Thursday, May 26, 2016

Why we are choosing a Title I school over a School of Excellence

My older two kids have attended a charter school in our city since Kindergarten. It really is a great school and the students achieve high test scores. It's a School of Excellence, with a 9/10 rating. And we've had an overall great four years there. My kids are happy, they are doing well academically, they have good buddies.

But next year, we're leaving. We're enrolling them in our neighborhood school. It's a Title I school; the majority of students are at or below the poverty level. The students don't typically get very high test scores. It's rating is 3/10.

Well that certainly sounds crazy, huh?

I've been doing a LOT of thinking lately. And I've realized that there are some things I say I believe and it's time for me to act upon them.
 I believe
  • there's no such thing as "other people's children."
  • following Jesus means working to break down barriers like race & class. 

I believe Jesus really meant it when he said "love your neighbor as yourself." I believe that means that all those good things I want for my family I should also want for my neighbors. All the things I want for my own children, all those things I'm willing to work hard for: food, clothing, a safe & loving place to live, a great school... I'm supposed to want and work for those things for "other people's children" too. Which means maybe there's really no such thing as "other people's children" at all. And the past four years, I haven't been able to stop thinking about all the kids at our local school who have been left behind as more and more families choose private and charter schools. I fear that maybe we're asking the wrong question when we ask "What's best for my family?" instead of "How can I be part of making my community better for all of us?"

Jesus came to love all of us, but he paid particular attention to the "outcasts" - the members of society who weren't highly esteemed. He broke barriers by valuing the poor, giving esteem to women and dignity to the "unclean"and the non-religious, he broke the rules by spending time with different people-groups or "races." To follow his lead means I need to be about breaking down those barriers too.

So for the remainder of our elementary school years, we are choosing to be part of a school where not all of the kids' parents are able to be as involved (for a multitude of reasons). We are leaving a school that is 78% white and choosing instead a school that's 46% white. I won't have to worry about my black child being one of only a few black children in his class. I can't tell you how much relief that brings me.  I've spent a lot of hours volunteering at my kids' current charter school where I am one of many many parents who are up there all the time. Going forward, I won't see a million other moms when I come in to volunteer. But my hope is that I'll be able to be a meaningful adult in the lives of some kids who might really need it. Not because my race or my socio-economic status is any better than theirs, but because I want to partner with Mamas from other races, from other socio-economic classes, to raise our children together. I want to be a part of breaking down barriers and helping a school that needs some families to help it become great. Because all kids deserve great schools. Because life's not fair but if I have a chance to make things more fair, I want to take it.

There's one more thing I have always said I believe: Test scores do not reflect teacher quality. And I've been thrilled as I've met with the principal and parents from our local school to hear about fabulous teachers, about great programs, about ways that students there are thriving.  I can honestly say that I truly regret not looking at this school earlier. I am sad that I let the "rating" scare me from choosing to be part of my local public school when doing so better reflects my own beliefs in what makes a great education.

And you know what? I'm scared. The challenges we'll face at school going forward will be different. Change is hard and even good change comes with loss. We are sad to leave our school and we really hope we can maintain the relationships we've built there (tears streaming as I type this). But I'm also ready and excited about our next adventure. And if there's anything I've learned, it's that following Jesus is hard, but worth every second.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Jesus and Bathrooms..

Okay, North Carolina. Let's play WWJD!

Just kidding. Well, sort of. (confession: I totally owned that bracelet in the 90s and wore it proudly)

In all seriousness, how should we as Christians respond to the whole transgender bathroom thing going on in our state? I mean, Jesus doesn't say ANYTHING about transgender people and I'm fairly certain he doesn't talk about bathrooms either.

But I think there's some Scripture that could help us out here anyway.

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.
Matthew 22:34-40 (ESV)

Jesus, when pressed to declare the MOST important commandment, says that we are to love God first with everything we have. And even though he was never asked what the second greatest commandment is, he quickly follows his proclamation up with "and the second it like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

Love my neighbor as myself? Treat my neighbor as if he's my flesh and blood? That's no small deal. And living that way is just like loving God with everything I have? yikes.

When I think about the things I want for myself and my family, a few things come to mind: a safe place to live, healthy food to eat, safety, and a great education. So, according to Jesus, I am supposed to want all those things for my neighbors (and maybe even putting my own desire for these things second to making sure my neighbor gets them... but that's a blog post for another day).

Transgender people want to be able to use the right bathroom for them. They want to be safe, not harassed, not victimized or harmed. I want a safe bathroom for me and my children. Transgender people are my neighbors. As a Christian, I need to be worried about safety for my transgender neighbor as well as for me and my children.

So now's the time for Christians to look at real information, not spin from one side or another. Transgender people are significantly more likely to be unsafe in bathrooms: roughly 70% report being denied access, harassed, or physically assaulted when trying to use a public bathroom (link to UCLA School of Law study here).  Transgender people report having health problems like UTIs and kidney infections from not using the bathroom in public because they're too scared so they just hold it. There is very likely a correlation between the high rate of suicide among transgender people and the way they've been denied access to housing and bathrooms. (link to study here). The suicide rate among transgender people is 41%. The general population rate is 4.6%.(National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 2011). This is a HUGE discrepancy. Our neighbors need our love and support.

So let's talk about women & children in bathrooms. Could a predator take advantage of the law that allows transgender people to use the proper bathroom for their gender? Sure. That could happen. However, 90% of child sexual abuse cases are perpetrated by individuals known to the child. Not strangers hiding in bathrooms. And 75% of of sexual assault survivors know their assailant. Again, not strangers in bathrooms (US Dept of Justice, 2010).  And can we take a minute to note that before HB2, some transgender people were already using the bathroom that corresponds with their gender and we weren't having rampant cases of predators hiding in bathrooms.

So here's my take-away from this: we need to work to ensure that our  transgender neighbors have civil rights. Let's do what we need to do so that they can use the bathroom safely. And if we are serious about protecting women & children - let's work on the factors that lead to assault and abuse by those "known perpetrators." Let's fight against the rape culture that says "boys will be boys." Let's fight against the day someone is going to tell my daughter that the boy who touches her on the playground did so because her skirt was too short. Let's fight against the adults who tell young girls that the boys who hit them are doing so "because they like you." Let's focus on the rapes that are happening all across our college campuses. Let's be serious about protecting women and children.

So let's do those things. I'm in. I mean, Jesus told us to, right?