A Reflection on Education Policy in the PC(USA) and Response to Item 14-02: “Educate a Child, Transform the World”
My students are the legacy of Brown v Board of Education.
Let me introduce you to my students. They are eighth-graders living in Tuscon, AZ, who find themselves tasked with studying the American system of government, basic principles of economics, and US history from World War I to the present under my tutelage. My students bring with them experiences of broken homes, poverty, a broken immigration system, and racial profiling, as well as the regular middle school stressors like homework, the desire to fit in, body changes, and raging hormones.
We finished our curriculum this year studying the Civil Rights Movements in the twentieth century. As we explored the tales of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks in the far away cities of the Southeast – along with the stories of Cesar Chavez and the farmworkers in our neighborhood – these stories of injustice really hit home for me. They sounded eerily similar to the stories my students have been telling me all year long about their own experiences.
Education is not only a complicated process; it is a complicated system. And systems must be addressed systemically.
The 150-160 students that I see every day represent a variety of cultures and ethnicities that, 60 years ago, would have been separated from each other by law based on the color of their skin. We have certainly come a long way, and yet, equality in education is still far ahead. Yes, my students can learn together, but the realities of poverty—often corresponding to skin color, diminishing funding from traditional revenue sources like the state and federal governments, limited access to healthcare, , and a singular focus on high-stakes test scores still contribute to a broken education system. This system seems built on the backs of overworked teachers, crowded classrooms, lack of trust between teachers’ unions and the school districts, and the constant struggle of trying to do more with less funds.
At the upcoming 221st General Assembly, the Presbyterian Mission Agency will bring an initiative, business item 14-02, “Educate a Child, Transform the World,” which calls for denominational re-commitment to education both nationally and abroad. This call builds on previous Presbyterian calls for education reform and the need for all children, regardless of their geographic or demographic location, to have access to quality public education. It issues new calls and builds on old ones for the denomination at all levels – from the local congregation to the General Assembly, from the domestic Presbyterian Mission Agency staff person to the international mission co-worker, to support public schools. Support for public education in all these contexts should be commended as a reflection of living out the Christian call to do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8).
However, what is not clear is how the church will achieve this lofty goal of educating 1,000,000 children in the next 4 years, whether at the local, mid council, or national level. We may really mean influencing the education of that number of pupils. Do our local congregations know how to support the teachers and students already sitting in their pews? Does the average Presbyterian know how to advocate before the local public school boards or local schools? Until recently, information was available from an office for Child Advocacy, but where is that resourcing now done? Is there a new office–I am not clear about where that work is now.
Support for public education in all contexts from the local congregation to the international mission co-worker should be commended as a reflection of living out the Christian call to do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.
In any case, how many of us understand the relationship between the state legislature and the local school board? How well do we as a church understand national education policy and how it plays out in the lives of those students at home and around the world, especially those students living in poverty? And when we do fall short – in any of these areas – where are the resources to help us truly support our children?
This reflection clearly raises more questions than it answers. As an eighth grade social studies teacher at Apollo Middle School in the Sunnyside Unified School District in Tucson, Arizona, all I really know is that each year, I look at the faces of each my students and I see their potential. At the same time, I look at the systems around them, and I see the challenges they face and will continue to face.
My students are constantly hearing many conflicting voices. They hear the voices of my fellow teachers and myself, telling them to seize their educational opportunities, challenging them to learn how to learn and to continue despite their setbacks. But they also hear the alluring false promises of the streets: quick money from dealing drugs, the promise of substance-abuse escapes from their daily problems, and the realities of legalized racial profiling under the guise of SB1070 (the infamous Arizona law that has the PC(USA) has worked against). What does the local church have to say to my students? How can they, how can we, learn what to say? What resources exist for the congregations who will take this call from the General Assembly seriously?
What resources exist for the congregations who will take this call from the General Assembly seriously?
Education is not only a complicated process; it is a complicated system. And systems must be addressed systemically. But what is the larger strategy for reaching families and their kids?
If this initiative is to be truly transformational, then it will have to come at a cost. At least in this country, the Presbyterian Mission Agency will need people to oversee the production and dissemination of materials that can truly help congregations, mid councils, and all Presbyterians understand the intersection of the needs in their own communities, state educational policies, and national policies. Anything less won’t make it to the blackboard.
AUTHOR BIO: Rachael Eggebeen holds an MA from the University of Arizona (Tucson) in Near Eastern Studies and an MAT from Fuller Seminary. She is an eighth grade social teacher at Apollo Middle School in the Sunnyside Unified School District in Tucson, Arizona, where she attends St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church. She is a member of The Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP), representing the borderlands and the barrios of the US-Mexico border.
Read the education-focused initiative the Presbyterian Mission Agency is bringing to the General Assembly, Item 14-02: “Educate a Child, Transform the World.
Read more articles from The Road to Detroit: Issues of Social Justice Before the 221st General Assembly!