Today, teacher and writer Kristen Allen shares her reflections on the God-given right to education that all people share, and the obstacles that stand in the way of educational justice that she has witnessed in her 34 years as an educator.
The Lord’s Answer to Habakkuk (Habakkuk 2:2-4)
I will climb my watchtower and wait to see what the Lord will tell me to say and what answer he will give to my complaint.
The Lord gave me this answer: “Write down clearly on tablets what I reveal to you, so that it can be read at a glance. Put it in writing, because it is not yet time for it to come true. But the time is coming quickly, and what I show you will come true. It may seem slow in coming, but wait for it; it will certainly take place, and it will not be delayed. And this is the message: ‘Those who are evil will not survive, but those who are righteous will live because they are faithful to God.”
I am no theologian. I’m a teacher. I’ve been an educator for the past 34 years. I have taught every grade and college courses too. My field of expertise, though, is early childhood (birth to age 8), with an emphasis on children who are trying to learn to read, write, and compute while dealing with such traumas as domestic violence, child abuse, and poverty. I have spent all 34 years with high expectations and my idealism intact. The beauty of working with children at the beginning of their educational journey is that it is easier to treat each student, no matter what they look like or who their parents are, or [insert bias of choice here], as full of promise.
Over the decades, I have been regularly surprised by students (and their families), but I have never been disappointed by them. I am continually disappointed, often dismayed, by adults–colleagues, school administrators, policy makers, religious leaders, strangers on social media—who would withhold education (and the nutrition, health care, and other supports they need to be successful students) from children.
I believe that education is a right for all human beings. Education breaks the cycle of poverty. It levels the imbalance in power of the People Who Can Read And Know Things and the People Who Can’t. Education is the rising tide that raises all boats. This philosophy is not new or extreme. Early in our nation’s history, Horace Mann laid the foundations for universal, free public education when he said, “Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery.”
It is shared by educators and leaders such as Pope Paul VI, that proclaimed in the 1965 Gravissimum Educationis “All men of every race, condition and age, since they enjoy the dignity of a human being, have an inalienable right to an education … For a true education aims at the formation of the human person in the pursuit of his ultimate end and of the good of the societies of which, as man, he is a member, and in whose obligations, as an adult, he will share.”
And yet, here we are in 2018 with education here and around the world, not universal, free, or public. We are not leveling the playing field for all citizens. Illiteracy was used as a weapon by Rwandan leaders to use radio propaganda to incite the Hutu to brutally commit genocide against their Tutsi neighbors. I’ve been to schools across that country. Twenty-five years after the genocide, one of the primary strategies for rebuilding the nation is a commitment to improving the literacy rate of the population.
According to UNICEF, nearly 121 million children (61 million elementary students and 60 million secondary students) around the world do not go to school. There are still over 20 nations in the world that do not allow girls to go to school. Here in the United States, children of color, living in poverty, or born with some sort of special needs are significantly less likely to graduate from high school. From my decades working in classrooms with parenting teens, refugees, and working poor families, I can tell you countless stories of unthinkable hardships children face because they lack the education—or the support of educators–to be full participants in their communities.
Make no mistake, this intolerable injustice is being willfully perpetrated upon our most vulnerable children here and around the world. Children. This is evil at work.
How much longer do we have to wait, Lord, for your justice? Why do you tarry, when each day a child misses school increases her likelihood of becoming (or, more likely, remaining) poor, or being a victim of a violent crime? When will you move against the evil that withholds good gifts to your children?