What is it about the education system in the U.S. that seems so daunting? We talk a lot about what is wrong with it or what could be done better, but too often the conversations don’t lead anywhere. As we strive to pursue public justice, it is important to make sure that we are fully engaged in this conversation—and that means all of us. Through the Pittsburgh-based project Christians Investing in Education (CIE), I believe the Center for Public Justice is seeking to do just that.
The Center for Public Justice’s Christians Investing in Education (CIE) initiative is a good example of putting principle into practice. According to the Center, the goal of this initiative is “to develop an understanding of what it means for Christians to invest in education, so that citizens are equipped to respond in faith.” CIE affirms that a wide range of community members—not only parents—must be engaged as citizens to repair the brokenness in the education system. But there’s also a void amidst this conversation: college students and young adults. It can be easy for students and unmarried twenty somethings to assume that education is not a policy area that we should be working to change, when in fact there are so many ways in which we could affect real and lasting change.
According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), fewer than 13 percent of college students said that the reason they didn't vote in the 2010 elections was they were not interested. So, there is a small percentage of apathetic young people out there, but they are not the majority of the nation’s non-voting young adults. The majority choose not to vote for reasons other than simply not caring. So it seems that students want to be involved, but lack a motivating force.
How about a biblical imperative? In Luke, a man asks Jesus how to “inherit eternal life,” and is affirmed by Jesus in his belief that he must love God and love his neighbor as himself. When asked who is a neighbor, Jesus responds by telling the man how to be a neighbor. Through the Parable of the Good Samaritan, he points out that the neighbor in the story was “the one who had mercy.” God asks us all to be neighbors, to have mercy on those who need it.
Children need mercy. They need the mercy of quality education. Schools face innumerable challenges, from lack of funding to unqualified staff, to overcrowding. Schools in low-income urban and rural areas face these problems day-in and day-out, so the children there are not receiving the support they need to reach their potential. As the job market becomes increasingly selective, the value of high school diplomas and bachelor’s degrees is diminishing. A 2009 report by the Council of Economic Advisors found that each additional year of schooling earns a worker about 10 percent more money, and that the sectors of the labor force that will grow the most in the coming years are those requiring post-secondary education. Education has become the key to mobility. The report even asserts that “the most important ‘post-high school’ education and training reform is a strong early childhood and elementary and secondary system.”
As college students and young professionals, we are a group of people with freedom, mobility, and time—all the resources needed to make a difference in the world. Part of pursuing justice means making sure that our children—all of our children—receive the quality education that they deserve. Because investing in education is more than investing in someone else’s kid—it’s investing in God’s plan and purpose for the individual lives of the students. As members of a political community, we must take ownership of these broken areas, and do what we can to repair them.
-Katie Duffy is a senior political science major and history minor at the University of Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh, Pa.