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Public Education

by Women's Division Annual Report 2004


Children study at their home in Arizona.
Children study at their home in Arizona.
Image by:Courtesy of Carla Whitmire
Source: Response

From its humble beginnings when a small group of women gathered in Boston, Massachusetts, in the late 1800s, women organized for mission have given themselves to the work of health and education. Starting with a concern for women and children in India, they sent missionaries—one a doctor and one an educator—to Lucknow, India, to be sure that there was a school and a clinic provided for those that others had forgotten. They planted the seeds. Since that time, this organization has continued its long-standing work on behalf of women, children, and youth around the world. Ours is the work of nurturing the seeds of our past to produce and reproduce the continued fruit of mission today.

In Nehemiah 2:18, those gathered to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem after years of devastation committed “themselves to the common good.” They were met with opposition from the beginning. Good works for the common good are always challenged by those who would benefit from leaving circumstances the way they are. Nehemiah and those who worked with him could not continue to leave Jerusalem in ruin. They had a mission to rebuild the wall, to restore the city for the good of all of Israel.

United Methodist Women and their predecessor organizations continue to live a commitment to nurture the seeds of promise among women, children, and youth and to work for the common good. The common good addresses health, education, equal opportunities, and fullness of life. It works today for what will be good for everyone tomorrow. Since 90% of America’s children participate in public education, advocating for good, quality education for all children presents a unique opportunity for United Methodist Women as well as the whole Church. Nothing before or after this institution occupies as much time or as widespread participation. Public schools are the one thing that most of us have in common.

Today, when we read statistics that tell us that every day 2,539 high school students drop out of school and 17,072 public school students are suspended, then we know that our work is not done. That is why the Women’s Division moved its Campaign for Children into Phase III: Advocacy in Public School Education, in 2002. Just following the president’s new No Child Left Behind legislation, United Methodist Women focused their efforts towards pushing our members to “go back to school.” The seeds of our very beginning as an organization continue to move us in efforts to improve the situation of public schools in our communities.

As the whole church studies the issues of public education, United Methodist Women are involved in a variety of ways as teachers, administrators, students, and other school professionals within the system. At the same time, large numbers of our organization are involved with day care, before-  and after-school care, tutoring, reading programs, literacy efforts, parent/teacher organizations, school advocacy groups, and many opportunities to meet the needs of public school children and their families. In doing so, United Methodist Women are living the promise of mission by striving to provide good, safe, accessible public education to every child.

Beyond that, the organization recognizes that children do not exist in a vacuum, and thus understands that problems at school represent challenges at home. For low-income families, it is especially difficult. In a country where, despite its prosperity image, one in six children is living in poverty, there are broad community issues to consider for children as well as their parents. The most recent U.S. Census shows the poverty rate for children is 16.3%. For children under 6, it is 18.2%. This means that children are 36% of the poor despite representing only 26% of the population. And they are not to blame for poverty. Child care, health, food, shelter, and safety are basic necessities for all of us, but children are especially vulnerable to these needs. Low-income children are put at greater risk for childhood diseases, complications of malnutrition, and learning disabilities. Education is about the whole person. A child who comes to school frightened, hungry, tired, or sick will have a far tougher time learning than a child who has all those needs met.

United Methodist Women work in a variety of community efforts, especially through our mission institutions around the country. Low-income parents must struggle with minimum wage jobs that do not provide a living wage, an appalling shortage of low-income housing, rising health-care costs and an increasingly specialized workforce. Our national mission institutions help to address many of these difficulties as they exist in the heart of low-income communities. They are the fruits of many seeds planted long ago by women who saw needs and set out to meet them. Each facility is a living promise that the mission of this organization continues today.

The seeds of women organized for mission, planted 135 years ago, continue to guide the United Methodist Women of today in the Campaign for Children, Phase III: Advocacy in Public School Education, and carries the promise that United Methodist Women will be working for the common good on behalf of women, children, and youth for the next 135 years.

On July 29-31, United Methodists involved in public education will arrive in Nashville, Tenn., and set the direction of 1-million member United Methodist Women as they advocate for quality public education in the United States. Continue to check this web site throughout the next week for information on the Public Education Summit.

Date posted: Jul 29, 2005