I am the product of the American public school system. There was only one high school option in the city where I was raised; I assimilated to this school where approximately 96 percent of the student population was African American. Like so many others, I had big dreams, so I did the best that I could for the possibility of exploring opportunities outside my small town. Thanks to the love, support, education, and training that I received from teachers, guidance counselors, and administrators in that school, I was able to walk across the graduation stage and shake the hand of former Vice President Dick Cheney as I received my bachelor’s degree from the United States Naval Academy in 2002.
Less than ten years later, I find myself perplexed at the lack of preparation of so many students graduating from the public school system, if they graduate from high school at all. The 2010 Waiting for Superman documentary revealed that there are over 2,000 high school “dropout factories” in the United States. These are failing schools in failing neighborhoods where students do not have the caring guidance counselors, mentors, or teachers that I had while growing up. These kids do not have choices, so their dreams die, and as far as they are concerned, all of their life’s hope dies with them.
My brother attended schools where the cafeteria ran out of salad before his lunch hour, or maybe the leaves on the remaining salad were brown. I have seen first hand the old, worn textbooks with missing pages. I have tutored middle and high school students that were making As and Bs in the public school system, yet could not read, write, or walk you through the steps of a basic algebra problem.
What happens to all of these children? They sometimes end up in prison or on the streets. And many rich and middle-class (or what used to be middle-class) Americans sit idly by as we have victimized these children and forced them to fail for no other reason than being born into the wrong womb in the wrong neighborhood where they attend the worst schools. They are not prepared to embrace the opportunities that are now failing even some of the most educated and hardworking Americans.
It is comfortable to pretend as if this tragedy is not going on because it is not happening in your neighborhood, but I ask this question: “What about the least of those among us?” We are raising an illiterate generation; what does that mean for the church?
It means that young people are not being taught to know God intimately and grow in their relationship with Him. After all, mature Christians frequently point to the Bible for revelations of our faith. We point to the Bible for those who desire to know God. The Bible is a book that consists of various genres of literature: narratives, poetry, similes and metaphors, allegory, and other types of figurative language that are not all accurately interpreted in the same manner.
Instead of confronting this challenge, we set the standards lower. In the same manner that the public school system is passing students through school, American Christians are giving the silent nod in support with sound-bite theology for our young people — give them a devotional, show a video, invent a quick phone app, after all their attention span is not that long (so there are no expectations for them to sit and learn through the oral traditions of old). Our young people need to be educated and they need to know the Bible.
When addressing issues of abstinence, life’s purpose, failing expectations, homosexuality, developing Christian character and the like, Bible literacy is more important than ever for our young people. Here’s the bottom line: it is our responsibility to teach our youth, to come alongside them, and help them see the importance of getting a good education. It is also our responsibility to paint the big picture for them about how a solid academic foundation can lead to God’s greater good for their lives.
I believe that the failing educational system is one of the greatest domestic justice issues of today’s American church. God requires us to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him. We are to care about the same things that He cares about and the last time I checked, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.”
I wonder what would happen in this country if the church rose to lead the charge to provide educational options. What would happen if churches spent money to build and resource more schools to support free Christian education instead of building bigger sanctuaries for themselves? Or what would happen if those same churches with resources bought buses to bring students to their churches and financially support a tutoring ministry for the children who need it?
What would happen if the homeschool moms decided to also homeschool a child who lives across the tracks or across the bridge? If they had the same concern for their neighbor’s children as they do for their own?
What would happen if Christian men made this injustice a priority? Or if housewives, stay-at-home moms, singles and widows, unemployed and part-time workers, and retirees committed their time and resources to tutoring youth in the neighborhoods where the schools are failing? There is more than enough work for all of us to do.
I wonder if the church stood up, would we continue to see a lost generation of children whose lives of struggle are sure to end in poverty, prostitution, jail, unhealthy relationships, or homelessness? I wonder if any of this matters to the church.
Thank you for sounding the clarion call. Today, an administrator where I work, said this in a meeting: “Our students are willing to go overseas, going places where they feel like rockstars as Americans, but most aren’t willing to go to the cities close by it’s not as sexy.” It’s true. I was thinking the other day about how Jesus didn’t remain holed up in a house. He went to the people, to those who needed him. We must all do the same. I am definitely passing this along to everyone I know. IT is a convicting, transformation-inducing article. Again, thank you!
Great article, Natasha! We’re blessed to have great schools where I live, but you’ve made me think about where I could find kids who could use some extra help. The school systems can only do so much, and a couple hours a week of extra one-on-one attention could go a long way.
I love your warm spirit and the words that you speak of about today’s society are always so very true. I was raise in a similar environment, where a few of us still today have never left the neighborhood. The majority of us are Christians that were raised in the church. I never want to take away credit from the church however; educational options were things that I did not get a lot of from the church. There were collections for many things to buildup the church but little was done to buildup the congregation. I often thank my mother for doing her best with my brothers and me. While she worked night and day she sent us to church so that we would be good Christian. Now a parent raising children in public school in the inner city I get the chance to see society for what it really is. Yes, I am a Christian (not the perfect Christian) however; I push my children, nieces, nephews and their friends very hard to be excellent students and even better Servants of God so that the generational cycle will be broken. We have to take responsibility for our children as a whole because the juvenile system and the corporate owned group homes are setup to prepare our children for prison. Then Corporate America wins again by making huge sums of money off our children. Thank you for being you and continue to push forward.
Excellent article. I would also suggest peer (youth) groups as an excellent means of reaching some of the at-risk students. Peer influence is extremely important during the teen years, and its power shouldn’t ever be underestimated. Role models and mentors don’t always have to be adults – classmates with a sense of purpose can often send strong and important messages to those around them. From my own experience, I well remember a student in one of my classes (I am a former teacher – in a school where many kids had a fatalistic “why try, I’ll never get anywhere anyway” frame of mind) who led by example, and showed more of her peers the way to success than she ever realized. By the way, she just happens to be the author of this article, and I am filled with joy to know that she continues to use her considerable talents and energies to positively impact the lives of others.