Philly gets ready for the pope

The Standard Journal - - COMMENTARY - KATHRYN LOPEZ NEA Con­trib­u­tor

Dear Cameron Charles Yar­brough: Par­don me, but your great grand­fa­ther is hav­ing a sur­real mo­ment. Know­ing you are now firmly en­sconced in the first grade is tak­ing some get­ting used to.

I re­mem­ber en­ter­ing Ms. Dent’s first-grade class at Colo­nial Hills gram­mar school in East Point, Ge­or­gia, a few mil­len­nia ago. My mem­ory is a bit hazy on the de­tails but I am rea­son­ably sure I could not have told my great-grand­fa­ther af­ter my first week of school that there are 21 con­so­nants and 5 vow­els in the al­pha­bet and then fol­low that up with some deft arith­metic. As best I can re­call I spent my first year learn­ing to tie my shoes and the Pledge of Al­le­giance.

Now, I am liv­ing in mor­tal fear that you will soon be call­ing to in­form me that I have put com­mas in all the wrong places. Just what I need: Another editor.

Your en­thu­si­asm comes at an ap­pro­pri­ate time. I am serv­ing as a mem­ber of Gov. Nathan Deal’s Ed­u­ca­tion Re­form Com­mis­sion. We have been tasked with the re­spon­si­bil­ity of look­ing at all facets of public ed­u­ca­tion and see­ing where we think things can be im­proved. One of the gover­nor’s charges was that we make a spe­cial ef­fort to en­sure that all chil­dren are read­ing at the third-grade level as they en­ter the fourth grade. I pre­dict this is not go­ing to be a prob­lem for you. You are ea­ger to learn.

A lot of chil­dren don’t have the sup­port sys­tem you have. I wasn’t there when you first an­nounced your dis­cov­ery of the al­pha­bet from A to Z and the two-plus-what­ever-equals-what­ever pro­nounce­ment to your dad and to your grand­par­ents but I sus­pect there were high-fives all around which can only mo­ti­vate you to learn more and earn more high-fives. That has to be pleas­ing to Ms. Graves who has the awe­some re­spon­si­bil­ity of shar­ing these and even more ex­cit­ing new dis­cov­er­ies with you the months to come.

Your ex­pe­ri­ence is a re­minder that ed­u­ca­tion is about two things and two things only: The stu­dent and those given the re­spon­si­bil­ity to teach them. Ev­ery­thing else should be in a sup­port role to make that in­ter­ac­tion as ef­fec­tive as pos­si­ble. Noth­ing more.

We want to ig­nore the fact that public schools are a re­flec­tion of so­ci­ety. If a child is hun­gry, abused, ex­posed to drugs or to no dis­ci­pline at home, that will carry over into the class­room. If, on the other hand, the child has a fam­ily that loves them and sup­ports them and un­der­stands the im­por­tance of a qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion as yours does, that will also carry over into the class­room. This seems sim­ple enough but in all of our dis­cus­sions in the Ed­u­ca­tion Re­form Com­mis­sion since we be­gan our work, I haven’t heard much said about how we are go­ing to deal with the prob­lem of the lack of parental in­volve­ment in a child’s ed­u­ca­tion.

What I am try­ing to ac­com­plish as a mem­ber of the com­mis­sion is to en­sure that our public school teach­ers have an en­vi­ron­ment in which they can teach you and oth­ers with­out the plethora of un­nec­es­sary rules and reg­u­la­tions foisted on them by politi­cians and bu­reau­crats at all lev­els of gov­ern­ment. We are spend­ing a lot of time in our meet­ings talk­ing about teacher com­pen­sa­tion. That is im­por­tant but teach­ers like your grand­fa­ther, your great un­cle and your buddy, Cousin Nick — and I sus­pect, Ms. Graves — didn’t get into the busi­ness to make a lot of money. They got into it be­liev­ing they could in­flu­ence young lives for the bet­ter. We need to get out of their way and let them do it

All that the politi­cians and bu­reau­crats and deep-pock­eted, out-of-state spe­cial in­ter­est groups and their media cronies seem to have ac­com­plished thus far is to suck the joy and pas­sion out of the teach­ing pro­fes­sion with their med­dling and sec­ond-guess­ing.

Whether I will have any in­flu­ence in the fi­nal re­port of the com­mis­sion to Gov. Deal re­mains to be seen. There are a lot of wink-wink pol­i­tics in­volved and a lot of spe­cial in­ter­est peo­ple hov­er­ing around the pe­riph­ery. I’m only one small voice.

