The Power of Fleas

I consider myself an educator at heart, but I have never attended a PTO or school board meeting in my city of Philadelphia, which is dealing with more budget and institutional crises than ever before. (Facing a $304 million shortfall, the city closed 23 public schools last year. Ouch.) Beyond signing some petitions and marching once in a schools-not-prisons protest (the city also launched a $400 million new prison project last year), I have never personally enlisted in the fight for educational equity. Why? Because it is demanding and time-consuming work, that’s why! I’m spending all my hours figuring out the best education for my own three boys and trying to keep things together at home and work. Who has the time or energy to fight for other people’s kids?

But we would do well to consider what we hope for our children’s future. As Marian Wright Edelman has said, “The future which we hold in trust for our own children will be shaped by our fairness to other people’s children.” Ouch again. Yet my question about what we have time for is still valid. Most of us work too much and play too little as it is. Playing with our children—and modeling lifelong play for all the children in our lives—is essential to their education as whole persons. Do we really need to add one more giant cause to our lives?

This is why our cover story for this issue is so compelling. It shows us that we don’t have to take on this cause all by ourselves.  Rather it urges the church—individuals working together as the body of Christ—to stand in the gap for our nation’s failing schools. Together, myriad small acts will function as a tidal wave of support for students, teachers, staff, and principals. “You just need to be a flea against injustice,” says Edelman. “Enough committed fleas biting strategically can make even the biggest dog uncomfortable and transform even the biggest nation.”

When the local church takes up the cause of the local school (or one in a not-so-privileged zip code), it becomes a community effort each of us can plug into according to our gifts and availability. And there is truly something for everyone here—from praying for a specific teacher, grade, or school to organizing donations for school supplies. From playground clean-up days to providing snacks and encouragement for a teachers’ meeting. From reading with a kid for an hour a week to providing an annual award to acknowledge a student who excels at scholarship, art, or citizenship. The possibilities are limited only by our creativity.

In these pages you’ll meet Dallas-area believers who are discovering that when they partner with schools to help kids get the education they deserve, they themselves learn more than they bargained for—hearts expand, community deepens, faith surges. You’ll tour a Denver neighborhood where folks are rediscovering the lost art of education via the sharing of stories, wisdom, and skills in the garden, in the kitchen, and on the front porch. You’ll meet the boys at Children’s Garden in Manila, for whom education starts with finding a safe home and learning to trust others, love God, and respect themselves.

Close your eyes for a few minutes and think about those moments when you learned something life-changing and positive, when you gained a sense of who you were made to be, what you were capable of, and how your mind, body, or spirit works. They weren’t always (or even often) in a classroom perhaps, but they always came at the hands of someone—author, teacher, mentor, friend—who led you into an experience you would not otherwise have had.

At 16 I read C. S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces, at my father’s suggestion, and tumbled headlong into a foreign world that was strangely familiar. I remember standing outside my bedroom with the book in my hand, groping for words.  “This book is about something, but it’s also about lots of other things at the same time,” I said. Dad just smiled, sensing that I had discovered the joys of subtext, myth, and deep meaning in literature. In college I scrambled behind a friend to the top of several towering stone “needles” in South Dakota’s Black Hills and descended a changed person, with new respect for (even awe for) my body and its capabilities. My father and my friend were just two among the many who have opened educational doors for me throughout my life.

Imagine the accumulated wisdom of an entire church being accessible to a disadvantaged school. Think of how many young lives would be transformed if we shared our collective education with these children. How would even our own children’s futures be forever altered?

This month we celebrate the resurrection of the greatest teacher who ever lived. Although fully divine, he needed others to help him grow in wisdom even as he grew in stature. His parents, Uncle Zechariah, his neighbors, the local rabbi, the Scriptures. Let us walk in their beautiful footsteps, leaving enlivened minds and hearts behind us wherever we go. Together, with our strategically placed flea bites, we can provide a good education to all God’s children.

kk 7th grade-croppedAs a kid, Kristyn Komarnicki (pictured here in 7th grade) was privileged to attend good public schools. Her three sons didn’t really have that option, so she has spent the last 15 years begging, borrowing, and bartering an education for them through a combination of home, public, and private education.

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