Who Cares If They Get An Education

I was tagged in a meme by my friend Duncan.  I didn’t even know what a meme was (other than the name we call my maternal grandmother), but the quote from St. Francis of Assisi is so good that I have to respond.  Here is a reprint of the meme from Duncan (originally from Jamie Arpin-Ricci’s blog)

 

When asked why he did not rebuke the sinfulness of the people around him, St. Francis of Assisi responded:

 

“The life of the Christian should be burning with such a light of holiness that by their very example and conduct, their life will be a rebuke to the wicked.”

 

In an era where Christians are largely known for the sin they oppose, this wisdom could not be more timely. Francis calls us to face the compromises of our culture by becoming living alternatives with how we live. As sin is defined, not by what it is, but by what it fails to be (thus its meaning “to miss the mark”), so too our approach to facing the systemic sin in our world should be battled by becoming that which it fails to be. For example, in the face of rampant individualism, we must embrace radical community, not simply condemn it as wrong.

 

Along this line, I am starting this meme to challenge your creativity:

1. Consider aspects of our culture where we have too easily compromised, issues that you passionately oppose.

2. Then, ask yourself what it would mean for you, both as and individual and as a part of a community, to be a living alternative. Write about it.

3. Link back here to this post.

4. Tag others to participate.

 

I live in a medium sized town (Huntsville, Alabama) that is quickly growing into a major metropolitan area.  As a young professional living in Huntsville, the changes are very exciting – more unique places to eat, more venues to listen to live music, more green-space, more creative art outlets, more opportunities for work, more diversity in the population, …  Observing and participating in the transformation has been great (I was born, raised and lived all but my eight years in college here).  As a relatively affluent young professional the ascension of our city is great, but the overlooked downside of this growth is what really bothers me.  I’m really concerned about the public education system in Huntsville. 

 

Unlike most large southern (and national) cities, Huntsville’s has avoided the flight from public to private schools (Estimated that over 75% of school aged children in Huntsville attend public institutions).  Historically, our public schools have been near the top in the state, but over the last decade, the data tell a different story.  The downside of the maturation and growth of the city is that certain geographical areas have prospered and others have become impoverished.  The distribution of wealth in the city has become concentrated in certain areas.  As you can imagine the public schools in the prosperous region perform very well on yearly standardized tests and the schools in the impoverished areas perform poorly.  Of the 27 elementary schools 7 are ranked in the top 20 % of all elementary schools in Alabama and 16 are in the bottom 30%.  The 7 schools in the top 20% correlate geographically to the prosperous areas and the 16 to the not-so-prosperous areas.  We basically do a great job educating our high-end affluent children and an atrocious job with our impoverished children. 

 

Why does this bother me?  Other than being ethically and morally wrong to ignore the needs of the poor, I am a true believer that your checkbook illuminates your priorities in life.  Huntsville has the highest median income in the entire state and the amount we invest in education is no where near as high.  We are one of the most high-tech cities in the nation (world?), and we have all but turned our back on the public education system.  The neediest are the ones that are suffering.  Education is the key for any of the children in the bottom 16 schools to release the lock on the chains of poverty, and the entire Huntsville community has an obligation to make sure the entire city prospers.  The mentality of “I’m fine as long as my area is fine” is a horrible copout that has to stop.

 

Living alternatively (or “becoming the change we want to see” as Ghandi stated) on an individual level this meeting the needs of the neediest schools instead of protecting and maintaining the prosperity of the schools in my immediate area.  Living alternatively on an individual level looks like:

  • Volunteering as a math or reading tutor at one of the 16 schools at the bottom.  These children need to see and interact with professionals that value education. 
  • Empowering a voice from within the communities.  The parents that live in the impoverished areas do not have the access to civic leaders, and would most likely be intimidated raising issues.  This one is more difficult because it requires that we make authentic relationships with the people in the community.

