“There are those who would make the case for a Race to the Top for those who can run. Instead ‘lift from the bottom’ is the moral imperative because it includes everybody,” declared The Rev. Jesse Jackson, president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition and panelist at a December, Town Hall of religious luminaries and experts. The event, exploring educational opportunity as a first principle, launched the Schott Foundation’s National Opportunity to Learn Summit. “If we do nothing else tonight,” Jackson continued, “we must agree that our present education system does not meet the moral imperative.”
“We talk about educational opportunity for all but act as if it is only for some,” interjected Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “Even in our economic emergency, we must dig deep. Universal pre-school would be a significant step.” “If we are genetically 96 percent the same,” affirmed John Jackson, president of the Schott Foundation, “social practices cause the variation in performance by race and ethnicity. Our moral obligation is to change policies that produce those differences.”
National Council of Churches General Secretary, The Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon reported consensus among U.S. Christian churches to protest a system that provides excellent schools only for some children and that treats children as products to be tested and managed, not as unique creations of God. Quoting the biblical commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves and similar ethical expressions in the Talmud, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and Taoism, The Rev. Bernice Powell Jackson, a Florida church pastor and leader in the World Council of Churches, declared, “Every faith teaches that it is not moral to abandon the most vulnerable.” “Can we make these moral principles part of the upcoming electoral conversation?” insisted Imam Malik Mujahid, chairman of the board of the Parliament of the World’s Religions.
Describing “a Texas high school student who committed suicide because he could not see a way to go to school, support a family and not be condemned to a lower caste,” Ms. Prerna Lal, Founder of DREAM Activist, asked for a future for undocumented immigrant children who lack a path to higher education or citizenship. “It is a moral imperative to ensure that our lives don’t go in vain.”
Imam Mujahid decried as a moral failure our society’s tolerance for poverty. The Rev. Jesse Jackson agreed: “Today with 53 million Americans food insecure, 50 million in poverty, 44 million on food stamps, 25 million looking for a job and record breaking home foreclosures, we’ve got to address the impact of poverty upon ambitions and life options.” “Florida has one of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation, with many children living in trucks or vans or cars or cheap motels,” added The Rev. Bernice Powell Jackson. “School buses now stop in front of cheap motels.”
Indicting as a moral turning point the 1973, U.S. Supreme Court Rodriguez decision making equal school funding a state but not a federal right, The Rev. Jesse Jackson called for structural reform: “In a football game the field is even—rules public, goals clear, referees fair, and score transparent. But rules with inherent justice do not apply beyond the playing field. We should be fighting for one set of rules—a common foundation beneath which no child falls.”
The United Church of Christ has more than 5,277 churches throughout the United States. Rooted in the Christian traditions of congregational governance and covenantal relationships, each UCC setting speaks only for itself and not on behalf of every UCC congregation. UCC members and churches are free to differ on important social issues, even as the UCC remains principally committed to unity in the midst of our diversity.