When our oldest child was about to start kindergarten in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), my wife and I looked at the public schools, cringed, and made plans.
Within a year we'd moved to a nearby "good" school district. We threw ourselves into the kids' education. I started a foundation to raise funds for the elementary school through the sale of grocery scrip. It became a model for the other schools in the district.
My wife launched enough successful programs to outnumber an armada: a great artist program, Junior Great Books, after-school enrichment, and a host of innovations at the PTA, which she headed for several years.
That chapter closes as our youngest sprints through his final weeks of high school. The schools did a fair job with our kids, and we feel we helped.
But I can't ignore LAUSD. Newly released data shows 39 percent of Latino and 47 percent of African- American students graduate on time.
I don't feel guilty about our decision to move from LAUSD when our kids were starting out. But I'm aware that, arguably at least, LAUSD's problems were ones we ran from rather than helped solve. So I find myself wondering about what solutions we might put forward now. Some ideas that work in our current school district wouldn't transfer easily to inner-city schools. If most of a school's families are on food stamps, you'll have a tough time raising extra funds with a grocery-scrip program.
Even tougher is, How do you get - and keep - qualified and committed teachers? Experts say that's the biggest problem. Interestingly, there are some creative, even inspired, approaches to solving this problem. The issue doesn't appear to be a lack of good ideas, but rather a lack of consensus. Fresh approaches for attracting and retaining good teachers are argued to death by the competing interests of the teachers' union, school district officials, and local and state politicians.
So, I feel impelled to pray. To pray for the inspiration to be present to resolve the key challenges. Also, to pray for consensus, for the unity of thought on the part of all players so that solutions can take root and flourish.
The Bible declares, "There is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding" (Job 32:8). The Almighty governs all players. His inspiration reaches all of us. So does His understanding. That single shared source of inspiration and understanding is the sure basis from which unified effort can spring.
I don't have to despair over depressing statistics. Nor slump into cynicism each time the groups squabble with one another rather than unite. I'm convinced that prayer - powerful, positive thought that draws on divine inspiration - will help the best ideas take root and grow. I think of God as divine Mind, the all-knowing presence that is at hand to help us all. This one all-knowing Mind doesn't run from problems, pit unions against politicians, favor teachers at the expense of students - or the other way around. This one Mind informs, enlightens, and motivates, impartially and universally. As I glimpse these spiritual facts - and then stick with them in prayer - they begin to make a practical difference.
"There is a spirit in man." A spirit of hope, of promise, of untapped potential, which now seems like a neglected seedling in many students but which, when nurtured, can come to full flower. That's something worth uniting behind. That's something worth harnessing our energies and our prayers to.
Spiritual visionary Mary Baker Eddy, writing and teaching in the 19th and early 20th century, once wrote, using the term Mind as a synonym for God, "Mind is not necessarily dependent on educational processes. It possesses of itself all beauty and poetry, and the power of expressing them" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," page 89).
Regardless of our religion, or even if we aren't religious, we all have the same God, the same divine Mind. Ultimately, that's the source of the problem-solving inspiration that will resolve troubles in education. That's the source which, when yielded to, brings consensus and nurtures unity around creative approaches for finding and retaining good teachers. Then the "spirit in man" - both in young people and in old - will have the chance to come to full bloom. We will have helped our schools, and the students in them, to move forward.