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It’s Time for Christians to Stand Up for Public Schools

It almost goes without saying that there is an ongoing attack on “traditional” public schools in the U.S.

Students are being treated as commodities as their parents are encouraged to shop around for the “best” school.

This is the unfortunate result of our nation’s unwillingness to invest consistently and equitably in providing a world-class education for all students in all public schools.

To add injury to insult, public schools are under attack by bureaucrats who have founded charter (privatized public) schools that are being warehoused and falsely sold to the community as a bag of goods.

Parents looking for another free alternative to public schools because they have, in many communities, become inefficient and ineffective in consistently providing a world-class education to all students, are often persuaded by false narratives about charter schools and public schools.

Public schools are the only schools that, like Christ, serve all without discrimination, privilege or preference.

Public schools are the only schools that serve students of all ethnic and cultural backgrounds – students from every socioeconomic level; students with and without physical, mental and learning disabilities, and students of various genders and identities.

Christians must admit that, as a whole, we have failed to follow Christ by our silence and sometimes even our intentional lack of support of public school students and educators by withholding our time, presence, talents and resources.

We have allowed our religiosity, complacency and our own cultural/ethnic and class biases to trump our calling to walk by the example of Jesus.

We have allowed the wealthy and powerful to convince us to walk away from our calling and purpose by serving money rather than God and those who need our support and leadership the most.

For the most part, Christian leaders have conceded to the pressures of popular politics and the comforts of walking within the boundaries of “acceptable” social norm.

This has allowed lawmakers to siphon away necessary resources for students attending public schools and legislate discrimination and biases against the most marginalized students and parents in our community.

From childhood to adulthood, Jesus was a public educator. He taught in the synagogue, in the streets, at a wedding, in a home, during a burial service and as a part of a public celebration in the streets.

Jesus was intentional about providing a free, public education to all. There was no discrimination, no practices of privilege nor rejection of persons that Jesus publicly taught neither by faith/religion, socioeconomic status, neighborhood/ community/region, ethnic/cultural background, nor gender/identity.

We can continue to hide behind our religious walls of protection and in our houses of religion using the commonly accepted excuse that we, as faith leaders, must remain separate from state and political affairs.

Yet, we are not apolitical when we “need” political resources for our building projects.

We are not apolitical when it comes to judging persons by class, ethnicity/culture, identity/gender, incarcerated/decarcerated, serving on death row or lacking housing and other basic necessities.

Public schools remain under attack in Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, Arkansas, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Georgia, California and many other states.

Since the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, we have been witnessing a myriad of proposed legislation designed to create an even larger divide between the “haves” and the “have nots” in our cities, states and nation.

Public school students and educators who are losing out the most are those where the student populations are already the most marginalized, the most underrepresented, the most underserved and the most vulnerable in their communities.

These are the ones whom God has repeatedly warned us against mistreating. These are the ones whom Jesus taught us the importance of loving and serving.

The church cannot continue to remain silent as public school students, teachers and communities are under fierce attack. I plan to continue to stand and speak up with other clergy and faith leaders.

Each of us can be sure that God will hold us accountable individually for our actions and inactions, accordingly.

Anika T. Whitfield is a native of Little Rock, an ordained Baptist preacher, a podiatrist, tri-chair of the Arkansas Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival and a community activist for public education, human justice and equity.

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series on public education. The previous articles in the series are:

Pastors’ Group Supports Strong Education for All Kids by Charles Foster Johnson

Why Privatizing Public Schools Threatens Education by Diane Ravitch

Right Side of History: Removing Barriers to Education by Colin Harris

4 Ways Your Church Can Support Public Education by Michael Ruffin

Ministering in Our Schools Prepares Kids for Future by Suzii Paynter