This is an original post by Nicole Baker Fulgham, author of Educating All God’s Children: What Christians Can—and Should—Do to Improve Public Education for Low-Income Kids.
Nicole Baker Fulgham (PhD, UCLA) is president and founder of The Expectations Project, a national organization that mobilizes people of faith to support public education reform and close the academic achievement gap. She is the former vice president of faith community relations at Teach For America, has appeared on CNN and ABC News, and was named to the list of “50 Women to Watch: Those Most Shaping the Church and Culture” by Christianity Today. She lives in the Washington, DC area.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
Genesis 1:27 (ESV)
My mother studied early childhood education in college. As a stay-at-home mother, she was more than happy to use all of her training on my older brother and me. Mom systematically taught us the alphabet; then she helped us learn the sounds that each letter made; and eventually (with the help of a couple wonderful shows on public television in the 1970s), we began to string letter sounds together, which allowed us to read words. My big brother, Jay, and I were both fluent readers before we set one foot in a kindergarten classroom. Our parents literally turned our home into a preschool made for two, allowing our God-given potential to be released.
I am quite certain that my informal (and formal) early childhood education provided a phenomenal foundation for my future education. But what happens when a child doesn’t have access to a high-quality preschool education? Not every parent has studied education in college, nor can every family afford to have a stay-at-home parent who can recreate the ideal preschool learning experience.
Research has proven that brain development is at its most critical stage from birth until the time a child is five years old. Therefore, early childhood education significantly influences a child’s academic and life success. For example, research studies have revealed that Chicago children who attended an early childhood education program were twenty-nine percent more likely to graduate from high school than their peers who did not attend. Similarly, Michigan fourth graders who had attended early childhood education programs passed the state’s literacy and math assessment tests at higher rates than their peers who did not attend.
Given the importance of preschool, it seems that we should ensure that the youngest among us receive the best start possible in life. Unfortunately, children in low-income communities are much less likely to obtain a high-quality preschool education than children in wealthier communities. These families, on the average, have less disposable income to afford tuition-based preschools, and they have far fewer options. Most urban and rural communities do not offer public preschool for all children. As a result, children in wealthier communities are significantly better prepared for kindergarten—making it much harder for children from less wealthy families to compete.
I believe deeply that all children have been created in God’s image and likeness. As a result, I trust that we each have incredibly rich potential—both intellectually and academically. But I also believe that, as Christians, we have a responsibility to steward that potential and ensure that all children, regardless of their family’s background or economic circumstances, have the opportunity to find their unique purpose.
One of the ways we can do that is to ensure that all children have a high-quality education—beginning at preschool and, hopefully, ending at college. Our nation’s public education system has the potential to help all children receive the excellent start that my brother and I received. But we are a long way from fulfilling that promise for the fifteen million children growing up in poverty in the United States.
I look forward to seeing the creative and dynamic methods in which Christians will stand alongside all families and help every child fulfill their academic and God-given potential.