Dr. Andrea Ramirez recently interviewed Rev. Samuel Rodriguez to discuss Education Equality for students of all races, income levels, and zip codes.

Rev. Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC/Conel) and the Hispanic Evangelical Association. His new book is entitled Be Light.

Q: You’ve recently been interviewed on national television programs, such as Fox News Channel, to discuss issues that matter to Hispanic Christians. What message are you focusing on during this season?

A: It is the message of turning on the light instead of complaining about the darkness. Because of the work the NHCLC does year-round, we get to speak to different spheres within American culture. Sometimes I arrive home hampered and hindered by the darkness I have encountered. But God has spoken to me about allocating my energy to turn on the light rather than focusing on the dark. As we confront darkness in society, what is the antidote? It is turning on the light. Every time light stands next to darkness, light always wins.

Q: Where do you see darkness in our nation’s education system – and how can we turn on the light?

A: It is the darkness of educational inequality, the darkness of hopelessness and despair. A lot of kids get frustrated about 7th, 8th and 9th grade and give up on their educational endeavor. You juxtapose that young person when they were much younger, when they had great dreams and aspirations. Somehow the light of aspiration is covered by a bowl of anxiety and despair and hopelessness.

We need to leverage the power embedded in Christ through Scripture so we can push back against complacency, despair and anxiety. We must ignite the light of their destiny and push back the bowl that covers the light. Every single student is full of destiny and great God-given potential. As parents and leaders we can help remove the bowl – whatever it may be – inequality, disparity, children receiving diluted educational instruction in the spirit of political correctness. We can come along and say, Llet’s turn on the light of educational equality and empowerment, let’s raise the standards for all of our children.” By raising the standards, we remove that bowl and we expose the light of God’s destiny in their corresponding lives.

Q: We must raise education standards for all students, and we must have accountability. Part of that accountability will include testing. How can we help students prepare for testing?

A: First of all, there is faith. There is this calm, still, level of confidence in knowing that God has equipped them with the necessary strength to be tested. Not only to survive, but to thrive. They can push back on the anxiety with faith in Christ and the abilities that God has equipped them with.

I believe in our kids. We all go through challenges. We all get tested – whether state-based tests in a classroom or some other test - we all go through life journeys and tests emerge. We have pop quizzes, not just in mathematics and history, and English class, but in life – in marriages, life, even in our faith! We can rest in the fact that our personal value is secure; we are valuable and loved regardless of the outcome of a test. And of course, testing can shine light on those areas where we need to grow, learn, improve.

Q: What do you say to people whose policy suggestions seem to amount to lower standards so students can feel good about themselves? They may believe they are being kind, but is it helping minority students?

A: Without judging the intrinsic motive behind it, I must emphatically state that lowering academic standards perpetuates the idea of second class citizenry. Let’s lay it out there: kids in the suburbs receive a higher level of education. Tell me how fair it is for a kid in the suburbs to be ready Canterbury Tales, and a Latino or African American or an impoverished Anglo in the inner city is reading Dora the Explorer. We are creating two systems in America, and I believe it is morally reprehensible. Educational equality means we raise the standards for everyone. Everyone has the potential for academic achievement. Let’s make our basic education standards the ceiling instead of a floor, and let’s keep going from glory to glory. We are all created equal in the image of God.

Q: Prior to leading the nation’s largest Hispanic evangelical organization, you were a classroom teacher?

A: For five years, I was a history, government, and economics teacher. One of the fun experiences, after the 3rd year, God really blessed it indeed. We were thriving, we were actually consulting other schools. I found myself able to talk to my principal and say, “So I have my honors course, but I want to teach the least of these, the most challenged students.” I wanted to use different strategies and techniques, but teach them the same content as the honors class. Same wine, different wine skin. Same topic, different mechanism, but with the same expectations.

At the end of the day, I was proven right, both the honors class and the below basics class (a remedial group of students) embraced the facts, succeeded and thrived. They passed the test. I gave the honors test to the remedial class and they succeeded. All students can thrive with high expectations, dedicated teachers and supportive parents.

Q: What advice do you offer teachers who want to “be light” in their classrooms?

A: Being a light in the classroom requires one to place their lamp on a stand. To shine with love and affirmation, realizing that students do carry the image of God. Some of them come from very precarious circumstances – from single parent homes that lack in resources and maybe in parental affirmation. Some students live in very dysfunctional realities. We are compelled by scripture to offer a simple embrace, an affirmation, an “I believe in you.” Those are powerful words to a kid who comes from a struggling background or home. “I believe in you. There is greatness inside of you.” Repeat this often, even right before a test, and see what happens to your test scores. “I believe in you. There is greatness inside of you.” You can help those students turn around. That is the power of being light.

[ This article is also available in español. ]