Tag Archives: racism

Real Questions, Thoughtful Answers, Part 2: Parental Engagement in Education

A thoughtful friend who is a keen observer of public issues, wrote to me the other day and asked, “Charlie, what just happened in Virginia? Many of my friends are calling it a racist backlash. Other are saying the parents are finally being heard. What do you think?”

As always, the issues of any election are complex and people do not fit into tidy cultural and/or ideological boxes assigned by the pundits. This election does demonstrate that a sentence or two can change history! If Governor McAuliffe had invited frustrated parents to a roundtable discussion and expressed empathy, he might have won the election. Instead, he casually opined that the parents should not tell the school board or teachers what to teach. This was not well-received by many in his own party (even if it was exploited by the other side beyond McAuliffe’s intent).

The conflicts of Virginia are found across the nation as parents are deeply agitated about the content and overall quality of the education their children are receiving. This was amplified by the effects of COVID and parental exposure to heretofore unknown topics. The school boards and administrators of many schools are proving themselves unwilling to listen deeply and engage in dialogue, resorting to narrow rules for feedback and even obscuring controversial content, as well as budget allocations. Parents feel condescended to, belittled, and libeled. Disagreeing with some facets of how racial issues are presented is not racism; however, that is the conclusion of some commentators and teachers’ union leaders. Concerns about sex education and the age-appropriate materials is met with derision by educators, some of whom see no problem with telling students to keep secrets from their families.

A bit of historical and social perspective helps as we aim for a better way forward. Three issues are converging in these conflicts: 1) The public schools are challenged with bringing education and support services to children coming from very difficult homes: 2) Professionals take offense at non-experts telling them what to do; 3) We have a deep cultural divide over the scope of education, from broad, ideological agendas to more narrow subject foci.

In defense of most schools and teachers, education can be challenging, especially in under-resourced communities. Kids come to school with emotional and physical needs that make learning hard on a good day. One kindergarten teacher I spoke with summarized her day this way: “I have 20 students. Only a few have two-parent households and come to school with clean bodies and clothes and ready to learn. I think I taught about 8-10 and kept the others from hurting themselves and others.” Social service case workers affirm this picture as they try to help families and manage the consequences of abuse, addiction, divorce and single-parent homes. Before we berate educators, it is right to pause and realize that we must renew the importance of parents serving their children and creating the conditions for flourishing.

Issues 2 and 3 are part of a century-long tension between parental authority and the responsibility and the influence of experts. While issue #1 unveils the brokenness of many families, educators have long been as the forefront of questioning family authority and influence and desiring that the state be the primary leader in nurturing children. A few years ago, a news commentator, responding to similar parental concerns, blurted out, “Your children do not belong to you…they belong to the collect…I mean the community!” She meant to say, “collective” in good Marxist fashion, but caught herself and said “community.” While we all affirm that community is vital, parents are the vital foundation and any diminishment of their influence (except for abuse) is overreach by the state.

What is the way forward? First, children must be welcome as gifts from God and parents must embrace the unselfishness and sacrifice of nurturing them to maturity. Parents are the first teachers. Issues of faith, morality, and key values rests primarily in the home, secondarily in the faith community, and only thirdly with public institutions. Parents must be heard and their children must not be subject to indoctrination or information beyond their years.

Second, the educational establishment must narrow its focus to education, especially the important knowledge and skills for functioning in a competitive world. Except for enforcing common values of civility, diligence, and mutual respect, teachers must teach their subjects well, properly exposing students to many historical narratives and cultural expressions, while ensuring that basic liberal arts and sciences are central. It is time for a school year to increase in days, not decrease. The USA is way behind much of the developed world in the amount and quality of schooling that our K-12 children receive.

Third, all curricular and co-curricular content must be public and subject to scrutiny. NO secrets, full transparency, and open debate must be the norm. Teachers are trained to help children that might be abusive victims, and we do need a safety net for these situations. It is time to end the secrecy, especially about religion, sexuality, and politics. These realms belong to the family first, then the local community agencies, and then, informationally, to the educational establishment.

