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What is the effect of illiteracy on Christianity?

I don’t know Natasha Robinson. She’s got an interesting blog. But I read her article in Urban Faith entitled “The Antidote for a Dropout Culture.” It’s a very good read, and one that touches on questions close to my mind and heart lately. Gospel work has always been interested in the education of people. Missionaries always worked to improve the literacy of their host country.

What does illiteracy mean for Christian development? Robinson makes this indisputable point:

It means that young people are not being taught to know God intimately and grow in their relationship with Him. After all, mature Christians frequently point to the Bible for revelations of our faith. We point to the Bible for those who desire to know God. The Bible is a book that consists of various genres of literature: narratives, poetry, similes and metaphors, allegory, and other types of figurative language that are not all accurately interpreted in the same manner.

And then she wonders exactly what I’ve been wondering:

I wonder what would happen in this country if the church rose to lead the charge to provide educational options. What would happen if churches spent money to build and resource more schools to support free Christian education instead of building bigger sanctuaries for themselves? Or what would happen if those same churches with resources bought buses to bring students to their churches and financially support a tutoring ministry for the children who need it?

What would happen if the homeschool moms decided to also homeschool a child who lives across the tracks or across the bridge? If they had the same concern for their neighbor’s children as they do for their own?

What would happen if Christian men made this injustice a priority? Or if housewives, stay-at-home moms, singles and widows, unemployed and part-time workers, and retirees committed their time and resources to tutoring youth in the neighborhoods where the schools are failing? There is more than enough work for all of us to do.

I wonder if the church stood up, would we continue to see a lost generation of children whose lives of struggle are sure to end in poverty, prostitution, jail, unhealthy relationships, or homelessness? I wonder if any of this matters to the church.

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6 Responses

  1. What if Christians supported the public schools that struggle for resources and community support instead of pulling their kids out of them and pretending they don’t exist? It would be a lot easier to shine some light in the public schools (which educate approximately 98% of American youth, like it or not) than to invite a few kids “from the other side of the tracks” to your alternate school (which may or may not be accredited).

    Thumbs up for tutoring and mentoring. Less enthusiasm for abandoning the majority for a few charity cases.

  2. Also: What’s up with lumping stay-at-home moms in with the list of “people who obviously have time to spare”? Seriously? Has she ever TRIED keeping a young child full-time?

  3. Rebecca, Christians do support public schools, although maybe not voluntarily, by their taxes.

  4. That would be Christians who voluntarily pay for their own edgemucation and don’t depend on the government for it. So effectively, those who chose other types of education are paying twice for it. Public schools who are struggling for funds–administer better the funds you have. Christian and private schools have to do the same thing–we ask no other than that from you.

  5. Eh, that’s like paying child support. Sure, it’s “support”, but it’s not parenting. Don’t be suprised when the “supported” object doesn’t turn out anything like you.

  6. Chalk this one up to one of my rare disagreements with you. I’m all for greater social engagement on so-called “justice issues” by individual Christians and, when appropriate, even churches. But education “done right” costs a staggering amount of money, which the vast majority of churches simply don’t have. Look at how poorly many Christian school teachers are paid, and the lousy facilities of many Christian schools, an you’ll see this problem. It’s not as if “building a bigger auditorium” comes close to the cost of even one year of a school.

    But the deeper issue is a conflict of visions of what “Christian education” is supposed to mean. If “christian education” is about outreach to the poorer communities, it means that the schools will have lots of “bad” influences that many Christian parents supposedly want to avoid by sending their kids to Christian school. But if Christian schools are about fostering a “Christian” environment, it’s hard to see a place for the unbelieving kids you mention. I’m not taking sides here; I’m just explaining that conflict in views of “Christian education” that makes the author’s ideas impractical.

    Ultimately, I even doubt whether a “lack of literacy” even cracks the top ten in cultural barriers to Christianity in contemporary American. Rather, it’s a symptom of many deeper pathologies, such as an entertainment culture and the breakdown of families. I’m not opposed to more involvement of the Church in education per se, but I don’t think that effort should either be limited to “christian schools” or the focus of the Church’s work.

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