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Education: ‘Civil-rights issue of our generation’comment (0)

August 9, 2012

A new kind of “school choice” agenda is gaining ground as more and more young adults — including Christians concerned about social justice — choose teaching in public schools over more lucrative and less challenging careers.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan reported 1 million new teachers will be needed over the next four to six years as the Baby Boomer generation retires. For that reason he is calling on America’s “best and brightest” to consider public education not only as a job but a call to service in a system that currently under serves the poor.

“This is really the civil rights issue of our generation,” Duncan said in a recent video for Memphis Teacher Residency, a nonprofit organization dedicated to education reform by improving teacher quality and retention in Memphis, Tenn. “The fight for great public education is a fight for social justice.”

Memphis Teacher Residency is part of Urban Teacher Residency United, a nationwide collective effort to launch and support graduate training for teachers modeled after residencies in which future doctors get real-life experience alongside a mentoring physician after they leave medical school. 

Formed in partnership with Baptist-affiliated Union University in nearby Jackson, Tenn., it is an explicitly Christian entry into what is being hailed as a new movement in teacher preparation.

In 2009 Union launched a new master’s degree to train teachers committed to working in an urban environment. Students in the program spend one year living in Memphis, where they observe and teach at an urban school four days per week while working with an assigned mentor. Afterward they spend three years teaching in Memphis city schools or must repay a portion of their stipend if they drop out early.


Memphis Teacher Residency Director David Montague formerly served two years with Campus Crusade for Christ in East Asia. While the program is unapologetically biblically and faith-based, he says the intent is not to subvert the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state by using the classroom to proselytize.

Instead, Memphis Teacher Residency on its website declares urban education “the single greatest social justice and civil rights issue in America today.”

Statistics say half of the 8 million students in urban America will never graduate from high school. The 50 percent who do are on average academically four years behind their suburban peers, and just one in 10 will graduate from college.

Experts say the gap begins in early years of elementary school, and it limits millions of Americans from getting a decent job, perpetuating all sorts of social ills associated with cycles of generational poverty.

Memphis Teacher Residency believes all students can learn, because they are made in the image of God, and that a career of meeting the educational needs of disadvantaged children “is a worthy and noble calling.”


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