Giving Thanks for Public Education

By J.C. Mitchell


So at the table sits my wife, my son’s teacher, principal, school psychologist, speech pathologist, occupational therapist, the 2nd grade general education teacher, a district representative, the physical education teacher (with a passion for adaptive sport) and his private ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) therapist.  We all sit on the small seats the children use so that we can keep our child in more familiar surroundings while we discuss his education.  There is a lot of data and writing; however, it is the stories that seem to say the most and help us to create solutions.  The team atmosphere is a must and we are lucky to have such a good team for our child.  I am all too aware that is not always the case, but I share this gathering around a school table as one of the things I am most thankful for, education for ALL.

Some may see professionals and complain about the salaries of these educated and overworked people who are essential to much of our economy.  I am sure that many professional, like us clergy, are in debt from our education, debt that will be sold by banks to make money..  Nonetheless, I am happy that there are still people who uphold education, and specifically education for all children.

In the state I live in we had people who wrote this as part of the constitution:

"It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders."  Article IX, Section 1   Washington State Constitution

Is that not wonderful?  Read it again, and notice these words: paramount, ample, education, all.

It was brought to the attention of the State Supreme Court of Washington via a lawsuit by McCleary.  And the McCleary ruling made it quite clear the state was not fulfilling the state’s own constitution.  That has led to significant problems, because while everyone in both caucuses like children, they can’t find enough revenue to amply fund education for all. 

So I look at where my taxes have gone and I realize not enough went to education, I am even more thankful for all those passionate educators gathered around that table, the para-educators that fulfill the plans throughout the school day, the bus drivers and aids, all of whom care for my son.

I could be bitter about the struggle for the right resources for my son, for children of color, for the poor, for those with other disabilities.  I could be bitter the answer is too often in the future and never funded, or I can get involved in my local, state, and federal politics and include Thanksgiving in our economy over the mindset named for the day after.


I encourage clergy and other church leaders to get involved in education, especially access for all, because this is a justice issue. For more information about the McCleary decision in Washington, click here. Whatever state you live in, as you give thanks this week, give thanks for public education, and get involved or we may soon see turkeys running this country because we forgot Thanksgiving.  


Church, Go Back to School!

By Rev. Mindi

We checked in over coffee, talking about the start of the year, about what hadn’t been done over the summer. We shared our frustrations about things that were still the same, and celebrated the changes that have been made and places where we saw hope and opportunity.

We weren’t talking about church; we were talking about school.

Over the course of the conversation, as we talked about our admiration for the younger teachers who seemed to be able to adapt and adjust better, who could multitask and understand the differing needs of today’s children, of all abilities, I couldn’t help but think about church and how so many of the conversations we are having in the public education sphere are almost the same conversations we are having in the church world. While a younger age does not guarantee someone is open to change and adaptation, these observations came from parents at this gathering about younger teachers and administrators:

-Technology is seen as a necessity, not a luxury, especially for students with disabilities, and all students benefit from access to technology.

-They use social media as a teaching tool in the classroom, to share the accomplishments of the school with the public, and to connect with parents and families.

-They are able to multitask and maintain their presence of authority in the classroom, even when there are disruptions and distractions.

-They want to know about students’ lives outside of the classroom—culture, family, interests, progress they are making academically and socially.


In contrast, teachers and administrators that are “old school” tend to be:

-Unfamiliar with technology or supports for students with different and unique needs.

-Unfamiliar with social media—even afraid to use it for fear of privacy concerns.

-Using one-size-fits-all models of classroom instruction and behavior expectation.

-Unable to adapt to major changes—want to use same curriculum or method of teaching.

-Struggle with cultures that are different or new to them.

Of course, these are generalizations. Of course, every school is different, every administrator and teacher is different. However, public education in the United States is changing, and these conversations are eerily similar to the conversations I have with my colleagues in ministry.

There are plenty of factors that make a comparison between the church and public school a different one. However, in this conversation with parents, I heard many familiar themes:

-Struggle of an institution stuck in patterns of the past.

