The problem we all live with--even Adventists

I taught in NYC public schools. After completing undergrad, went to the NYC Board of Education to apply for a job. They needed teachers—as long as you had a bachelors degree in anything, you could be hired! I was put in a classroom the very same day I went to the school. I had no time to prep. I taught one one class I was qualified to teach (science) and two others I wasn't (math and technology). We didn't have books the first half of the year! We never got materials for science lab or computers for technology class. When I complained, I was told to teach the kids about pulleys and levers because after all that's technology too. Even with that, I still had no technology manipulatives or textbooks.  The classes were severely overcrowded—32 to 35 kids each—and each made up entirely of kids with behavioral problems and diagnosed learning issues. I wasn't licensed for that either. I shouldn't have been placed in those classrooms. Sure I cared about those students, but they needed a qualified, experienced teacher. They also deserved access to at least the basic materials for education just like any other children in America.

I have a couple of white friends who used to rail about how everyone has equal access in America and a level playing field... until I told them my teaching experiences. Of course, these things happened at a school with all Black and Hispanic students in the South Bronx. I next moved to a wealthier school district in Manhattan. I had only two classes, just 15 kids each. Any teaching aids I wanted or needed were delivered to my classroom by the start of the school day the next morning. They also had a mentor teacher program to help young teachers. People need to stop believing that the way things are where they live is how it is all over America. We are still separate and very unequal.

I reflected on these experiences as I listened to an episode of This American Life entitled, "The problem we all live with" after Rockwell's painting. The show recalled the accounts of students in the Normandy school district in Missouri—the same school district attended by Ferguson's Mike Brown. Throughout its schools, the district was understaffed and students had sub par educational materials. Normandy was eventually stripped of its accreditation triggering a state law allowing students from the underresourced Normandy district to transfer to the more affluent—and more white—Francis Howell district. Audio recordings from a town hall meeting at the new district that took place before the transfer revealed angry parents using discriminatory rhetoric and thinly veiled racism. White parents threatened to pull their students out and even move from the area if the minority students were bussed in. Kids who simply wanted an adequate education were being demonized by bigoted citizens.

All over the country, schools like those in District 7 in NYC & the Normandy District in Missouri are failing to educate children. I wondered what Adventist schools could possibly do. Could we find ways to open our doors to communities to provide quality opportunities for students? Could we explore ways to make Christian education accessible to kids in dire need of something better than their public offerings? People would welcome that. I know my parents did.

Although my parents were not Adventist, and we lived across the street from a public school, my attending the local public school was not even an option for my family. They initially wanted to put me in Catholic school. I often joke that except for one of the teachers leaving a bad impression with my mother (she accidentally attempted to release a random child into my mother's care mistakenly believing she was the student's parent) I could very well have grown up to be a Catholic nun instead of an Adventist pastor! My family was not wealthy, but they made it a priority to find a way to send me to RT Hudson Elementary School and we counted it a blessing that I was able to attend.

But there are a few roadblocks to our system making an impact in this way. One is our peculiar brand of prejudice. I've sat on several Adventist school boards. Whenever we discuss the recruitment of community children, concerns are always raised about having too many of "them," "them" being non-Adventists. We fear our children being somehow contaminated and our schools becoming "diluted" with the presence of too many unbelievers. Nevermind the fact that there are multiple safeguards against any form of "dilution" on the elementary and secondary school levels. And regardless of the fact that we are called to be witnesses. We would rather not expose our students to worldly kids. There's a problem with that.

Additionally, while our sectarian prejudices are unique to our faith, we are not in short supply of the tried and true forms of discrimination as well. Thanks to a recent Pew Research Center report, American Adventists can proudly boast that we are the #1 religious group in terms of ethnic diversity. I remain unimpressed since this only measures membership numbers, not actual integration. We may have different ethnic groups, but they don't necessarily interact on any genuine basis in greater numbers than those in less diverse faiths do. Furthermore, we often see reactions similar to that of the Frances Howell school district when our schools become too brown. A great example is the white flight seen at Atlantic Union College, which closed its doors a few years ago. A more recent example can be seen in the fate of the Crossroads School in Baltimore.

The constituent members for Crossroads were predominantly white but the students and faculty were prominently black. Crossroads will not be open for the upcoming school year. Unlike several other shuttered academies, it isn't for lack of enrollment or funding. Student numbers were exceptional. However, there were several issues of racial tension between the faculty and the supporting constituents. Depending on who you ask, the sequence of events may be debatable, but based on confidential conversations I've had with several individuals close to the situation, along with a note from the Baltimore First Church, which oversees the school, the following points are clear: there were tensions at the school,  teachers decidedly found employment elsewhere, replacement faculty were not found for the upcoming year.  In June, parents had yet to be informed that Crossroads would not be open in 2015-16. After rumors of closing abounded, parents sought answers. Their inquiries were answered with a letter in mid-June announcing that the school would close. In conjunction with past slights, the late notice given, and the nonreplacement of faculty to ensure that the school could remain open next year, many parents were left with the distinct impression that there was no heartache of the prominently white church about closing the prominently minority school. It was widely perceived that this wouldn't have been the unfolding of events if the demographics of the students matched that of the constituent congregants.