But this much I do know: Hear­ing the ex­cite­ment in your voice about school has made me more de­ter­mined than ever to do all I can to see that you never want to stop learn­ing and that teach­ers never stop want­ing to teach you. That is the least I can do. “He’s ac­ces­si­ble.” Lizanne Pando and I are talk­ing about the World Meet­ing of Fam­i­lies soon to be held in Philadelphia -- Pope Fran­cis’ rea­son for com­ing in the United States later this month -- and she can’t help but talk about her boss, the arch­bishop of Philadelphia, Charles J. Cha­put.

“He an­swers emails. He’ll give you ad­vice. He’ll tell you what he’s think­ing.”

She adds: “He’s done a lot of struc­tural changes that were not easy tasks. He’s very con­sis­tent ... thought­ful ... and his fo­cus is very much on the poor. He just does it. The Church here does it.”

Pando is di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions for the World Meet­ing of Fam­i­lies, but her en­thu­si­asm comes from a deeper place than a mere sense of pro­fes­sional duty.

Philadelphia is in the fi­nal days of pre­par­ing for the meet­ing, an in­ter­na­tional, ec­u­meni­cal congress fo­cused on fam­i­lies and the love that binds them to­gether. Like Pando, the City of Broth­erly Love is ec­static to welcome Pope Fran­cis -- as you can see from the new pop-up store in Cen­ter City lined with pa­pal bob­ble-head dolls.

“Pope Fran­cis has been talk­ing about lit­tle else but the fam­ily since be­com­ing pope,” Pando ob­serves. In­deed, the pope has stressed the im­por­tance of the fam­ily unit in fos­ter­ing a more sta­ble, lov­ing so­ci­ety.

Pando sees the up­com­ing meet­ing as a chance to em­pha­size and broaden this mes­sage: “I think this will give the op­por­tu­nity for ev­ery fam­ily to tell their story.”

“Peo­ple who come to the World Meet­ing of Fam­i­lies of­fice and work there -- they’ve never been to an of­fice be­fore where peo­ple so freely pray,” Pando says. “They are so freed by that -- that they are al­lowed to. I think fam­i­lies will feel that free­dom.” 17,000 peo­ple are reg­is­tered for the World Meet­ing of Fam­i­lies. They will pray to­gether, lis­ten to­gether and serve the poor to­gether.

The bob­ble- heads don’t be­gin to tell the story of the ex­cite­ment -- and anx­i­ety about crowds -- in the air re­gard­ing the pa­pal visit. And for Philadelphia Catholics, there is pri­mar­ily a sense of grat­i­tude.

“They have been through a lot of tough stuff and they are de­lighted to be able to host the Holy Fa­ther. They are gen­er­ous and they are joy­ful,” Pando says.

Some of the “tough stuff” in­cludes scan­dals and abuse, and Pando ex­presses her sor­row for the vic­tims of un­speak­able crimes that have mer­ci­fully come to light. The Church is in a much health­ier, safer place now.

For the faith­ful who felt be­trayed, this is a time of heal­ing.

Pando tells me about a woman who goes to the Mirac­u­lous Medal Shrine in Philadelphia’s nearby Ger­man­town sec­tion ev­ery week. She cries at the foot of a replica of the Pi­eta there and leaves her bur­dens there, with Je­sus and Mary. Pando ob­serves: “There is a lot of sor­row. There’s ill­ness. Per­sonal at­tacks. Loss of loved ones. Loss of jobs. Loss of homes. Ad­dic­tions.” Fam­i­lies face so many strug­gles be­yond the re­li­gious free­dom clashes that make most of our head­lines about mar­riage and fam­ily these days.

“And in Pope Fran­cis, they see a re­li­gious leader they can re­late to,” Pando says.

“Blessed are the peace­mak­ers,” she adds, de­scrib­ing the pope’s at­tempts to bring peo­ple to­gether.

In a highly po­lar­ized po­lit­i­cal at­mos­phere about mar­riage and fam­ily, can the pope’s mes­sage of unity suc­ceed? Can he help bring calm to our con­ver­sa­tions and de­bates and peace to our hearts? It won’t take a mir­a­cle -- but it will re­quire us to lis­ten to some­one who may just say what we need to hear, as chal­leng­ing as it may prove to be. There’s hope there.

It’s go­ing to be amaz­ing, Pando in­sists. See the faith of the peo­ple of Philadelphia -- it might just help us all.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.