-Administrators unable to think outside of the box and try new ideas, or even see the reason for doing something in a different way.

-Teachers not being paid enough to live even near the communities they teach in.

-Not enough resources to go around.

-Access to technology lacking.

-Buildings in dire need of updating, but can’t due to lack of funds.

-Struggle of educating students in a rapidly changing multi-cultural community.

-The number of students on free and reduced lunch rapidly on the rise.

Change “Administrators” to “Administration Board” or whatever your governing body is, change “teachers” to pastors, etc. You get the idea. Our communities are changing with new immigrants and cultures and the number of families at or near the poverty level is on the rise.

What I see that is helpful in this comparison is that change is possible. As part of this group of parents, I am seeing significant change in our school district towards inclusion of students with disabilities. Younger teachers are being hired who are able to multitask and maintain their presence of authority in the classroom. More resources are being invested in technology, including an app for parents to keep up with what is going on at their child’s school and in the district.

At the same time, teacher salaries are low. Teacher turnover is high in the state of Washington, where I live, and more and more teachers are leaving public education altogether. Bonds are not passing at the local level and so buildings are falling into disrepair, and resources are stretched thin. Every year, there are teacher positions that are unfilled by a permanent teacher and instead filled by a substitute, sometimes for the entire year.

The conversation is all too familiar. All too close to home. What can we learn, and what can we do differently?

Education or Morality?

By Brian Carr

Americans have a fetish with education. Specifically, we have an obsession with formal, higher education. For numerous reasons we believe that one’s education has a lot to say about that person’s character.

We immediately associate education with intelligence. Your intelligence is intrinsically associated with your education. It’s a simple formula – the more education you’ve received, the more intelligent you are.

This ties in with Christianity because we also associate intelligence with morality. The more intelligent you are, the more moral you must automatically be.

Once again, if we take an introspective look into our own thoughts, I think most of us would be surprised at how our subconscious thinks about this. If you encountered two people—one with a Ph.D. and one who dropped out of high school—who would you assume was the more moral person? Your first instinct is to go with the person who has earned a Ph.D. How can they not be a moral person? Certainly they are smart enough to make good decisions, right?

Alternatively, we assume the high school dropout either wasn’t smart enough to finish high school or wasn’t dedicated or hard-working enough. How can we expect this person to contribute to the moral or ethical aspects of society then? They are vagrants, gangsters, or losers who are destined to make immoral decisions.

This is the common line of thought when it comes to education. This thought pervades our society at every level—professors, lawyers, and doctors are some of the most well respected members of our communities. They also have the most degrees of anyone around us.

But how do we know these educated people are automatically moral? Politicians are extremely well educated in terms of how many degrees they have, and yet they are often guilty of pushing immoral agendas. Some of the greatest atrocities of the world have been carried out by educated people. Yoweri Museveni, Kim Jong Il, and Joseph Goebbels all received degrees from higher education institutes.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, and Rosa Parks never received any formal education above the high school level.

The first group of individuals were considered the more intelligent group by educational standards. The second group would have been placed in the uneducated category.

And yet which group would you argue is more moral?

These people aren’t the exception to the rule either. They are not an extremely small sample size that I’m using to frame my biased argument. They are simply the most well-known examples of the millions of people who break this education-based assumption of morality on a daily basis.

We also assume as a society that educated people have more to teach us than the uneducated people. We should listen to what the people with Ph.D.s are telling us, and ignore and marginalize those who never earn a degree. 

How wrong this assumption is. I am not arguing that educated people have nothing to teach us, but simply that we should not automatically conform to the ideas of higher education while ignoring the ideas of the high school dropout. Both sides have something to teach us and both sides have something to learn.

Some of the most profound things I have ever heard and read have come from people without college degrees. Truth can be found in every person, regardless of your definitions of intelligence and its relation to morality.

Besides, actions speak louder than degrees.