For their part, the church stated they only discovered in June that their teachers sought other employment. They felt they wouldn't have time to hire replacements for the Fall and therefore decided to close the doors. Was enough notice given by the teachers? Was enough effort put forth to finding more faculty? Again, different stories come from different places. There is likely a good deal of blame to share with various parties. But it's indisputable that parents and students were the ones who got the short end of the stick. Like the Normandy families, they found themselves casualties of cultural politics. In this regard, our institutions aren't doing much better than "the world."

How do we change things? How do we ensure that parents and students of all backgrounds feel valued and welcomed at all of our institutions? First, let's begin with acknowledging that there's a problem and digging down into the reasons for that. What biases have we allowed to fester in our Adventist communities? What are we afraid of if we integrate? Let's openly talk about concerns, address the valid ones head on and dismantle the ones that have no merit. Let's have diversity among our administrators, but more importantly include administrators that are sensitive to the needs and intentional about recruiting students of all backgrounds—including white students.

I won't pretend to have all the answers. But I'm not content to have this be a problem that we all simply live with.

 

Courtney Ray is a pastor in the Southern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7014
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The CURRENT SLAVERY in America is Illiteracy! And it is HUGE.
Take Georgia for example [forget the New York of Courtney’s experience]. There are a Huge number of Government Schools in the state where large numbers of students DO NOT pass the State exams in Reading and Math.
We have them right here in Macon. The school that services the community where we get our tutoring kids for the past 5 years. This school has in the past 5 years a disgraceful record for state test passing scores. In the past 5 years they have had a 40 to 50 percent failing rate. This is in elementary school. Grades K to 6.
And Courtney is right. If you have disruptive kids in a classroom the teacher is spending time NOT teaching because of spending time with those kids.
One year I had a 3rd grade boy who was barely reading 2nd grade words. I discovered his learning position was one knee on the seat, and his butt moving. As long as his butt was moving, he was learning. But to sit in a seat with both feet on the floor, his brain shut down on learning, and was involved with all that was going on around him. At the end of the school year I had him up to recognizing some 5th grade words. But I had to find his learning patterns. And allow him to learn that way.
Because he could finally read his 3rd grade Math book, he could begin to do his Math.

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Courtney is correct.
In many places in SDA-ism in North America, the churches have not moved out of the 1940s, the 1950s.
Here in Macon we have a very large Black Church with a huge church school program [they advertise to the community].
The White Church is smaller with a small [25-27 student] enrollment. One to two teachers each year.
Even though we are BOTH Seventh day Adventists, neither church talks to each other. Has no combined activities. And I have been here 10 years.
For some reason our White church is becoming multi-cultural. Now about half our membership is black. We have about 15 to 20 “Spanish” attending. But this has NOT been because we were seeking members.

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Thanks Courtney, for a provocative article.

One of the main causes of racism, from my own experience and point of view, is the perception that my own physical, intellectual, and cultural “territory” is in danger. If I were to understand that I own no physical, intellectual, or cultural territory, then there might be less about which to feel threatened, and therefore less racism expressed by me. Could this be the reason we are asked to “deny” ourselves and become the servants of Jesus by serving others? I think it is an outrageous request to make of someone else - to give up all that he/she perceive as constituting his/her very essence for the sake of peace, but I can ask it of myself. May we all live in such a way that our example will inspire others to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.

I would be interested in reading more about the Crossroads school closure and the situation causing that decision. There is nothing available online and there is no mention of a closure on the school’s own website. Spectrum Editors, are you able to provide an investigative report?

Courtney noted that the facts emerged in confidential conversations with several involved parties, and in a letter from Baltimore First Church, which oversees Crossroads. This detail has been added to the article. -Website Editor

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Thank you so much for opening eyes to this situation. From what I have experienced in different places over the years it is often the SDA students who are the worst influence on each other! Bullies are bred in fundamentalist environments just like those in the “world”. At least with the unchurched children there might be a reason and a learning curve. With SDA children it is just assumed they are safe and a good influence. The SDA school I currently am involved with welcomes the community children!!!

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This seems to be the trend in Adventism…why do you think this is?

I am thankful to attend a very inclusive church. We have members from many countries around the world. We have blue-collar and white-collar workers. We have elderly, middle-aged, young adults, families with children. Musical taste of vast variety. We have several people who may have mental illness, or at least are rather strange. All are accepted and made to feel welcome.

