Rural New Mexico has been home to many abysmal elementary schools, a key culprit being rampant absenteeism every Monday, and hence a de facto four-day school week.

Were the students playing hooky? No—they were fainting of hunger. After leaving school on Fridays, many students had little to eat until school lunch on Mondays. Their little villages were often two hours from any store, and funds and food options were scarce. Every Monday, teachers regularly carried famished children from their rooms.

The leader of New Mexico's faith-based initiatives office knew that the State Capitol housed large reserves of public assistance food. But she quickly learned of a bureaucratic quagmire that thwarted distribution. The solution? Invite Christian groups to pack the food into backpacks for students to take home. Because of her advocacy, the students now leave school on Friday with enough supplies to get them to Monday.

Using dozens of her own similar stories, Nicole Baker Fulgham's Educating All God's Children: What Christians Can—and Should—Do to Improve Public Education for Low-Income Kids (Brazos Press) champions a faith-based message of "educational equity." Though fortunate enough to have attended better schools than those in her largely African American neighborhood, Fulgham argues that today's impoverished families have little access to such mobility. Her book offers a candid theological plea for Christians (and, by implication, especially Republican Christians) to prioritize educational equity alongside issues like abortion and same-sex marriage.

Educating All God's Children convincingly shows scriptural mandates for closing the educational gap between low-income areas and wealthier communities. Apart from Christ and education, most disenfranchised students will never know the abundant life God created them for. But Fulgham is far less convincing in attempting to place educational inequality on the same moral plane as abortion. She cites three "scriptural themes that create a biblical framework for why Christians should respond to the academic achievement gap": "God's concern for children," "God's focus on the poor and disenfranchised," and "God's heart for justice." I see no reason why pro-life advocates couldn't shout "Amen!"

Fulgham also demonstrates an unfortunate tendency to misappropriate the language of gospel proclamation. "Just as the Bible tells Christians to proclaim the good news of the gospel," she writes, "I believe that we must declare the good news of low-income public schools." At the very least, it's hard to tell how this public policy conclusion follows logically from the gospel-based premise.

Some additional concerns: Fulgham allows that lack of money isn't the main problem at underperforming schools, but she gives considerable space to reasons for increasing funding. And some major obstacles to change are nearly absent. Besides highlighting Michelle Rhee's radical stand against the Washington, D.C., teachers' union, she fails to address an albatross around public education's neck.

Still, churches would do well to support the Expectations Project, Fulgham's campaign for faith-based advocacy and systemic changes. Further, they might consider investing in programs like Kids Hope and in charter schools, one of the book's strong recommendations.

It warms my heart to know that fewer kids in New Mexico faint on Mondays. Filling heads with knowledge may be harder than filling backpacks with food, but it's no less worthy, and urgent, an undertaking.

Jerry Pattengale is an assistant provost at Indiana Wesleyan University.

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Educating All God's Children: What Christians Can--and Should--Do to Improve Public Education for Low-Income Kids
Our Rating
4 Stars - Excellent
Book Title
Educating All God's Children: What Christians Can--and Should--Do to Improve Public Education for Low-Income Kids
Brazos Press
Release Date
April 1, 2013
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