Remarks adapted from Russ Gregg’s Partner Day address Fall 2021
Learning is rarely easy; it almost always comes at a sacrifice.
C.S. Lewis described the challenge of learning during World War II like this:
“There are always plenty of rivals to our work…If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable. Favorable conditions never come… We must do the best we can.”
Conditions have been anything but favorable in urban education.
The stress of doing school in the midst of a pandemic has been exhausting for our families, students, and staff. This summer felt like we were finally coming to the end of swimming a marathon, only to be told in August that we weren’t just swimming a marathon—we were competing in an ironman triathlon.
An explosion of violence has amplified this stress. Carjackings, armed robberies, gun violence, and assaults—all are up significantly in Minneapolis this year. In September, 12 year-old London Michael Bean was shot and killed on our North Side after a dispute with another 12 year-old.
Trying to make sense of this senseless tragedy, StarTribune columnist, Myron Medcalf, put his finger on the core of the problem–the absence of hope. He said,
“The gun is not the first problem. It’s just the last and most pivotal problem. It starts at the beginning. Young people, of any background, become more reckless when they are offered few reasons to believe they have bright futures.”
He went on to say,
“Too many Black kids in our city do not believe there is anything better behind Door No. 2. And if that’s not addressed, then the list of 30 children under 18 who have been shot this year in Minneapolis will grow.”
Mr. Medcalf then asked city leaders and his readers if anybody had a plan to instill more hope in a city where it was clearly waning for urban kids.
Well, my answer, Mr. Medcalf, is, “Yes, we do!” And it lies in what we at Hope Academy call “true education.”
NY Times columnist, David Brooks, contends that the problems we face today—the collapse of trust and the rise of animosity and the loss of hope—stem not from our lack of facts, but from our nation’s schools’ failure to instill moral knowledge in our youth.
Over the past decades, we’ve cut education in half. We’ve focused on developing reason and critical thinking skills to the exclusion of the all-important moral knowledge. Christian education is foremost about the formation of a certain kind of heart—a heart that loves God and what God loves. This is true education.
Here’s an example of what this looks like in a Hope Academy classroom. When students mistreat others, either physically or verbally, we help the offenders own up to their sin and apologize, instead of blaming and avoiding responsibility. We also have a message for the ones wronged. Instead of retaliating and taking vengeance, students are encouraged to forgive and show mercy, just as God has lavished mercy on them. This fosters a culture of humility and grace.
The Scriptures also teach about two kinds of wisdom—heavenly wisdom and earthly wisdom.
The Apostle James says,
“…the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” (James 3:17-18)
How does this heavenly wisdom play out at Hope Academy? It means we will believe the best of one another. It means we will give one another the benefit of the doubt. We’ll be quick to listen and slow to speak. We’ll seek to forgive offenses from the heart and speak the truth in love.
True education fosters solution-oriented approaches vs. blame-oriented approaches. It pursues unity instead of nurturing division. It fosters the kind of hope that our city is crying out for, the kind of hope that our youth are dying without.
And, even in unfavorable conditions, it bears remarkable fruit. Hope Academy students are learning to love God and find their identity in Him; to seek wisdom from above; to humbly ask for and extend forgiveness; and to pursue excellence, knowing that “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”
In some of the largest urban school districts nationwide, math and reading proficiency rates for African-American 8th graders are down in the teens and single digits—such as Detroit where as little as 5% are proficient in math, and only 6% in reading (The Nation’s Report Card, 2019). By God’s grace, a majority of Hope Academy’s students of color are proficient in both math and reading.
Hope in God changes everything. Thank you, and God bless you for helping to make a true education affordable for everyone.
We invite you to watch or share our “Hope in a Half Hour” video to learn more about the impact of a true education, and how you can join in this beautiful work.