The great world religions teach that children are precious and to be loved and cared for with all that we have. Which is one reason the priest abuse scandal in the Catholic Church was so revolting to so many people.
In the Christian tradition, of course, we have the touching story in Matthew 19 of children trying to get close to Jesus but being rebuked by his disciples. In response, Jesus says this: "Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."
Although religions teach such things about children, in the U.S. much of the work of teaching and guiding children is left to our public schools.
And we all know that in many places, especially big city school districts, those public schools have been failing our children.
So it was reassuring on Monday morning of this week to hear R. Stephen Green, the superintendent of Kansas City's public schools, talk about the progress the district is making in its effort to regain state accreditation and to pledge that everything he, his staff and the teachers do is aimed at the welfare of the children. (The photo here shows Green speaking in the auditorium of the Paseo Academy of Fine and Performing Arts.)
Green was especially emphatic about making sure that adults speak to children in ways that build them up rather than tear them down or make them fearful: "You can crush a child by saying the wrong thing or you can embolden a child by saying the right thing."
He also spoke of the district's efforts to offer early childhood education to prepare students to enter kindergarten ready to learn: "We aren't talking about day care, just babysitting. We're talking about students learning to reason more intelligently. We're talking about students becoming interactive learners. We're talking about students that are asking tough questions and are answering tough questions."
This is the kind of focus all people of faith can get behind and support. And it's one reason I'm glad my own congregation, Second Presbyterian Church, is -- with seven or eight other congregations -- a member of the Southwest Early College Campus Faith-based Coalition. We work with administrators, faculty and students at Southwest High in many ways. For instance, I volunteer on Wednesday afternoons to work with 9th and 10th graders who have decided to join a book club to improve their reading skills.
Educating and loving our children is where the secular and the sacred must meet together. And although it's happening in Kansas City in small ways, there still is much to do and still lots of children at risk of falling so far behind that they'll never catch up and live the fulfilling lives that is their true destiny. What role is your congregation playing in this area?
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AN ARAB WHO SAVED JEWS
The Holocaust memorial authority in Israel, Yad Vashem, has just honored its first Arab as "Righteous Among the Nations" for saving Jews in the Holocaust. We can hope this will open the eyes of some radical Islamists who deny the Holocaust ever happened.
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P.S.: My latest National Catholic Reporter column now is online. To read it, click here.