“Bro. C” loved young people. For a good portion of his life he taught in a public school. He did not teach science, math or English. No, from his classroom on the south side of the “square” layout of Northwest Classen High School in Oklahoma City, Brother Carpenter taught Bible History. He also pastored in Oklahoma City. I sat in Bro. C’s class. It was always full. Some students took the class thinking it would be an easy credit. Others took it understanding no one could quite contextualize Bible History like Bro. C.
Confusion reigns when it comes to religion and religious practices in public schools. Too often I have been told how prayer has been taken out of schools. State sanctioned prayer has been taken out of schools. Voluntary prayer is still permissible. In fact, the local school board sets the agenda on these matters. Generally, their decision reflects the majority opinion of the constituency of the given district. Some make decisions based more on fear of what “might” happen despite support for voluntary prayer.
However, partnering with schools transcends the permissibility of public prayer. Educators and Clergy need to form partnerships as the demands of education, serving a-risk students, helping frazzled parents and hoping to create opportunities that come with a solid education should be the dream of all. Our teachers are often underpaid and under-prepared for the discontinuous change created by the whims of our culture. Clergy are often fearful of lawsuits or worse, negligent to the needs in their own communities. The atmosphere distracts us from the kinds of investments and resources needed to partner for the good of students. Together we could do more than we can apart.
The Oklahoma Education Association supplied with a grant from the National Education Association will sponsor an upcoming conference, “Educators & Clergy, Working Together for Great Public Schools.” Teams from school districts from around Oklahoma and surrounding states will gather in Norman, Oklahoma to initiate conversations around the theme working together for students. We will hear stories from a number of people regarding their particular church’s partnership with local schools.
I have been privileged to serve on the planning team for this event and am excited about the possibilities. In our community we enjoy great relationships with our local schools. Our partnerships run along a number of lines. I hope the dream of the OEA comes to fruition – that these conversations will spur great relationships and conversations for years to come. If you are an educator or clergy within driving distance of Norman, Oklahoma, consider registering for this event set for March 25-26.