February 2, 2018

What If We Expand Our Understanding of Christian Education?

My mom was a school principal. My wife is Head of Lower School at St. Thomas’ Episcopal School in Houston. One of my sisters is a high school math teacher, and the other is an elementary school counselor.

Needless to say, we talk about education a lot in my family.

And we in the Episcopal Church have been talking about it quite a bit these past two weeks. First, All Our Children held their National Symposium in Columbia, S.C. All Our Children started as a joint initiative of Trinity Wall Street and the Episcopal Diocese of New York in response to educational inequality in New York City’s public schools. The nationwide organization now champions “every child’s right to a quality public education by building community, creating partnership, and advocating for justice.”

At the national symposium, the discussion focused on forming partnerships between churches, teachers, schools, and districts. A good summary of the conference can be found here.

Then, at the closing Eucharist for the annual Forma Conference for Christian educators, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preached a powerful sermon about the role of education in the life of a Christian (click here to listen, starting at the 37:45 mark). Bishop Curry called on the Church to be a place that values the education of all children, and he shared the powerful story of Deaconess Anna Alexander. Deaconess Alexander worked to improve the education of poor African American children in Georgia and helped established multiple parish schools.

So this got me thinking. What if we expanded our view of “Christian education” away from merely learning facts and figures about our faith, and instead started to think more holistically about a theology of education? About what it means that all people are able to learn?

What if each one of our parishes (and each of our parishioners) made it a point to help improve the education system in their neighborhoods?

Here are six initial ideas on how we might do this:

  1. Show up at school board meetings. Your presence at meetings, even without bringing forward issues, will communicate to the decision makers that your church cares.
  2. See if local teachers have posted individual classroom needs on Donors Choose, and then ask church members to help fund things that will go directly to the classroom.
  3. Set-up a tutoring or after-school program that meets in your building. (Examples of Episcopal parishes doing this are here and here).
  4. Many districts have cut spending on arts and music. Could our music ministries work with local administrators to set-up workshops, after school, or any opportunity for children to get exposure to art and music?
  5. Volunteer. Many school districts have detailed volunteer information online. If you’re in Houston, here’s the info. My kid’s school district info is here.
  6. (I can’t stop at a nice, round “five,” because this idea here is my personal favorite...) What if we worked to make Episcopal schools not just places where the best and the brightest get great educations? What if The Episcopal Church became known as the place where all students, of all abilities, and all backgrounds, were offered the best education? What some inspiration? Check out this, this, and this.

What would you add to this list? I’d love to hear your ideas!

How does your parish partner with local schools? How can the Church work to make sure all children are able to learn?