Article Mar 3, 2015

Racial reconciliation and the education system

NOTE: The 2015 ERLC Leadership Summit will address "The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation" to equip Christians to apply the gospel on these issues with convictional kindness in their communities, their families and their churches. This event will be held in Nashville on March 26-27, 2015. To learn more go here.

As the ERLC prepares for the 2015 ERLC Leadership Summit addressing “The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation,” I can’t help but think back to my two years teaching U.S. History and U.S. Government at a high school in Nashville, TN.  

The bias of lower expectations

The student body where I worked is over 85 percent African-American, and it is a Title I school.  When I taught, I was told that I would be successful if I managed to simply control my classroom and keep my students inside the classroom and out of the halls causing trouble.  I was saddened that some people defined success for my students as merely staying seated in their desks with no mention of learning, achievement, and preparation for college and career. The broken public education system in which I worked was living proof that often our society sets lower expectations for black students than white students and expects less out of poor students than wealthier students.

These low expectations were shameful to me, as they represented how this school system and society at large had failed these students. I was not a perfect teacher by any means nor was I always successful, but I witnessed children, counted out year after year, begin to succeed in my classroom as I held them to higher standards and consistently encouraged them to the point where they too believed they could meet those expectations.

The important role of education in racial reconciliation

As the ERLC pushes to see racial reconciliation become a reality in our church pews, it would be easy for some Christians to overlook the important role education plays in creating inequity and divisions within our communities. There are important debates happening about the role of the government in educating children, but these debates should not overshadow the reality that millions of children in our country are victims of the soft bigotry of low expectations.

This discrimination is rarely malicious, but its impact is detrimental. Every time we think or talk about “those kinds of schools” or “those kinds of kids” is a time when we are saying the imago dei is not present in every child of every race and class in our country.

Many of our nation’s children simply need to be given a chance and told that we believe in them. They also need teachers, parents, community members, and role models to step into the gap with them. The families of my students were good people who only wanted the best for their children. As Christians, it’s our responsibility to see the imago dei in every child in every neighborhood in our country. What if we cared as much about the education of the children in our towns and cities as we do our own children? What if we could move beyond talking about “those kids” and realized every one of those boys and girls created in God’s image should be viewed as “our kids”?

The call to live for our neighbor’s good

The realities that I encountered daily in my classroom are realities that everyone in our country needs to grapple with more directly, moving beyond lip service and shaking our heads at the latest heartbreaking stories, to a place where we live sacrificially to ensure we as a nation are expecting the same possibilities and opportunities for all of our nation’s children, no matter their race, neighborhood, or socioeconomic class.

Christians and the Church need to be more invested and involved with the educational system that serves so many children who live in poverty.  We must ask ourselves tough questions like whether our words and actions reveal that we truly believe all children from all races and all backgrounds can truly achieve great things in the classroom and beyond.

Stepping into this conversation will not be easy. It will require humility on all of our parts. It will require us to love until it hurts. It will require us to realize our perspectives aren’t the only ones that exist and our experiences are different from others. It will require us to admit that we don’t have all the answers and we don’t have it all together like we display to the world.

It will require listening and learning from others we aren’t used to listening to and learning from. The gospel will truly come alive as Ephesians 4 becomes more gloriously real in our lives, our cities, our nation and our world.