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educate a child and transform the world

Mister Rogers conference provides novel platform for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Educate a Child initiative

Growing up in northern New Jersey, a younger version of the Rev. Dr. Alonzo Johnson watched in awe as Fred Rogers welcomed a break-dancer onto the groundbreaking television show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” in the 1980s. Breakdancing was considered scary or threatening to some in mainstream culture at the time, but Rogers warmly greeted the dancer, a Black youth with a boombox and a cardboard mat, and encouraged him to show off his skills to viewers. The cardigan-clad host even tried a few of the moves himself. “This was really revelatory for me because it was about appreciating the art” but also about “accepting young, Black children” as a part of the neighborhood, said Johnson, who serves as convener of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Educate a Child, Transform the World roundtable. “There’s something really theologically powerful, something socially powerful about this episode for me.”

Minute for Mission: Educate a Child, Transform the World

Presbyterians have always supported public education. Jesus calls us to love God with “heart, soul and mind.” Our Reformed tradition affirms education as one way we develop our mind and one way we love God. The PC(USA)’s most recent policy statement on public education stands in that tradition and recognizes “that quality public schools are essential to our society’s efforts to overcome poverty and address social inequality.” The policy statement states that “quality public schools offer a holistic education, one that equips our children to live both meaningful and productive lives. A quality public school … is a place where they learn to think critically and become effective citizens, where they gain an appreciation for the sweep of human history and for the arts. Public schools are one place where children and young people can learn about their own bodies, how to be healthy and stay fit.” The study acknowledges the role of private and charter schools while affirming that quality public schools impact most of our children. Loving our neighbor means loving our neighbors’ children and supporting the public schools, even if we do not have children attending those schools.

Minute for Mission: Educate a Child, Transform the World

I was in a morning Bible study when I received the phone call. It was from the father of one of my youth group teens who had called to let me know that his son “B.A.” had been shot. Hearing this news, I felt overcome by disbelief and sadness as I began asking a flurry of questions. Dad calmly replied, “Reverend, he is alive, he isOK; the gunshots were not fatal.” I was thankful and relieved that B.A. was still alive, but then another wave of sadness overtook me as I remembered that two weeks earlier, I had suspended B.A. from youth group activities because he, as a “prank,” had brought a BB gun there and threatened others with it. This happened the week following the massacre at Sandy Hook, Connecticut, so as one can imagine, I did not find his “prank” amusing.