 

Living alternatively on a community level looks like:

  • Churches adopting a school and working with the principal, teachers, PTA, and parents in the community to meet the most basic needs.  There is a group of four people in my adult Sunday School class that started a backpack program for one of the 16 schools.  On Fridays, about 50 bags containing enough food for a child for the weekend are delivered to the school.  The principal discretely deposits the bags the backpacks of the kids that are most in need.  At some of the most impovershed schools, over 95% of the children rely on government subsidy to provide free breakfast and lunch.  For some, these are the only meals of the day.  This program meets a pretty basic need – hunger!
  • Community leaders need to become more aware of the issues.  I am part of a committee put together by Leadership Huntsville that is tasked with engaging the public on the needs of public education.  We are working through the issues and trying to develop a community engagement campaign to raise awareness to the issues and try to find community solutions.  (More on the details here in a future blog).

 

If we don’t find a solution for this problem the affluent schools may break away to form their own school systems (similar to Birmingham) or they may leave and go to private schools.  Either way, the byproduct is a core inner-city system that will continue to spiral downward – especially if the community turns its back on them.  The process is not going to be easy and it will take significant sacrifice, but isn’t that how Christ healed the world!

 

I have only recently become aware of the magnitude of the problem.  I hope I can begin to live alternatively.

 

I’m tagging:

 

Tony

Sherril – response here

Krista C.

Bruce M

Mike L.

and anyone else that wants to take part in this conversation!

1. Consider aspects of our culture where we have too easily compromised, issues that you passionately oppose.

 

2. Then, ask yourself what it would mean for you, both as and individual and as a part of a community, to be a living alternative. Write about it.

3. Link back here to this post.

4. Tag others to participate.

 

Post your response as a comment to this blog entry, or put your response on your own blog and link back to this post.  I will link your response next to your name!

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7 Comments

Filed under Community, Education

7 responses to “Who Cares If They Get An Education

  1. Awesome, great post. It’s deeply disturbing that in the most affluent country in the world we still have kids without enough food to avoid going hungry. In the UK a couple of weeks ago a child was found allegedly starved to death (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/crime/article3987773.ece), tragic. The point you make on being a voice for the voiceless is also very powerful, we’re hearing the same from the Dalit people we are going to see.

  2. Thanks for taking part in the meme. As a missionary in an inner city community and having grown up in a family of educators, I find your response inspiring. Many of these challenges are true of our neighbourhood and we are trying to address them from what little influence we have. Your answers have given me some inspiration.

    What I like most about your ideas are that they are not dependent on funds. Our inner city schools are actually fairly well funded, which is good. However, the more systemic issues are not addressed. As you say, some of the best solutions will demand personal relationship with the families in these communities. (And might I add my frequent advocacy for some Christians to decide to make those inner city communities their homes).

    The food at school issue is HUGE. Studies have shown that school results and behavioural issues improve significantly if they children have healthy consistent meals (which makes breakfast very important).

    Again, thanks for the response. If you are interested, I would love to do a bloglink exchange on our respective sidebars. Let me know.

    Peace,
    Jamie

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  4. Great post, Larry. I am loving the backpack delivered to the school idea. It makes me wonder about our own schools. Thanks for putting that bug in my ear!

  5. sigmugi

    Duncan, thanks for your comments. Feeding the hungry is a relatively easy first step. We hope this is an entry point to start addressing the more systemic problems.

    Jamie, I’d be glad to exchange bloglinks on the sidebars. I too come from a family of educators – It’s in my DNA. This is a subject I feel very passionate about and will continue to blog about it.

    Marla, Thanks. If you need more info, let me know. I enjoyed your meme response.

    Sherill, Thanks for respoding to the meme tag. I don’t know how you have any time to respond given that you are heading to a new church in the next two weeks. I guess you are lucky that all you have to do is move offices and not a household!

  6. Thanks! I just added you.

    Peace,
    Jamie

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