Monday, September 29, 2014

How Public School Looks From Here

Monday morning light filters through the maples. The air bites our noses, but the leaves are still mostly green. And in some ways, it feels like the first day of school. This is the turning of the season, and our toes hug the edge of fall.

We're well into our third year at our "new" school. We've rounded the corner - we've been here longer than there, now. My mind always veers toward balancing the sides, stacking this up against that, or that against another. I think about times and dates and thin stretches of years, believing the weight of the scales holds secrets in its truths.

I should know better.

I should know it's less about growth rings and more about roots. Time is never as relevant as depth.

Flip that coin over, and years are important, too. For us, these two-years-and-counting mark a period of foggy-eyed obedience. I can't say it was blind, but it sure wasn't clear, either. Now, I strain to remember why it ever seemed so hard. But I remember the tears. When pressed, I can still feel the ache of doubt like a tender, half-healed bruise.

One of the questions I'm asked most often, including when I passed my readers the mic, is about our decision to send our kids to public school, specifically this one.

Of all the confusion our decisions incited in recent years, this may have been the most nagging. People weren't as shocked as they were simply perplexed. Had it been a few years earlier, I would have sat with wringing hands, too.

The culture of Cory and I's entire lives - the culture of white, middle-class, evangelical Christianity - favors security and prizes a "good" education. We would have never copped to hiding strands of racism or prejudice in the sturdy, salt-of-the-earth fibers of our upbringing or our life together, as responsible adults and parents. We wouldn't have described ourselves as self-centered or superior. We didn't know what we lacked. We were shockingly fenced from people unlike ourselves. We weren't fully aware that the roots of our beliefs were pointedly wrong. We were simply inclined to huddle up with people like us.

We read the same Bible, but it meant different things, somehow.

Back then, we believed our job was to love God, follow His commands, and keep our family safe and secure. I say this with no measure of sarcasm or irony. This is truly how we would have summarized the Gospel we'd been called to.

So we kept our noses to the stone and worked at building a future where our kids would remain gated in privilege, though we never would have phrased it that way. We imagined a future for them of serving in the stable majority. We looked all around us, seeing many different versions of ourselves, and believed it was the story God had penned for our family. So we jotted our own words on the page, careful not to change the script.

Then, everything shifted. We were turned on a dime.
We knew we had to leave long before we felt peace about going. 

In the span between, we stared at and stumbled away from images locked in our hearts about what it meant to live in a city where, we were told, there were gangs, drugs, crime, poverty, failing schools, and little kids who cussed people out.

Only because of God's goodness, He led us here - to the land of the living. It was entirely in spite of ourselves. He brought us here and quickly proved that all those things we'd believed in fear were true.

He took our hands and walked us into the heart of it.
We have never been safer, never more secure.

What  we weren't prepared for was the prevailing goodness we'd find. The caring and hilarious and soulful hearts of our neighbors and teachers and friends.

The dirt of humanity lives here, yes, as it lives everywhere. It might be more visible here, more in our faces. We choose to see this as an opportunity to talk with our kids about real life, failure, heartbreak, and sin. We talk now, while the stakes are still relatively low. We build the conversation brick by crumbly brick, cringing sometimes at what's yet to come, but doing our best to remember fear and discouragement have been vanquished. (Joshua 1:9)

Now, we work and play and celebrate alongside folks whose walk with God might not look exactly like ours. Theirs might not resemble ours at all. It might not even exist. But we're neighbors now. We belong to them, and them to us. This community is confusing, sometimes. It's annoying, sometimes. It's frustrating and heartbreaking.

Often, it's as easy as a slice of pie. It's the gift of a lifetime, this blending of races, rich cultural heritages, wildly different positions on the ladder.

Where God called us, He sent us. And where He sent us, He went before us.

He equipped us.
All of us.

At every turn, He wows us with His provision.

Our humble church community preaches the word and works tirelessly, imperfectly, without polish or flare, toward its job of loving and serving the neighborhood - our neighborhood.

Our Title 1 public school is building our kids into stout citizens of the world while they also teach them to read and wonder. There have been areas where our kiddos have excelled academically beyond anyone's expectations, as well as areas where they have struggled. Both have left me wobbly, at times. There have been fleeting moments of panic where I entertained the thought that perhaps I was better equipped to educate them.

But God points me back to where He sent us, back to the crowded gymnasium on Science Night where charging a pocket watch with two potatoes overrides language barriers, back to the mountain of box tops carefully clipped each month so our underprivileged student body can go on field trips and see a different corner of the world, back to free school lunches and tamales for dinner and a community grown equally on processed convenience-store food and the belief that health and nutrition belong equally to everyone.

It only takes a nudge, and I see the ways education is about more than book facts and test scores.

"The wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peace makers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness." James 3:17-18

This is our school. These are our blocks. That was our garden where we gathered last night to pitch in covered dishes and learn a little more about one another.

We have claimed these promises as our own, and each one of us is stronger for the choosing.

We care because this is our life, the lives of our precious kids, but we also care for the ones who don't or can't or try, but fail.

We give and we take and we pray we'll get better at both.
We pray we'll become more focused on being peacemakers and less on being "right".

God has called every one of His followers into deep community, the kind that makes us uncomfortable at times, the kind that costs us whatever we have to give. The good news is, the need surrounds us on every side. The better news is, there are people everywhere who belong to Him. We won't be alone when we go. (Acts 18:10)

Your community will undoubtedly look different than ours. (And I hope it goes without saying that your educational calling might be different as well.)

I don't know the full parameters of where he called my family, but I know the front edge is right here, in our little home on 5th St. I know it eases two blocks down to the church on the corner, and across the street to the school on the hill.

We've been planted right here, so we stand. And we live. And learn.
And our roots stretch down.

 *I've organized all my posts on public schooling under one category. To read more, just click here and scroll.