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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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Comments Are Closed

Displaying 1–5 of 15 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.


July 19, 2012  8:25am

While, I am biased as a TFA alum, in Memphis, we have had so many amazing stories of what TFA teachers have been able to accomplish in their classrooms. In Tennessee, TFA has the highest rating of any teacher prep program (including Vanderbilt one of the best ed grad schools in the country). Public education does not just need new teachers. It also needs parents to be part of it instead of running to private schools. There are no quick fixes, but a quick critique of TFA is far from the whole story.


June 26, 2012  4:31am

While I applaud the call for Christians to work in and advocate for public education, Teach for America is certainly not the best approach. While it is a moral issue that children need a good education, this article assumes that it is poor teachers (just as Teach for America does) who are to blame. The issue is more complicated than that. As a Christian teacher educator who has taught in low-income schools, sent my own children to public school, and made a "difference" in my community, I would encourage Christians not to accept this view of "education reform". The type of reform proposed by Michelle Rhee and TFA, which emphasizes high-stakes testing, using test scores to measure teachers' performance, and punishment rather than collaboration does not take into account the rich, complex nature of the learner as God's image-bearer and the learning situation as complex. We do need to do more to educate all children, especially poor ones. Holistic solutions are less reductionistic.

Original Anna

April 21, 2012  10:06pm

Our school board president bragged about how well the district's schools are doing. She failed to mention the State report printed in the paper showing less kids entering college, less kids graduating from h.s. and more kids dropping out in middle school than in the 70s. Well what do they want. They fired the h.s. principal who went outside the school and told the kids smoking and drinking they are to be in school, like now. They should have fired the teachers holding up classes for those kids in school while the teachers waited for those outside. The board pres said truant officers weren't necessary when asked by a meeting attendee. Teachers are hired at $32-35,000 starting pay and retire for $70-125,000 retirement pay.Next day the paper said three citizens showed up because the board didn't listen or change anything so why bother. We now have 5 charter schools each having over 200 kids formerly from our school district doing better grades. Miss school 14 days, they're out.

Mike F

April 19, 2012  6:43pm

I think Christians in the USA drop the ball so much on being salt to the rest of society. If we isolate ourselves from non Christians how can we reach them? The church doesn't understand public schools, most of what they believe is selfish. They look at how much of their taxes goes to schools, and how easy it is to be a teacher with all the benefits and time off, etc. They don't see the many dedicated public school teachers who invest their lives in children for low wages compared to the amount of work they do and the education required to keep certification. We as Christians need to get out of our comfort zone and start reaching out to others.


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