reflection on the importance of our work to lift up teaching

reflection on the importance of our work to lift up teaching

Greetings and Reflection
 from Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, President of the National Council of Churches
Transforming No Child Left Behind Conference
March 13, 2009


Reverend Clergy, Educators, Honored Guests:

I want to welcome you all, on behalf of the National Council of Churches, to this important meeting of the NCC’s Public Education and Literacy Committee.

Our topic of discussion today concerns specific matters of public policy, and will perhaps result in specific recommendations for legislation and advocacy.  That is very important, of course.

But in the broader view, what is most important is our overall commitment to education, not simply as a cause or an interest-movement, but as a human value, which has endured through history, and which links us to the entire family of mankind.

My own Armenian people have lived much of their history in difficult circumstances—and yet the value they placed on learning allowed them to escape external troubles, and build a lasting and luminous civilization.

This insight has also been a cornerstone of democracy in America—and it has held out great promise to people across the world.  When my own people arrived here, as refugees from the Armenian Genocide of 1915, with nothing in the way of material possessions, and little familiarity with the culture of their adoptive country, they found a great benefit in the American educational system.  Indeed, the children of these parents often found in school—in the “life of the mind”—a kind of level playing field, which they did not find elsewhere.

In school, they could express their desire to work, to learn, to compete on the basis of objective measures.  Their drive to learn was reinforced at home.  And all of these forces would ultimately allow them to advance in the society.

And by advancement, I do not mean primarily the material sense, but also the sense of cultivating the human mind, in a variety of disciplines, to prepare for life as citizens of a vital democracy.

This was the experience of many from my own immigrant background, and of course from other backgrounds, as well.  It is something we must always strive to refresh and renew, so that each generation can truly approach the world with an open mind.  And I hope that the same open-minded spirit will prevail in our discussions today.

Finally, as a clergyman, I cannot help but note that the theme of learning has a deep resonance in Scripture.  Our Lord Jesus Christ came into this world, first, as a teacher; indeed, the word “teach” occurs more than thirty times in the gospels—nearly twice as many times as such words as “justice” and “compassion.”  It was his vocation as a teacher that inspired the movement that gathered in his name—and that inspires us in all our efforts today.

Let us now pray in his name.

O Lord:

We ask you to bless the people gathered here, who labor for the benefit of all your children.  Guide them with your holy light.

In the words of the Psalmist (Ps 90:16-17): “Let your work be manifest to your servants, and your glorious power to their children.”

“Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us.  And establish for us the work of our hands.  Yes, the work of our hands, establish it.”  Amen.