking proper action. What’s next?
The issue is big, and therefore, we need a movement. Jesus’ primary earthly ministry was teaching. Let’s make education equality a biblical issue that is important to the church. I agree with Dr. Fulgham’s statement, “We have yet to see a movement that expands the idea of ‘sanctity of life’ to fighting for the ‘quality of life.’ If we truly believe that all life is sacred, then the logical conclusion is that once a life is born we continue to fight for that life to have equal opportunities to live up to its potential.” Amen, sista!
There is hope for our failing public schools and the children who are stuck in them.
Here are some ideas for getting started: Can your church adopt a public school or sponsor a school for disadvantaged children? Can you encourage your friends to commit to mentoring, tutoring, or influencing one at-risk child that is not their own? Can you agree to encourage, pray for, and support the teachers that you know? At a minimum, can we all give a disadvantaged child a book or regularly read with and to them?
What are some other ways we can be a part of the solution? What actions are you taking to support at-risk children and their education?
Fact: “Poverty severely limits children’s access to high-quality early childhood #education.” @nicolebfulgham @expectproject
Fact: “Poverty and lower academic achievement are closely related.” #education @nicolebfulgham @expectproject
Through hard work, extended time in the classroom & extremely high expectations, all students could achieve. @nicolebfulgham @expectproject
Recommended Quick Reads:
Schools in Crisis: Helping Children Thrive in Public Schools by Nicole Baker Fulgham
Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, U.S. Department of Education