Our children are among God's greatest gift. Jesus welcomed children, blessed them, and cautioned those who would put stumbling blocks before them.
This season of Thanksgiving creates an opportunity for us to celebrate God's creation by working for a society that welcomes all children. Public schools in the United States, serving over ninety percent of America's 54 million children, are institutions where we need to promote systemic, institutional justice.
Here are some ways you and your congregation can help public schools respond to all children:
Join us in November 2000 as we launch a new public education forum, Supporting Stronger and More Equitable Public Schools on the UCC website. We'll kick off the discussion by looking at the cover article, "Our Faith Informs School Finance Debate," in the Justice and Witness Ministries' 2000-2001 Message on Public Education, recently mailed to your congregation, to all Christian educators, and to members of Justice and Peace networks for children and public education. The article itself is posted at ucc.org. This interactive forum will connect you with others who share your concern about public schools.
Identify the serious challenges for your schools. Use the discussion guide published in the 2000-2001 Message on Public Education and posted on the UCC website ucc.org. It was prepared by the two-year-old UCC Public Education Task Force. Within your congregation, create an opportunity for adults, adolescents and adults together, or your youth group to prioritize education issues in your community. If you try this process with your youth group, including a way for these adolescents to report back to adults in your congregation, experience at the National Youth Event and Harambee shows that your congregation will be surprised and fascinated by the concerns of adolescents. At those two youth events, groups of middle school and high school students identified school funding as a top concern for school districts across the nation.
Visit a school. Follow the lead of the Public Education Task Force and plan a group visit to a school in your area. To study issues in urban education the Task Force visited schools in Philadelphia and Portland, Ore. Schools in both locations now proudly display the plaques the Task Force presented them. A middle school teacher in Philadelphia told us our visit reassured him that the community cares about the children in his school. School visits are a potent way for visitors to learn about the expectations a community holds for its children, from the physical environment and from the relationships observed among students, teachers, and other staff. Follow up a visit by thinking about a partnership between your congregation and the school. The Ministry for Public Education and Witness can provide resources about developing partnerships, both ideas and technical support.
General Synod 18, in its pronouncement, Support of Quality, Integrated Education for All Children in Public Schools, stated, "As Christians we believe that God desires for children the life abundant which comes from the fullest development of their gifts—physical, intellectual, social and spiritual." As people of faith surely we are called to develop programs and to work for public policy that will help public schools realize this dream.
Jan Resseger is Minister for Public Education and Witness in Justice and Witness Ministries in the UCC's national setting. Contact her for copies of the 2000-2001 Message on Public Education or additional resources for any of these initiatives, or to discuss your plans to support public schools, at 700 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44115-1100; phone 216-736-3711; e-mail email@example.com.