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Public Education: A Mission Study

Introduction to the Study:

Public schools are the largest public institution in our nation. On the average school day, approximately fifty million children in kindergarten through grade twelve-about one-fifth of all our citizens are in school. At a time when education is the buzz word in political campaigns and budget discussions from the federal government to state legislative houses and into local communities, it is appropriate for people of faith to take a serious look at public education. Despite a variety of alternatives being discussed and promoted, the vast majority of children in the United States will in the near future find themselves in a public school. If we believe with some of our founding fathers that education is the foundation of a democratic society, then the question arises as to what we want the future citizens of that society to know and what obligations the total society has to prepare children for their future– our future.

Public schools are expected to educate all children in the community- regardless of family background, economic status, or other elements of diversity. Many parents and communities look to the schools to produce moral, thinking adults, without examining the wider culture in which the children live. Children who come to school stressed out by conditions at home, such as poverty, abuse, neglect, family insecurity,or over-worked parents, are unable to give full concentration to lessons. Children are vulnerable to the things that stress their parents. Parents dealing with their own exhaustion and stress often make teachers and schools scapegoats for their children’s failures.

Despite state efforts to equalize financial resources available for each child, there still remain differences between the per-pupil expenditures in affluent (often suburban) communities and poorer (often urban and rural) communities. It is not surprising that educators and politicians have come up with a variety of solutions to address widespread concern about public schools.

Through the General Conference, The United Methodist Church has spoken: “The public school is the primary route for most children into full participation in our economic, political and community life. As a consequence of inequities in our society, we have a moral responsibility to support, strengthen, and reform public schools. They have been, and continue to be, both an avenue of opportunity and a major cohesive force in our society, a society becoming daily more diverse racially, culturally, and religiously....Local churches and all communities of faith must become better informed about the needs of the public schools in their communities and in the country as a whole. Only through adequate information can we defend public education and the democratic heritage that it supports.” (1)

There is no doubt that today’s children will grow up to live in a more complex world as adults. Children need to learn how to learn, how to creatively adapt to new situations, how to read critically, and how to solve problems. Today’s schools must join with parents and communities to help all children become adult citizens who are life-long learners, committed to the common good.

The issues are many and they vary from community to community. In some places groups of concerned persons are already busy addressing what they consider the most pressing needs for children in their area. It is possible to identify a common concern and work together to address the issue. In other places, the most pressing need may still be waiting to be defined.

The overall goal of this study is for each person or group

  • to examine the issues
  • to decide on what most needs to be done to strengthen public education in their community and state
  • to develop a plan to begin or to take a next step; and
  • take action.

Leaving no child behind will take the combined efforts of all our citizens.

-Public Education: Issues and Challenges by Mary Grace Lyman