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Educating All God’s Children: A Review

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Primary pupils in group work in a small villag...

Primary pupils in group work in a small village school in southern Laos (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This review, by Dr. Nicholson, has been provided courtesy of Desert Bible Institute (www.desertbibleinstitute.com).

The book Educating All God’s Children by Nicole Baker Fulgham is a well-researched, well-organized book that will prove useful to both educators and the church in examining what they can do to empower students to do better in their classes and to be more confident about their own abilities. Fulgham graduated from the University of Michigan and later joined Teach For America where she taught fifth grade in Compton, California. She received her doctorate in education from UCLA with a focus on urban education policy and teacher preparation. Her varied experiences and education are what add to the quality and academic clarity of her book.

Having been in education (both public and private: both secular and Christian) for nearly 20 years now, I have to admit a certain amount of trepidation in approaching this book. Over the years, my professional learning community has been regaled with books on how to fix the ills that plague our education system. In Southern California particularly, I have been approached by professionals representing virtually every minority and special-interest group telling me how their approach will “level the playing field.” Most of these solutions are self-serving and at best put a bandage on the problem offering many complaints and few genuine solutions.

Fulgham’s book, while suffering from some of the same problems, is probably the most useful that I have read for several reasons. First, she takes the time to break down each of the issues into manageable sub-sections. These allow her to be specific about the larger problems that she is talking about. This has the benefit of addressing specific concerns that her audience might have. Perhaps this was best handled in her section on low-income families.  Additionally, the clear, well-chosen facts and statistics she regularly uses clearly relate to a particular issue rather than being loose and non-relatable. It is interesting that her study on low-income families is one of her best sections since she grew up in a middle-class household.

In issues of race and culture, I appreciated her up front nature when she openly admits that as an African American that she would explain some of “the academic achievement gap by playing the dreaded ‘race card.’” She certainly gets much more prolific and animated on racial topics than she does others that touch a little less closely to her personal life and childhood. Nonetheless, she continues to handle this in the same logical, well-supported manner that she has handled other issues in her book. One area that seems to be lacking; however, is that she doesn’t seem to address the issue of culture. She seems to side step the issue that different cultures have different values in relationship to education and those values are reflected in a family’s daily life. Perhaps she does this because there is little that we can do to change an entire culture, but it is an important issue. Many minority families put far more stress on family (older siblings babysitting during school day)  and provision (teens holding a part-time job to pay the bills) than on academic achievement. It is her position that all parents what their children to do well and to go as far academically as they are able: This is an overly broad generalization and  just isn’t the case. Examples: “I believe all parents hope that their children become well educated” and “I’ve found that almost all parents do want the very best education for their children.” It also seems that she ignores the effects of “modeling” by the parents in not seeking out higher education (or even full-time employment) and the long term effects this has on students.

Overall, I liked what Fulgham had to say about Christian involvement in public education. While understandably many churches are limited in what they can do within the public school system, Fulgham offers a number of facts and statistics that should led readers to think about what their churches could do to get more involved in students’ education. There were two drawbacks I ran into with this. This first is that much of the practical information seemed to center around elementary students. This makes a great deal of sense since many of the problems, as Fulgham’s research clearly shows, happens by age nine. What I did have a problem with was her innuendos that white Christians were uninterested and uninvolved in public education. An example of this is where she asserts, “While many White evangelical Christians have avoided public schools other Christians– including Catholics, African Americans, Hispanics, and many Protestants- have been actively engaged in the work of quality education for the poor and minority children for decades.” Statements like this will undoubtedly turn off many evangelicals (not to mention Whites) to the otherwise good, supported, and academic information that she is offering.

I would suggest this book to the students at my college or the teachers in the local public school system with the caveat that there are some heavily slanted racial and doctrinal underpinnings that the reader will have to deal with. My advice would be to set these aside temporarily and to delve instead into the solid, useable areas of the book where the author is not trying to further her own biases. This is a good book academically speaking, unfortunately like many books of its ilk; it carries with it a bit of baggage.

Trent Nicholson, Ph.D., D.Min.

Desert Bible Institute, President

Dr. Nicholson reviews academic, Christian living, and fiction books for a variety of publishers in an array of formats. He is never paid for any of his reviews. He writes these strictly as a courtesy to his students at Desert Bible Institute and for any other readers that might find his insights valuable. For more reviews or information, visit Dr. Nicholson’s blog at drtnicholson.wordpress.com.

The book for this review was provided free of charge by Brazos Press a division of Baker Publishing through NetGalley.com. This book was provided without the expectation or requirement of a positive response. Thank you to both the publisher and NetGalley.com for the opportunity to both read your advanced copy and to provide this unpaid evaluation. All opinions in this review reflect the views of the author and not DBI, NetGalley.com, or the publisher.

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