The Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow: A Christian in Support of Public Education

Like many people today, I have opinions about a great many things and expertise in few. But, as a person who votes, pays taxes, is a person of faith and happens to have a venue where I can freely express my opinion, I think it's important to sometimes jump into the fray. I do not pretend to have the organizational answers or legislative prowess that some may have, but, to tell you the truth, that does not seem to matter these days when if comes to public policy decisions.

So today I am going to wade into the treacherous waters of the public education debate. I am product of the California public school system, my three children attend a public school in San Francisco and I believe that public free education is a right that every child should have access to. With that said, I also believe that folks should have a choice about where and how they choose to provide education for their children. In fact, my oldest looking at high schools and we are thinking about independent/private options and I am in full support of those who choose to homeschool.

I also know that no system, especially one as entrenched as public education, is perfect and that much has to be redone and revamped if it will be effective in the future. But honestly some of the rhetoric about public education feels like this is not about committing to and improving a system, but blatant attempt to do away with it in its entirety. The toxicity with which public education is being discussed leaves little room for thoughtful conversations where flexibility or creativity can be expressed by any side. I am not sure we can get there, but I truly believe that if there was a genuine commitment to public education by our society, we could find new and creative ways to educate our children.

So with that said, I believe that our government should do everything within its power to not simply provide a public education system, but make the strengthening of the public school system a fiscal priority over and above defense, corrections, subsidies, tax-breaks, etc. I say this not only because I think it is good politics and social policy, but because my Christian faith informs what I believe about such things, after all, as my good friend Landon Whitsitt once said, "...the separation of church and state is not the same thing as the separation of faith and politics."

My faith and belief that all people deserve to be treated with dignity and compassion has always been the foundation for my support of governmental programs that serve the greater good. While I may never participate in these programs myself, I believe that it is the role and responsibility of those with means to respond out of gratitude and support programs that lift up the entirely of society. This is not simply about doing unto others as you would have them do unto you, but an acknowledgment that we are one body with many parts and that, "...if one part of the body suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it." -- 1 Corinthians 12:12-30. So with a faith that has always influenced my politics, I offer the following thoughts on public education.

Education for all... ReTweet -- The biggest reason that I believe public education is so important is because, at its basic level, it is the place where everyone is welcomed and accepted. Public schools and the teachers who teach are called to their profession and seek to serve and educate all children. Every time I chaperone a field trip I am inspired by the commitment to our children that teachers have. While I support private school and homeschool choices, both of these options allow parents and school structures to decide who is allowed to be part of that particular educational experience. Our public schools make sure that the whole of society is given and opportunity to be educated and, as cheesy as it may be, when we are all given the opportunity to be educated, we all given the opportunity to succeed.

Health Care for Teachers...ReTweet -- In a vacuum, it really does not seem like too much to ask for teachers to pay a percentage of their healthcare premiums. But we do not live in a vacuum and, since I have never heard of anyone who goes into teaching for the money or glory, I for one think that they deserve and I am willing to pay to ensure that they have great healthcare. It is the least we can do for answering this particular low-paying, but highly rewarding, call to public service.

Job Security for Teachers... ReTweet -- I am not a big fan of tenure and I certainly know that, like any profession, there are some folks that are simply not competent. Still, because teachers will never make a good deal of money and it is noble work, like health care, we should be able to provide some way ensure job security for those who deserve it. Anxiety over year to year job security simple cannot be the norm. Evaluations are one thing, but knowing that EVERY year one's job may be on the line undermines the kind of consistency that any school needs to build a solid educational foundation.

Fiscal Efficiency for Schools... ReTweet -- One of the things that drives me nutzo is when people use the "If this were a business..." argument. Yes, some fiscal restructuring must take place, but when people use this argument there is an assumption that public education and business have the same goal or bottom line. We do not. Businesses have a bottom line and goal of achieving profitability while education has the goal of educating our children. To fall into this argument dooms public education to failure and send the message that we can somehow monetize education.

I hope that for those who do not agree we will still be able to engage some constructive conversation. And for those who find resonance with what I am saying, I hope you will seek out helpful ways to have your voices heard in places that matter. Our country and many of our states are beginning to make serious fiscal choices that will impact our lives, our children and our collective future, so now more than ever we must speak out for what we believe matters... in this case, public education.

This post orginally appeared on The Huffington Post.

[Taken with permission from the blog of the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow,originally posted 2/21/2011. Follow Bruce on Twitter @breyeschow.]