Friday, September 28, 2007

Should we speak out?

I had a meeting this week that I wasn't too thrilled about. A man wanted to meet with me to present some Bible curriculum they had written.

I know. You would think I would be thrilled. After all, I work for a ministry, right?

I wasn't.

It wasn't so much about someone calling to ask me to present a Bible curriculum. It was the conversation around it. "We have a curriculum that works well for inner-city children. It's not written like curriculum for other children. There are more activities so that inner city children will understand. The curriculum is written for 'unchurched' children."

I could feel my blood start to boil.

It always bothers me when people outside of our urban communities make assumptions and generalizations about what our kids are capable of and what will work for them when they've never even been to our community. It bothers me that people feel that curriculum needs to be "dumbed down" so that our urban children will understand.

I went ahead and scheduled the meeting and took Wyshina and Keilani so that they could maybe provide a more rational opinion than what I was able to give at that point.

Once I got there, looked at the curriculum, and listened to a different man present the curriculum, I began to form a different opinion. It looked well-written (more than I can say for most other Sunday School curriculums I've seen). It seemed to be an engaging curriculum that seemed to tap into multiple styles of learning, which I like. The man who presented the curriculum didn't talk about simplifying it for inner city children or anything like that...

...until the end.

"It's written for 'unchurched' children," he explained.

My temperature started rising again.

He went on to further clarify, "It doesn't assume anything about anyone's knowledge or Biblical background."

I know there are times I should probably keep my mouth shut. But there are other times I think too many people keep their mouth shut when they should speak up. This was a time I felt the need to speak up. So I did.

I explained that a curriculum that doesn't make assumptions about where someone is in their knowledge of the Bible is fine. A curriculum that has more activities and hits more multiple intelligences to engage children is fine. However, saying that it's written for "unchurched" kids who probably wouldn't understand "other" curriculum and taking it to the inner city is making a big assumption about kids in the inner city! I explained to the two men that our kids aren't "unchurched." I'd say at least 95% of our kids, or better, are children who go to church, have gone, and/or know their Bible.

I went on to explain that our After-School Academy offers programs like ballet, chess, science, digital photography, etc., because our kids are perfectly capable of doing things just like "other" kids, given the opportunity. We don't have to change the curriculum for them. We just have to offer it, expose them to it, and teach it. If we do our job of teaching it well, they catch on to it just fine.

Years of watching volunteers come in for a day or a week to "evangelize" or "educate" or "do good" without even getting to know anything about the community except what they have seen on the news or read in the paper...and then never coming back after they've "evangelized" our neighborhood really bothers me. Using our urban neighborhoods and the people in them as "service projects" makes my temperature rise.

I have to give him credit. Whether or not he noticed my irritation, at the end of our meeting the man thanked me for making the comments. He was kind about it and seemed open to the critique. I'm not sure how he will proceed, but I do know he listened and heard what we were saying.

I am working on maintaining my cool in these situations so that I can explain how demeaning their words are in a way that they hear without tuning out. As I work on myself and my own approach, I have realized a couple of things. 1) Most times the people who are making the comments have never even thought about how those words would sound if they were the ones living in the inner city and someone was talking about them. 2) People who make those comments are often people who do not look like people in the neighborhood and they are often selling their idea to other people who look like them. Their "pitch" changes when they have to sell their idea directly to someone in the neighborhood. 3) Comments that assume something about people and/or a community perpetuate to others a stereotype that doesn't come from first-hand knowledge of the community. 4) The only way people from outside of the neighborhood are going to learn the impact of their comments is if someone points out the offensiveness of their comments. People don't have a reason to change until someone challenges their assumptions and stereotypes.

Besides, staying silent tells them we agree. Our silence says their assumptions must be right.
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