EDITOR’S NOTE: As we noted yesterday, faith and justice leaders have joined together for seven days of action at state houses around the country to highlight the many ways corporate interests and political extremists are trying to re-make government from the states up.
Today’s meditation and prayer are offered by Rev. Nancy Petty, a leader in the Forward Together Moral Movement from Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina.
By Rev. Nancy E. Petty
Great, loving God, on this day, we pray for the students and educators of every public school. As people of faith and as concerned citizens, we pray for the wisdom and courage to stand up for a just and equitable education for every single child in our state and in the world. May our feet keep marching, O God, until our elected leaders recognize and value our children and teachers. We pray this in the name of our great teacher, Jesus. Amen.
Ms. Price was my kindergarten teacher. Ms. Price was not only my kindergarten teacher, she was also my Sunday school teacher. My memories of her are of a stern and caring older woman who expected much from us 5 and 6-year-olds in terms of behavior and learning (learning was serious business). And while she often used questionable discipline techniques (such as having us stand at the black board with our nose in a circle when we had misbehaved), I knew, and all of us in that 1967 kindergarten class of Sandy Plains Baptist Church knew that she loved us deeply, wanted us to learn, and would have done anything to protect us. She was the first person, and as it would happen, the first teacher in my life who nurtured a place of belonging and understanding for me.
Beginning with Ms. Price, teachers would become the single greatest influence in my life, offering over many years a place of understanding, acceptance and encouragement—shaping me as a student, as a learner and as a person. Beyond high school, teachers would continue to be the single greatest influence in my life, offering to me a safe place of understanding. My college and seminary teachers and professors opened my mind in ways that I didn’t know existed and offered me blessing after blessing with their words of affirmation and encouragement. Through the teaching/learning process they nurtured an imagination within me that taught me that life offers possibility. So when I think about how teachers have shaped my life, I think of Maya Angelou’s words, “I come as one, but I represent thousands.” Maybe not thousands, but for certain every teacher and every educator whose class I’ve sat in.
Today, our state is in a crisis when it comes to public education and supporting those who teach our children. Elizabeth Queen, an MDiv student at Duke Divinity School, compiled a document for the North Carolina Council of Churches titled “A Call to Action for People of Faith and Public Education.” She writes: “In the United States, the value of education is a given for most people. Research and overwhelming public opinion both attest to the importance of the classroom as a laboratory for learning and skill development. Education is a doorway to resources that improve both the lives of students and their communities by providing them with social and cognitive skills that equip them for successful participation in society.”
Despite this, Queen goes on to say “North Carolina’s education policies often do not support [the] basic needs of students and educators. Chris Hill, Director of the North Carolina Justice Center’s Education and Law Project, noted that there are several threats to public education in North Carolina that widen the achievement gap between student groups and undermine the adequate and equitable education of all the state’s students.” It seems that in NC the value of education may not be a given for many children.
What are these threats that Hill names? First, the re-segregation of schools and the privatization of public education through private school vouchers, tax credits, and the explosive growth of charter schools. Second, the promotion of online education as a replacement for rather than a supplement to classroom education, excluding students in low-income areas who do not have access to personal computers and the Internet. This change in format also removes the important socialization aspect of education, which is vital for building skills that help our children succeed socially and professionally as adult citizens. A third threat that Hill identifies is the lack of revenue to fund public schools. He writes that, “over the past several years North Carolina’s investment in education has dwindled to shocking lows, allocating fewer and fewer state dollars to adequate classrooms and facilities, school supplies, teacher support, and other vital resources for student achievement. As of 2013, spending on education had fallen below our state’s 40-year average of percentage of total budget.
In North Carolina, our public school students, teachers, school administrators and staff are facing a climate of diminished support. Why it is that every single adult who attended public school can tell you a story of a teacher or school counselor or school staff person who changed their life, but when it comes to supporting and paying our teachers and valuing their work, our society responds woefully and inadequately. Why? And why is this issue – education and how we support those who teach our children – an issue of faith?
Elizabeth Queen answers that question. She writes, “Scripture is not only filled with praise for wisdom and learning from the prophets to the disciples, but it is also overflowing with admonitions for God’s people to act with justice and equity because the God we serve is just. In addition to promoting wisdom, which is inherently valuable, education also serves as a powerful engine for overcoming poverty and promoting a healthy democracy that serves its citizens well. An educational system that leaves out the most vulnerable members of our community is simply unacceptable. Scripture is clear on this. God shows no partiality amongst God’s children based on income, race, geography, or any other characteristic, and people of faith must advocate for a just public education system that shows no partiality as well.”
Job would be the last place that one would think to turn to for a passage about the value of wisdom and learning. But right there stuck in the middle of all of Job’s suffering is this passage about wisdom and learning. “Where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? It cannot be gotten for gold, and silver cannot be weighed out as its price. It cannot be valued in the gold of Ophir, in precious onyx or sapphire. Gold and glass cannot equal it, nor can it be exchanged for jewels of fine gold. No mention shall be made of coral or of crystal; the price of wisdom/learning is above pearls…”
Nothing is more valuable than learning. No one is more valuable to a society than its educators and its educated citizens—people who have been taught how to think for themselves. Nobody—not one child—deserves to be left behind because they don’t have access to a high quality education or to that one teacher who will challenge them, who will say to them “you are a good writer” or “wow, you read that beautifully” or “you have the best penmanship ever.”
Every single one of God’s children deserves access to a Ms. Price or a Ms. Welch or Ms. Reamie Squires or a Mr. McSwain or a Ms. Grace Taylor who will teach them about English and history and math and science and the arts AND who will give them a place of blessing—a place of confidence—a place of hope—that place of understanding. As people of faith we have a moral responsibility to support and strengthen our public schools. And that is why what is happening around public education is our business as a faith community.
As we partner together, we pray for wisdom and courage to make a positive difference in the lives of those in our public schools. We pray for courage to explore new ways of supporting the people and institutions that teach our children and youth. And may we continue to commit ourselves to call on our elected leaders to recognize and value all of our students and educators. Amen.