EDUCATING ALL GOD'S CHILDREN by Nicole Baker Fulgham
reviewed by Stephanie Summers
In Educating All God's Children: What Christians Can—and Should—Do to Improve Public Education for Low-Income Kids (Brazos, 2013), Nicole Baker Fulgham urges Christians to respond to the academic achievement gap within America's public schools, calling it a "nationwide epidemic." She uses personal stories and concrete examples to put names and faces to the reality that "Every urban center and many mixed-income suburban and rural school districts exhibit significant academic disparities between children in wealthier communities and children in low-income areas." This disparity, she argues, is one that Christians should care deeply about and respond to out of a conviction that every child is created in God's image.
The book is written for lay Christians unfamiliar with the scope of the achievement gap and what ordinary faithful citizens can do to close it. Fulgham is multifaceted in her approach to the problem, affirming that teacher quality matters while affirming a significant role for parents and the work of the church to support families. She is forthright that public funding for education "is necessary, but not sufficient, to improve educational outcomes."
Fulgham also offers a thorough discussion of root causes and systemic factors. One vitally important contribution is her specific focus on the historic racial dynamics involved in the desegregation of public schools and the corresponding exit of white Christians from the newly integrated public system. "We should ask ourselves some pointed questions," she writes. "In what ways is the Christian community fully seeking racial reconciliation for these previous wrongs? Have we fully acknowledged our collective history in response to racial integration? Until we discuss this openly and honestly, it will likely hinder our efforts to become a force for public school equity." Her invitation to the church is clear and candid: "At its best, the church can provide a wonderful example of cross-cultural understanding and courageous leadership." This insight demands a reflection on the role of religious people in addressing systemic injustice throughout history.
The final chapters detail how Christian churches might employ a four-fold strategy to build national awareness of the achievement gap, offer programming to provide academic support to public school students (like that Dr. Tony Evans' National Adopt-a-School Initiative), come alongside families with tangible support, and embrace faith-based advocacy. Readers who have concerns about churches "appearing too political" will find some, but not all, of their concerns addressed; those who are already engaged in the first three activities will find the chapter called "Faith-Based Advocacy" an appetizer for the prudential work of sustained Christian political engagement at the level of law and policy. Fulgham rightly points out that "Christians are called to eliminate laws that perpetuate injustice," and she highlights several policies that are currently making headlines, but appropriately leaves the work of developing a just framework for policy development and evaluation to other organizations. It is my prayer we can respond to the challenge she sets before us.
Stephanie Summers is the CEO of the Center for Public Justice, which is engaged in a multi-year policy project on Christians investing in public education.