Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Relocation in Education… living & learning

I have not written in a while; so, this post is much longer than usual. It is my family's story, along with my thoughts on education reform, written after this year's inspiring Christian Community Development Association National Conference...

Our Story
Long before we understood CCDA(Christian Community Development Association) concepts, we knew we wanted to be part of a Chicago Public School co9mmunity when our daughter reached school age. We knew that choosing our school would be a big part of our family time investment and it seemed the most natural way to truly live out Christ's love in our urban city. We chose not to test our daughter for admission into a high-performing academic center or private school because we felt that those schools would not lend as diverse of socio-economic environment that we had hoped to experience within our school community. We also wanted to walk to school, so that in some way, we could overlap our school and neighborhood community experience.

We chose a CPS school in our neighborhood with a dual immersion program. Dual immersion teaches children to fluently read, write and speak in two languages. It also combines half of all children from each of their family's dominant language. Our school taught English and Spanish - yea! We had always admired the Latino community and felt that giving our daughter the gift of being bilingual would be one of the best life skills we could help provide for her in our fast-changing world. That also meant that we, as parents, would have the added benefit of learning more about the Latino culture and improve our limited Spanish. In addition, we knew that our nation was destined to be Latino-dominant by 2050; so, this school choice made sense for many reasons.

Well, it has been 10 years... We have had the joys and challenges most parents experience navigating life with grade school children. And, we have also experienced life in Title 1 schools in Chicago and So. California. Title 1 means that the school is populated with 50% of the children living below the poverty level. Our Chicago school was 60% below the poverty level and 70% below in SoCal. We chose our school in California when we relocated for my husband's job; and, we also bought a home in a blended socio-economic neighborhood near the "labeled" barrio of our new hometown. We again wanted to walk to school to meet, mingle and learn from our new schoolmates and parents.

The Spanish-dominant family blend in our Chicago school came from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Central & So. American countries. However, in California, the Spanish family blend was mainly Mexican. Many were undocumented, or first generation, or children whose parents spoke little or no English. I will say that our time in that school environment has been one of the most vibrant and stretching experiences of my life. I learned a lot about my own marred identity of being a resourced, white-dominant culture American; and, I also learned a lot about the beauty and strengths of our new Latino immigrant friends. I walked to school many days with moms that did not have enough food to feed their children dinner each night. Yet, they were always happy, gracious and willing to help participate in working toward the betterment of our entire school community at every request.

God has molded me into a better person by our family choosing to be a part of this school culture; yet, it has been trying, too. We again moved, this time back to Chicago. We chose to go back into our original Chicago Public School. Reentry back into this inner city school did not go well for our daughter in 6th grade. She endured relentless bullying to the point of emotional breakdown. We pulled her out of the school, finishing the year with a homeschool group. We then chose a small, private school for our daughter to finish out her jr. high years. She has mended quite nicely and is performing well, both academically and socially. Her and our hope is to enter back into the public school system in high school. Despite the curves the enemy has thrown us, we have come to love the rich, socio-economic and culturally diverse community base that makes up the public school environment in our country.

My Passion
I am passionate about education reform because of what we have experienced within our public schools. I have seen firsthand the lack of opportunity that many children struggle with because they either are not resourced, do not test well, or do not have enough family support to succeed in school. I have also seen the terror wreaked in many children because of the agnostic moral base gaining popularity in our post-modern culture, along with lack of "no tolerance" policies against bullying. I feel we, as Christ-followers, must come to understand God's view of justice and how we participate in systemic injustices by not doing anything to change these situations for children. We must unite and ask God to help us model and restore honor and respect within our country and our education system. Many of our children's challenges are based around how the enemy has torn apart the moral absolute of honor/respect in our culture and decimated the family unit. Children simply do not perform well in school if they have no one to provide unconditional love at home or no one to shepherd or advocate for them within an institutional school system. The answer to this crisis cannot come through another program or academic reform alone. It needs to incorporate the love of the family unit and the church community; and, it calls us all, as the church-at-large, to stand for justice.

Second, we do need to take a look at new forms of learning in this fast-changing global world. Homeschooling parents have a become a large movement in U.S. education and our experience has shown me that they are on to something. Their teaching style is far more empowering to children in a world where knowledge is obsolete within 15 years. We should take a serious look at the benefits of this type of education and how it nurtures children, allowing them to learn in small, home-based classroom settings. Education within an academic, test-based large class simply does not work as our only mass option any longer. Like a lot of large static institutions in 2011, our public schools have not changed material or styles fast enough to meet the needs of our children to give them skill-sets to provide for prosperous futures in this century.

And last, in this country with so many resources, we must value and work to empower our children's ability to use their gifts and talents in innovative creativity and community building. We have helped create the global economy; yet, we, as resourced Americans, have gravitated away from interdependent community lifestyles. We have been busy marketing, focusing and executing to achieve, consume and compete. In doing so, it seems we have valued competition and independence more than creativity and community inter-dependence; and, that has changed the way we educate. Many children are no longer afforded the opportunity to paint, read music or play an instrument as part of their education. And, how many of us really spend more face time with our neighbors than our work, school, church or sports "destination" communities? The loss of these two core value areas within our culture and schools leave huge gaps in living wholistic God-honoring lifestyles. Along with not having their creativity nurtured, many children today have never ever experienced the beauty of healthy interdependent community life by simply playing with children in their own neighborhoods.

I do have faith, hope and I know a group of Christians that choose the importance of fostering change through loving, interdependent community lifestyles.... thank you, CCDA friends! You have modeled Jesus well in community. And, I am hopeful and optimistic that if the church-at-large would collaborate, God could bring back healthy geographic community life and reform our values and schools in America. I do believe that hope can be restored to children in every neighborhood, enabling their God-given creative abilities for individual and community fulfillment, an enriched global world and the glory of God... a most prosperous future of interdependent, socio-economic and culturally-blended neighborhoods, the most vibrant of communities this side of heaven!


Libby said...

Thank you Diane for sharing your heart and journey with us! As a mother of 4 children, living in So.Cal, it is indeed a challenge to choose the most effective, God-honoring choice for each individual child and each family in it's unique "season" of life. As you know, we have had lovely public school, home- school, and private Christian school experiences. Each have been significant and important for that particular time and child. May God continue to guide us and grace us with His plan for our children's education! My place of safety is to often lean on Isaiah 54:13 "Our children will be taught by the Lord, and great will be their peace." Thank you Lord for being the 'master' Schoolmaster!

Libby said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Franklin Woodland said...

I agree completely with your statement, "Children simply do not perform well in school if they have no one to provide unconditional love at home or no one to shepherd or advocate for them within an institutional school system." We must think about participating in the education process in a way which involves both the family and the school system. Thanks for your thoughtful post.