Posted on February 8th, 2011 | Filed under Challenges, Community, Learning, News, Social Issues, Theology
Tagged with Akron, Christian, Copley-Fairlawn, Education, Kelley Williams-Bolar, neighbor, Ohio
Recently, Kelley Williams-Bolar left jail after serving a ten day sentence for falsifying documents in order to send her daughters to the prestigious Copley-Fairlawn school district and keep them from the low performing schools in Akron, Ohio, where they lived.
Her case has sparked national outrage, with some commentators claiming racial and gender discrimination, while others have said that it’s about time parents like Ms. Williams-Bolar were held accountable for stealing resources for which they did not pay.
With Ms. Williams-Bolar leaving jail, it may seem that her case is closed. She will go on probation and possibly lose the job where she ironically worked as a teacher’s assistant while attending college to become an educator. Her daughters will return to their subsidized housing project and their unsubsidized urban school district. And the mostly white, upper-class Copley-Fairlawn schools can now educate the students of their tax-paying parents in peace.
But the truth is that this case cannot close with Ms. Williams-Bolar’s conviction. The truth is that this is a tacit conviction of our entire nation for creating an educational system so highly predicated upon socio-economics. Those who can afford a luxury home and a luxury car can afford a luxury education for their children. Those from disadvantaged backgrounds receive disadvantaged schooling, which only perpetuates the existence of communities in which ignorance and delinquency eclipse any possibility of pursuing liberty or happiness.
In the past, we have created a panacea for our inequalities in the form of charter schools and vouchers. But this isn’t enough. Mainstream urban and poor schools remain dilapidated in performance, spirit, and long-term student outcomes, and are only struggling more as gifted students and monetary resources are funneled into new educational ventures like magnet schools. This reality calls for a radical overhaul of our primary educational system.
But why should any of this be a religious concern? As both an educator and a priest, I believe that the inconsistencies in our educational system ultimately boil down to a question of how much we as individuals are willing to care about—and invest—in our neighbors. And by neighbor, I don’t just mean the person down the block. I mean our national neighborhood.
In Christianity—the religion 78% of country identifies as—there is a mandate to love one’s neighbor, and Jesus makes clear that this kind of love is neither easy nor convenient. In fact, Jesus describes love of neighbor using the parable of a Samaritan—a societal outcast in ancient times—who helped a man who had been robbed, stripped, and beaten while walking the dangerous road from Jerusalem to Jericho. The Samaritan bandaged the injured one’s bloody and vulnerable flesh, then placed him astride his own animal and walked alongside until they reached an inn where he paid for any expenses necessary for the man’s recovery.
Love like this is radical. It’s not love for our friends or even for people on whose door we might knock to ask for sugar of an egg. It’s love of strangers, of people very different from ourselves, of people we might not even like. And yet this kind of love, Jesus says, is necessary to inherit eternal life (Luke 10:25-37).
If the 78% of Americans who identify as Christian dared to see every person living in this country as our neighbor, perhaps our educational system would change. If we dared to love even the stranger, we could not possibly permit the existence of school districts where students have to walk through metal detectors to even get to class. We would not allow for drug dealers sitting on the school steps kindergartners climb. We would not tolerate bullying so violent that teenagers hang themselves, and we would not perpetuate structures in which some students learn in spacious, sparkling classes while others cram 35 to a room in buildings with bars on the windows.
If the system transformed into one in which our resources were pooled so that all students—regardless of race or economics—received a transformative education, school districts like Copley-Fairlawn wouldn’t have to hire investigators to trail parents home. Jurors wouldn’t have to sentence a mother to prison simply because she wanted to her daughters to reach their fullest academic potential. And parents like Ms. Williams-Bolar would not have to lie about where they lived because heir children could go to school, in peace, surrounded by neighbors.
The Reverend Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio is ordained in The Episcopal Church and has taught a variety of educational institutions, including Yale University. She is completing a doctoral degree in practical theology at Boston University, where she researches reproductive loss and assisted reproductive technologies. She is also the author of "God and Harry at Yale: Faith and Fiction in the Classroom" (Unlocking Press, 2010).