Educating All God’s Children: What Christians Can – and Should – Do to Improve Public Education for Low-Income Kids by Nicole Baker Fulgham.
BrazosPress, Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2013.
Persuasive non-fiction, 235 pages including notes.
Fulgham wrote this book for the sixteen million children growing up in poverty in the United States of America and receiving a drastically different education than their upper and middle-class counterparts. This book is fairly unique to America, because US education is uniquely flawed.
The first time I read this book was as a young educator ready to change the world. This time, I read it having parented, including having parented children in highly segregated schools.
Personal Stories and Background Information
Fulgham begins the book with two case studies: her first teaching experience in Compton, California (see header quote), and her childhood growing up in Detroit, Michigan:
“I’d always known that my high school was different than Stacey’s, but it wasn’t until that moment that I realized that we were being educated for completely different life paths.” page 10
Both Fulgham and Stacey were African-American but received very different educations. The chapter finishes with a persuasive argument to convince Christians that they need to work on this issue. It says something about our world that we still need convincing that this is even an issue.
“In the previous chapter I made clear the vast academic disparities in inequities that dramatically impact children of color and kids from low-income families. […] In this chapter, we will look at the factors and general theories to which most researchers and practitioners attribute the achievement gap.” page 22
Fulgham points out that what we believe will change the way we attempt to solve the problem. When the laughable idea that light-skinned people are naturally superior was generally accepted in America, the problem of education was seen very differently.
Starting with Hart and Risley’s research (also used in Thirty Million Words), Fulgham takes us through some challenges facing disadvantaged youth, such as poor preschool readiness, hunger, lack of medical care, little or no access to supports such as additional tutoring. She gives a short overview of issues historically affecting African Americans, Native Americans, and Latin@ students in the US.
Fulgham also explicitly addresses the issue many Christians and other traditionally privileged people constantly raise – we can’t control what happens outside of school, and we can’t make parents care about their children’s education. Fulgham points out that parents want the best for their children, but don’t have the resources to make it happen.
Fulgham shares lessons she learned as a first-year Teach for America teacher and touches briefly on some organizations doing good work in urban schools in chapter three.
Chapter four looks at how modern Sunday schools began as an effort to bring basic literacy to the masses, the early involvement of Protestant Christians in the public school system, two Christian groups currently involved in inner-city private education (Lutherans and Catholics), and the difficult fact that few Evangelical Christians are willing to engage with public schools, or have any credibility to do so at this point. Fulgham looks unabashedly at how private Christian schools were created in response to legal desegregation of schools as parents abandoned newly diverse school systems for subtly White-only Christian education.
“I assert that this legacy, at the very least, may have hindered some Christians from feeling connected, responsible, or accountable for low-income public schools. […] Have we fully acknowledged our collective history in response to racial integration?” page 85
Why (and How) We Should Care, and What to Do
Fulgham explores reasons Christians should care about education in chapter five with a moving example of a television camera prioritized over children’s chairs and biblical references about caring for the disenfranchised.
While past efforts at education have included evangelization, Fulgham cautions:
“Evangelicals should not go into public schools, teach students about Christ, and – only after they’re connected to Jesus – help them get the education they deserve.” page 109
Chapter six looks at the “calling” to work with disadvantaged students through three teachers, asks that children (not a personal calling) remain the center, and examines the importance of perseverance.
Chapters 7-9 explain what we can do. Specifically, speaking to others about what’s wrong and holding a vision for better public schools; the actual work – whether it is teaching, supporting teachers, supporting students, or even just financially contributing – always based on the specific needs of a particular school; and finally changing public policy and education advocacy.
While this book does have a Christian, biblical basis, the reader will also gain information about education in America. I was impressed by the author’s willingness to constantly examine her own bias and ability to consider the contributions of other faith communities. Many books cover education and the achievement gap but do not speak to all of us as Americans to do our part in uplifting every student.
To me, the central thesis of this book is patently obvious. Uplift every student and maximize their potential. Replace our outdated, dead-white-men curriculum with culturally sensitive and accurate portrayals. However, few people I know consider education to be an important issue in America today.
If you agree about the importance of education, or if you are just curious about the problems with education in the US, I would recommend this book.