Enjoyed a meaty conversation with Rev. Burton Carley, Minister of First U in Memphis, and their DRE, Cindy Sakaan.
Rev. Carley belives that the finance and ethical conversation happening now can provide some lessons for our campaign. Part of us, the elite with money, knows it’s not right to use this system for our sole benefit, but another part of us is very skilled at justifying it. There is important programitic and curriculum elements found in this struggle of our time.
Bottom line: Public schools are having a very real and most likely insurmountable problem. At least in Memphis it seems more and more likely that the public school system will not be able to be repaired or reformed. It will most likely have to be completely rebuilt.
Which leads to an importnant point: Those who balance their support for this effort (or other forms of quality alternatives to local public schools) solely on it’s form (independent vs public) are missing the point. Rev. Carley believes it may be a distraction keeping us from finding real solutions to our education disaster. His point is that we need models which can bring our youth to better outcomes (emotional, educational, etc.) and do the harder work of crafting a new way to provide for the values we hold that we call public ed to be (i.e. Universal, safe, quality, emotionally supportive, civic minded, etc.) public ed is largely not that today except for more elite public schools that serve the upper rungs of our population. We shouldn’t get caught up in the public/private debate, but focus on outcomes or what we hope to achieve through our various efforts at school improvement. Let’s get as entrepreneurial as we can be. Let’s stop trying to ‘fix’ or work on the edges of public school beauracracies or systems in places where it is clear that that will be a waste of a generation and not actually produce the result we’re looking for. It’s time for a revolution in these places, and it is clear from his work in Memphis, that this is one of those places where we need an entirely new way of approaching the problem.
Another important point related to the above is that, at a higher level, our faith ought to be less reactive. In many ways, we operate spiritually at a 5 yo level.
Ethics aren’t the best grounding for being in right relation with ourselves and the world around us. They go with feeling and need emotional as well as rational intelligence. A strong spiritual identity and practice is better than a reliance solely on ethics.
As you develop your schools model remember that our culture has trouble creating a sense of shared experience. We all do our own thing. Public education used to do this for us. Every one used to go to one high school and people bridged dvides. Only 3 channels on TV, now we all segregate our viewership to channels that agree with us and don’t challenge our thinking. Be intentional about creating opportunities for shared experience and bridging divides both in your school and especially within the communities they’re in.
We were also encouraged to look into Anytown camp. It is amazing and ransformed Rev Carley’s son. Also, there is a difference between giving youth experiences to see how to do things vs letting them run the show. Be clear how the governance program that allows students a large role in how the school operates is designed in a way that leads to your vision. Could be trickier than you think. There is a fine line in how you offer freedom with responsibility. Mentors are very important.
Very important to remember: having a quality and universal residential program is central to success of the program. This planned environment is so powerful. This vision/idea doesn’t work without the intientional community seated in the residential element, don’t lose that.
In the end, there must be an organizer locally to help sheperd the process of setting up these schools locally or you won’t be successful. Local churches will find it impossible to do this on their own. They must be full-time and onsite. When the organizer is good, you do good work.