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Public Education: The Next Moral Issue for Today's Evangelicals

Public Education: The Next Moral Issue for Today's Evangelicals

How Nicole Baker Fulgham is convincing fellow Christians to fill in the education gap crippling U.S. cities

"A child's Zip Code shouldn't determine whether he or she is prepared for college," Nicole Baker Fulgham told Christianity Today in 2010. As longtime vice president of faith community relations for Teach for America, the Detroit native encouraged churches and individual Christians to stand in the education gap plaguing American school systems. Now, Fulgham is helping Christians move from awareness to advocacy. As part of the City project's recent coverage of education, Fulgham spoke with editorial director Katelyn Beaty about how the new Expectations Project helps Christian see educational inequity as a matter of biblical justice—and then do something about it.

As Teach for America's faith-community relations director, you talked to a lot of Christians about public education. Generally speaking, how would you characterize their attitude about public schools?

It depends on where people live. For people in middle-class, upper-middle-class suburbs, they sense that the public schools are fine, because the kids that graduate from them, whether it's their own children or their friends, seem to be doing okay, and many of them go on to college. Christians may have concerns about the cultural value issues, whether it's public-school teaching on science or sexuality. Some Christians question the rigor and whether the kids are getting the best education even in suburban schools, but that's the same attitude that you would see among the general population.

Christians who are aware of the situation with kids in lower-income urban and rural schools are beginning to ask questions. "Why does this exist?" "Should there be such a disparity?" Generally, people are aware there's a disparity, but the question of why takes many different turns.

You say you've seen a shift in the past several years in Christians' attitudes about the public school. What's caused it?

Two things. First, I would link it to a broader awareness among evangelicals about social justice issues. It's much less of a jump for me to make a connection with people who are already thinking about … immigration reform and HIV/AIDS and global poverty. I have to hop over one little bridge, really, as opposed to multiple steps in a ladder.


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Displaying 1–3 of 3 comments

Badnews Bear

July 08, 2013  5:37am

Katelyn, not sure if you read comments on old posts, but after being very impressed with your "Same-Sex Marriage and the Single Christian" article I went looking for more from you. This interview/article doesn't give much insight into your own views, but if you have not looked into criticisms [like Rebecca gives] of corporate reform please do so. A good place to start is atthechalkface.com/ . Personally I think the chalkface is a whitewash of most public ed, but their criticisms of corporate reform often hit their mark with vigor. The achievement gap is only the problem because our system values 'achievement' more than education. What is it everyone is trying to achieve? storing the most incoherent facts in memory long enough to achieve a high test score? Yes that is a big, if not the biggest part of what they call 'achievement', and as long as test scores on incoherent information are the gold standard there can be no true reform nor justice for the poor.


April 18, 2012  9:46am

This rational discussion of public education is undermined by too much irrational thinking among too many Evangelicals. It is apparent from some of the responses that contrary opinions are not cognitive but psychological and no amount of reason will change this kind of paranoia. To tolerate a decline in public education is to relegate the less fortunate to a permanent secondary status because their only hope for the future is education.


April 18, 2012  9:05am

The Cato Institute has done some excellent work describing the uselessness of government data in describing "per student spending" in different school districts (See http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa662.pdf for one example.), and it is easy to see how such inaccurate data (ie, "lies" - see Mark Twain) can be used to advocate for "social justice" (ie, "redistribution"). Undoubtedly, variations in education spending by district seriously contribute to variations in performance and achievement and should be eliminated. However, when one realizes that virtually ALL public schools spend significantly larger amounts of money per student than private institutions and consistently produce inferior results, it suggests that the system itself needs radical transformation, not reform. It is foolhardiness, not courage, that suggests we take a detour that leads us over the falls later rather than sooner, instead of going back to the starting point and using a different route altogether.


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