Philly gets ready for the pope
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.