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The land of the free is filled with more incarcerated citizens than any other country in the world.

General Colin Powell speaking at United States Institute of Peace, Washington, DC

General Colin Powell speaking at United States Institute of Peace, Washington, DC

General Colin Powell, speaking at an America’s Sunday Supper event in Washington, D.C., presented this hard fact along with a challenge: focus on what we want our nation to become…and back up those dreams with the education required to achieve our goals. America’s Sunday Supper is a nationwide movement to honor the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., through dialog about social issues followed by action. The D.C. event focused on education was held at the United States Institute of Peace, and featured Powell and his wife Alma who founded America’s Promise Alliance, dedicated to providing the essentials that children need to succeed and make our communities better. Those invited to this event were asked to focus on ways that their organizations could participate in increasing the graduation rate in the U.S., where one child drops out of school every 26 seconds. I was asked to attend on behalf of The United Methodist Church because of my leadership role in America’s Sunday Supper.

The Methodist tradition includes an historical reverence for education which has been expressed through the building and maintaining of educational facilities and institutions throughout the world. We adopt schools locally, and we enhance the quality of education globally with technology and human development projects. We have institutes of higher learning that are world renowned and credited with producing graduates who do amazing things with their lives. It is part of our essence as United Methodist Christians to promote the full use of one’s mind, which leads to a better life and improved communities.

As a deacon whose secondary appointment is in a church-of-the-poor setting, I see the difference that mentorship & tutoring can make – in children’s lives and for parents whose own education may be lacking. I left the event with these inspirations for our denomination:

  • After-school tutoring programs held at United Methodist churches herald the spirit of commitment to education long ago established in Methodism. These programs build bridges within community – getting volunteers from local colleges and universities involved in the lives of children and families. What if all United Methodist churches worked together to offer after-school tutoring?
  • Support groups are needed to increase parental commitment to schooling. Poverty self-perpetuates – with generation after generation remaining stuck in cycles that can only be broken through education within a greater community. What if United Methodist churches worked together to offer once-a-month listening sessions facilitated by social workers/community organizers? Then, the needs of parents could be heard by those closest to social services who could aid and encourage them.
  • With each year, school supplies become increasingly expensive and when children go without, they suffer from embarrassment and cannot meet school expectations. A partially-used Sunday school room or closet could be renovated and stocked with the help of local businesses. Parents could make donations as they’re able, pay what they can, and assist in managing the store. What if United Methodist churches offered the tools kids need to succeed?
  • Kids know what to do to get punished, but often don’t know what to do to get rewarded. Incentivize students to attend school and make good grades. For students who have perfect attendance, offer a pizza and movie night, bowling adventure or some other reward based on their likes. What if United Methodist churches helped to build pride in students to use their intellectual gifts fully?

General Colin Powell said, “Education is the civil rights struggle of our day.” After further research, I learned, “Dropouts are far more likely to become unemployed, receive public assistance, commit crimes, and become incarcerated. At the same time, they are less likely to receive job-based health insurance and pension plans, to stay healthy and live full lives, and to vote and make other kinds of civic contributions.” (Rouse 2005, Waldfogel et al. 2005, Muennig, 2005, Moretti 2005, and Junn 2005)

Methodism has been a very present force in social struggles through the years, and we can be part of the solution in high dropout rates in the U.S. Doing so will not only decrease incarceration rates, but bring forth the beloved community – the embodiment of our faith.

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America’s Sunday Supper is promoted as an annual Rethink Church event happening in January each year during the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Day of Service. Learn more about Rethink Church events at www.umcom.org/rethinkchurch.

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