The PC(USA)’s Education Roundtable urges Presbyterians to support and protect public education

Loving our neighbor promotes equity and quality in public schools, according to a 2010 General Assembly policy paper

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — Leaders with Educate a Child, Transform the World held an online roundtable Wednesday imploring Presbyterians to protect public education and provide care and nurture for students, teachers, administrators, board members and school staff.

The Rev. Dave Brown, an Education Roundtable member, set the stage by recalling the General Assembly’s most recent public education policy, “Loving Our Neighbors: Equity and Quality in Public Education (K-12),” approved by the 219th General Assembly (2010). The policy relies on at least three biblical tenets, Brown said:

  • Remember who our neighbor is. “That’s why we’re a Matthew 25 Church,” Brown said. “How will policies impact children on the margins? We’re to remember the least of these.”
  • All the heart and mind. “Mind here means intellectual activity,” Brown said. “Learning and intellectual activity are ways we love God.”
  • It is good. “God looked at all that was created and called it good,” Brown said. “Education helps human beings to appreciate the wonder and goodness of the created world, and quality public schools are essential to overcome poverty and address inequality.”

“We want our kids to use their minds and ask hard questions, and not be afraid of them,” Brown said. “That’s grounded in our trust of the way of Jesus, who shows us what it means to be human.”

Just about any faith community can do these things to support public education, according to the Education Roundtable:

  • Celebrate and pray for educators in worship on a Sunday in the fall.
  • Encourage Christian educators in order to show positive interest in children and their school life.
  • Meet the principals serving nearby schools and offer your support, especially for the separation of church and state.

Dr. Wanda Beauman

Educate a Child created a Congregational Covenant, which urges congregations to live into these child advocacy ministries, as presented Wednesday by the Rev. Dr. Alonzo Johnson, Educate a Child convenor, and Dr. Wanda Beauman, a former school principal and the former moderator of Denver Presbytery:

  • Direct service, which Johnson defined as “providing concrete ministries that embody God’s compassion and commitment to meet the immediate needs of those who are vulnerable, discounted and marginalized. Education ministry is child advocacy,” Johnson said. “It fits Matthew 25 because it’s anti-poverty. Young people really need the resources we have to offer.”
  • Consciousness raising, which Beauman called “joining the journey of solidarity by seeking to understand the root causes of injustice through critical examination and reflection of the most pressing challenges our neighbors living in at-risk situations face.”
  • Systemic change, which Johnson said is “working for social transformation that addresses the root causes so often codified in our societal structures and institutions, which call us as Christians to join God in shaping a world more consistent with God’s best intention of all people.” Justice is “part of who we are” and we should “be aware of the gifts of the Presbyterian Church” including strong advocacy efforts by the Office of Public Witness and the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations, Johnson said.
  • Christian practices, or “grounding our commitment and sustaining our work for justice for children and their families as we participate in spiritual disciplines that mediate God’s grace and embolden our acts of faithful witness,” according to Beauman.

Laura Zhang Choi

Laura Zhang Choi, a school board member in New Jersey and graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary who’s pursuing a divinity degree from New Brunswick Theological Seminary, said educational equity “is deeply, deeply close to my heart.” Six years ago, one of her children came out as transgender.

Choi took the 40 or so participants in Wednesday’s webinar through a scan of recent headlines. Houston schools have announced plans to eliminate 28 school libraries and replace them with centers for work and discipline. The standard in Florida now is to teach children that some Black people benefited from slavery because, as the state determined, “it taught useful skills.” Book banning efforts continue to spread across the nation — even in the school district Choi represents.

Choi offered these best practices for countering unhelpful policies:

  • Engage, show up, and make sure the superintendent knows your name — and that you support school administrators and their work.
  • Offer to gift books at book fairs to classrooms and libraries. Clear students’ lunch accounts if you can.
  • Volunteer at community and district events.
  • Get on the district’s mail and email list. “Email them and introduce yourself and offer your support,” she said. “It’s not that hard.”
  • Know the issues and challenges of your district. Show up at the school board meeting in a clergy collar or stole, if necessary.

“We hope you can apply what you’ve learned to your particular situation,” Johnson said near the end of the 90-minute webinar before offering this benediction: “Go in peace and let us love young people as God intended. Amen and amen.”

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