Fourth, the educational landscape must be a free market, with public, charter, private, and homeschooling networks cooperating and competing. Right now, more than a million underserved families are waiting for places in charter and private schools because of the poor quality of their local schools. Yes, we need more resources for the poorer neighborhoods – and much more accountability for how they are managed! Costs per pupil are not the only indicator of success.

We can have civil debate and explore better ways for education. Courage, humility, and a willingness to share influence and power are the keys to a better future for our children.

The Path Forward, Part Two: Back to the Future: Seeing the Tapestry of History

How we understand our personal, cultural, and national history is vital for our own sense of self and for building a flourishing future. In this moment of competing narratives and agitation propaganda, embracing the complexity and contradictions of historical narratives has never been more important. Leaving aside the dangerous and foolish mythologies of blood and soil supremacy (and they are found in almost every culture), how we understand the past has profound consequences for present actions and future visions.

Before evaluating two current trends in American history, it is important to note that every civilization or significant nation begins with a dominant group and then expands to include others (with variable notions of equality). This is NOT a defense of racism – just the opposite. Racial injustice (and its twin, tribalism) is a universal phenomenon of a fallen human species. People with agendas cherry pick historical data and avoid the uncomfortable facts that do not fit their narrative. For example, the legacy of Western colonialism from about 1800-1960 is seen as an era of oppression…and it was. Muslims in particular critique the control of their ancient lands by “Crusaders.” Infrastructure, religious toleration, education, and economic developments are all ignored. I am not defending the terrible history of conquest and control. What is ignored are the centuries of Islamic conquests and oppressions from the 7th to the 17th century. In other words, history is complicated.

On the popular level (there are many historians doing good work on complex issues no one will ever hear about!), American history is often presented as either the progress of a divinely-ordained nation or the tragic story of White oppression. The recent 1619 Project bring to public attention the neglected narratives of African American and Native American oppression. The problem is not with highlighting the tragedies of systemic racism. The 1619 project is marred by reducing the American story to racism and seeing everything through this lens. In contrast, many conservative and religious groups see the USA as exceptional, and while acknowledging the many imperfections, the story is one of almost unbroken progress. The 1776 Initiative sought to counter the extremes of the 1619 project, but it has been cancelled by the new administration because it was created under the old one.

The path forward concerning American history and hope calls for maturity that can hold several narratives in tension simultaneously, celebrating trends of liberty and justice, lamenting deep injustices, and calling for more research on ignored and marginalized voices. For example, religious conservatives downplay the profound missed opportunity of the early 19th century as every denomination split over race and slavery (and only reunited in the Civil Rights era of the 1960s). Imagine the different trajectory of our American story if the churches had discarded their racism! The same willful ignorance applied to the horrendous treaty violations and violence toward Native American tribes from the 17th to the 20th century. Imagine if the Quaker voices were heeded and European settlers and indigenous people shared the development of a grand experiment in mutual respect and love. Lest progressives become proud, their refusal to include the positive record of both Christian and secular leaders working for justice and the devastations of the modern welfare state on the groups it was supposed to help, is willful blindness that keeps us from progress.

Seeing history through the four-fold lens of the Grand Narrative of the Bible is helpful so we have hopefulness and realism, and hold the tensions of the human soul and social contracts in proper balance. The biblical story begins with the divine design for worship and work, with humankind enjoying God and creatively and ethically stewarding a beautiful world. Men and women are equal image-bearers and the marital bond is celebrated. But. Human rebellion (the root of all sin) brings disaster as the divine image and purpose are defaced and distorted. Yet divine deliverance is promised. A redemptive history of grace, liberation, and holy love, culminating in the Cross and Resurrection of Christ, offers hope and power for positive change. And the fourth chapter reveals an eternal destiny in a renewed earth and heavens, where worship and work are fulfilled with love and justice and the original design finds its fulfillment. All four chapters are real today and will help us be positive and wise as we navigate so many problems.

