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|Back to School: NCC Urges Churches to Support
August 16, 2002, NEW YORK CITY - Actively support public schools this fall, the National Council of Churches is urging churches in a "pastoral letter" that reminds them that 90 percent of U.S. children attend public schools.
In the letter, Bob Edgar, the NCCs General Secretary, affirms the "excellent work" of schools sponsored by some of the Councils 36 member denominations, but reminds churches that "public schools are the primary route for most children, especially the children of poverty, into full participation in our economic, political and community life."
Dr. Edgar encourages congregations to plan public celebrations of all who work in public education, offering as a resource the "Litany for Education and Schools" developed by the NCCs Committee on Public Education and Literacy.
"Public schools are our nation's largest social institution," he says, noting that many of them perform at a high level and others are struggling.
Rejecting talk of "failing schools" as neither fair nor helpful, Dr. Edgar urges congregations and communities to ask "the hard question: Are our public schools failing, or are we as a society failing our public schools by refusing to provide the resources needed for them to succeed?"
The pastoral letter has been sent to leadership of the NCCs member denominations and of state and local ecumenical councils across the United States. The "Litany for Education and Schools" is available on the National Council of Churches Web site (www.ncccusa.org) at: /gifs/Litanyhandout.pdf or write NCC Ministries in Christian Education, Room 834, 475 Riverside Drive, New York, NY 10115; phone 212-870-2297.
The full text of the letter follows:
On behalf of the National Council of Churches, to which 50 million Americans relate through their denominations, I greet you and also present you with an urgent request.
This June the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a favorable judgment on the constitutionality of the Cleveland school voucher program (Zelman vs. Simmons-Harris). The response to this ruling within the Christian community was divided. But, no matter what our views on this ruling may be, one thing is overwhelmingly clear: the vast majority, over 90%, of our nation's school-age children attend public school. I recognize the excellent work of schools sponsored by some of our member communions. Yet while we affirm the contribution of private schools to the welfare of children, public schools are the primary route for most children, especially the children of poverty, into full participation in our economic, political, and community life. The well being of children, all children, is a central concern of the National Council of Churches.
I am writing to you to ask that you urge your congregations to actively support public schools this fall. It is time to stand up for our children in a visible way. Let me propose two areas of focus:
1. Public schools are our nation's largest social institution. Many of those schools perform at a high level as they prepare students for the future. Some schools struggle and face difficult challenges without adequate resources, many of them serving large numbers of children living in poverty. We read about 'failing schools' as we blame schools for social realities beyond their control. This is neither fair nor helpful language. We need to ask ourselves the hard question: Are our public schools failing, or are we as a society failing our public schools by refusing to provide the resources needed for them to succeed?
I urge you to begin a conversation within your congregations and communities about how issues of diminished tax dollars, health care, safety, racism, homelessness, childcare, unfunded mandates, and unequal distribution of public funding impact local schools. How can your congregations and communities participate in efforts to reform public policy and to strengthen schools as they strain to overcome these formidable obstacles? Even with educational alternatives, the primary institution where our society expresses its concern for and meets the needs of children will be public schools.
2. Those who teach our children need affirmation and support from their faith communities. Parker Palmer writes, "America's teachers are the culture heroes of our time. Daily they solve problems that baffle the rest of us. Daily they are asked to work with resources nowhere near commensurate with the task. And daily they are berated by politicians, the public, and the press for their alleged failures and inadequacies...What Jacques Barzun said about teaching fifty years ago remains true...'Teaching is not a lost art but the regard for it is a lost tradition'...Caught in an anguishing bind between the good work they do and the public misperceptions that surround them, hundreds and thousands of teachers somehow keep the faith and keep going -and we can be thankful that they do." (Forward in Sam Intrator, ed., Stories of Courage to Teach: Honoring the Teacher's Heart, San Francisco: Jossey Bass, 2002, p. xvii ff.).
I entreat you to find ways to support and express appreciation for the work of our school teachers and all who labor in public education including administrators, support staff, custodial staff, bus drivers and maintenance staff. Many within our communions are public educators by vocation. They are involved in education as an expression of their concern for children and passion for justice grounded in their faith in Jesus Christ, and they need the active support of their faith community. I propose that each faith community set apart a Sunday to affirm public school workers. I have enclosed a "Litany for Education and Schools" developed by the NCC Committee on Public Education and Literacy. The Committee continues to explore additional ways to celebrate public school teaching, to recognize teachers of excellence, and to emphasize teaching as an expression of Christian commitment.
Thank you for joining with me in these efforts to care for our children as we support our nation's schools.
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