Is faith the medicine for failing Detroit schools?

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No one who’s paying attention will argue that Detroit schools are educating Detroit children just fine. They’re not. Detroit kids are being ripped off in a major way, and they most certainly know it.
“Many of our kids are trapped. Trapped in a system that is broken,” said Hiram Jackson, publisher of the Michigan Chronicle and Real Times Media CEO. “And it’s not just DPS and EAA that are broken.”
But that isn’t news, and anyone who has been paying even the slightest amount of attention over at least the past two decades is aware that desirable educational options for Detroit children have been shriveling like a raisin in the sun for that entire time, and that’s a long time for anything to be shriveling.
On Thursday morning at the St. Regis, a panel featuring some of Detroit’s more noted faith/community leaders came together at the invitation of the Michigan Chronicle to discuss whether or not introducing the concept of faith into the schools was worth considering as a possible solution – or at least a partial solution – to helping the children and the schools they attend get back on the right track. Panelists included Dr. Deborah Smith Pollard, on-air personality with Mix 92.3, who served as moderator; Ernestine Sanders, CEO/President of Cornerstone Schools; Bishop Edgar Vann II, pastor of Second Ebenezer Church; Sharlonda Buckman, CEO of Detroit Parent Network; and Rev. Charles Williams, National Action Network.
The most obvious potential roadblock that had to be acknowledged by the panel as the elephant in the room is whether or not it is permissible – or even a good idea – to include the Christian concept of faith into a public school setting. Many problems immediately present themselves, not the least of which is the fact that not all children attending Detroit’s public schools come from Christian households, and not all parents are comfortable with the inclusion of anything that sounds like religion in the educational curriculum of their child.
So how to bridge that dilemma?
“I think the one thing I worry about when we discuss religious education is whose religion are we talking about?” said Buckman. “Are we talking about Christianity? Are we being inclusive? Are we talking about the Muslim faith? So whose faith is it? I think those are choices that are very intimate and personal for families to have to make.”
Buckman and the other members of the panel all seemed to agree on the importance of making sure all religious views of children and families are respected without judgment by teachers and administrators. Secondly, and quite simply, is results. If the kids are learning and growing in a healthy way, then it’s working. Because if the children are learning and happy, then most likely there should be more room for experimenting with alternate approaches to teaching and learning, because the current system is dysfunctional at best. Without a doubt any number of critics – including the current Detroit Public School Board most prominently – can point to a list of reasons as to how the schools got to this point, and many of those reasons have significant merit and are even grudgingly acknowledged by some of the school board’s harshest critics.
But while that fight continues, and it is likely to be a long and ugly one, the overriding immediate concern that cannot await the verdict of any court is what is happening – and not happening – with Detroit kids. Right now. Today. And Skillman CEO Tonya Allen, who introduced the panel, had some piercing advice:
“That’s one of the messages that we as a community are going to have to push through is that we don’t have to take what is given to us. That we can actually go after the things that we deserve.”
And speaking of what we deserve, no child deserves the type of devastated home and neighborhood environment which far too many of Detroit’s children have to navigate each and every day.
“Statistics show that 60 percent of our children are living in extreme poverty in the city of Detroit,” said Rev. Williams. “So when we talk about issues of education and we talk about the young people and the problems that we’re having in Detroit Public Schools, what we really need to be talking about is how to we address poverty, and the culture that these young people are growing up in.”
One of the obvious outcomes of such a crippling situation is children who can’t read, because children who can’t read – and understand what they read – are crippled in more ways than they will ever understand.
“Our kids need to know how to pray, but what good does it do our kids to be able to pray if they can’t read the prayer and they can only recite it?” said Buckman.

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