The more we study all the historical narratives, the more we find saints and sinners, progress and regress, opportunities missed and seized, and systems in desperate need of change. Let’s grow up and embrace the complexity of the past so we can distill its wisdom for the future.

Differences that Make a Difference

Learning thoughtfulness amidst the overwhelming data around us is challenging. In our desires for peace and justice, we must refine our critical thinking capacities and recognize what is timeless truth and what are timely opinions.

Here are some differences that make a difference:

Legitimate outrage about racism vs. anarchy and destruction.

Repairing historic, systemic injustices vs. calls for ending the family and imposing Marxism.

Repentance of prejudices of class, gender, and race vs. hatred for anyone with traditional values.

Passionate, principled debate vs. a cancel culture of personal destruction.

Building a world with true toleration vs. fear of violence.

Serious journalistic inquiry and allowing real evidence to further investigation vs. repetition of talking points and allegations.

Repairing our environment vs. alarmism cloaking wealth redistribution.

Accepting history as a tapestry of beautiful and broken narratives vs. cherry picking for agendas.

Treating every person with dignity and respect and respecting cultural diversity vs. blanket categorizations and generalizations.

Freedom of conscience allowing us to bring our best selves to the public square vs. privatizing any moral and religious convictions.

Let’s help the world be more thoughtful.

Good Intentions Subverted by Other Agendas

Dear conservative and progressive friends (and those of goodwill who dislike labels):

Throughout history movements for needed change are subverted by agendas contrary to the values of the initial advocates. Criminal justice and police reform, economic and educational change, ridding our souls and systems of racism – all of these and much more are worthy aims.

The well-orchestrated violence on the streets and the agendas of extremists are obscuring the legitimate (and painful) reform movements. When we stop reacting and start reflecting, there are creative ways forward that unite instead of divide.

Ethics are universal, but action begins locally. Better schools, new business opportunities, the end of banking and food deserts, and community-police cooperation…all of these require courage, wisdom, and love for neighbor, not burning buildings and refusing to listen to reason.

All of this begins with women and men who are thoughtful and refuse entrapment by ideological purity tests, Left or Right. Conservative friends unsparingly renounce racism and extreme nationalism and join with local leaders and foster conditions for flourishing. Liberal friends, renounce Antifa and other forms of violent overthrowing of government and honestly work with others for a more just world in the neighborhood.

Too many folks are paralyzed by fear of being seen as unpatriotic or unwoke. When this fear is replaced by faith in the Almighty, the courage to work toward justice, and the humility to discover pathways with others different from us, hope awakens, and communities thrive.

Wisdom in Chaotic Times

As we converse, we need to include complexity and nuance as we aim for understanding. I am not qualifying any forms of evil or injustice but aiming for wisdom. There are two (among many others) critical thinking errors that often emerge as we aim for civil debate in the public square: The first is over-generalization, especially about groups of people. The second false combination, where we assume because a person thinks a certain way about one issue they will align on several others in a particular manner.


People vary greatly and do not always fit in tidy political categories. For example, as someone deeply concerned about protecting the vulnerable from conception to coronation, I want to see better gun control laws, more access to medical care and mental health services, and reform in our educational and economic policies so access, equity, and opportunity improve.


Racism in any form is a moral evil, calling for personal repentance and systemic change. Such transformations require humility and listening by those historically in power. And solutions that actually work will not fit neatly into ideological boxes. With the help of many friends and mentors, I am listening to many voices, most of which are unheard in a world of clickbait and “gotcha.” Business leaders and laborers, parents and clergy, academics and authors, social service workers and local public servants are all helping me grow in wisdom. 

As we respond to this moment, one message I am hearing can help. These are not my wisdom or words, but sisters and brothers on the frontlines. Their message to all well-meaning folks: Take time and find out what the people in the communities and neighborhoods desire and need and invite local residents to forge the solutions. Listening to parents and local business owners about education, work, housing, and other issues will yield wisdom.