Back to School: A Pledge
In these difficult days, we must promote and do better with our educational systems. We must not underfund education.
My own life’s rhythm begins in August/September and ends in May. Summer is sabbath. Most of my life has been spent enjoying August’s preparation for the symbolic and real beginning of school with fresh clean notebooks and pencils with which to write new chapters of life. For those who are privileged, new fall clothes mark the year because of having grown and needing a refreshed identity from a 10-year-old kid to becoming a tween.
For me, psychologically and somehow spiritually, September is when new life begins. I loved the anticipation of the first day of school. During my college and seminary years, I could not wait to go back in the fall. The majority of my working life has joyfully been in higher education with the same pattern of newness tied to education.
For many around the world, education is the most treasured “possession.” In many places, children covet the opportunity to learn. Coming from a family of educators who held close their Christian faith, there is nothing more valuable than one’s education.
Education is formative for the person and transformative for the society. Learning and exposure to ideas, cultures and peoples creates change and conversion. It inspires people to see the world in new ways, to make commitments, to venture out, to reflect more deeply, to understand more fully the universe and the wonder of God’s world.
We all have stories of amazing insights when we learned something new while reading a book, discussing a film, or participating in a discussion group of diverse people. These experiences give us a deeper understanding about a community in which we live, or enable us to listen to stories from far-away places and people. Education promotes curiosity and curiosity advances connection and understanding.
Not the first time in history, but at this time in history, the COVID-19 pandemic has relentlessly revealed not the wonder of education but the brokenness and the abuse of the educational system in the US. We now see clearly how the educational systems across the country have long been expected to serve multiple purposes with far too little. We see the depth to which schools have served as childcare systems without acknowledgment, recognition, or remuneration.
Schools have carried additional weight of not only teaching, socialization, cultivating the arts and athletics but far too often providing food programs. The school system has often been left to care for the most vulnerable children and young people for their nutrition and daily food when the society and even faith communities could or would not. This was vividly revealed when schools transitioned to remote learning this spring.
Christianity as well as other faith communities have long held education in high esteem, believing that faith and learning can change the world. Jesus spent much time with teachers and rabbis. He was formed by his teachers and became a teacher himself. Teaching and learning is in the fabric of our faith.
Since the beginning of the Methodist movement, in Britain in the mid-1700s, with the establishment of Kingswood College (a school that educated children regardless of class background) for boys as well as girls (which was nearly unheard of) with the mission of educating the society has stamped and shaped Methodist identity. From that moment on, education has marked the individual’s faith with the desire to be learned and for civil society to be educated.
The Social Principles of the UMC state:
We believe that every person has the right to education. We also believe that the responsibility for education of the young rests with the family, faith communities, and the government. In society, this function can best be fulfilled through public policies that ensure access for all persons to free public elementary and secondary schools and to post-secondary schools of their choice…We affirm the joining of reason and faith… (Paragraph 164.E)
In these difficult days, we must not underfund education, negate public policies, jeopardize teachers, abandon students, and compromise the welfare of the society by neglecting public education. We must promote and do better with our educational systems.
There is no reason that the US cannot commit to education as a top priority. There is no reason that teachers cannot be well paid for promoting the highest ideals of civil society found in public education of the whole person. There is no reason for Black and brown communities to suffer disproportionately from lack of resources, adequate budgets, technology and teachers. There is no reason that the most vulnerable and tender of our society cannot have access to the best education in liberal arts, science, and technology from K-12. There is no reason that rural and remote areas cannot have access to broadband making possible access to the internet for which much of the world benefits for educational purposes.
For United Methodists the wedding of faith and learning is in our DNA. It is a matter of the flourishing of the heart, the spirit and the mind which has existed from the beginning of our faith. In the Gospels, Jesus is consistently teaching others.
Hear these words on education from the poet and prophet Maya Angelou in her poem, “A Pledge to Rescue Our Youth.”
Young women, young men of color, we add our voices to the voices of your ancestors who speak to you over ancient seas and across impossible mountain tops. Come up from the gloom of national neglect, you have already been paid for. Come out of the shadow of irrational prejudice, you owe no racial debt to history. The blood of our bodies and the prayers of our souls have bought you a future free from shame and bright beyond the telling of it. We pledge ourselves and our resources to seek for you clean and well-furnished schools, safe and non-threatening streets, employment which makes use of your talents, but does not degrade your dignity. You are the best we have. You are all we have. You are what we have become. We pledge you our whole hearts from this day forward.
Children, teachers, this school year, we pledge you our whole hearts. Amen.
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