Monday, July 11, 2011

End of Day Two - Education

Perhaps most notable in today's business is the re-election of the Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins as our General Minister and President.  The other resolutions that seemed to raise the most interesting debate was the Issue of Justice in Education and how the church can deal with issues of victims/survivors of sexual abuse.  First, lets talk about Education.
Much of the conversation around Justice in Education was well received among the delegates.  However, many objected to the categorization of Charter Schools as a part of the perception of inequity in public education.  Others disagreed with the church's emphasis on an issue that seemed political not spiritual.  First, let me speak to the second objection.  Historically, if you have a Sunday School program in your Church, you can thank the social conscious Christians of Industrial London.  The advent of Sunday School was the church's effort to educate young people in the midst of a booming Industrial Revolution in 19th century England.  As families moved from the farms to the city, using children in the growing and often dangerous factories was common.  Even in the United States it was not uncommon to see children as young as 12 working around dangerous machines churning out goods for the increasing appetite of the growing middle class and the already over satiated wealthy.  The Church of England saw the danger of losing a whole generation of children as churches, village schools and small communities who had once educated the young were now empty.  Seeing the increase in crime and an uneducated populace, the Sunday School movement was launched.  The fact that it had been the Church who educated children over the preceding 1000 years it wasn't such a huge jump in logic that it would also be the Church that sought to minister to the needs of a working class population of children.  As Sunday was deemed the one day that factories were required to scale back their work, the Church of England began to gather the children off of the streets in London and other cities in England to teach them the Bible and other basic skills in language, history and mathematics.  As laws against child labor and efforts to offer public education increased, the Sunday School transitioned into a basic method to teach the faith.  The point? The Church has always been involved in issues of education, especially the education of children.  It is a natural for the Church to be involved in issues of education, especially in issues of justice and the seeming failure of public education in our own country.  I and others may disagree with particular points of how we might best address these issues, but in my opinion, it is perfectly appropriate for the Church of Jesus Christ to continue its leadership in this realm of our human society.  As a Democratic Republic, education is the key to an informed voter who is able to articulate matters of state interests and be involved in the ongoing conversation about not only the responsibility of public education but also the necessity of being vigilant.  It is therefore, in my opinion, a perfectly normal issue to be discussed when Christians come together to vision the future of our ministry together.
As for the particular resolution, I am not an expert on education.  I can not speak to the general inequities that motivated the presenters to raise the issue at this General Assembly.  I can, however, covenant to continue to study the issue and be involved in how our public education can best fulfill the mandate to teach the citizens of our nation.  Are Charter Schools the answer, one answer or a part of the problem? I would not have the slightest clue.  I can say that I have seen that schools in poor communities generally produce poorly educated graduates or no graduates at all.  I have seen with my own eyes communities with parents who are actively involved in local public education consistently produce students who are better prepared for the ever changing world.  I have also seen communities where parents either do not or are not able to be involved in the education of their children turn out students who can not fill out a job application, let alone inform themselves on issues of national and political importance.  I can also accept that this is an issue of justice.  Where do we go from here? We will find our way.  I'm just glad we are courageous enough to reclaim the once influential leadership the Church of Jesus Christ had in education.  We should never, as individuals or as congregations, relinquish our role in working toward a just society where every citizen has access to education.

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