But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” (Luke 18:16, NRSV)
For fifteen years my ministry was teaching. I was a Professor of Education at Roberts Wesleyan College teaching students who wanted to become teachers. Because Roberts is a Christian college, I was expected—and privileged—to integrate faith with teaching and learning. I am passionate about education, an advocate for teachers, and a champion for children.
This is the week that Collier County Public Schools were scheduled to start, although opening day has now been postponed until the end of the month. My heart is heavy with concern for parents, teachers, and administrators who are struggling to figure out how to teach students of all ages safely and effectively in the middle of a raging pandemic. My heart aches for children whose lives have been turned upside down, whose education will be drastically different from past experiences or expectations, whether it happens in-person or online. The magnitude of the challenge is astounding: Collier County Public Schools serve 48,000 total students in more than 60 schools and alternative programs; the School District of Lee County serves more than 95,000 students in 119 schools. Beyond the public schools there are private schools and a network of childcare facilities, like our own Precious Cargo Academy. I do not have answers to offer. Indeed, I am sure there is no single answer that will be right for everyone.
The vast majority of Naples UCC members are like me, people with adult children and perhaps grandchildren, who live in other parts of the country. That makes it tempting not to mention the problem of how to educate the children in this region. But I cannot look away. I believe public schools are the foundation of our democracy. I believe they are a “public good,” serving our community whether or not they are serving my own children or grandchildren. I believe that we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers—called to care for every person in our community, including the children. Children are vulnerable. Children are “the least of these” whom we are called to serve. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”
What can we do? We can be alert to opportunities to support the people who are making impossible decisions: parents, teachers, and administrators. To those we know personally, we can offer empathy instead of judgment, a listening ear instead of criticism. We can seek out ways to assist according to our particular gifts. Some of us may find ourselves guiding students as they learn at home “virtually.” Depending upon our personal networks and priorities, there may be groups or causes we can join as they participate in the search for solutions.
And, we can pray. We can pray for wisdom for all decision-makers; calm amid the chaos; and science-based, data-driven, respectful dialogue about the pros and cons of every option. We can pray for the health and safety of every person involved in teaching and learning wherever they occur: for children, teachers, administrators, aides, nurses, facilities personnel, youth relations officers, to name a few, and all the family members their lives touch. We can pray for learning that feeds the spirit as well as the minds of students, however they choose to do their learning (e.g., online or in-person). And we can pray for our own children and grandchildren wherever they live and learn.
Rev. Dr. Sharon Harris-Ewing
For Teaching and Learning:
God of All, We pray for wisdom, patience, perseverance, and the health of all who are involved in teaching children, and for the well-being of all children, near and far. We pray that the community, including our church, will support and assist the process of teaching and learning wherever and however it is happening. In the name of Jesus, our Teacher. Amen.
Photo credit: Rev. Dr. Sharon Harris-Ewing, children in Cuba