The Power of Fleas
by Kristyn Komarnicki
I consider myself an educator at heart, but I have never attended a PTO or school board meeting in my city of Philadelphia, which limps along with more budget and institutional crises as ever. (Facing a $304 million shortfall, the city closed 23 public schools in 2013, and ever fall thousands of kids return to unequipped classrooms and beleaguered teachers.) Beyond signing some petitions and marching once in a schools-not-prisons protest (the city launched a $400 million new prison project the same year they closed those schools), I have never personally enlisted in the fight for educational equity. Why? Because it is demanding and time-consuming work, that's why! I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to educate my own somewhat challenging kids and trying to keep things together at home and work. I don't have to think about the big picture in order to feel quickly overwhelmed.But deep down I know that would do well to consider what I hope for my children's future. As Marian Wright Edelman has said, "The future which we hold in trust for our own children will be shaped by our fairness to other people's children." Ouch. Yet my point about my (our) limited time and energy is still valid. Most of us work too much and play too little as it is. Playing with our children—and modeling lifelong play for all the children in our lives—is essential to their education as whole persons, and it is also rapidly vanishing. Do we really need to add one more giant cause to our lives?
But we don't have to take on this cause all by ourselves. At ESA we want to urge the church—individuals working together as the body of Christ—to stand in the gap for our nation's failing schools. Together, myriad small acts can and will function as a tidal wave of support for students, teachers, staff, and principals. "You just need to be a flea against injustice," says Edelman. "Enough committed fleas biting strategically can make even the biggest dog uncomfortable and transform even the biggest nation."
When the local church takes up the cause of the local school (or one in a not-so-privileged zip code), it becomes a community effort each of us can plug into according to our gifts and availability. And there is truly something that everyone can do—from praying for a specific teacher, grade, or school to organizing donations for school supplies. From playground clean-up days to providing snacks and encouragement for a teachers' meeting. From reading with a kid for an hour a week to providing an annual award to acknowledge a student who excels at scholarship, art, or citizenship. The possibilities are limited only by our creativity. We'll be featuring stories this month that are chock full of ideas and resources.
"You just need to be a flea against injustice. Enough committed fleas biting strategically can make even the biggest dog uncomfortable and transform even the biggest nation."
– Marian Wright Edelman
Close your eyes for a few minutes and think about those moments when you learned something life-changing and positive, when you gained a sense of who you were made to be, what you were capable of, and how your mind, body, or spirit work. They weren't always (or even often) in a classroom perhaps, but they always came at the hands of someone—author, teacher, mentor, friend—who led you into an experience you would not otherwise have had.
At 16 I read C. S. Lewis' Till We Have Faces, at my father's suggestion, and tumbled headlong into a foreign world that was strangely familiar. I remember standing outside my bedroom with the book in my hand, groping for words. "This book is about something, but it's also about lots of other things at the same time," I said. Dad just smiled, sensing that I had discovered the joys of subtext, myth, and deep meaning in literature. In college I scrambled behind a friend to the top of several towering stone "needles" in South Dakota's Black Hills and descended a changed person, with new respect for (even awe over) my body and its capabilities. My father and my friend were just two among the many who have opened educational doors for me throughout my life.
Imagine the accumulated wisdom of an entire church being accessible to a disadvantaged school. Think of how many young lives would be transformed if we shared our collective education with these children. How would even our own children's futures be forever altered?
As Christians we worship the greatest teacher who ever lived. Although fully divine, he needed others to help him grow in wisdom even as he grew in stature. His parents, Uncle Zechariah, his neighbors, the local rabbi, the Scriptures. Let us walk in their beautiful footsteps, leaving enlivened minds and hearts behind us wherever we go. Together, with our strategically placed flea bites, we can provide a good education to all God's children.
Kristyn Komarnicki is ESA's director of communications and the mother of three sons.