But I know that even people who don’t think they have prejudices can hurt others’ feelings unintentionally, and we all need to try to put ourselves in the other person’s place and try to understand how they might feel. That takes real effort, and trying to learn about other cultures and reach out.

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Well put. Is it not time to get past the wranglings of denominationalism so that the FULL gospel was preached in SDAism?

Trust God.

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Yes, I have made this statement before on Spectrum and some others have questioned whether or not racism in the US even still exists!

Absolutely.

The one year that I worked in an Adventist Elementary School I saw this in full force. Adventist schools tend to get some of the “other” students because the children had problems with placement at other schools/ the parents wanted a Christian education and SDA schools are usually cheaper/ the children are Jewish, etc. Over all these “other” children were better behaved and generally more respectful of the educational opportunity than the Adventist children.

I find this “contagion” issue very interesting…because there are other fundamentalist religions that send their kids to public school without the dire effects expected by the Adventist parents.

Yes…has been said time and time again.

The biases were never addressed and they have been allowed to continue after 150 years. What is the fear: mostly loss of power…fear of the “other”.

Good for you, Courtney…but too many within the Adventist church are quite happy with the status quo. Sad. Not Christ-like at all.

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Though you have asked Steve…the population within the US is getting more diverse and “less white” and Adventism newest members tend to be from the non-white cultures. I have seen it happen over the past 20 years at the last 2 churches attended.

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Growing up in the church the word “missions” always had an unspoken connotation: “foreign” missions. We took offerings to convert foreigners overseas, build hospitals and schools but here in the states we were to be self-supporting while sending money and missionaries half way around the world.

Now the results are clear: those “foreign” members have eclipsed us in the first world and have shunned aiding us, not by their monies, but by their votes denying the right of choosing the best method for operating the churches in our territory.?

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I wonder if the rate of change in the SDA church is the same as the rate in the general population.

Would be interesting…I not really a stats person but I am sure someone on Spectrum could come up with them.

I am a parent of one of the former Crossroads students. I am also one of the parents who made inquiries to the Chesapeake Conference regarding the school’s closure. To make a long story short, the constituent church’s claim is that all of the teachers, the total of which was 4, including the Principal, resigned abruptly towards the end of the school year. They stated, because of that they had to close the school for the upcoming year since they did not have ample time to find new teachers. The Conference claims they offered to help the church find new teachers, but they declined and chose to close instead. I personally know that the Principal and at least one other teacher submitted their resignations MONTHS before the school year ended. In fact, the Principal informed both the church and the Conference the previous school year that she was not returning after this year. Another teacher resigned around January of this year. At no time did the school or the Conference advertise for a new Principal or teachers. There is a website which the Conference uses to recruit teachers. I know this because I have a good friend that used to teach for that Conference who has monitored that website for job openings from time to time. She informed me that no job openings were posted for Crossroads at anytime during the year.
As for the racial tensions, that seemed to have been fueled primarily by the previous Pastor of the constituent church. He expressed on numerous occasions that the school wasn’t diverse enough. In fact, a big meeting was held last year with Parents and church members where that issue came up.
One of the teachers they hired was not black, but Spanish. I was informed by someone with connections to a Conference official that she was hired to attract a more diverse student body. There was also the issue of church membership. Most of us are from the regional conference in the area and do not pay tithes and offerings to the constituent church. The members questioned why they should contribute their constituent money to the school when at least 90% of the kids were from another Conference, or not even Adventist.
While there may be much more to the story than what I am aware of, one thing is for sure. The constituent church had no intentions of opening that school next year, and I bet they will not be opening again.

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Courtney,

The first two paragraphs should be required reading for everyone in the U.S. over the age of 12.

Thanks for your work. And thanks for sharing with us, too.

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What has happened to the idea that our schools are supposed to be a means to educate our youth and also to be tools of evangelism. (like many of our schools overseas are). We are only looking inward and not outward as we should be.

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Thanks for the info, Marquita. It is helpful to hear different points of view.

I appears to me that at least in NAD that there is less and less interest in sending one’s child to an Adventist school. Perhaps the issue is mostly financial but my feeling is that the church itself should make Adventist education virtually free. It could be done with some of the money spent on “evangelism”.

Kim over the years, less and less money has been spent on education. Several reasons for this; one is that conferences have done a poor job of closing or combining schools with low enrollment. In my area we have two elementary ( K-8) schools both struggling and five miles apart. Also, writhing a thirty mile radius we have four senior academies all struggling. But another reason is less percentage of funds is coming back as conferences spend money in my opinion foolishly. I have been asked to serve on one useless committee after another where travel and eating out has been provided. And when you spend money all year on these made up committees in all areas of the conference, you can’t be using the Lords money in a wise fashion.

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